In 2018, the folky supergroup I’m With Her released their critically-lauded debut album, See You Around. The vinyl pressing of the record was a collector’s dream, with four different editions (black, white, blue, and maroon, all on 180 gram wax) to track down out in the wild.
With the continued growth of vinyl as a format, some are cashing in with shoddy, slapdash pressings or releases billed as “limited edition” even though they run numbers into the thousands. This wasn’t the case for I’m With Her. They wanted to honor the format and create something special, because vinyl is important to them.
For Aoife O’Donovan — one third of I’m With Her and an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right, just like the rest of the band — a love of the format was practically baked into her DNA. “When I was first getting into music, I was fascinated by my dad’s room of records in our basement,” she recounted. “He was, and still is, a radio DJ, so he had quite the collection.”
He got rid of the entire collection in the ’90s like so many folks, but that didn’t stop O’Donovan from rekindling her love of vinyl in college. “I received the Abdullah Ibrahim album Water From An Ancient Well from a friend,” she said. “It quickly became a staple in my tiny Boston apartment. I’d rush over to the record player as side A was coming to a close, not wanting to have any dead air.”
That immersive experience connected with her in a deeply philosophical way. “I loved the concept of two sides, something that I feel has gotten lost as we got into CD territory, and especially now in the digital age. Records tell stories in a different way.”
O’Donovan’s bandmate Sarah Jarosz feels that same sense of loss with digital listening. “I realize that most of the world doesn’t listen to music via physical platforms anymore, but it’s been heartening to see a wave of vinyl lovers re-emerge,” she said. “It truly offers a sonic experience that’s superior in quality and detail to that of streaming music online.”
With such a reverence for wax, I’m With Her didn’t want to skimp on production. They asked legendary engineer Bernie Grundman to handle the mastering and lacquering, and went to the venerable Record Technology Incorporated for plating and pressing.
The trio also decided to document the entire process in a short film, directed by award-winning New York Times Op-Docs filmmaker Genéa Gaudet. You can watch it above.
“Vinyl holds a meaningful place in so many people’s lives, we thought it would interest people to see a bit of how it’s made,” said Sara Watkins, who’s also a member of Nickel Creek when not doing solo work or collaborating with I’m With Her. “It certainly interested us!”
Watkins serves as the de facto star of the mini-doc — alongside the vinyl, of course — as she tours Grundman’s studio. “This was the first time I was able to witness the vinyl mastering happen, and now having seen it I appreciate listening to vinyl even a little bit more,” she said. “It’s fascinating to see isn’t it? Bernie was so kind to go into some depth of his process.”
In the wake of the documentary’s release, I’m With Her are meeting up with Watkins’ Nickel Creek comrade Chris Thile for the June 15 episode of public radio powerhouse Live From Here, and they’ll be on tour throughout the summer.