A few years back, a friend gave Bart Budwig a painting of Jesus that he’d gotten from a yard sale. But it wasn’t just any old depiction of the son of God—it was a paint-by-numbers Jesus. A staple of his residences since, it’s become a conversation starter in Budwig’s life.
“Often people ask me why it’s there,” he says. “It often made them uncomfortable or they just wanted to learn a little bit about me.”
With Paint by Numbers Jesus (A Concept Record), Budwig has set out to learn a little bit more about himself. So what’s the concept?
“It's Jesus as a cultural figure and me trying to make sense of faith," Budwig explains. "Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger is one of my favorite albums. It's a concept album consisting of many cover tunes mixed in with his originals. The originals really glue the album together. I tried to approach Paint by Numbers Jesus in the same way. It's a mix of seven covers and three originals. The covers serve the role of Jesus/faith in American culture (with songs from the 1950s-present), curated by yours truly. They're songs I connect with and felt worked well with my, my band’s and the album’s aesthetic. I think the originals are important too. They forced me to be vulnerable and make this record about me processing faith. They put the humanity, the emotions and heart in the record (hopefully).”
Once subtitled “Sacred and Sacrilegious Songs,” Budwig’s originals see him praying to The Boss on “Nebraska 2,” drinking and driving on “Goliath Got Stoned,” and asking the big questions on “Age of Reason”—the song that typifies the theme of the record for the songwriter.
“What's right? What's wrong? Can I have science and religion? Can I know the facts and have feelings too?” Budwig asks.
His fifth release, “This record was made very quickly: two days recording and three weeks from start to finish,” Budwig tells. Recorded at the historic OK Theatre in Budwig’s home of Enterprise, Ore., a half-dozen musicians learned the songs and immediately laid them down, engineered by Budwig himself (who also recorded John Craigie’s most recent release and is currently mixing a record for Shook Twins). The live sessions featured contributions from Seth Kinzie (piano), Simon Kornelis (electric guitar), Nevada Sowle (acoustic and electric guitar, piano), Cooper Trail (drums), Forrest VanTuyl (acoustic guitar), John Nuhn (bass), and Budwig providing vocals, acoustic guitar and trumpet. Additional harmonies and Wurlitzer were later added to “Goliath Got Stoned” by Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie of Blind Pilot and Hook & Anchor. The whole package has a twang that ranges from country to cosmic, from demure to danceable.
Budwig just released a full-length in 2016, and after recording, mastering, pressing vinyl, duplicating CDs, and hiring a PR rep, the whole thing cost a lot of money.
“This new record came fast and I didn't want my lack of money to inhibit creativity,” he explains. “I recorded, mixed and mastered this record to the best of my abilities for that reason. We learned the songs and tracked this record live in two days in December on the OK Theatre stage. Listening back to the tracks, I felt we made something really special and I decided to release it as quickly as possible to retain the ‘I didn't fuck with it too much’ quality.”
Budwig busted his butt to wrap the whole thing up so he’d have new material to tour with in Europe, where he’s currently headed. But all this rushing around means he hasn’t fully internalized what the record means to himself.
“It was very intuitive [to make] and because of that I'm still trying to make sense of what it is about.” Answering questions about the record—from Vortex and others—“have been really helping me sort things out in my head.”
Listening to the record, it’s obvious that Budwig is pretty good at figuring things out as he goes along, and he’ll return to Oregon for the beginning of summer to play a string of album release shows including a hometown gig on the stage where the songs were recorded (May 11 at the OK Theatre with Planes on Paper) followed by a pair of Portland dates at the Alberta Street Pub in June.
“The core of the live band is Cooper Trail (drums), Nevada Sowle (lead guitar) and Joseph Hein (bass),” Budwig says. “And when we're on the road this summer there will definitely be special guests including John Nuhn (bass), Seth Kinzie (piano), Simon Kornelis (lead guitar), and hopefully some other friends I can coax onto stage as I travel through their hometowns.”