(As published in Brian Q. Newcomb's Harvest Rock Syndicate ... )
"I wrote all the songs on this album in a bathroom underneath the chapel at Moody," confesses Glasshouse recording artist John Austin. "The acoustics were great."
The album Austin's talking about is his recently released debut, The Embarrassing Young--"another dose of melancholy for the Christian market," as he calls it--and "Moody" is the venerable Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, where Austin earned a degree in theology when he wasn't jamming in the men's room. Now, at twenty-three, Austin considers himself a former singer-songwriter because he's putting together a full-time rock-and-roll band to enrich his Windy City live shows.
"We have a band basically," says Austin. "We just keep going through bass players."
One can't help feeling a little sorry for those bassists. They have to live up to the standards Austin became accustomed to while recording his LP with the likes of David Miner (T Bone Burnett, Leon Russell) and Tim Chandler (DA, the Choir). "I felt totally spoiled working with them," says Austin, "and with [the guitarist] Buddy Miller. Buddy didn't even listen to an entire song before throwing down these incredible hooks."
What spoiled the novice album-maker even more was the producton savvy of Mark Heard, who oversaw the five sixteen-hour workdays into which the entire recording process was crammed before his untimely death last August.
"The album was meant to be a demo tape to shop to major labels," Austin explains. "I hooked up with Dan Russell, who's a publicist on the U2 tour right now, and he set me up with Mark. I borrowed six thousand dollars and flew out to L.A. for a week to make a demo, and we did ten songs.
"But by week's end we were in a position to avoid further debt, I thought it would be the smartest thing just to sell it to Glasshouse. They reimbursed me for the money I borrowed, and that was fine with me."
There was, however, one glitch in Austin's rapidly developing career scenario, a glitch that most serious musicians, Christian or otherwise, become acquainted with sooner or later.
"Glasshouse was pretty happy with the first ten songs," says Austin, "but they said, 'We need two more songs to sort of justify this album being in our market. We need a radio single.'" So Austin flew back to Los Angeles and recorded the plaintive "We All Need Love" and the infectiously upbeat "Back to the Garden."
"It's definitely not overproduced," observes Austin of the finished product. "Mark wasn't into that. He liked the raw. I think Glasshouse was sort of scared of that. They wanted to hear more mysterious textures."
Perhaps Austin's new live band will add those textures.
"I'm excited about the sound that's coming out," he says. "These guys have great stage presence. They're all a bit older than me, but there aren't any ego problems because they've been through it all.
"They just want to make good music."