Hudson K's new album Shine is a more mature version of what Christina Horn calls "anti-pop," keyboard-driven rock like that on the band's 2007 EP Safety Line. The recording of the album took more than a year, and that effort and attention is evident in the music. Shine draws on classic rock and some great women of '90s indie music like PJ Harvey and Tori Amos, as well as Bach and Beethoven. The album's synthesizers, vintage electric pianos, and multi-faceted percussion combine to make a dusky and soulful sound, and Horn's expressive voice stays strong through the album's fluttering, intricate piano, solid synths, Wurlitzer, and more.
"I always wanted to make music that was dream-like, where you could forget about all the other crap that's going on with your life," says Horn, the band's lead singer, keyboard player, and songwriter. "This album has been a personal journey from going to a place of sadness to a place of great joy. Life is how you get from point A to point B, and I certainly wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't been through a bunch of shit."
Horn's not kidding when she talks about the importance of a journey. She spent seven years at the University of Tennessee getting undergraduate and graduate degrees in classical piano. Four years ago she was teaching piano lessons but had never composed music. After some soul-searching and well-timed jams, she came to see a different path.
"I do remember a snap where something just changed and I thought, ‘Okay, I'm going to write a song,'" she says. "Deep down inside I always wanted to be a songwriter and performer, but I was terrified for so long because I thought that you had to have a gift to write songs, that it was just something some people could do. And that's totally not true—anybody can write a song."
Hudson K spent the past year recording the new album at Knoxville's Famous London Recording Studios. It was a learning process for the band members, who had to both integrate a variety of instruments (like vintage keyboards and a Hammond organ) and exhibit self-control in the editing process.
"I've always wanted to be in a rock band," Horn says. "I didn't want to be in a piano-centric band where I played piano and nothing else mattered. I wanted guitars and bass—I wanted to be in a band where everything mattered."
Hudson K's drummer, Nate Barrett, has played in a number of local bands throughout the years and is also heavily involved in Knoxville's Circle Modern Dance. The newest member of the band, Jeff Christmas, plays both bass and guitar. Horn found out that he was a vocal performance coach at Pellissippi State only after he joined the band, and convinced him to add his voice to the mix. These compelling harmonies add to the heart and pull of the album.
As the recording process dragged on, Hudson K "hit a brick wall financially," Horn says. Rather than pursue more typical avenues for funding, the band implemented an innovative pre-sale structure to allow them to finish the album. People were allowed to pay whatever they wanted to get the album when it was done. If you paid above a certain amount, though, the rewards grew: signed posters, VIP passes, and more. For $200, fans were offered a choice between a spot on the guest list at Hudson K shows for life or the opportunity to play or sing on the album.
"I didn't think it was going to work at all, but we had a couple people show up with cash in their hands, beer, and a willingness to sing and play drums on the track ‘Oh Whiskey,'" Horn says. "What I learned from the pre-sale is that if I have an idea and I can make it materialize, I have all the power in the world that I need to be successful."