Arts & Leisure

Gusakov begins new era of recording with folk EP

NATE GUSAKOV STANDS by a snowy, stone bridge outside his Lincoln home with his electric banjo. Gusakov is releasing his newest EP “Many Mountains” today, Jan. 21, that he

Back in the spring of 2020, Nate Gusakov had everything lined up to record his new EP “Many Mountains,” but then… COVID. 
“My studio session was set for a week after lockdown was imposed,” he said during an interview earlier this month. “So that got totally blown out of the water. And we waited.”
“I sort of wanted to go hands-off for a while and not clutter up the bandwidth for musicians who really needed the income,” said Gusakov, who also works in energy efficiency consulting for Silver Maple Construction in New Haven. “Silver Maple has been remarkable; they really looked out for us and I feel so lucky to have a day-job.”
But Gusakov’s itch to get back to his music came through one Tuesday night last August.
“There were a few of us who were getting together (with masks in a socially distanced circle) in Jim Carrol’s barn in South Starksboro,” Gusakov remembered. “I remember thinking that this pandemic wasn’t really going to end any time soon; and we sounded really good in that barn.”
So Gusakov set it up to record “Many Mountains” in the barn. 
“We recorded this album in the truest sense,” Gusakov said. “It’s what happened on one night when we were all there.”
Gusakov wrote all five songs and played banjo, of course — he’s been picking old-time clawhammer-style banjo for 20 years. But this time Gusakov wielded what he describes as a “solid-body electric banjo transmuted through pedal board and vintage tubes into a 5-string axe” with capabilities that range far beyond his usual open-backed acoustic instrument. 
The group Gusakov played with, known as Annie & The Individuals, includes Annie Nessen Voorhees on vocals; Gusakov’s father, David, on violin and viola; Gusakov’s brother Will on a homemade suitcase drum kit (complete with coffee cans); Colin Gunn on electric bass; Ron Rost on the Hammond B3 organ; Jim Carrol on guitar; and Moira Smiley as a guest vocalist. Mark Mulqueen did the recording — you might know him as the sound guy for Festival on-the-Green or from the Ripton Coffee House. And Ryan Cohen, from Robot Dog Studios in Williston, did the mixing and mastering.
“We did two takes for each song — there was no overdubbing and only minimal fixes,” said Gusakov, adding that the core group of Annie & The Individuals have all been part of the beloved Night Fires tradition.
What’s the genre of the EP? 
“Well, it’s folk music,” Gusakov wrote in his artist’s statement. “Songs about the lived experience, both real and imagined. Neofolk when they’re dark and honest, blues rock when they’re gritty and loud, experimental old-time when they’re just a fiddle and banjo bouncing happily along some old path by a creek, then darting suddenly off into an acoustic sonic wilderness.”
One of the songs, “Song for Luis” with vocals by Moira Smiley, was pre-released on Vermont Public Radio with Mary Engisch earlier this month, but the official release of “Many Mountains” is today, Jan. 21, 2021. 
“That seemed like a good day to celebrate things and be associated with life after that date,” Gusakov said, hinting at the political landscape.
With the recording done and work-from-home life becoming more “normal,” Gusakov began to wonder if he could reshape his homestead-life around “home and family and land… If music is poised to help me do that, well, then that’s a dream come true.”
This month, Gusakov took another step toward that reality and joined the Middlebury Community Music Center as a banjo instructor. “If anybody wants to take electric banjo lessons that’d be fantastic,” he said. “But I’m mostly expecting people will want to learn acoustic.”
“The banjo can be such a plunky and happy instrument and that’s great, but it comes from Africa and was brought here with slavery — there’s so much darkness in it’s past,” Gusakov continued. “It’s constantly on my mind, how privileged I am. It’s been a funny road to navigate… I want to speak out and help people of color, indigenous people and those most oppressed, and I also want to be quiet and listen.” 
Gusakov wrote “Song for Luis,” the fourth track on this EP, after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. “I tend to write very honest songs,” he said. “Maybe it will help other people’s hearts stay open to what’s going on? Maybe they’ll donate a few bucks?” (If you’re interested, check out onepulsefoundation.org.)
On that note, Gusakov has pledged to donate 10% of the net sales from “Many Mountains” to the American Civil Liberties Union and 10% to the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Association. 
“We need to remember our ties to our land, and emphasize support for the people right in our society who are oppressed,” Gusakov said. “It is so important right now.”
“Many Mountains” is on sale now through all the digital outlets, as well as on Gusakov’s website, nategusakov.com.

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