One Los Angeles night in the spring of 2017, three USC students gathered to talk about making music: Anna Scholfield, a junior majoring in public relations; Jamison Baken, a junior majoring in music production; and Benny Friedman, a junior majoring in geodesign. Shortly after, folk-pop band Bannack was born.
“Benny and Anna were spring admits at USC and met at an open mic while studying abroad in Paris in the fall of 2015,” Baken said.
Baken then entered the equation once the two started at USC, meeting Friedman in a fraternity and deciding to try their hand making music together.
“When we got to USC that spring, Jamison and Benny met while pledging [Phi Delta Theta],” Scholfield said. “The three of us got together to jam one day and liked the way our voices sounded together.”
Once the trio decided to make the band official, their first challenge was figuring out what to call themselves.
“Deciding on a band name proved to be one of the hardest parts of this process,” Friedman said. “We went back and forth and ultimately decided on ‘Bannack,’ which is a ghost town in Montana. We liked the idea of giving new life to a place that was probably otherwise unreferenced in popular culture.”
Soon after, Bannack began work on what would become their debut album Compendium, while also performing small shows in coffee shops and bars around USC and the rest of Los Angeles. The early stages of recording took place at the Thornton School of Music.
“We mostly recorded in Thornton studios, and we also recorded some instruments and vocals at [Audio Engineering Associates],” Scholfield said. “The folks there were kind enough to loan us some very high quality ribbon microphones that we would never be able to afford. A good amount of the vocals were recorded in Jamison’s closet.”
All three members were heavily involved in the songwriting process, initially causing them to worry if their music would carry a singular sound.
As their chemistry grew, however, Compendium began to form and fell under the realm of folk-pop.
“We each wrote different songs on the album, so at the beginning of the process we were nervous about it not sounding cohesive,” Baken said. “As we rewrote lyrics and added harmonies and instrumentation, though, it all started sounding like one project.”
Baken’s meticulous production allowed the songs to blend together seamlessly, but the trio also enlisted the help of some of their peers to create a fuller sound on Compendium.
“Clayton Sewelson on drums, and Harry Zec’s insane guitar skills added so much to the recordings,” Scholfield said. “We experimented with a lot of different bass ideas and through the process ended up with four different players on the album: Alexina Boudreaux, Nicholas Eisenhauer, Randon Davitt and Harry’s brother, Joe.”
Though splitting up lead vocals and songwriting can be difficult for many acts, it was a very natural process for Bannack.
“The making of Compendium was a pretty even split between the three of us,” Friedman said. “Benny wrote some of our catchiest songs, Anna wrote a lot of lyrics and harmonies, and Jamison did so much with instrumentation and came up with a lot of our favorite musical moments on the album.”
Some aspects of the recording process, however, proved to be more difficult, such as commuting to various L.A. studios when none of them had access to a car. Despite the difficulties, however, Bannack has nothing but wonderful memories of the creative process.
“Jamison had this iconic burp while we were recording the vocals for ‘Slip’ that we considered making its own track,” Scholfield said. “We also recorded in our underwear one day because Jamison’s apartment was so hot.”
Ultimately the group came away impressed with the project, and they’re happy they can finally share their music with the world. Unable to choose a favorite song, Friedman noted how different songs are best suited for different moods.
“We love each song for what it was made for,” Friedman said. “‘Fade Away’ and ‘The Wild’ are great for listening to after a breakup. ‘Yellowstone’ and ‘Pull Me On Down’ will put a zip in your step and ‘Scars pt. 2’ will make you feel super weird.”
Compendium is out now on Apple Music and Spotify, with singles “Slip” and “Stop It All! (Before I Fall)” available on SoundCloud.