Photo of
Photo By Laura Roberts
CAbin

Cabin

Replaceable Parts

By Hunter Embry

Folks young and old, hip and square, meddle in and out of an old building tucked between a few rows of shotgun houses. Music pours into the street each time a door is opened. There's a sign that reads "Beware of Dog" taped to the window. A mammoth Great Dane/German Shepard-mix named Penny Lane strolls through the chattering people, taking acknowledgements and observing the scene around her.

The spot used to be a mechanic's garage but has since been converted and dubbed DeadBird Studios. Cabin is the house band and is performing for friends in Louisville for the first time in almost two years.

Cabin's backbone, Noah Hewitt-Ball, sings just above a whisper, "Be careful your future's at stake," before the rest of the band erupts into the chorus of "Musical Seats." Bassist Billy Lease shakes the neck of his bass toward the large cluster of dancing people, sending his long hair flying in circles, while DeadBird owner and drummer Dave Chale cracks down on his kit wearing a constant smirk of sorts. Sara Welder, Cabin's violinist, breaks from her ear-to-ear smile just long enough to send a flurry of reverb-drenched notes surging through the PA. The band is loose and their sound is rust-less but their stiff concentration is evident.

The room is filled with wide-eyes and deep breaths. Welder and Hewitt-Ball's constant switching between guitars, keys and violin, coupled with an intricate rhythm section, create waves of dynamic and dramatic intellectual rock that Cabin has used to make a name for itself since 2005's Govern the Good Life was released. Only back then, Hewitt-Ball was surrounded by a completely different set of musicians.

According to Hewitt-Ball, the idea for Cabin emerged a few years earlier after he'd finished-up school at Murray State University.

"I had a lot of free time on my hands after graduation. I was coaching the men's rowing team at Murray and living in a cabin 25 minutes outside of town." He explained that his cousin James Hewitt was in a similar situation at the time, so the two decided to put together a band.

From left, Dave Chale, Billy Lease, Sarah Welder, Noah Hewett-Ball, Photo by Laura Roberts

Not long after, the cousins became reacquainted with old friend, band mate and guitarist Dave Cronin, who had also been writing songs. Bassist Jake Heustiss, who'd been Hewitt-Ball's roommate in college and a former bandmate, hopped on soon after, solidifying the original Cabin lineup. After enough material was gathered, Cabin embarked in a month-long recording session at Heustiss' family lake house.

"We had the album patched out and decided to demo the whole thing ourselves," Hewitt-Ball said. "We were all cooped up in this lake house with an 8-channel digital recorder, a dial-up Internet and no cable. We never left that entire month. It was a great time."

After demoing the new material, Cabin began looking for someone with a studio to record the first album. The group decided to record at the Funeral Home with Kevin Ratterman.

"We went to check out Ratterman's studio and he played me a demo he'd done that just bumped in my chest," Hewitt-Ball said. "It was also our first experience with Pro-Tools type recording."

The group recorded five days a week for a month straight. According to Hewitt-Ball, the band tried to find their sound in the studio.

"We tried to tackle the album full-on, but looking back, we probably should've spread it out."

Cabin spent eight months before their first show and according to Hewitt-Ball, the band had "labored" over the album for two more months.

"There wasn't a huge bang in the beginning. We found ourselves back in the basement, where we started."

Not long after, Heustiss left the band to pursue other musical ventures, including joining Scott Carney in Wax Fang, while Govern the Good Life was just starting to pick up steam.

Cabin. Photo by Laura Roberts

The album spent seven weeks in the top ten in total sales at ear X-Tacy and held the top spot for nearly a month. WFPK program director Laura Shine made Govern the Good Life her pick for album of the year. Still, according to Hewitt-Ball, band morale was down after Heustiss decided to leave.

"We were pretty upset but cool with his decision," Hewitt-Ball said. "We ended up holding auditions shortly after, which, looking back, was pretty ridiculous."

The group decided to go with Mark Hamilton, who was well known for his guitar work on several projects within the city. That same year, Cronin also exited the band.

Cabin had an increasingly popular album and a band that seemed to be slowly falling apart. Still, founding members and cousins Noah and James continued to move forward. Hamilton aborted bass responsibilities and filled the vacant lead guitar spot and the three-piece began looking for a new bassist.

Billy Lease, a considerably younger musician and family friend was asked to come in and audition. According to Hewitt-Ball, Lease's introduction to the band was comical at the very least.

Cabin CD. Photo by Laura Roberts

"It's classic Billy. I told him we'd needed a bass player and he showed up with a guitar, having learned all the guitar parts.

Lease recalls the event in a similar, but different light.

"I had been doing minor touring with a progressive cock-rock band, called Too Far Gone, when my aunt told me that Cabin was looking for a guitar player, so I learned a few tracks and auditioned." Lease said in between chuckles and sipping on a Coors Light. "I don't remember Noah ever saying they needed a bass player."

According to Lease, after three months of auditioning, he was officially part of Cabin.

Next on Hewitt-Ball's agenda, was to find a violin player to join the band.

"We'd had parts in songs where violin was recorded and I really liked the element, so I Googled violin players in Louisville," Hewitt-Ball said. "Two people popped up: a 50-year-old man and then Sarah (Welder).

Welder, originally from Southern Indiana, had spent much of her high school life playing classical violin and touring with orchestras around the country.

"I had a full-ride to IU and decided to enroll in the audio engineering program, which is where I met Dave (Chale)," Welder said. "I didn't really know how machines worked, so that program wasn't really the best for me."

Welder quickly switched her major to music education and after two years decided to leave school "blindly" and look for a band to join in Bloomington.

"It was pretty wild, I would go around town and pull down flyers of bands. I went to a few auditions and just didn't like it."

A few months later, Welder received a MySpace message from Hewitt-Ball and drove down to Louisville to audition, having never been in a band before. According to Hewitt-Ball, Cabin wasn't too impressed with Welder at first.

"She showed up, played a song or two and sounded like she wasn't that well-rehearsed, but we could tell she knew her stuff," Hewitt-Ball said. "Eventually Sarah began messing around with a lot of cool sounds that started taking over songs. They weren't just filler parts that we'd had before."

It didn't take long before Cabin began touring and talking with Machine Records in Wisconsin, but James Hewitt, who was quite a few years older than the rest of the guys in the band, became increasingly frustrated and unhappy.

Cabin. Photo by Laura Roberts

Hewitt-Ball elaborated: "He'd stuck through all of it and was at his end. For years, we'd been putting so much effort into it," Hewitt-Ball said. "Basically, we'd just spent most of our time re-staffing. It was like repeating a math class four years in a row, when you feel like you had a passing grade to begin with."

James Hewitt left the band and Hamilton wasn't far behind.

"Mark (Hamilton) had so many dates on his calendar. He was playing with all kinds of bands all around town and we just couldn't tour or do a lot of the things we wanted with his schedule," Hewitt-Ball said.

The group decided not to try and find a replacement, but instead they figured out how to create different music with the same instruments, but with Hewitt-Ball and Welder switching between each of them throughout the set.

During this time, the group had become friends with Dave Chale, who was frequently visiting Louisville with Welder while she auditioned and practiced with Cabin.

According to Hewitt-Ball, the band knew Chale played drums but didn't know the extent of his ability until Cabin spent a weekend partying in Bloomington.

"The party was getting really wild, so I went downstairs to take a break for a second and found Dave just hanging out with some of his buddies," Hewitt-Ball said. "He started wailing away on these electronic drums and it was badass. Our jaws were on the ground and when he finished, we just started busting out laughing because he was so good."

Chale was asked to join the band in November of '06, while still enrolled in the audio engineering program at IU and touring with a scream-o band in Bloomington. He moved to Louisville just two months later to join Cabin.

"At some point, I began listening to the first Cabin album and it just blew me away. It was the first time music that sounded like Coldplay had spoken to me. Everything just seemed strategically placed."

Within a couple months, the new, reinvented Cabin was touring and continuing to work on their new sound, eventually recording a five-song E.P., I Was Here. The following summer, the band signed with Machine Records.

Noah Hewitt-Ball, who had started Cabin three years before, was the only original member left. The band, energized by a whole new lineup continued to develop its craft and according to Welder, "to tour like crazy."

Cabin took advantage of opportunities and was able to tour Europe twice, playing several shows in the Netherlands and Germany. They played with Cage the Elephant at Summerfest and have performed in and out of the East coast and Midwest. Songs that had been recorded on their E.P were listed in Spin Magazine and MTV websites.

The new band was trying to write and record their second album while only at home for small patches of time. According to Lease, Cabin just wasn't getting enough done in the studio during that time. Hewitt-Ball talked about this particular time: "We spent years backpedaling and then a year-and-a-half of touring and trying to figure out how to be a band. We followed all of that touring with a year-and-a-half of writing and recording."

The band decided to have Chale record the demos for the album before going somewhere else to record the final project. After months of demoing, Cabin decided they wanted to record the whole thing with Chale.

Welder commented on tracking and mixing the new album: "We had no idea how good Dave was," Welder said. "It gave us the freedom to experiment with as much as we wanted and spent as much time putting the songs together as we needed."

According to Chale, Kevin Ratterman's recording style was a really big influence on his own recording at the time.

"When I moved here, I really got into how Kevin recorded," Chale said. But I thought maybe one day, I'd make enough money from Cabin to open a recording studio."

Since then, Chale has recorded numerous full-length albums, delving into several genres and scenes within the Louisville music community.

The twenty-four-year-old drummer claimed he really learned how to record during the years he spent helping to create the new Cabin album. Still, no one in the band, not even Welder, thought it was going to take as long as it did.

"For two years I was telling people the record was going to be out in two months," Welder said. "We were trying to perfect our sound and we weren't going to settle for any less."

Hewitt-Ball offered insight as to why the recordings had taken so long to finish.

"It was tough digging through all these old skeletons (songs that had been written) and try to figure out which ones were Frankenstein and which ones weren't." Hewitt-Ball said.

He claimed some of it was also writer's block.

"When I would sit down to write, all these things would bombard my mind," Hewitt-Ball said. "I didn't want to write about all these thoughts because I didn't want to sing about them for the next five years."

The result was a large, landscape of songs dealing with many contemporary cultural observances.

"It (writing the record) was more about absorbing things like science and politics. I was doing a lot of reading and studying," Hewitt-Ball said. "If anything I was trying not to dwell on the past and past relationships."

The singer paused as he stared in a different direction.

"Talking about this record is just as confusing as it was trying to write it," Hewitt-Ball said. I was just trying to find my way out of the chaos."

Welder explained another angle into Noah's writing: "He writes the way he does because of the way Noah sees the world. He thinks so hard about every piece of the world. He's so analytical of everything and it shows in his writing and the way the songs turn out."

While the album is finished, Hewitt-Ball and the other member's seem uncertain of where or how far it will take them.

"I'm much happier with the recording of this album. It's more upbeat, less melancholy and has a more aggressive optimism," Hewitt-Ball said. "We had time to have fun with it and surprise ourselves."

However, he did express doubt: "You keep thinking things will happen, but then you know it won't. I think it's healthy to think about it like that," Hewitt-Ball said. "I've put 100 percent into this band for so long and I'd love to play with this band for the rest of my life, but I'm going to start setting sights on two goals."

Welder agreed."This is going to be the last big push where we take Cabin as serious as we do. If it doesn't work out, then we'll start pursuing other things."

She did offer insights into their strategy and goals for the record.

"We're going to try to knock everything out in Louisville this summer, hopefully playing several shows. Then in the fall, when all the kids are back in school we are going to try and tour a lot of college towns. We've had a lot of success with it (playing to college students) in the past."

Chale claimed he feels in limbo and is anxious about it's release. "We just went and played a couple shows in Indy and Chicago and it went over well. We were getting the chance to go out and make silly mistakes again and it was fun, but I can't wait to start playing around here again."

The band that had all but made itself a household name in many sections of the city seemed as if it had just disappeared in the hustle and bustle of Louisville music. It has been five years since the last full-length Cabin album, almost two years since their last show and the band has been patiently crafting the release of their new album, Among the Rectangles and Changeable Parts.

Cabin's CD release show is scheduled for June 19 at Headliner's Music Hall.