SHANE CLOUSE & STOMPING GROUND release their new CD, "Midnight on the Highway," in a concert at the Wilma Theater on Friday night at 8 p.m. The concert features performances also by Tom Catmull and the Clerics, and singer/songwriter David Boone. The concert is a benefit for the Missoula Community Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization that is creating a permanent endowment for Missoula charities and public projects.
On the Internet
• To read more about Shane Clouse & Stomping Ground, visit www.shaneclouse.com.
• To learn more about the Missoula Community Foundation, visit www.missoulacommunityfoundation.org.
Shane Clouse would always have liked to introduce himself as a musician.
Trouble was, said Clouse, he never was.
That sort of admission may come as a bit of a shock to the country singer's die-hard fans, but Clouse doesn't hesitate when he says he's never considered himself much of a musician at all.
Not, that is, until recently.
"I've been a country singer my whole life," he said. "It's part of me. And I wanted to call myself a musician, instead of just a singer. I understand now there's a difference."
The difference is Stomping Ground, Clouse's band, the three other members who make up the whole act. And those three have, over the years, taught Clouse a bit of musical humility as the band's popularity continued to grow regionally.
"They are much better musicians than I am, and whether they knew it or not, they taught me how to be a musician," said Clouse, showing his perfect pearls with a big grin.
Clouse has reason to smile these days, and not all of it has to do with the Friday release of his band's new CD, "Midnight on the Highway," a 12-track disc that he and his bandmates recorded themselves.
The 34-year-old Missoulian, once one of the most eligible bachelors in the valley, is now quite ineligible, at least when it comes to the dating game.
Last February, Clouse, who long considered himself a workaholic, non-marrying type, slipped a ring on Kelly, a woman whom "I chose very carefully."
Any woman who plans to live her life out with Clouse has to understand that Clouse is driven crazy with a head full of songs and dreams of success as a country singer.
"We have the same dreams," said Clouse, in an interview early this week. "We talked about our goals and the goals that I have nationally. She's 100 percent behind them. Because it's such a big part of my life, I wouldn't be able to be married to someone who didn't understand it. That's why I waited so long to get married."
Waited, too, have fans for this recording, only the second the band has produced. If their output is scant, you can forgive them. Aside from Clouse's marriage, there have been other life changes that have put the squeeze on the band members' free time. And most of those changes involve diapers.
Drummer Mark Sikich and his wife Denise had a child in July of 2006, and bass player Zach Millar and his wife Sarah have had two children since Stomping Ground's last CD in 2003.
"You have to find time," said Sickich. "You make time to do those things. It does affect things, so we try to practice a little later in the evening, and do things when the kids are asleep."
The CD, a mix of some new progressive country tunes as well as staples of the Shane Clouse stage show, is hearty, fun and more jam-based than radio-ready.
It's a sound that defines Stomping Ground, if you've ever caught one of the band's live shows (and with a growing radius of band dates, you don't have to look hard to find them near you).
"People have commented that we're like psychedelic country," said Clouse. "Because we jam. And there's not a lot of country bands that will do that."
Or a lot of country bands that will, as Stomping Ground is known to do, break into Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" right in the middle of a honky-tonk tune.
The recording of the CD itself took far more time than most as the band determined early on that it would record the music itself.
That it did, setting up shop in the small, insulated basement of the Pink Grizzly, the Clouse family business on Russell.
The big trouble was that Clouse and his bandmates had to take a crash course in ProTools, the recording software that is the industry standard. It is demanding software, one that comes with a manual thicker than the New York-area white pages.
"We talked about pooling our money and going to a studio to do the project," said Clouse. "Several of us have done that. But we actually negotiated and arrived at the conclusion that we should buy our own equipment to give us more freedom and time. But I think we all underestimated the learning curve."
So armed with a Mac loaded with ProTools and some new gear, the band holed itself up in a 12-by-12-foot room - what Clouse calls "a ghetto studio" - and began the arduous task of click-track recording.
"This project was difficult because we started from scratch," said Sikich. "It's like handing over the keys to a 747 and having some average guy fly it. It was a learning process. … The rest of the band basically has learned the system pretty good."
The result is more than 1,000 pressings of a well-honed and crafted CD, wonderfully recorded and mastered. It is, at even an elementary listening, professionally made.
And it had to be, said Clouse. The band has realistic hopes for this recording, saying it may just be the project that propels the band to regional if not national stardom.
"As a group, we are obviously coming out with the biggest CD release we could," said Clouse. "And we accomplished that to gain maximum exposure."
Still, Clouse keeps his feet firmly planted in the Missoula earth. Fame is a long shot, and he and his bandmates know it. After all, their biggest chance at making it big fell just short in the Colgate Country Showdown three years ago in Elko, Nev., and it's an experience that's still fresh in their minds.
"In some ways, this band has had more success as far as publicity and opportunities than any other group I've been in," said Sikich. "It's really cool. … But I'm realistic. I know I have to have a day job. But if something happened, it would be very cool."
For Clouse, his band fills a creative niche in his life that is more about family than fame. His priority now is his wife and family.
And even if he makes big splashes in the country world, he'll always make sure that home is where he swims every day.
"My real goals are to be a great husband and a great father," he said. "I reached the point where I realized that if I let this person go, I'd never be fulfilled as a man. Because happiness unshared is not fulfilling. And success unshared is not fulfilling. I want someone to share that all with."
Reach Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.