Live chemistry, distilled in a studio on Mellow Endeavor’s new album

Four hours. That’s how long it took Aroostook County band Mellow Endeavor to record their debut LP, “All Paths Lead Home,” available this weekend at their Aroostook County CD release parties, and for download and purchase on May 21. To give some perspective, that’s how long the extended edition of “The Return of the King” is. That’s about how long it takes to cook a 12-pound turkey. What takes most bands weeks – if not months – took Mellow Endeavor the amount of time it takes to drive from Houlton to Portland, with a stop to pee.

“We had no idea how exactly we were going to do it, honestly,” said Jason Howe, who plays hand percussion, along with guitarists Jim Zabierek and Brad Hutchison and bassist James Morang. “All we knew is that we are a live band, and that’s how we want to present ourselves. So when we got in there we knew we wanted to record the whole thing live, all in one big take. We wanted to keep it raw. Just hit record and go.”

In January of this year the four entered a studio at the New England School of Communications in Bangor with producer Josh Small. Four hours later they walked out with an eight-song, 38-minute album, that captured the band’s warm, breezy, acoustic sound – stripped down like bluegrass, but with a groovy, melodic thread running through it that’s equal parts Guster and the Grateful Dead.

“We said we could only do three takes of each song. If we didn’t get it in the first three, we’d lose patience and energy and we’d have to move on,” said Howe. “I think that really forced us to do our best. We recorded a ton of stuff, and picked our favorites from it. I’m really happy with the result.”

As mentioned, Mellow Endeavor prides itself on being a live act. Though the album does manage to capture some of that in-the-moment spirit, it still doesn’t entirely incapsulate the laid-back chemistry that Howe, Hutchinson and Zabierek have when they’re performing. After nearly a year of playing on a constant weekend circuit between Aroostook County, Bangor and Portland and some spots in between, last October the band began an extended break, playing just a few shows each month and focusing on writing, recording and family – Howe’s got three small children that he and his wife are raising in Houlton. Life is hectic, but life is good.

“It’s hard to do the 12 shows a month thing and still have time for anything else,” said Howe. “Plus, the music scene up here in the County is finally starting to come together. We don’t have to be on the road every weekend like we used to.”

Howe attributes the work done by fellow County musicians Travis Cyr, of the Strings of Calamity, and Derek Smith, of KMH Music in Presque Isle, as the big thing helping to get people from Houlton to Caribou out of the house and into live shows. Cyr’s Arootsakoostik Music Festival – set this year for Saturday, July 13 at Thomas Park in New Sweden – and Smith’s regular booking of bands at his store and other County venues has begun to revive what has been dormant for some time.

“It’s nice to be able to say that we’re getting some music up here,” said Howe. “We may not have huge, sellout crowds and hundreds of people, but we do have a group of devoted people who really listen and enjoy every second of it.”

Mellow Endeavor will play three CD release shows this weekend, starting at 8 p.m. Friday, May 3 at the American Legion Hall in Houlton, noon on Saturday, May 5 at the Whole Potato in Presque Isle, and 5:30 p.m. May 5 at Eureka Hall in Stockholm. The band will also play a Bangor CD release at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 17 at Nocturnem Drafthaus. “All Paths Lead Home” will be available on CD at all shows, and starting May 21 will be available for download on iTunes and Amazon.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.