Aligned for Optimism

Brian Haywood, Rants Editor

The act of becoming a musician is something that is often romanticized in our mainstream culture; just look at the countless TV shows depicting teenagers doing just that. But there are two young, enterprising musicians from Keller High School who are making music anyway, and they do not care if anyone wants to put them on Disney Channel. They actually do not want that at all. Their names are Randy Jones and Austin Longbine, but you probably know them from Bandcamp as The Grand Optimist and Left Aligned.

These two seniors both have EPs out under their respective monikers, with which they have written, performed, and produced all on their own, without any outside creative control, and in a surprisingly short span of time.  However, while they have similar stories, their sounds vary quite differently from each other, which stem from their influences.

“I’ll listen to a certain genre of music for a while, and then when I start to write music during that time, my music reflects it,” Austin said on where he finds inspiration.

Much of his style, which is very technical and rhythmically diverse, derives from rock giants such as Radiohead and Pink Floyd. Randy, on the other hand, believes his low-key style is reminiscent of some of the more ambient folk from The Antlers and Bon Iver.

Being as self-initiated and maintained as they choose to be frees them of oppressive control from a record label, and the differences that surface from working in a band. It is not without its challenges, however, as they are almost always alone, and recording on home studio equipment that they bought with their own salaries.

“You’re not going to make good music if you’re not hard on yourself, so I’m definitely harder on myself than anybody’s ever going to be,” Randy said.

Hours are poured into tracking just one instrument on a particular song before even the bare components are finished. Across the span of a week, only seemingly minor differences might be made to the music, mostly regarding balance and structure. There are no shortcuts in music, after all, and mastering and mixing tend to be the most time-intensive periods of the creative process.

Once they release their albums to the internet via Bandcamp, however, the process is far from over, and their work is open for review from bloggers and critics. There is no guarantee as to how it will be received, which can be frustrating.

“Especially,” said Austin, “when you compose an album in a certain way that people are supposed to listen to it, and it isn’t listened to that way.”

As with most creative endeavors, much of the payoff comes regardless of what the general public thinks of it, but, nevertheless, seeing how friends react to and enjoy the music is one of the most satisfying aspects of songwriting. As for the future, both agree that independent creating is what they want to do later on as well.

“I’ll take it as far as it takes me,” Randy said. “I think the plan is to do something that progresses it every day.”

As far as live shows go, playing shops and coffee houses is not out of the question, but recording and releasing the way they have been is more forgiving and rewarding.

“When you’re small, a lot of the songs don’t translate super well in that sort of setting- it’s not as intimate as it could be,” Randy said.

As for Austin, his ambitions for playing shows are hindered by his lack of resources. Recording with a full band sound: vocal harmonies, drums, multiple guitars, and bass, all done by him- has let his music become its own entity, but to play live, more measures are required.

“Instead of teaching people to play my music,” Austin said with a laugh, “I’ll invest in a looper instead.”

Fame, glory and widespread name recognition obviously take a back seat to the creative integrity of their projects and being true to their ideas, but nevertheless the music continues to progress. Along with Left Aligned’s “The Lives We Live” and The Grand Optimist’s “Quiet Your Mind,” both individuals are already working on new solo EPs, due in the coming months. Even having one album of your own creation is more than most people can say, but whatever other people have to say has not bothered them before. With the growing interest in making music among young people and the perpetuation by movies and reality TV shows, entrepreneurs have capitalized on the trend; now they charge kids and adults alike to use their high-tech equipment, receive extensive consultation, and have the end result handled by someone with no knowledge of the individual’s original intentions. While this is all fine, and the cost of home studio equipment probably rivals whatever it takes to go to a professional company, it robs them of the creative adventure of meticulously refining and perfecting something that is completely theirs. If one thing is for certain, it is that Left Aligned and The Grand Optimist own their music, and always will.