Joe Bourdet Crafts a Debut Album Reminiscent of the 1970s Laurel Canyon Scene

Young heart, old soul.

  • Category
    Music + Culture
  • Written by
    Michele Garber
  • Above
    Joe Bourdet | Photo by Leigh Newman
Meadow Rock may be Joe Bourdet’s first album, but his self-described endless fascination with music goes way back. He picked up his first guitar in high school and has been making music ever since. Indeed, a handful of tracks on his new album were written a few years prior. But like so many artists, the forced down of Covid-19 gave him an opportunity to focus on his music and finally lay down the tracks he’s long been creating in his head.
Joe Bourdet | © Sara Ross-Samko
Above: Photo by Sara Ross-Samko

Bourdet spent his formative years in California Gold Country on the majestic western flank of the Sierras and feels an innate connection to idyllic rural and pastoral terrain. His affinity for the grandeur of California’s natural environs inspired Meadow Rock. From “El Capitan” about Yosemite Valley to “Amongst the Pines” about Mount Baldy, his love of the Golden State permeates every track.

His creative spirit led him to study filmmaking at UC Santa Cruz and, along with making music, he continues to work in the film medium. Many technical skills used in film production translate seamlessly to audio recording, enabling Bourdet to produce his album in his home recording studio. Not only did he engineer and mix Meadow Rock, he also wrote or co-wrote every song, plays most of the instruments and sings on each track on the album.

Charming and slightly self-deprecating, Bourdet plays down his vocal abilities and is quick to give credit to the other artists who worked on the album. He emphasizes that recording Meadow Rock was a collaborative endeavor and that the musicians and vocalists featured on the album and in the videos are his friends who donated their time and artistry to help him realize his vision.

Joe Bourdet | © Leigh Newman
Above: Photo by Leigh Newman

When asked if he is a Renaissance man for his ability to write, sing, play multiple instruments, as well as mix and produce the record, Bourdet swiftly brushes off the intended compliment, jokingly saying he is Jack of All Trades. He goes on to explain that as the music industry has changed, the ability to self-produce and record is not unusual. In fact, he regards it is almost necessary. “The contemporary musician has to be able to do everything,” he says. “Artists are no longer creating raw demos and shopping for a label to produce them. There are no demos anymore. Only finished product. Having a home studio isn’t noteworthy. The nature of the business now is that many musicians have engineering skills and produce their own music.” He adds, “I don’t think I’m particularly special. I’m on a mission to perfect the sound in my head and this album is a big step in that direction.”

Beyond the stirring melodies and lyrics of Bourdet’s songs, what imbues Meadow Rock with its resonant, layered vibe is that every note on the album (in true 1970s classic rock style) was played on a genuine instrument. It may seem ridiculous to mention that music features instruments. But in this era when music is often made with computer software and samples, with no actual instruments required, using live musicians on instruments to record an album is unique. Juxtapose the authentic quality of the music of the 1970s with recent recordings of a best-selling artist and the richer sound of vintage rock is unmistakable. Compare the recordings on digital vs. vinyl and the disparity in quality only grows.

Bourdet creates his signature sound through overdubbing, a recording technique first invented by Les Paul in the early 1950s. Bourdet sites Steely Dan, one of his favorite bands, as influencing his use of overdubbing. “Steely Dan had a mentality of recording that was meticulous,” he explains. “By virtue of my personality, I’ve fallen into a meticulous overdub working method. But unlike Steely Dan, I don’t work until it’s perfect.”

Joe Bourdet | © Leigh Newman
Above: Photo by Sara Ross-Samko

He continues, “In the golden era of recording, things were not always correctable and there is something to be said for allowing imperfections on a record. It humanizes it. In 2021 people expect perfection, but there was a time when imperfection made a recording more interesting.” He sites Billy Holiday as an example of imperfect pitch giving her recordings character. “Some genres such as folk do not feature perfect pitch. The music isn’t intended for commercial demand. It’s meant to be wild and untamed. Some of the best artists have a distinct style. It’s largely a lost charm.”

Meadow Rock embodies that untamed, creative spirit. It feels as if we’ve magically been transported into a 1970’s Laurel Canyon jam session. Bourdet hopes that this style of music will become popular again among Millennials and Gen Z. And he has good reason for optimism. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), classic rock remains the second most popular genre after country, with an expanding audience. And as younger generations are discovering high resolution audio quality, vinyl is making a coming back, especially among the under 30 crowd. According to RIAA sales of LP/EP were up nearly 30% in 2020.

Joe Bourdet | © David Baine
Above: Photo by David Baine

Meadow Rock was released on June 18 on Bandcamp, an online record store and music community where fans can support their favorite indie artists directly. Bandcamp is widely considered the best resource for indie artists, leveling the playing field for musicians. It’s the antithesis of streaming services where an artist can have a million plays of their music and receive minimal compensation for their art, barely enough to cover rent and groceries. In contrast, Bandcamp artists and their labels keep 82% of their record and merch sales. Bourdet sees the ability to reach fans directly through Bandcamp along with the resurgence of vinyl as music’s best hope. If spending $20 for an album is once again desirable, and if musicians are fairly compensated enabling them to support themselves while pursuing their craft, then art will continue to be made.

As for Meadow Rock, Bourdet sees the album as a statement of what can be done and what he would like people to respond to. He’d like listeners to consider this style of music something of value and wants the style to be popular again, not nostalgic, but new. He adds, “I’m at peace with it as a piece of art.”

You can watch the video for “El Captain” here:  YouTube Button

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