The chorus to one of the songs in Shelby Earl’s new album, “Swift Arrows,” came to the Seattle singer-songwriter in a dream.
It seems fitting, since her masterful sophomore effort, due out July 23, teeters deliciously between the surreal and the painfully real. Earl will celebrate the album’s release Saturday at Columbia City Theater with help from Courtney Marie Andrews and Mikey and Matty Gervais.
“Swift Arrows,” which was live-tracked over the course of eight days at Columbia City Theater, benefits from Earl’s continuing growth as an artist and the steady hand of indie rocker Damien Jurado, who produced.
“I have to give credit completely to Damien for that plan,” Earl said of the decision to record live instead of multitrack in a studio. “This is how he makes records. He does all his basic tracks live and then he adds all his instruments.”
The result lends Earl’s voice just enough reverb to give it a gorgeous, haunting quality. Fans of Jurado will quickly pick up on the similarities.
Earl had targeted Jurado to produce from the start but did not expect to get him on the project due to his busy schedule.
“I was kind of anticipating a ‘no’ and bracing for a ‘no,'” she said. “I thought I was going to have to convince him. It was cool. He was totally in. Our schedules lined up perfectly, but it was a small window so it really pushed us to go for it.”
Right from the start, Jurado had a vision for Earl about the best way to record the album.
“Our first meeting, he said here’s what we we’re going to do,” Earl said. “He said, ‘I want you in a big room and your voice and a guitar, and anything else you want on there is up to you, but that’s where we’re starting.’ He’s all about it just being the most honest possible performance.”
That “big room” ended up being Columbia City Theater, which already has a recording studio. Other theaters were considered but the logistics made Columbia City the clear choice. They called Columbia City’s Gary Mula, who had just the right week available and ended up engineering the album.
Jurado’s usual method of recording was tweaked slightly to accommodate Earl’s tendency to sing quite loudly and eventually had Earl and her bandmates spread into the far corners of the theater to create some natural separation in lieu of sound booths.
“There are a lot of technical challenges in having a full band in one room,” Earl said. “Gary was a big part in strategizing where to put us in the room. What’s cool is that you get natural echo. There’s time delay. There’s all kinds of interesting natural effects. We couldn’t really tweak it during mixing so that was interesting. It was kind of like, that’s what we did so that’s what we’ve got.”
What they were left with is a striking evolution from Earl’s debut album “Burn The Boats,” which she made in 2011 just as she was transitioning away from working a day job to making music full time.
“I think the main thing is I really, really feel it live. I felt it in the studio, too,” Earl said. “I think in the past I would have been way too overcome by fear and maybe self-doubt to track an album live. I don’t think I would have tried to tackle that before. But there’s a change where I believe myself more on stage now.”
Fans will get a chance to see that confidence live on Saturday, before Earl heads out on a West Coast tour this fall.
8 p.m, Saturday at Columbia City Theater, 4915 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; $10 adv, $12 door (206-722-3009 or columbiacitytheater.com)
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails