Famed Kernersville-based producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Let’s Active) describes making country rock trio Amigo’s sophomore album, “And Friends,” as a joyous experience, but songwriter Slade Baird wasn’t feeling very joyous when he wrote most of the songs on the record.
“The record reflects a different time in my life, which was not the most fun period,” says Baird, who wasn’t fully conscious of what was driving his songwriting at the time. “Looking back, it’s definitely about the end of a pretty long seven-year relationship. (The songs were) screaming that that’s what they’re about, even though I didn’t realize it fully when I was writing it.”
The album was recorded a year ago, and the band celebrates its release at Snug Harbor Saturday.
The songs reflect the time leading up to a broken engagement, but Baird also stretched his skills as a songwriter, now having years of experience and Amigo’s well-crafted debut,” Might Could,” under his belt. He worked with friend Matt Cosper – founder and artistic director of theatrical ensemble XOXO (formerly Machine Theatre) – on lyrics and explored surrealism, fantasy and different ways of saying things that otherwise “might’ve come off as a little more ‘I’m so sad,’ ” he says.
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“I Wanna Live” is one that finds light in the darkness when, as Baird sings, “depression splits.”
“What started out as, ‘Oh man, maybe I’ve really done it this time. I’m not going to be able to work this relationship out. Is it worth fixing?’ turned into something bigger,” says Baird. “Depression is something that’s been in my life that I’ve learned to live with, and it might’ve been right around this time I was starting to notice the end of the depression. That line popped in there.”
“I don’t think it was a conscious choice to write a hopeful song,” he continues. “It just ended up being kind of hopeful. If a relationship ends, it’s not the end of the world. In the throes of it, depression can feel like the end of the world, but when it breaks it’s not. I need those kind of reminders for myself.”
At 40, Baird’s perspective has changed through experience. A freelance video editor by day, he recently returned from a refugee camp in Bangladesh, where he was working on a film for a humanitarian organization. He’s been to Iraq twice for similar projects.
“It was 11 miles outside of Mosul,” he says of a hospital that consisted of generators and tents erected next to a concrete wall, where women, children and war victims were treated. “You could hear bombs going off and gunshots. It’s changed my perspective on a lot of things, from where we are in the world and my personal life to how I respond in times of stress.”
While those experiences may wind their way into the next Amigo album, “And Friends” (which features guest whose instruments you don’t normally hear at Amigo’s shows) marks the end of a rough patch that manages to sound clean, emotionally authentic, rich in musical depth without coming across as fussy or busy.
“I was listening to a lot of country rock from the ’70s – Townes Van Zandt and John Prine, folk singers who could play songs by themselves but in the studio had the best musicians making this huge layered, textured sound,” he explains. “We wanted to make that kind of record. That’s why we found good musicians whose records we like, and had them play on ours. It’s why we got Mitch Easter to engineer it and recorded to tape.”
Adds Baird: “In trying to live up to our favorite (albums), we did our best to make a good honest record.”
When: 10 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St.