The American Train Collective consists of eight young musicians and they are in no hurry to become recording music icons.
Because what they accomplished last summer was even more rewarding than any sold-out international world tour or multi-million dollar record label deal.
The whole group went on an epic four-day train trip across the country and along the way, they wrote and performed 12 songs from scratch. Combining travel with songwriting was the perfect mix as the landscape outside of their Amtrak viewing carts provided the inspiration and the bonds they formed fueled their creativity.
But it didn’t end there.
After not seeing each other for six months, all eight musicians, who each have ties to Hampton Roads, got together again and recorded their debut album — the songs they originally wrote during their trip — inside a professional recording studio in Virginia Beach.
“That trip we took was truly magical so to meet up again and record eight songs in one day … It felt like a natural continuation of everything,” said Jeanette Corey, 25, a Yorktown resident, who was the brainchild behind the project and arranged the initial train trip.
“In a way, recording this album was like giving back. When you travel, everything can be so consumptive. So that’s why putting this album together is important. I mean, how can you possibly give back to the Colorado Mountains?”
To put the finishing touches on their debut album, the American Train Collective launched a one-month Kickstarter campaign on April 1 as they are hoping to raise $3,000 to go toward digitally editing the music and then production of physical albums.
“There’s eight of us, so we could try to raise the money but we thought it would be good to get our story out there for inspiration purposes,” said Caroline Scruggs, 25, who was born in Williamsburg and now lives in Richmond.
“We want this to be community-oriented. To kind of come from the ground up.”
Scruggs sings and plays the banjolele for 504 Supreme, a New Orleans-influenced jazz band, based in Richmond. One of the members from the band, Matt Fattal, suggested they record the American Train Collective album and assisted them in finding the right studio for the project.
Several members of the group graduated from Christopher Newport University in Newport News. And while each of the members either studied, worked or lived within Hampton Roads at some point in their lives, they currently are scattered between Virginia, Tennessee, Wisconsin and New Jersey. So getting everyone together again was an accomplishment in itself.
But the actual recording “was a miracle,” Scruggs said.
They met the night before and rehearsed songs that had not sung together in six months. After a few hours of sleep, they were in the recording studio very early the next day and successfully recorded eight tracks in 12 hours.
“Besides Caroline, none of us had ever really been in a recording studio so yeah, we were a little bright-eyed at first,” Corey said. “But to record eight songs in one day was amazing. It brought us right back to our trip. It was as if we did not lose a step.”
It’s safe to say that if the American Train Collective were to be a one-and-done, die-while-we’re-young project, then they would have been happy with their original tracks as a private treasure, according to their website.
“But we have dreams for this thing,” Corey said. “We’re working now on making sure that the American Train Collective has a future, and that the magic of connection to people, place, and sound that we experienced through it is shared by countless artists in the future.”
Instead of booking local venues to play their music or putting more focus on potential radio play, the group is already talking about their next trip, which is tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2018 and will go from Canada down to New Orleans.
“France to France, essentially,” Corey said.
“There was a lot of talk within the group about whether or not it was right to put an emphasis on getting the best recording. The process was kind of the point of this whole thing.”
But they realized that putting out a clean debut album will inspire other musicians to possibly join them on future trips and contribute to future projects.
For this album, Scruggs and Corey were joined by Corey’s sister Lizzy, 21, who filmed the entire trip for an upcoming short film, and their little brother Samuel, 16, the youngest on the trip, who Corey affectionately described later as “the coolest teenager I know.”
Corey and Scruggs’ old friends from CNU, Will Fruchterman, 24, and Alie Astete, 24, also joined the fun. They both live in Nashville, Tenn., and like Corey and Scruggs, are freelance musicians.
The rest of the cast included Caroline Redick, 25, a Milwaukee resident, who is pursuing her PhD in theological ethics at Marquette University; and Kelly Agnew, 25, a Newport News resident, who is a library assistant and children’s program coordinator.
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