To a certain degree, all songwriting is autobiographical. Some songs are pure fiction, but most are based on at least a kernel of personal experience.
Jay Basiner takes that idea to the extreme. The lead singer and principal songwriter for the Portland-based Americana band This Way wraps together fact and fiction in the band’s new CD, “The Story of Simon Pure.”
“Simon Pure is equal parts my father’s story, his father’s story and my story — and fourthly, a fictitious character that is somewhere in between the other three,” said Basiner, 32.
The band celebrates the release of the disc with a party Friday night at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland. The Adam Ezra Group opens the show.
Among the interesting things about this CD is that it’s very much a story album. Other than the bonus tracks at the end of the disc, the songs all relate to each other and tell a complete story about a purposeful rambler from Oklahoma who leaves his family to pursue his dream of making music in Nashville.
Basiner stops short of calling it a concept album, because the songs stand on their own. But they were written in narrative form, like chapters of a book.
This Way recorded “Simon Pure” over three days in June with Jon Nolan at Milltown Recording Co in Rollinsford, N.H. The record was tracked almost exclusively live, with few overdubs. There are songs about railroads and prison and love lost and found. It’s pure country, in theme and structure.
And a lot of is true, Basiner said. “Simon Pure knows what he wants, and he’s chasing his dream. That’s what we’re doing with this band.”
In addition to Basiner, This Way includes Andrew Martelle on fiddle, mandolin and vocals; Dave Patterson on bass; Anna Patterson on vocals; and Charlie Sichterman on drums. In just a few short years, the band has become one of the most acclaimed in Maine, and won top honors earlier this year at the New England Music Awards.
Basiner was raised in Milford, Mass. His grandfather worked on a railroad down there, and played music on the side. He passed his interest in music to Basiner’s father, who passed it on down the line.
“The songs on ‘Simon Pure’ feel like the same songs that I grew singing, that my grandfather taught my father,” he said. “They are songs that tell a story about the American spirit.”
Basiner and Dave Patterson began This Way as a rock band in Vermont, when both were enrolled at Saint Michaels College in Burlington. The band drifted toward the alt-country realm when Martelle joined in summer 2009.
Martelle, also 32, is a veteran of the Nashville music scene. He grew up in Maine as a classically trained violinist, and moved to Nashville to attend college at Vanderbilt. He caught the country bug down there, and spent several years on the road with various touring acts. He came home to raise a family.
Martelle and Basiner quickly fell in with each other, finding a musical groove that satisfied them both. “He’s the yin to my songwriting yang,” Basiner said. “His playing supports my writing. He completed the sound of the band.”
Martelle felt instant kinship.
“This CD is about a fictitious character named Simon that Jay wrote about, but in a lot of ways, it’s about the two of us,” he said. “We spend a lot of time away, on the road. It’s what we do. It’s the life we have chosen. We see a lot of different towns.”
In addition to This Way, the two also perform as a duo they call North of Nashville, playing every Thursday all summer on the deck at Brian Boru.
Much of material they recorded on “The Story of Simon Pure” they worked out in the bars of Portland. In that sense, North of Nashville is the proving ground for This Way.
The bigger band spends most weekends on the road, touring south to Washington, D.C., and east to Rochester, N.Y. If this record succeeds, the members hope to expand their touring grounds.
Last year, between the duo and the band, they played about 200 gigs, and are on track for more of the same in 2012.
There’s a line in final song on “Simon Pure” called “There’s Nothing Else (That I’d Rather Do)” that pretty well sums up Basiner’s attitude about the band and his life.
“This life ain’t easy, lord that’s the truth
But there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
“That’s me and Andrew,” Basiner said. “It’s not easy. It’s a lot of work. But we can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: