Son of a Printer Man

emotional experience informs Kalispell’s new album Printer’s Son

Thom Fountain

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL. The emotional highs and lows of Shane Leonard’s life in recent years come through on Printer’s Son, the new record by his band, Kalispell.
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL. The emotional highs and lows of Shane Leonard’s life in recent years come through on Printer’s Son, the new record by his band, Kalispell.

Printer’s Son opens with a rising tide. Strings and woodwinds slowly build on each other, culminating first in a loose soundscape, then a subtle melody. This opener – “In Chicago” – is a chameleon. It’s winsome and hopeful, or lonely and sparse. It’s the soundtrack to a pivotal scene, rise or fall. It takes your emotions and expectations and delivers them back to you.

It’s fitting, because Printer’s Son isn’t an album made out of just joy, or just sadness, or just anything. It’s an album that was made out of a years-long journey of rising and falling.

Shane Leonard – the brain and brawn behind Kalispell – started work on Printer’s Son as a record about family, but then his family began changing. He lost his father to cancer, then his grandfather. He moved home to live with his mother and saw the end of a relationship. He put his record on the back burner and went on the road with local standouts Field Report. Then he found love, got married, and just had his first child. All the while, Leonard was slowly building a record, working with his band, inching along what became Printer’s Son.

“Playing the songs now, with a band, I’m in a place I never imagined I’d be in,” Leonard said. “It’s like reading your teenage journal. It’s completely legitimate, just changed.”

But for all the rises and falls, Kalispell’s sophomore release remains surprisingly steady. Printer’s Son maintains the traditional folk and Americana influences that are standard for Leonard, but he also reaches to his deep jazz experience to create a more open, fluid sound. Throughout the recording process he kept coming back to the trio: piano, bass, and drums. These moments shine through the record, especially on the early single “Windfall,” with soft drums driving the song forward while maintaining its open space.

It’s also apparent that Leonard’s home is behind the drum kit. The whole record is percussive, even when there isn’t a noticeable beat. That’s also a touchstone of Brian Joseph, who produced the record. Live, Leonard said he’ll be leading and singing some songs from behind the kit, which gives him a certain comfort.

Leonard’s chops have been hard to avoid in the last couple of years. Besides his heavy touring with Field Report, he recorded on J.E. Sunde’s debut, The Erickson’s last record, a forthcoming album by The Stray Birds, and plenty of others in between.

“It’s a task to take your own ego out of it,” Leonard said. “There are moments of observation – making yourself a helpful ghost.”

While he acknowledges that working with so many other musicians informs this record, Leonard’s voice as a songwriter is distinct and independent. He has a knack for growing characters and giving them life within his lyrics and sharp melodies. While a tall order, it’s honestly reminiscent of Paul Simon, especially as showcased in the album’s closer, the namesake “Printer’s Son.” There’s a playfulness within the melody and wordplay, all driving with the bounce of the banjo and percussion.

Now, with the record out and some stability seeping back in, Leonard is excited to push forward. Printer’s Son was picked up by Cartouche Records, and the band is starting some short tours, including two dates in Eau Claire. They’re hoping to hit the longer road in October.

“I’m learning how to be a sovereign body again,” Leonard said, “how to be a singular person.”

Printer’s Son is currently available online and in stores on CD or vinyl. Kalispell will be playing two shows at Pine Hollow Studios in Eau Claire with S. Carey on July 1-2. Details at PineHollowAudio.com.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.