It is the fall of 1970. Paul McCartney has been an ex-Beatle for mere months, and is faced with a difficult question: how would he follow up his first solo record, the charmingly simple, home-recorded McCartney?
The answer meant booking the finest studio in New York, hiring ace session players and an orchestra, and creating Ram, which would prove to be the most colorfully cinematic record of his solo career. The record boasted several songs that, in time, became FM-radio staples, including "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey" and "Too Many People." Critically reviled at the time, Ram has since grown exponentially in stature and is frequently cited alongside Plastic Ono Band and All Things Must Pass one of the finest solo records by a former Fab.
Nearly 40 years later, in the spring of 2010, Portland, Oregon multi-instrumentalist Dave Depper faced his own difficult task. He'd recorded and toured the world with internationally-renowned artists (Jolie Holland, Mirah, the Decemberists) as well as beloved Portland institutions (Loch Lomond, Norfolk & Western, Musee Mecanique, Blue Giant), but to date had yet to record any music of his own.
"I was in a rut," Depper explains. "I'd played on and helped produce dozens of different records, but I'd had yet to follow through with completing anything of my own. I knew that I needed to do something - anything - to prove to myself that I was capable of finishing something that I'd started." Lacking an album's worth of his own songs, he decided to take on the craziest project he could think of: re-recording Ram, part by part, at home, all by himself, in 30 days.
Over the course of one month, in his spare bedroom, Depper began obsessively hacking away at the record, often working marathon 12-hour sessions at a time. He had a couple of guitars, a keyboard, a Rickenbacker bass, and a laptop. Lacking drums, he borrowed a kit from a friend and, having only one microphone, recorded each drum individually. One song at a time, bit by bit, the record began to come together. Adding to the fun, fellow Portlander Joan Hiller charmingly performed Linda McCartney's prominent harmony vocals
To keep himself on task, and to ensure that his peers would give him grief if he slacked, he started a blog and began posting each song as it was finished. To his great surprise, the project almost immediately began to attract attention in the Portland press ("If this came on the radio, it'd be kind of tough to distinguish Depper's version from the original...Yet Depper's version takes enough liberty with the tune to make it feel like his own."--Willamette Week/ "Some men climb Mt. Everest alone. Others take to the open sea with their solitude. Yet none of those can compare to the madness that will come from covering the entirety of Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram all by your lonesome."--Portland Mercury), and soon, offers to officially release the record began to pop up. And 31 days after recording began, The Ram Project was finished.
Beautifully mixed as true to the original as possible by Beau Raymond (Devendra Banhart, Little Joy, Laura Gibson) and expertly mastered by Tony Lash (Elliott Smith, Death Cab for Cutie, Dandy Warhols), The Ram Project is almost eerie in its resemblance to Ram itself. "When I had it playing in the background in my house it was, at times, unnervingly like having the original on," says Lash.
DOWNLOAD THE MP3 FOR "DEAR BOY":
The Ram Project is being released in the US by the vinyl lover's dream label, the Portland-based Jackpot Records, and in Europe by Berlin's legendary City Slang imprint. While Depper is justifiably proud of this fact, for him, it's just the icing on the cake: "At the end of the day, I recorded this record for myself. It's the definition of a labor of love. The last thing I expected was for it to be commercially released - I did it as a learning experience and a means of breaking down a creative wall that I'd run into. I just hope that it's as fun to listen to as it was to create."
THIS PROJECT IS NEAR AND DEAR TO MY HEART for a billion reasons (hey, I even did the artwork!). Thank you so much for considering a review. A record release show is scheduled in Portland, Oregon at the wonderful Doug Fir Lounge on May 7th. Dave is available for interviews, so do get in touch! Seriously, people--HE DID THIS IN 30 DAYS. It was insane. I was there. I think it's also worth noting that some of the equipment through which this was mixed was actually original equipment from Abbey Road.