Photo: Chad Crawford

From Basement to Gold

Ian Ferguson unearths State of Gold

The path to Ian Ferguson’s debut album, State of Gold, didn’t begin with a flash of inspiration or a deliberate choice of recording venue. It began with Ferguson locked in his basement.

“I was living with my mom at the time,” Ferguson says. “I was downstairs recording. I didn’t have my phone with me, and my mom wasn’t home. I don’t know what happened, it could have been my dog, but I heard the door slam and I was stuck in the basement for several hours until my mom came home. I had nothing to do but work on recording and at some point I was working on a song and thought, ‘This could turn into an album, and I could record it at home.’”

The eventual product of that afternoon of isolation, State of Gold, is hitting stores this week, with an official release party and performance at Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, Friday, July 26 at 6 p.m. While the record may be new to listeners, the road leading to its release has been a long one, reaching far back beyond that fateful slam of a basement door.

Born in Los Angles to musical parents, Ferguson moved to Kingston Springs, Tennessee with his family when he was just 3 years old. With Nashville just a county away, the call of music was ever-present for Ferguson, who formed his first band, The Kingston Springs, while still in junior high. Making the jump from Cheatham Country coffee houses and basements to national tours and critically-acclaimed records (2010’s The Vacation Time EP and their 2012 self-titled album) seemed to indicate the indie-blues/folk-rock combo was headed up the ladder of fame, but by the end of 2012, they were ready to call it quits.

“By the time major labels started looking at us seriously, we’d been doing it for six or seven years and we were kind of done with it,” Ferguson says. “Being in the band was all we’d known in our adult lives to that point. We wanted to get out into the world and explore our musical options. If we had moved forward, it would have been a 5 – 10 year commitment, and we just couldn’t do it.”

The Kingston Springs officially called it quits in 2013, and Ferguson retreated from the spotlight for a while. “I was working a bunch of jobs I hated — everything from washing dishes to cleaning houses — but it allowed me to come home and focus on writing and recording. My inspirations went really crazy at that point. As much as I loved being in a band, it was heaven on earth being able to go down in my mom’s basement and record all by myself.”

Although Ferguson enjoyed unrestrained freedom to experiment and explore musically, he found himself with technological boundaries. Working with a 1990s-era computer and an outdated version of the recording software Cubase, Ferguson recorded the basic tracks, ultimately mixing the record himself. There were frustrations along the way, but the benefits far outweighed the stumbling blocks.

“It was definitely a pain in the ass at times,” he says, “but there’s nothing better than working with something you’re comfortable with. I had worked in professional studios before which may have been a lot easier, but I had also been in the position of blowing money on studio time and not liking what I got out of it. The amount of happy accidents I had recording this album never would have happened in a professional studio.”

The results of those happy accidents are spread across the grooves of State of Gold. Mixing Southern-fried folks and blues sensibilities with a heaping ladle of glam rock goodness and power pop sheen, the album delivers with Marc Bolan-inflected stompers like “State of Gold” and “Love Crime,” while displaying George Harrison-esque pysch-shimmer on tracks like “All My Days” and “I Do Not Mind.” Riding alongside is a Kinksian turn for clever pop song subversion as on the album’s recent single release, “Tyrants Waltz.”  It’s an album that wears it’s influences on its sleeve while infusing original wit and charm to the music — never succumbing to the musical fashion faux pas of confusing imitation for inspiration.

After spending almost two years writing, recording and mixing away from the public eye, Ferguson was ready to return to performing, but reintroducing himself to former Kingston Springs’ fans and building a following for his new sound proved challenging.

“It was like starting all over again,” he says. “Some of my old band members came back and played with me, but I also began working with other musicians. I’m very stoked about my current band.”

With State of Gold finally hitting the record racks and tours scheduled through the fall, Ferguson will have little time to spend in the basement over the next few months. However, it won’t require another locked door to return to recording.

“I have songs that have been locked away for years,” he says. “I’m constantly writing new material, and it’s hard sometimes to keep up with the songs I’ve recorded. My dream is to finally close that gap. Get to the point where I’m writing, recording, and releasing material almost immediately, but I have a few records of material I have to knock out before I’ll get there.”

As for locale, Ferguson is not limiting his options solely to the basement. “The ultimate goal is bringing what you hear in your head to life,” he says, “Whether it’s on a record or a live show, what matters is finding the way that works for you.”