CEDAR FALLS – Travis Huisman watched his musician friends struggle with financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Musicians couldn’t play or go on tour and make any money. They couldn’t make a living. It was a tough year, and some musicians had to hang it up,” said Huisman, owner/producer/engineer at Catamount Studio in Cedar Falls.
He wanted to help, and his efforts became part of a “Silver Lining” for musicians — a 10-song compilation featuring artists ranging from blues and jazz to rock from eight different states, including several Iowa artists.
All funds from the album will go to benefit musicians through The Artist Relief Project. “Silver Lining” was released Tuesday.
“This album will give to musicians who were out of work because of COVID. It’s turned out to be pretty amazing,” Huisman said.
The Decorah-based Avey Grouws Band was ready to record their new album in Nashville when Huisman asked them to contribute a song to the relief album.
The band hightailed it to Cedar Falls and laid down a gritty version of “You’re No Good,” the Clint Ballard Jr. song made famous by Linda Ronstadt.
“It was our middle finger to the pandemic. Without being too crass, it’s how we felt. It was our break-up song with the year 2020,’ said vocalist Jeni Grouws, laughing.
Huisman had recorded their debut blues LP, “The Devil May Care,” which reached No. 10 on the Billboard Blues chart last year.
Huisman learned about The Artist Relief Project, based in Austin, Texas, and was impressed by its transparency and willingness to help musicians during the pandemic.
“They’ve been giving $200 to about every artist who reaches out to them, if they had shows canceled because of COVID or other hardships. I think they’ve helped almost 3,000 musicians now, which I think is pretty cool,” Huisman said.
Avey Grouws’ success has stirred interest from various record labels, but at this point, the band remains independent.
Grouws said, “As musicians at this level, we’re just one bad season from not having any income at all. That’s what the pandemic taught us. Most musicians have zero stability when it comes to long-term financial savings, so the fact that musicians have come together to support other musicians, that’s pretty fabulous. It feels really powerful and kinda cool.”
The Artist Relief Project also offers free webinars to musicians on such topics as financial management, using social media, filming and editing videos and physical, mental and emotional wellness.
Huisman came up with the idea to record the album. “I know a bunch of musicians, and I suggested maybe we could put together an album. It snowballed into this big idea.”
Musicians reached out to other musicians, and soon eight groups had committed to the project. Recording began in March, with Huisman producing and mixing music from groups like Avey Grouws and Grave Corps of Cedar Falls.
“So many musicians were affected more than we were, so anything we can do to help give back to a scene we belong, we’re honored,” said Kodie Krypt of Grave Corps, a horror-themed rock band.
Members wrote their song, “Our Love (is as Dead as You),” in single night, rehearsed for one night and recorded it at Catamount in a single night. “It was a bit of a challenge working against the clock, but we couldn’t be more thrilled to be included.”
About half of the album was recorded at Catamount. “With artists helping out from Los Angeles to Mississippi and everywhere in between, sometimes logistics to get groups here didn’t work out. That’s where some other talented producers and engineers stepped in to help out,” Huisman explained.
Huisman mastered the album and served as co-executive producer. He’s thrilled with the release.
“It has a lot of variety, but when you’re listening to the album from beginning to end, it has a nice flow to it,” he said. “I really hope we’re able to achieve our goals and raise a lot of money and awareness for The Artist Relief Project.”
In addition to Avey Grouws Band, Grave Corps and Bonne Finken, also from Iowa, musicians featured on “Silver Lining” include Ariel Bellvalaire of California, who has toured worldwide, performed on Broadway and in TV commercials and shows; 2015 blues award nominee Austin Walkin Cane from Ohio; Zechariah Lloyd from Mississippi, first-place winner in the 2021 Unsigned Only Awards; FuZZrd, a Minneapolis rock band; Tennessee’s Gerald Stephens, Nebraska’s Kris Lager and Aaron Parks Project from Texas.
The album is available at silverliningalbum.com, and on all music streaming platforms.