A well-timed question was the impetus behind One Aisle Over's recent decision to get serious about their music. Last New Year's Eve, drummer Daniel Hays approached lead vocalists Naomi Hooley and Josh Lockhart to talk about where they were headed.
"He said, 'Are we playing music, or are we playing music?'" Hooley recalls. "So we really started thinking about it."
After some serious discussion, the local band came up with a long-term plan that includes hitting the road to perform more shows and recording their first studio CD, both of which involve more practicing and polishing of the band's extensive catalog of original songs.
Both Lockhart, 31, and Hooley, 29, are self-employed - Lockhart is a carpenter and Hooley operates a housekeeping and landscaping business - so making more time for music presents a challenge. But both said they are determined to make a go of it.
The CD project is now in the works; the band has carved out time in October to head down to a recording studio, 8 Ball, in Portland, Ore., to finish the album. Once they have that product in hand, it will be easier for them to secure performances down South.
"It's really the only way to be taken seriously when you're promoting yourself," Lockhart said.
The band, who has described their sound as acoustic-rock, performs this Friday at Chapel by the Lake, with proceeds from ticket sales going toward the CD's production. The next night they'll be at the Viking. And from there they head north, playing 10 gigs in 12 days with stops in Wasilla, Homer, Palmer, Anchorage and Seward.
Hooley has booked a wide range of venues, and said the band is equally comfortable creating a big sound in front of a crowd or toning it down for an acoustic show in a cafe.
"I think that's something that's unique about our band - we're able to have both those sounds," she said.
The band's makeup fluctuates but core members Lockhart (vocals and guitar), Hooley (vocals and keyboards) and Hays (percussion) remain constants. Those three, as well as saxophone player Brian Van Kirk, will be recording the CD in October, most likely with a couple other musicians as yet to be determined. A different configuration, made up of Lockhart, Hooley and Hays as well as Chris Fannin on bass and Sarah Gothold on violin (minus Van Kirk, whose wife recently had a baby) will be heading north for the tour. That group also will perform together in Juneau.
Hooley and Lockhart were close friends for years before they started playing music together, and that base of friendship still serves them well, Lockhart said. Hooley contributed to Lockhart's solo CD, produced in 2007. After that project was finished, the decision was made to form a band. The two share songwriting and lead vocalist responsibilities in One Aisle Over.
Both songwriters have been particularly prolific recently.
"We've been writing songs faster than we can learn them," Lockhart said.
The increased output may be due in part to a broader focus. Hooley said she used to tap into only her darker emotions when writing music, creating one sad song after another. But as she's matured and come to a more healthy place in her life, she's found ways to include more positive energy as well.
"I think I've learned to write all of my emotions," she said.
Lockhart agreed that both of them have branched out in their songwriting, adding that he can see some crossover between them
"I think we we've influenced each other," he said. "I've certainly been inspired."
He said he is particularly impressed with Hooley's lyrical abilities and the ideas she is able to convey in her songs. On the flip side, he said he has seen her incorporate more playful rhythm-based elements in her songs, partly due to his influence.
"It's been neat to see how we've rubbed off on each other," he said.
Once a song has been composed by either Hooley or Lockhart, it is brought before the other band members for input. Opening a song up for sharing is an experience both songwriters said they enjoy, in spite of the vulnerability inherent in the process. From there, the song begins to take on energy from other band members and transform into a whole piece.
"There is something very inspiring when another person gets behind what you're doing and adds their own creativity to it," Hooley said.
The band's other members often create their own parts as they go.
"Both of us allow the other musicians in the band to have their own creative flow," she said. "We kind of let them feel it out for themselves."
She also said that the band has been lucky to have musicians who are comfortable playing together and proficient enough with their instruments to handle this kind of creative freedom.
The band's drummer, Hays, has expanded his percussive duties into something broader.
"Daniel Hays is really like the glue," Hooley said.
"He has quite a bit of creative input and has really good ideas so between the three of us, that's where a lot of the structure of the songs comes from," Lockhart said.
The songs often change as the band works through them, a process that can be hard to call off.
"I think (the songs) always have the potential to be different, and they always have the potential to get better," Hooley said. "I don't know if I'd get to the point where I'd say 'This song will never change.'"
Hooley and Lockhart have a combined library of originals consisting of about 50 or 60 songs, according to Hooley, something that makes selecting tracks for their CD rather tricky.
"It's a good problem to have but it will present a challenge," Lockhart said.
Once the CD is completed, possibly by December, the band hopes to set up tours in the Lower 48 next summer. And even if their decision to go for it doesn't work out the way they want it to, Hooley said the process will have been worth it.
"At the end of the day, we'll have played original stuff with friends we love and enjoy, and done the thing we love the most," she said.