David Boone has never thought small. The singer-songwriter's talent and drive were strong enough that he once sold out the Wilma, an unprecedented move for a local artist. When he wanted to pursue success outside Montana, he recorded an album with Danton Supple, a producer with credits on albums by Coldplay and Morrissey.
Now, after serious health problems sidelined him for years, sometimes unable to remember his own songs, Boone is releasing new music again, and he aimed high. On his new single, "Country Song," and "Work in Progress," he recorded with Supple, who flew from London. The bass line on the latter track was supplied by part-time Missoula resident Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam.
While his previous work with Supple, on a project called Dawns, was big and glossy, not unlike Coldplay and other English rock bands, he said his new material gets to the core of his music. There aren't many layers or sheen, he said. "It's all in plain sight."
The songs are a teaser for his album, "A Bubble to Burst," which he and Supple have completed. They're looking for labels, and expect it to be out in winter or spring.
"Work in Progress" sums up some of what he's been through. Over a driving beat, complemented by Ament's basswork and drums by Tyler Paul of the Missoula band Places, in a voice that's tuneful yet desperate to be understood, Boone lays out his struggles:
"I used to be a beautiful thing/I used to wear my heart on my chest," he sings at one point, later adding, "And now I'm getting miles ahead, even though I can't get out of bed, even though my gut's all wrenched, I think I'm making progress."
Around the time Boone, now 37, ended his 20s, his career path began to weigh on him. He hoped that if he could break out into the national music scene, he might not have to spend his weekends driving across snowy highways for gigs while trying to raise a family.
He signed up to work with a public relations firm, a manager and a radio promoter who told him to expect success that never came, as the music industry was drastically shifting. It was all "smoke and mirrors," he said. He'd paid them himself, adding financial hardship to the disappointment.
Suffering from insomnia, he was prescribed medication that spurred allergic reactions. Another prescription followed, and then he was taken off those. The withdrawal was brutal, and he went through "incredible, incredible pain" and has spent years recovering, unable to play music or leave his house.
Now, he sees a gig around Montana and family time with his wife, Stephanie, and their 7-year-old son Meyers, as a life to be grateful for.
"This whole thing, of pursuing some grand outcome, you're missing the grand outcome in the process," he said.
"Country Song" hews closer to Boone's folk roots, when he'd hold down a room around Montana with his acoustic guitar. Ament was unavailable, but Supple recruited Pete Wilkinson of English rock band Echo and the Bunnymen. Local composer and multi-instrumentalist John Sporman layered keyboards and bells.
Here, Boone's voice suits its promises of fidelity, and sounds even clearer when he slips into a wordless croon a la Chris Izaak.
He and Supple have also recorded six songs for the Sony EMI publishing catalog, where they can be licensed for use in television, movies and advertising — another means artists are eager to use these days to connect with an audience. They want to keep up the project, too.
Recording wasn't easy — he says that with his health still recovering he has to trust his collaborators and set aside his old perfectionism. He used to tour hard, and has yet to make the leap into performing live again.
The singles, and the album to come, though, are a welcome return for an artist who was silenced for years.