From “punchy and clean” to “distorted and trashy” songs, longtime local musician J. Caleb Means is having fun making more music his way.
Dense, swirling guitars that produce the proverbial “wall of sound.” The synthesizers are reminiscent of The Cure with tuneful guitar injections. Means sings with a soft, sensitive voice. Amid all this noise, it’s often the percussion that stands out most on Innocent Postcard albums.
J. Caleb Means, the man behind Innocent Postcard’s sound, views that as a compliment since recording the drums is his favorite aspect of creating records. He records in a uniquely shaped room called Boombox Studios that, with its tall ceilings, produces a top-notch sound, he said. It’s also a space that allows for flexible mixing. As he works, the longtime musician makes sure each tune receives the utmost attention.
“I try to serve the song,” said Means, who also plays drums for a local band called Our Landmark. “Some need one mic, and others need sixteen. Some end up punchy and clean or maybe distorted and trashy. Drums are a big part of the mood of a song for me.”
Time Winding Dance, Innocent Postcard’s new album, strays more toward the dense, swirling sound. Those who dig local band Common Loon will likely enjoy this musical project by Means, who has had musical projects going on for close to the last thirty years. Innocent Postcard, he said, represents his continued goal of becoming a better songwriter and producer.
Many know Means from his time with New Ruins, a band that had two songwriters and other musicians contributing ideas. The harder-edged, raucous sound of Innocent Postcard, so different from New Ruins’ music, offers Means a chance to better his mix engineer skills while challenging him on both a technical and creative level.
Means played most of the instruments himself on Time Winding Dance and Innocent Postcard’s 2021 album, Is It Everything You’d Imagined, but he got additional help from New Ruins bandmates Roy Ewing, who has drummed on about one-third of the tunes on both albums, as well as from Paul Chastain, who has contributed bass guitar. Means said the songs that Ewing and Chastain have played are some of his favorite ones on the Innocent Postcard records.
Smile Politely: What is it like being a one-man show, so to speak, when creating personal musical projects like Innocent Postcard?
J. Caleb Means: Without having a band to work these ideas out, I have learned to trust my gut through the process. There is very limited time to do it, so I’ve learned to work fast and not second-guess myself. Having a dedicated studio space to work in is also very inspiring.
SP: What would you like to say about the title of your new album, Time Winding Dance?
Means: We progressively think of time differently as we age. We experience loss and grief, and we hopefully get to experience happiness and growth. These songs are my experiences with that.
SP: The songs “Lines” and “Underneath” from the new album really stand out. Tell me about them and how they came together.
Means: Thank you. “Lines” is an older song that I cut a long time ago, maybe in 2015. I rediscovered it last year and decided to bring it back to life. My father died of cancer during that time, so I’m sure the song is about that experience. “Underneath” was a song I cut from the first Innocent Postcard album. It didn’t seem to fit at the time, but it seemed to fit with these newer songs. I re-racked a lot of the guitars and had Paul Chastain track bass. He brought some new energy to it.
SP: Broadly speaking, it sounds like the first Innocent Postcard album has a harder sound than the second one. Can you talk about the differences between the two albums, however slight they may be?
Means: Maybe I’ve been a little more mellow this past year! I usually don’t have ideas when I start recording songs. I make decisions quickly: lay down parts, arrange, edit, repeat. I might start with drums, or I might start with guitar. The process for making both records has been the same—as long as I feel growth, it keeps me motivated.
SP: What was it like working with local music production guru Adam Schmitt?
Means: I mixed both records and Adam mastered them. He has mastered about every album I’ve worked on since 2007. He’s totally committed to getting the most out of my mixes and has really great ears. I’ve learned a lot from him.
SP: What are the future plans for Innocent Postcard in terms of live shows and maybe future music?
Means: I’m not certain Innocent Postcard will ever be a live performance [band], although I think these songs would translate well to the stage. It takes the right people and a lot of commitment. I’m currently working on four to five new songs, so the process is always going.
SP: New Ruins had a solid local following. Do you think the band might get together again to make new music?
Means: New Ruins was a special time in my life. We made a lot of music in a short period of time. It’s hard to say if we’ll ever reunite to play those songs again. Roy and Paul have both contributed to Innocent Postcard, so we are still active together. I have been mixing a ton of Elzie Sexton’s songs, and he plans to put a record out soon. So, we certainly still keep in touch, and music is a big part of our friendships.
The forty-two-year-old J. Caleb Means is always willing to work with local artists and has a studio space in the country that is well-suited for creative endeavors.