(extended version article originally published in Star News with additional Q&A)
By Brian Tucker
Unless you somehow caught a show in Europe, there was little chance of getting your hands on Andy Bilinski’s Snow’s Cut Park. The album, whose songs were written at the tranquil park of the same name adjacent to the bridge to Carolina Beach, has been unavailable for almost three years.
“I shelved it for awhile when I was going back and forth with a couple of record labels,” Bilinski said. “Time was passing by and I was fed up with the waiting game. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I pressed a short run of “physical” copies and sold it only at shows, primarily in Europe. Outside of Europe, very few people have heard it.”
A few of its tunes were on Bilinski’s spare The Dogwood Sessions album in 2012. The hazy, lush and sometimes electric material that has been alone for so long is seeing the light of day. Out January 30th, it’s a shame the material has languished. It’s warm, fun, and intimately engaging songwriting, especially given its back story.
Songs oscillate between bouncy, jangly rockers (“Sweet B,” “Live Free”) and more plaintive material (“Pearl,” “Salome”). Opening with the alt-country meets 90s alt-rock rambler “Jukebox,” it’s a scintillating radio ready song. But for every tune like it there’s a more careful one, like the sweet and sour “Blackbook” or the somber “Red Plastic Harp” with its embraceable vocals and sighing slide guitar.
Snow’s Cut Park is hands down a band record – lots of electric guitars on there, percussion and even horns,” Bilinski said of its energy. “Everything starts with a notebook and an acoustic guitar. Some songs are meant to be simple and some beg for a wall of sound. Snow’s Cut Park begged for a backbone and I did my best to provide it. I let the songs paint themselves. So, there’s definitely texture on here but it’s also very intimate at times.”
The album is about the lack of stability of a home, writing clearly influenced in part by his former living situation. During its gestation Bilinski was essentially living out of his car and with a friend on an old wooden boat. He’d write songs in the park, drink coffee, and go to the boat when weather became inclement.
“I’d drink coffee all day and write in the park, maybe eat something then retire back at the boat when it got too cold. There was some older gentleman that lived on his boat out there as well. He seemed to have had an endless supply of cheap red wine. He’d share it with us and tell jokes I never understood but I laughed along, regardless. It was an interesting time during the process of making this record. It’s all in there.”
Today Bilinski spends a fair amount of time in Europe, touring more each year. Time spent abroad ends up in songs with a yin and yang fashion. Traveling and playing so far away channels new material. But it also unearths ideas for songs about home Bilinski says he wouldn’t be able write otherwise.
“I’ve been at it awhile now. I worked and worked at it, and I continue to work at it. Last time I was there the only day I had off we spent recording. I’m pretty busy when I’m there. For years I did everything myself. Traveled alone and just went for it.”
He recalls periods of time there alone with disparate feelings, that it could be either scary as hell at times or other times it was “complete magic.” I’ve been touring over there for years now. About twice a year I’m on tour and that’s expanding. It’s primarily the only place I’ve been performing the last couple years. It was scary as hell at times and at times it was complete magic.”
He has a booking agent and manager in Europe and last fall took part in the “One Song One Take” music video sessions. He performed a new song called “Thinking Out Loud” accompanied by cellist Andreas Lammer and filmed in an old bowling alley. Tender and haunted, the song is about looking back on growing up in New York. Partly recorded there, it will be on the album Bilinksi is currently working on for release later this year.
“Bern, Switzerland has turned into my home away from home and now I have a cellist – Lammer and guitarist – Yannik Schuler, that perform shows with me over there. As for places to stay, it all depends on where I am.”
Additional Q and A
What was The Dogwood Sessions?
The Dogwood Sessions was a collection of songs off other records of mine including a couple off Snow’s Cut Park with a couple new ones done primarily acoustic. A few friends chipped in that were in the neighborhood. We recorded it in two nights, I think. The purpose of that record was to have something representing myself stripped down since I perform solo most of the time. It’s more personal from a music perspective because it’s so bare bones, but from a songwriting perspective they line up about the same.
What’s the biggest take away from the travels? Learning more about myself and the world we live in. Meeting new people and exploring different culture. Oh, and how you can hear a pin drop at many shows.
How much does it alter your songwriting?
As a songwriter, experiences I have 5000 miles away tends to provoke new songs. But in the same time being away, provokes songs about home that I more or less wouldn’t have been able to write if I never left. I’ve been at it awhile now. I worked and worked at it and I continue to work at it. The last time I was there the only day I had off we spent recording. I’m pretty busy when I’m there. For years I did everything myself. Traveled alone and just went for it.
Do you busk while there?
No. I’ll play in the streets here and there just to do it, but I don’t busk. One time in Paris years ago after a show, a crowd of people wanted me to play another set in a nearby park. Cops put an end to that real quick. I didn’t have my passport on me and the situation was going down hill. So when I went back into the club to get my ID, I bolted out another door and jumped on a train.
Do you prefer to record more in live takes?
I do prefer to record more in live takes but it’s just not always possible. The Dogwood Sessions was totally like that with very few, if any, overdubs. Snow’s Cut Park was tracked differently, mainly because my drummer is also my bass player, longtime friend Brian Mason.
Snow’s Cut Park full playlist:
The Dogwood Sessions full playlist: