St. Joseph artists Stephanie Gummelt and Brent Isom first performed together shortly after one of the biggest moments of the former’s life, her appearance on “American Idol.”
What started as co-workers at Lanham Music turned into musicians performing together, with their differing sounds complementing each other. It made sense that they would release CDs on the same day.
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Holding a joint album release party at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 1, at Manic Snail, the two solo performers will make an important rite of passage in a musicians’ life — their debut albums.
Isom’s style is hard to pin down. He’ll mention jazz and blues influences like Eric Johnson along with alt-rock favorites like Anberlin.
His debut EP, “Eternity,” he said is a kaleidoscopic mixture of sounds that have inspired him.
“It’s alternative pop. Some of the songs are very straightforward, acoustic pop. Some of them are a little bit more indie. There’s elements of EDM, like very small elements of electronic influences. So it’s pretty broad. There’s even kind of blues influences,” he said.
Performing around St. Joseph for the past four years, Isom, now 27, said he’s been wanting to make a recording of his music since he was a teenager.
“I’ve wanted to do it for a long, long time. It really became something (when) I had the songs and I had the means to go about putting them together for a while and ... I decided to make it happen. It just needed to be done,” he said.
Produced by Mark David Elting, of Spot-On Audio Recording, Isom’s songs lean on past memories and the yearning to get more out of life than surface-level thrills.
“I really like the last track. It’s called ‘The Walls Can Sing.’ It very nostalgic for me. I wrote it about growing up in a small town,” he said.
Paying tribute to friends who died, Isom said they helped inspire the message behind the album.
“There’s a real constant theme with my CD about looking at life and trying to see what’s temporal and what’s eternal ... Just taking stock of your relationships or the way you’re spending your time and hoping to invest in something beyond yourself,” he said.
Isom lent a helping hand when it came to Gummelt creating her debut album, “Chore.”
“We both record at the same place with the same person. We both have the same percussionist. Also, we’re kind of friends,” she said.
Isom appears on the track “One By One.” Along with his appearance on “Chore” are other guests like Under The Big Oak Tree’s Kristin Hamilton and Doug “Sluggo” Ward, drummer Jesse Boley and the album’s producer, Elting.
But “Chore” all comes back to Gummelt and her small writing space at her family home, where she penned the entire album, along with more than 40 other songs.
“I remember sitting in my chair ... in the same 5-by-5-foot area in my room. All of them were written over the last 10 years,” she said.
While Gummelt would play local cafes, restaurants and coffee shops as a teen, she unexpectedly got sent to California after judges on “American Idol” were touched by her performance of “Chore.” While she was eliminated from the competition, that song holds a special place in her heart. The only problem was there was no studio recording of it.
In between taking college courses and performing, Gummelt wanted to find the right time to record with a producer who shared her vision. In 2018, she found that with Elting.
“It was super easy because he already knew all my music because he also had gone to my gigs, too. He wasn’t just like, ‘Nice to meet you. Here’s all your songs. Let’s record them.’ He listened to them and he had favorites,” she said.
Channeling a mixture of singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple and bands like Of Monsters and Men, Gummelt’s album is an intimate listen full of vulnerable lyrics and honest emotions. The songs show a side of Gummelt that differs from her usual silly self.
“A lot of my songs are an internal struggle. It’s mostly because I’m really overly analytical. So, writing a song is a way to unravel that thought process and make it more fun and less painful,” she said.
At their CD release show, Isom and Gummelt will be joined by guest musicians. For Isom, it will be a unique presentation that differs from his usual solo concert.
“I wanted to present them the way they were recorded and (the audience) to get the full arrangement with that. So I’m pretty excited,” he said.
Both will be joined by Elting, whom they say they owe a debt of gratitude for his understanding and presence on their first album recording experiences.
“I’m thankful for him and his willingness to help,” Isom said. “I thought maybe he would take a small role, maybe do a little mixing ... But he came alongside and said, ‘I’m here for the long haul.’ He was so great, so patient.”
If there are any reservations the two have with their debut albums, it’s releasing the songs out to the world for the listening public to graft their own interpretations onto.
“I had somebody that heard one of the songs previously ... And she thought it was about a specific place that she had grown up with her family. (It) was me growing up with my family, and she took it in, it had meaning to her. So that was kind of new, kind of inspiring, just to hear that it already resonated with her in that way,” Isom said.
Gummelt said she hopes the album will help others like it did for her.
“I hope it helps them understand how they feel like it helped me understand how I feel,” she said.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live