We’ve all fantasized about quitting our day jobs to find our true calling. While most people never get to try the experiment, Damian Putney did what most people only dream of. He quit one profession, as an accountant, to start another: home builder and member of one of Spokane’s most compelling new bands, House of Ghosts, which releases its self-titled debut this week at the Bing Crosby Theater.
But it wasn’t always that way. Music was there for Putney throughout his life — but it was always getting tossed aside. Growing up in the small farming town of Harrington, Wash., he played trumpet in the school band and listened to his parents’ record collection. In college, though, he was too busy studying to play much music. He listened to certain bands — Pavement, Hum, Built to Spill — nonstop. It wasn’t until he quit his job as a CPA, in order to restore a 1905 Craftsman house on Spokane’s Lower South Hill, that music began to re-enter his life.
“Working with my hands and doing what I felt I was built to do inspired a desire to start doing music again,” he says. “I picked up a classical guitar at a garage sale — taking a break from renovations, I would strum and write songs, and that’s how I got back into music.”
He soon recruited Dan McCready, a college friend, and the two started jamming and recording in a large closet-turned-studio in Putney’s house — McCready on toy keyboard and Putney on acoustic guitar, backed by a drum machine.
They continued like this for several years, until “everything kind of came together at once,” says Putney. Last June, they wrote the song “Not Alone,” whose opening line, “You’re not alone, you’re living in a house of ghosts” inspired their band name.
“It was the first song that had the vibe and the sound we’d been searching for,” Putney says. “Within a week, we wrote, recorded and released the song on the Internet, and named our band. It was a really weird feeling how quickly everything came together. The metaphor I came up with for it was that it was like a hidden-eye picture, where everything is blurry and then suddenly comes into focus. Only we were standing in front of the picture for three years.”
A positive write-up of their songs on a New York music blog led to the decision to bring in more members and play shows. Putney and McCready found bassist Nick Dotson on Craigslist, and he brought along Wes Davidson to drum.
The turnout at their first show at the A Club was huge — around 300 people. “All of our friends came,” Putney says. “We had friends who even came up from California because it was our first show.”
It was the jump-start the band needed. They continued to write songs until they had enough material to do an album. Then it was back to Craigslist, where they posted an ad looking for studio recommendations in Seattle, Portland or Spokane.
“We got this one email that said, ‘Look no further,’” Putney says. It was from Brandon Eggleston, a producer in Portland who’s worked with the likes of Modest Mouse and the Mountain Goats.
“We never thought we’d have a shot working with him, but we emailed him our music and he said yes. So we practiced and practiced and practiced and drove down to Portland in March to record our album.”
That album, titled House of Ghosts, is a collection of 10 songs that share a brooding, understated quality, with pulsing keyboards, driving, spare guitar and energetic bass. Topped with Putney’s mellow baritone, the result recalls The National or Pedro the Lion — only with dance beats. It makes for extremely compelling listening. Each song fits with the next, but their uniformity is far from boring.
“We went in the studio and rocked out,” Putney says. “A song like ‘Celebration’ we did in one take. The energy and all the emotion and natural speeding up and slowing down from playing live were captured on the record.
“I’ve always dreamed of making a ‘real’ record,” he confesses. “To me, that means one with imperfections, vocals that might be pitchy but quiver with emotion, because you’re singing it in the moment. Not just a group of songs that fill a full-length album time, but songs that go together in a sequence. I think we accomplished that. We captured that real, raw, human imperfection and energy. The imperfections we like the most, because it captured the moment.
“There’s a spirit of hope that’s a common thread throughout the songs,” Putney continues. “There’s darkness, but there’s hope to push through it. That spirit started when I started working on my house — there was a transformation of my house, from a drug house to its glory. There was a parallel thing within me, of being true to what I was built to do, which was build things and create music. Following that passion is part of the music. I think it’s true of Dan and the other guys as well. It’s what we love, and that comes out in the music.”
And the house? It’s now on the Historic Register.
House of Ghosts album release show with Cathedral Pearls • Fri, Sept. 14, at 7:30 pm • Bing Crosby Theater • $7 • All-ages • ticketswest.com • (800)325-SEAT