A year ago last February, the four members of Poestenkill rock band Blue Factory converged on a friend’s rustic lake house deep in the Adirondacks to record their debut album, Limekiln. Slated for release this Saturday at Albany’s Lark Tavern, the album takes its name—and cover photo of four shadowy figures standing on a frozen-blue surface—from the isolated lake near Old Forge that served as backdrop for the band’s wintery recording sessions.
Accompanied by the lake’s moans and groans, and the relentless buzz of distant snowmobiles, the group hunkered down with producer Barry Breckenridge, an old friend (and former drummer of ’80s Albany band Even the Odd), for five days of home recording.
“We set up the control room in one of the bedrooms. We had amps set up in bathrooms and down in the basement. We just binge drank and recorded,” says singer and guitarist Jim Crawley.
Do-it-yourself in spirit, the sessions were not without their challenges, Crawley admits. “There were lots of twists and turns in the recording process. With home recording you have to deal with a lot of sound and electricity issues. We spent half a day moving stuff around because there was this incredible hum. The dimmer switch in the dining room screwed us. Then I did 30 or so guitar tracks before discovering there was bass bleed in all of them.”
But the sessions also provided a getaway of sorts for Jim Crawley, his identical twin brother Joe (the band’s drummer), singer-bassist Mike Hayes and singer-guitarist Jim Temple. During drunken, late-night iPod listening sessions, the old friends (the Crawleys and Hayes have known each other since second grade, while Temple and Jim Crawley met in college) would try to outdo each other with songs from their favorite bands, or out-depress each other with weepy tunes (Warren Zevon’s dying swan song “Keep Me in Your Heart” elicited the most tears).
“It was nice being away from everything and being teenagers. We had such a great time but didn’t sleep much,” Jim Crawley says. As veterans of several upstate New York rock bands from the ’80s and ’90s—Private Plain, the Brink and Crawdad—the 40-something members of Blue Factory now find themselves mostly occupied by grown-up careers and family responsibilities.
“We all have jobs and kids,” Hayes says, half-jokingly comparing the band’s songwriting to working-man anthems like Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” The songs on Limekiln, although nowhere near as depressing as Lightfoot’s epic tearjerker, are similarly grounded in both real-life and mythical events, from “Women’s Temperance Work,” inspired by a newspaper from 1928 that Jim Crawley found in the barn of his 200-year-old farmhouse, to “From a Workshop,” influenced by an old campfire song about Johnny Verbeck, a scary character who invented a machine to turn kids into sausages.
“These are grown-up guys singing. To me, it’s more timeless,” Hayes says. He and his fellow members formed Blue Factory two and a half years ago, naming the group after a road in Poestenkill where factories made blue dye for Northern uniforms during the Civil War. At the time, they were determined to have fun and not take themselves too seriously but still wanted an outlet for creative expression.
“This is our hobby. But I’m not whole unless I can have that other focus. The couple years when I didn’t have that I was miserable,” Jim Crawley says of the years after Crawdad broke up in 2003. He and his brother Joe were on the outs then, leading to the band’s dissolution, but Jim couldn’t bring himself to play with anyone else. “That was the first time I wasn’t in a band since I was 17 or 18. I tried out a couple of drummers. It was a joke. I couldn’t connect with anybody. I couldn’t play with anyone else.”
“We took a break from each other,” Joe Crawley says of the time he and Jim spent apart post-Crawdad, their first significant musical separation since bashing out Ramones and Devo covers in basement bands as teenagers. “We’ve since made up for that. It happened at a good time because we grew up.”
“They’ve got that twin power,” Hayes says of the Crawleys’ shared musical intuition. “The twin thing is intense for us to deal with because they communicate in this twin language. The four of us were determined not to take Blue Factory seriously, but it sounded so good so quickly that we had to.”
“These two lock in,” agrees Temple. “From a creative standpoint, this is the best musical experience I’ve ever had. As different as we are, we all each respect each other.”
As Private Plain, an Albany jangle-pop band that built up a college radio following in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Crawleys (joined by Temple in that band) toured pretty relentlessly, a feat the adults in Blue Factory have no interest in repeating anytime soon. “In Private Plain, we were doing five or six gigs a week,” Jim Crawley says. “You learn a lot about the industry. I did all that. Don’t want to do it anymore.”
“A few times I got in a van and didn’t know where the hell I was going,” adds Joe.
In his previous bands, Jim Crawley took on the bulk of the songwriting duties, but Blue Factory is more of a collaborative effort, with the songs split among three primary songwriters (Jim Crawley, Temple and Hayes) and Joe Crawley adding significant input on the musical arrangements.
“In previous bands, I’d be the one driving the truck, so to speak,” Jim Crawley says. “With three writers, it’s something I’m still getting used to, but it’s been great. We don’t mind each other’s criticisms. If someone doesn’t like something, we say so. To me, that’s the most amazing thing. You can open yourself up to that kind of criticism. I’ve never done that before. It’s really liberating. And it’s nice to sit back and listen to the others. There are a lot of places where I can just be a guitar player. I was so busy before, when I was in trios.”
Enjoying their musical collaboration, and their weekend practice sessions in a friend’s basement, the members of Blue Factory are just looking to play, have fun, and get more local people to their shows. “The music is honest,” Joe Crawley says. “We’re honest. It’s just good honest rock & roll. No one fucking rocks anymore.”
“We’re still dumb rock & roll people. We like it loud,” his brother adds.
“After every practice, we swear we’re going to turn it down,” Hayes says. “We never do.”