THE MAKING OF THE LOST RAILROAD JOURNAL

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Almost every night I fall asleep to the sounds of freights rolling through. The railroad is an integral part of the modern transportation network. The Internet may be nifty, but it can't move tons of stuff overland. Trains will be around a while yet. Also, passenger and tour services are growing at an amazing rate worldwide. You start talking about trains, and it seems almost everybody has a story or an experience to relate. It's a rich and romantic topic, and that's why there's such a huge network of train culture out there.

Miller: How did you organize the technical aspect of the recordings?

Ross: Usually, I'd lay down an acoustic guitar, a banjo, a bass, or maybe some piano to convey the chords and arrangement, and a guide vocal so the other singers could refer to the melodies. The idea was to facilitate as smooth an experience for the guest sessions as possible. Everybody was so busy that I had to be ready to catch their early inspirations on the songs. The average session was about two hours or so--time for a couple of laughs, a cup of coffee, a few listens, and a few takes.

Miller: Much different than your usual lone work as a composer.

Ross: Yes, a refreshing break from the sampling, programming, and complexity of more modern musical styles. Roots music comes from a much more casual place. My philosophy on these recordings, which I think worked out nicely, was that the performers-me included-- were all capable of an inimitable kind of magic, and if I just made them comfortable, I'd get some authentic stuff. As a producer, I've learned that the creative process has to be carefully facilitated, in human terms, not just technical terms. A good rack of gear won't get you anything but frustrated if the performers aren't comfortable enough to do what they do best. You can't let the studio play the music, the music has to play the studio. We never over-did it, and consequently, the great majority of takes on the record are either first or second takes, or a comp of the first few performances, which says a lot about the quality of the players...
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The following interview is abridged from the original.
Email lostrailroad@hotmail.com for the full text.

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R.W. Miller: How would you classify the music of The Lost Railroad Journal?

Daniel Ross: It's not purely any one style, but generally, it's roots music; folk/country/blues that might have been written in any of the first four decades of the 20th Century. There's very little electric instrumentation, mostly acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, fiddle, mandolin, spoons, etc.

Miller: What is "The Jones Collective?"

Ross: "The Jones Collective" is the name for all the singers and players who agreed to come by and play on The Lost Railroad Journal. Most of the sixteen performers are old friends and family, people I've played with in various bands over the years, and a few are new friends who by chance or by referral, joined in the cause. This record works because I was lucky enough to have talented people willing to drop by and sing or play.

Miller: How did the concept for the CD get started?

Ross: Dean Richards (drums/percussion) was making a documentary on the West Coast Heritage Railway Park, and I offered to burn down a few train-style ditties - just some acoustic picking. It went so well the idea of a full record emerged. At first, I had intended to create a bunch of railroad songs, but the deeper I got into it, I found I was connecting to my roots in an unexpected way. That's how the "concept" aspect of the record became fleshed out; it sprang from the process of discovering something rich in my heritage by living inside the characters I was creating to inhabit the songs. I actually considered broadening the subject material beyond the railroad at that time, but eventually settled on keeping it as the connecting theme. The railroad played a mammoth role in the settlement of the west, and I wondered what it might have been like living in a time when there was a "new" land to settle; what it felt like to live through harsh winters by your own wits; what it was like to watch trains rolling relentlessly in and out of your town, full of people and materials all destined to be the stuff of an uncertain future. What did it feel like to have nothing but a "lump" and a few nickels, waiting for a train. People were heading west in search of land, and that was definitely geographical, but they were doing so for personal reasons, and that's where I speculated about the emotions: what did it feel like to risk everything for opportunity, love, gold, adventure, family, or even just a job? I think it must have been an incredibly energized and exciting time, even if it was often extremely miserable, especially in the infamous 30's.

Miller: So it became much more than a 'bunch of train songs."

Ross: Absolutely. I spent a long period meditating on the whole thing in the back of my mind. I did a lot more reading and investigated more about the railroad and my family tree. I traveled by car across the western provinces twice, tracing many of the paths my ancestors had taken more than a hundred years ago. Also, the more I let the idea build, the more I became aware of just how pervasive trains are in our culture's past, and how it continues even today.

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