Allen Rigell, Amanda Rigell, Ben Wolf and Andrew Harrison of Count This Penny
Country-folk outfit Count This Penny began as a songwriting duo in East Tennessee and grew into a full-fledged band after moving to Madison in 2009. Each day they strive to improve themselves musically and otherwise. This idea appears time and again on their new EP, Wolves Are Sheep, along with the notion of finding one's true self.
"It's the idea that true human nature is revealed over time," says vocalist Amanda Rigell, who founded the band with her husband, Allen.
Drummer Ben Wolf and guitarist Andrew Harrison are also an essential part of Count This Penny's bigger, stronger sonic punch. The Rigells quickly fell in love with the full-band sound and chemistry. It shows on Wolves Are Sheep.
"It's a different sound, a little more country, and the depth of sound is obviously fuller with the drums," Allen says. "The music [on Wolves] is a little bit bigger than the music we've done in the past, which has been a lot of fun for the creative process."
The Rigells have also learned how to write collaboratively instead of using a "my song, your song" approach.
"We're starting to write and edit songs together a little bit more, which has been really fun," Amanda says.
The band ultimately decided to record a handful of songs at Honeytone Music's studio in Neenah, Wis. There they found plenty of vintage gear and people willing to help them along the way. Mike Zirkel, who recorded their 2012 full-length, Pitchman, at Smart Studios, mixed the new recordings in Madison.
"I think we were more willing to shape the songs as we were recording," Amanda says. "We had a little bit less of a plan on some of them going in, which is nerve-wracking but also exciting."
Honeytone allowed the band to work at their own pace, which helped the EP's five songs develop organically. The instruments and voices work together to create sharp, emotionally powerful moments throughout.
"We felt at ease there, and that we could be creative," Allen says.
His favorite memory from the recording process involves writing the track "Brand New Shine."
"We spent the day plugged in and decided we were just going to drink a bottle of wine and sit around a microphone. We felt we had nothing to lose," he says, noting that the wine guzzling shaped the entire recording session because "it brought us back to the feeling of music being created rather than the feeling of pressure to capture the perfect take."
The band also enlisted the help of multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard, who has worked with Field Report and Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek. He joined the band in the studio.
Now Count This Penny are looking forward to their biggest tour yet. It begins in November with stops in New York City, Nashville and Philadelphia. Many of the shows are part of Communion club nights, which pairs local artists with touring ones in about two dozen cities across the globe. On Nov. 22 they play a homecoming show and EP-release party at the Gates of Heaven in James Madison Park.
The Majestic Theatre's new band-management division is handling some of the logistics.
"We still do most of the day-to-day stuff ourselves; they're more 'big picture' guys on our team," Amanda says of the Majestic crew. "It's kind of an experiment. We thought we'd try this out, and we get along really well."
Count This Penny's next writing and recording session will probably take place in their new Madison rehearsal space. Amanda says the plan is to create a follow-up to Wolves Are Sheep.
"We're hoping to record some stuff on our own there with some friends," she says. "We have some new songs that are a little bit different than the old stuff. We're really excited."