Ashley Gatta & The Free People
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Ashley Gatta & The Free People

Denton, Texas, United States | INDIE

Denton, Texas, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Soul


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"Artist Spotlight: Ashley Gatta"

Ashley Gatta has one of the most infectious smiles ever. When you see it, you just can't help but feel a little bit better about your day. And somehow, this Denton songstress has incorporated that same ability to brighten an otherwise mundane day into her music.

This past Friday afternoon I got a chance to sit down with this singer songwriter before she headed down to Dallas to play a show. One thing became very obvious as she walked through the door, mundane is simply not part of this girl's world. She is bright, energetic, and posses a unique enthusiasm for her trade which sets her apart from most others.

Gatta's passion for song came very early on. "I have been singing my whole life, I would go in the back yard and swing on the swing set and just belt things out." All of that practice has sure paid off. She is playing and filling more shows as she builds towards the ultimate goal of becoming a career musician. A goal she is constantly getting closer to.

Since 2007, when Gatta released her debut album entitled Forget Subtlety, she has been making a name for herself in the Denton music scene. The five track album is a mixture of catchy and soulful pop, with a hint of country and R&B thrown in. "I grew up in Texas" says the Denton songstress, "I think this area has such a unique sound and that is where a lot of it comes from."

One of Gatta's biggest inspirations when writing music is her faith. Most of her songs have a Christian theme. "I tried to write songs even before I was a Christian, but they all kind of sucked" joked Gatta. "I realized my own brokenness and came to know the Lord" With that faith also came inspiration to write songs people of all backgrounds could relate to.

Currently she in the process of creating a follow up to Forget Subtlety. "I am in the studio now working on a new album called Where The Humble Go. It is going to have between ten and twelve. Hopefully it is going to be released sometime early in 2010."

In addition to her work in the studio, Gatta is currently promoting her monthly Song & Story event at The Hydrant. It is a unique place for musicians to come and share their techniques in music making. It could be just the start for Gatta in respect to her event organization skills. "I would really like to create events focused around social issues, particularly for the Christian community."

Through Song & Story as well as playing more shows around town, Gatta hopes to become a staple in the Denton music scene. As for now however, she is comfortable right where she is at. -

"The Emerging Singer-Songwriter Community of Denton"

Maybe Ashley Gatta’s music just wasn’t “weird enough” for Denton in the beginning. In a city where you can gorge yourself on rock ’n roll, indie sounds, big band jazz, experimental funk and now hip-hop, Ashley and her band, Ashley Gatta & The Free People, strive for something different. Her music is lyrical and driven by melody. “Organic Motown” is what she calls it – “a cross between Aretha Franklin and Norah Jones.” Yeah, that’s weird for Denton. Which is why, at age 24, she’s started up a local singer-songwriter night and keeps throwing herself out there, performing at open mic nights, at weddings, at church youth retreats, you name it. She blogs, she tweets, she does the Facebook thing, she posts on YouTube, all to get her music out there in the big, wide world.

Vanessa Helvey is just the opposite. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter doesn’t have a computer. She doesn’t do Facebook. She does have a MySpace account, which she accesses on trips to the City of Denton Library. Her website isn’t much: just a few basic home recordings of Vanessa’s traditional-country-fused-with-Americana music. “I just really wish I could seclude myself in a cabin somewhere and write for a few months and then all of a sudden come out and have everything else taken care of,” Vanessa says wistfully. “Someone’s going to have to discover me.” Luckily – since the whole cabin thing wasn’t looking like it would turn into a reality anytime soon – it was rather convenient that she was approached for a gig on “Troubadour,” a new reality show, which will hopefully get her name out there.

Denton’s music scene has been getting press as far afield as New York City and London in recent years. Rock bands sweat up the stages at Hailey’s and Rubber Gloves. Country fans line up outside Rockin Rodeo every weekend for the likes of Johnny Cooper and Corey Smith. The University of North Texas music school spawns jazz maestros recognized with Grammys. And the indie music scene is raging, with the annual NX35 festival. “In this town, you can get swallowed up there’s so much music,” says Nick Werth, drummer for experimental fusion band Hatch. “The music scene is so big for such a little place.” Tucked away in coffee shops and even chiropractic offices, it’s easy to miss the quieter scene of crooners who pen their own lyrics.

Coffee shops such as The Hydrant Café, Art Six Coffee House and Banter offer an environment for singer-songwriters to thrive with open mic nights and regular weekend gigs. But click on, a website that provides a map to Denton’s musical labyrinth: Few singer-songwriters are listed on the schedule. How can acts fronted by unknown singer-songwriters (Vanessa Who? Ashley Huh?) compete against bands with exotic names such as Fergus & Geronimo or Wrought of Obsidian? “I would say there was a bit of resistance to my music, because Denton has a kind of indie-hipster feel to it,” Ashley says. But she’s persistent. “I kept putting my music out there because I believed that it was something that needed to be heard — whether people liked it or not.”

Starting out as an unknown, Ashley first took her songs to open mic nights at Denton coffee shops. She felt the pull of Denton’s music scene after graduating from UNT with a degree in sociology and a minor in music and non-profit management. (She has a soft spot for the homeless.) “Denton is just so saturated with music that if you love it, it’s hard not to get sucked into it,” she says. When she wanted to put together a band, she snagged most of her bandmates from the UNT College of Music. In 2010, she released her first full-length studio album “Where the Humble Go.” With a bit of experience and confidence from Denton venues, she started to branch out, going to Nashville and Miami, but she always comes back to Denton. “Denton is home. This is where my community is,” Ashley says. “It’s helped cultivate me as an artist.”

Vanessa is drinking a Chinese tea (that she warns doesn’t taste very good) while mulling over the local scene. She is the type of musician who discusses the duality of indie rock with herself: Is it sound texture? Or is it an attitude? In addition to playing Jupiter House, she has played at Dan’s Silver Leaf, The Boiler Room and Banter. She’s also performed at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival in the spring and Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza in the fall. But she’s trying a rather unconventional venue of late: Spinal Health of North Texas, where she plays every first and third Monday. Chiropractor Steve Eustice even chimes in with his dulcimer from time to time. “I would have to say this is probably the best regular gig I’ve ever had,” Vanessa says. (Getting paid in back adjustments is a bonus.)

Plenty of Denton bands write their own music and lyrics. “Ther are folks in town who have definitely laid the foundation for the thriving music scene – they’re all songwriters too,” she says, mentioning groups like Baloney Moon and Tenacious Root. Bone Doggie, who plays an Irish bouzouki (an instrument of the mandolin family), hosts an open mic night at Banter on Thursdays. “He’s nurtured many aspiring singer-songwriters in this town,” Vanessa says. Johann Wagner is one of Denton’s best songwriters, she says. Johann, referred to as “a North Texas songwriting staple” by the Dallas Morning News, got his start in Denton (where he gave Vanessa guitar lessons) before moving to Austin.

Both women participate in “Song & Story” at The Hydrant Café – a songwriter circle Ashley modeled after Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café. Musicians tell the story behind a song they wrote and then perform it. Ashley, who does all the booking, says the circle has been “pulling everyone out of hiding” as far as the singer-songwriter community goes. UNT student Peter Cuomo, who spends many a night working at The Hydrant as an employee, says the coffee shop books a steady flow of musicians in addition to the “Song & Story” group. “To have free music like this is a real benefit for the community because there’s so much talent,” he says.

The word “community” means a lot to Ashley. She sings about racial reconciliation and loving the poor – subjects that reflect her Christian faith. She writes about boys and girls and that whole love thing, too, but since graduation, she’s gone from working for a non-profit organization, to being a fourth grade teacher, and now she does music full-time in addition to serving as music minister at The Summit Church in Allen. “Denton encourages community and community encourages creativity. When you’re isolated and you’re so focused inward on yourself, the things you write won’t be relatable,” she says. “But when you’re surrounded by other people, you know their struggles, their stories … you can write for others.”

Vanessa, a self-described “mystic at heart,” is also determined for her music to mean something. “I don’t want it to be frivolous and most of the time I don’t want it to be fun,” she says. She sees her voice as an opportunity to be “a mouthpiece for change.” Though somewhat timid, Vanessa says she is ready to “be a little audacious” with her singing-songwriting prowess. The gig with “Troubadour” – a documentary-like TV series following Texas singer-songwriters – would help her get name recognition. “I think I’m in the right spot at the right time,” Vanessa says. “It helps to say, ‘I’m from Denton.’”


"Album Review: Ashley Gatta's "Where the Humble Go""

Soulful, Funky. Spunky. Beautiful. All good adjectives to describe Where The Humble Go, the new album from Denton singer/songwriter Ashley Gatta. In fact, those are pretty good adjectives to describe Gatta herself.

The album will be released this week on Friday, May 14 at the Christian Campus Center (the old Delta Lodge). The first thing you must do before listening to the album is drop any preconceived notions you might have about Christian music, no matter how correct they may be. This is not just a good Christian album, it is a good album period. From the opening guitar strums on the CD's first track, "A New Song," the genuine emotion and talent of Gatta is clear. She says a few years ago she found God, or perhaps He found her, but it has been the main inspiration for Gatta moving forward both musically and personally. This is the foundation on which this album is built. And it seems to be the foundation on which she is built as well. Rarely do you meet an artist with a brighter outlook on life or a bigger supply of cheer than Gatta. The album as well as the artist are a breath of fresh air in Denton music.

While the inspiration is clear, the sound is a bit more difficult to figure out. It is a little bit reggae, a little bit folky, and maybe with a hint or two of rock 'n' roll mixed in. Think Jason Mraz meets Norah Jones.

Playing sixth on the CD is one of the album's high points, "Slower in Texas." It is a fittingly dreamy song marked by Gatta's outstanding vocals. This is where she is at her very best as a singer. The warm, slow, honey-like lyrics can lull even the most turbulent soul. It is easily my favorite song on the album.

Ashley Gatta — “Ain’t Nobody”

Video from YouTube user SeedsTV.

One question that still remains is what an Ashley Gatta album would sound like if it were totally untethered from the musical sub-genre in which she currently resides. Whether she would admit it or not, the fact is that being labeled as a Christian musician can build a barrier between you and the mainstream audience, an audience who would most likely embrace and celebrate an artist of such quality as Gatta. But then again, she might not even notice. Those in the Christian community have already begun embracing Gatta as a musician, and with this upcoming release, her following is sure to grow. This is a video of Gatta's Texas Christain Songwriter's Association 2009 Song of the Year, "Ain't Nobody."

Her crossover potential is limitless. She will no doubt find fans who otherwise might not turn listen to Christian music with Where The Humble Go. So rather than choose one side of the fence or the other, Gatta would probably be best suited to continue to put out albums like this one. Its message is clear but certainly not preachy. It is wonderful to listen to and quite enjoyable for all audiences, not just those in the Christian community.

The bottom line is this: Don't for a moment hesitate on buying this album. It is quite good, and Gatta seems poised to take that next step into greatness. Where The Humble Go is as approachable as Gatta herself, and just as uplifting as well. - Pegasus News

"Denton Songwriter Answers Mayer Hit"

Pop musician John Mayer chalked up another hit in 2006 when his single “Waiting on the World to Change” made the airwaves off of his album Continuum.

Denton singer-songwriter Ashley Gatta couldn’t help but write a rebuttal of sorts for her album Where the Humble Go, released in the spring.

“How Will They Love” counters Mayer’s mainstream, devil-may-care song in a style that blends what Gatta calls “organic Motown” with the hope the singer has given as a worship musician in a handful of nondenominational Texas churches.

Listeners can almost see Mayer, grinning through a haze of smoke and terminal hipness, urging them to hang tight before getting too involved in the big, bad, messy world. Mayer’s generation doesn’t have a problem with slacking, he says in the song. It’s just that he and his peers are “waiting on the world to change.”

Gatta’s song argues that her generation can’t wait for change. They have to make change. Making change takes an active, brave faith, as far as the Denton singer is concerned.

“There was something about John Mayer’s song that bothered me,” Gatta said. “I don’t think the world changes. I think people have to change their minds and then the world.”

The lyrics of the song speak directly to professing Christians who feel more comfortable confining their faith to Sunday morning worship.

“Look how quick you shift your eyes when he’s begging for some change,” Gatta sings. “It’s not hard to sleep at night when he don’t have a name; you try resting easy when you call that man your friend; it’s up to you now child of God and just his needs to end.”

Gatta graduated from an Austin high school. When she started writing music, she thought moving north would be smart.

“I felt like, as a Christian artist, that Dallas was a better place to be,” she said.

Dallas is home to not just large nondenominational churches, but it’s also a city that has drawn a media-minded creative class. Las Colinas supports film and television producers, and indie music artists are drawn to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as Austin and Houston, for the brisk club scenes and generous music fans.

Gatta went to church as a child and heard a lot of sermons, but said “they went in one ear and out the other.”

In college, Gatta returned to church, attending The Village Church. One sermon, based on Hebrews 12:1, got her attention. The Old Testament urges the faithful to continue racing for God, but to lessen their burdens by releasing their death grip on sin.

“I was thinking about how I want to run this race, but I’m holding on to this sin,” Gatta said. “I kept doing the same old thing, over and over, and it wasn’t getting me any closer to where I wanted to be.”

Songwriting started on Gatta’s childhood swing set, and she began playing guitar at 15. After she returned to Christianity, Gatta said, it was clear that her faith would figure into her music prominently. She doesn’t market herself as a Christian artist, but she doesn’t hide it, either.

“I started writing music because I was so inspired by him [Jesus], so to try to write him out of it wouldn’t work,” she said. “What I like to write about are things that are meaningful to me. Not all my songs are so blatantly religious.”

Where the Humble Go employs the same strategy Christian rock bands have used to cross over into Top 40 radio formats. In “Slower in Texas,” what sounds like a run-of-the-mill love song could easily double as a meditation on how solitude can bring a believer into a closer communion with creation.

Gatta sings about the Texas sky, and the days when the sun is still up at 8 p.m. “Big Enough State” is a song about leaving the larger Texas for the “promised land” of California to avoid a relationship. Listen again, and “Big Enough State” is about trying to treat a spiritual problem with a geographical cure. In the end, the song is about human shortcomings and failing the test of fealty.

Gatta can hold her own with catchy pop hooks, and she can also bend her voice around a bluesy gospel number.

Little Elm resident Branden Petersen engineered the album, and he said Gatta’s versatility is a strength for her as a performer and a recording artist.

“We didn’t want it to be a typical Christian album,” Petersen said. “When you listen to this kind of music, things can start to sound vanilla and generic. We wanted it to have a mainstream sort of sound, but still have enough of her personality. And she has a great personality.”

Petersen is the worship leader at Collin Creek Community Church in Plano. He met Gatta through his wife, Jenn Petersen, at a Christian songwriters convention in 2009. He heard Gatta’s EP and agreed to engineer the new record.

“I think honest is a good word to describe it,” Petersen said of Gatta’s songwriting. “She’s definitely honest, transparent and even forward a little bit.”

Petersen said he didn’t have any qualms about producing a record that wasn’t a purely contemporary Christian album. He was comfortable with her more secular songs, like “Big Enough State” and “Mending Broken Hearts,” a comic track inspired by a persistent admirer who pursued Gatta. The singer explains that she’s ending the nonexistent relationship.

The overly earnest, give-it-all-to-God cheer that turns many a serious music fan off of contemporary Christian music doesn’t make an appearance on Gatta’s latest release. Instead, the musician punctuates grounded Christian songs — all written by Gatta — with folksy, soul-tinged tunes about relationships and a few recorded with a wink and a smile. “Mending Broken Hearts,” for instance, revels in a Partridge Family-style bouncy tempo and a sugary melody. In “Grace Face,” Gatta breaks up an infectious song with a bridge by Christian rapper Ricky “GTK” Williams.

“That’s the benefit of being an indie artist,” Petersen said. “You don’t have to do things a particular way. You can make the record you want to make.”

Gatta didn’t get to Where the Humble Go without wandering a little.

“I considered Nashville,” Gatta said. “But people were really discouraging me from doing that. They said there are a thousand other girls doing the same thing. People want to go to Nashville to ‘make it’ to prove to themselves they could do it. That’s really like my pride getting in the way, I think, to do music to make it.”

When Gatta settled in Denton, she put a monthly singer-songwriter circle together at the Hydrant Cafe. Called “Song & Story,” a group of singer-songwriters gathers at 8 p.m. the second Monday of each month. A small circle of musicians, many of them Christian, talk about their songs and perform them. Gatta organized it so that emerging songwriters can work on their material along with established musicians, such as Summer Ames.

Gatta earned the Texas Christian Songwriters Association 2009 song of the year award for “Ain’t Nobody,” from her 2007 EP Forget Subtlety. Encouragement from her peers in songwriting gave Gatta greater motivation to pursue music.

“I think there is a new breed of musician, a DIY musician who is responding to the music scene as it’s shifting,” Gatta said. “You can get your music out there yourself, the way you want to get it out there. I like all that stuff — the social networking and the electronic media. I like to read music blogs, and not just blogs about the latest music, but the business of making music. All of that is interesting to me.”

Petersen said Gatta began recording at the in-house studio of Collin Creek Community Church about a year ago. The recording was finished in February, and Petersen said he had to complete several projects before mixing the album. It was released in the spring, and Gatta launched the Big Enough State Tour over the summer. When she plays live with her band, she performs under the moniker of Ashley Gatta & the Free People. She calls her fans “Freegans.”

She’s a worship musician at the Denton campus of The Village Church and is still performing in support of her album.

Music is both her calling and her job. And while the music business is famous for its economic instability, Gatta isn’t anxious.

“I think just seeing that when I walk in faith, God will provide, keeps me going. I did this when the economy wasn’t doing well, to put it mildly, and I’m doing OK. I don’t know that that’s a coincidence.”

For more information or to buy an album, visit - Denton Record Chronicle

"Musician celebrates album release, delivers her message"

Cameras flashed and the audience buzzed as singer/songwriter and humanitarian Ashley Gatta took the stage at her CD release party Saturday at Art Six.
More than 50 people attended Gatta's show, and she sold 45 copies of her new CD Forget Subtlety. Gatta said that what she writes is music with a cause.
"I hope people can hear my music and enjoy the sound of it, enjoy the groove of it, dance to it, get the hook stuck in their head and sing along to it," Gatta said. "But I also hope people can hear the lyrics and get something more from it because there is a positive message behind all my songs."
Gatta performed in choir growing up and began playing guitar at 15 years old, but it wasn't until she came to Denton that she performed her own music publicly.
The singer/songwriter credits John Legend and Lauryn Hill as her musical influences, producing what she calls a cross between soul and pop.
"When I come to hear her play, I'm just so proud of her. It's like she's my kid," Kelley Jones, Garland senior said. With encouragement and support from friends and family, Gatta made the decision to begin working on her album. With the help of a friend, Jacob Schrodt, a graduate of the NT jazz program, she was able to produce it.
"He [Schrodt] is incredibly talented and happens to have a lot of incredibly talented friends who were willing to play on my album," Gatta said.
Gatta said she doesn't market herself as a contemporary Christian artist, but said she is an artist who happens to be a Christian and is playing music that has to do with faith in God along with other themes.
"So far all the venues that I've played in have been secular," Gatta said. "I'm not up there Bible-thumping by any means. It's something I think that non-believers and anyone can listen to and relate to. I think Christians will just appreciate it on a different level."
Aside from her music, Gatta is involved with a group called Seeds of Change. In the group she helps serve the homeless population in Denton.
Gatta's grandfather Richard Bell said that through all the commotion of getting ready for her show, she still had time to feed the homeless that day.
"It's amazing to watch the process because she's not doing this for her, she's doing it for the man upstairs," Bell said, pointing to the sky.
Gatta graduated from NT in the spring with a degree in Sociology and is currently seeking a position in the nonprofit sector. She said she hopes to combine her love for music with social issues and work in them together.
"I love people and I love the idea of doing good collectively," Gatta said. "I love music and I know some how it will work out." - NT Daily

"Allies of poor hit the asphalt"

Around 100 marchers and activists — many baring both their feet and hearts — gathered Saturday afternoon to show support and raise awareness for the plight of Denton’s homeless.

Seeds of Change, a grassroots student organization at the University of North Texas, and Sons of Thunder Motorcycle Ministries sponsored “Bare Your Soles,” starting with a barefoot march down Hickory Street and ending at the Courthouse on the Square lawn, where several nonprofit agencies offered information and aid.

Area students and people who had experienced homelessness spoke, calling the community to action.

“Change in the community begins with you,” said Seeds of Change President Andrew Walsh, a junior philosophy major. “We can’t just wait for someone else to do it.”

Using Jesus and Mother Teresa as examples, Walsh and others pointed to simple acts of kindness and compassion that residents could offer the city’s homeless, instead of trying to avoid or ignore the problem.

“It’s time to step up,” Walsh said. “It’s time to be the change.”

Seeds of Change event planner Ashley Gatta, a senior sociology major, said the barefoot march was symbolic of the everyday challenges homeless people face.

“It hurt so bad,” she said. “But it was amazing to kind of share in the suffering for 10 minutes, compared to the daily struggle they face.”

Those who had experienced homelessness said aside from the lack of shelter, searching for and securing a job is extremely difficult without a phone, transportation or a regular place to shower.

Patrick Craig of Denton, who was homeless for about four years, said on average, a person is about three paychecks away from living on the street.

While he admits making poor choices in his life that led to his homelessness, Craig said many other homeless people are victims of layoffs, poor health and other unintentional problems.

“That guy on the street doesn’t necessarily want to be there,” said Craig, 46. “Most of them are intelligent, warm, caring, loving people, trying to do the right thing.”

Steven Parks said he has been homeless for the past five years, after losing his house, car and personal belongings while battling health problems.

“I’ve slept over here in the corner,” said Parks, 53, pointing to an area next to the courthouse.

He said his bed is currently the floor of a friend’s house.

While there is not a simple solution to the homeless problem, residents can help alleviate the strain that social service agencies bear by offering help where they can.

“This city is full of good people, and we need more good people to come forward to do something,” Parks said.

Sons of Thunder President Ben Carswell said seeing young people get involved in the homeless issue is inspirational.

“It’s given me hope for the future,” he said.

Sons of Thunder was operating a homeless shelter out of its building on Hickory Street, but it was closed by the city for violating the fire code and lacking a permit to house people overnight.

The ministry is trying to meet the city’s zoning requirements in order to rezone the building and reopen the building to the homeless.

Carswell said he is hoping the shelter’s reinstatement will draw more community support.

Both Craig and Parks said Sons of Thunder was one place they felt welcome and accepted, and were able to get the information and resources they needed to get off the streets.

Gatta said raising community awareness and showing support is a large part of making a change in Denton’s homeless situation.

“They’re not an embarrassment, they’re a reality,” she said. - Denton Record Chronicle


Still Melting- 2010

Where the Humble Go- 2010

Forget Subtlety, EP- 2007



Ashley Gatta began her musical journey in 2007, before her 21st birthday. Influenced by the likes of Norah Jones and Amos Lee, she wrote soulful, upbeat pop/rock songs. Acoustic guitar in hand, she began performing them at open mic nights and coffee shops in her college town of Denton, TX. With the help of producers Chris August and Jacob Schrodt, she took to the studio and recorded her first EP, Forget Subtlety. Gatta made waves in the songwriting circuit, winning ‘Song of the Year’ with TexasCSA (2009), and garnered the attention of producer Branden Petersen. Ashley Gatta & The Free People formed in 2010 when Gatta began working with Petersen on her first full-length album, Where the Humble Go. The band turned what was a simple acoustic guitar and vocal act into a rich and vibrant ensemble, packed with energy to match Gatta’s powerhouse vocals.

While band members have transitioned in and out as their lives and musical journeys have shifted, the band has consistently been one of talent, fun, and character. Ashley Gatta & The Free People currently consists of Ashley Gatta (acoustic guitar and vocals) Austin Chappell (drums), and Bert Willis (bass and vocals). Sharing the stage with artists like Ernie Halter, Sandra McCracken, and Fred Hammond, Ashley Gatta & The Free People played venues like Hailey's, Andy's, and Prophet Bar, touring regionally for over a year, Ashley Gatta & The Free People began forming a solid fanbase across Texas that welcomed them at coffeehouses, clubs, churches, parks and more as they toured to promote Where the Humble Go before self-producing their own Christmas EP at the end of 2010. In the summer of 2011, Ashley Gatta & The Free People joined forces with The eXtreme Tour and performed in cities along the south, ending in Miami, Fl before returning to their hometown of Denton, TX. Ashley Gatta & The Free People have spent the fall of 2011 writing, arranging, rehearsing, and preparing for a new album they plan to record and release in 2012.