The Way We Get Byways
Softly, Dear frontman takes on spontaneous rock project
It happens in this town sometimes: A crew of talented college students form a band, play and throw tons of shows, record songs, and tour around the region – then they all graduate and go their separate ways.
Such was the case with Softly, Dear, an energetic Eau Claire rock ’n’ roll band that thrived and jived in the Valley a few years ago, playing all kinds of shows, touring, and facilitating their own vibrant DIY house show space in the Randall Park neighborhood called Softly House. Flashing forward to now, the band members have all split off and done their own stuff in the last the couple years. Guitarist Josh Frederick helped create the buzzworthy local band Idle Empress, while Alex Adkinson and Ben Possi formed a Twin Cities-based artsy psych-rock outfit called Astral Samara. Addie Strei moved to Berlin, then New York, then Minneapolis, and now focuses primarily on Yohuna and other acts.
But that just leaves Softly, Dear’s smiley and charming frontman Tyler Hart, who until now has been pretty quiet on the music front. Hart graduated from UW-Eau Claire and started working for a friend’s Green Bay-based marketing startup remotely from his spot in Minneapolis, and getting sucked into the throes of real adult life, he admits he needed a jolt of inspiration to get the music flowing again.
“I have these memories of sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine and saying ‘I don’t have it. I just don’t have it anymore,’ ” Hart told me.
But Hart got a message from Eau Claire recording engineer Evan Middlesworth – who had recorded Softly, Dear at his studio, Pine Hollow – inviting him back to the studio for an experimental recording project. The idea is Middlesworth chooses a singer/songwriter, forms a band for them, and they record a few live takes of songs. This gave Hart a chance – and a deadline – to actually crank some songs out.
And that band ended up being kind of a dream team.
“I walk in and of course Josh (Frederick) is sitting there. Davy Sumner was sitting behind the drums and Evan himself was on bass, and I couldn’t have been happier,” Hart said. “It felt so good to be back and doing it, and working with really good musicians to make some cool songs. That’s kinda how I got back on the train.”
That session, which happened over a year ago, bred some good songs, but even more so, it breathed some life into Hart as a songwriter and helped him shake the rust off. So after they parted ways that first weekend, Hart got to work on a collection of songs for the band – now called Byways – which coalesced into a four-track self-titled EP.
The songs on the EP are definitive of Hart’s style – catchy guitar riffs with rock ’n’ roll punch, songs that move with intention blending rock, country twang, and indie stylings into a shiny collection of excellent tunes. And one of the live cuts from the first Pine Hollow session made it onto the EP, a slick jangly tune called “Laundry Day.” For Hart, what came out in the songs were feelings of growing up and starting to define who you are and what course your life is going to take.
“It’s about life slowing down. I had a little time to look around and realize who I actually am,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with coming to terms with the reality of fending for yourself, letting go of freedoms I had before and finding new freedoms, putting existential dread to a pop hook.”
As for the future, Hart said he’s ready to start playing shows and planning more releases, just like old times. Now that he’s back in the swing of things, Byways is ready for lift off.
“It’s four different songs, but they all have a similar aura to them. I worked hard on them, but I didn’t overthink them. I just wrote them,” Hart said. “I’m just proud that I wrote some songs exactly the way I wanted to.”
Byways is coming together to release the Byways EP – as well as debuting a few new cuts – with a show at The Plus in Eau Claire on Dec. 16 with opener Idle Empress. The EP will be available physically at the show, and digitally via Soundcloud and Bandcamp on Dec. 16.