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Bringing it all back home

Bringing it all back home"Other than the occasional odd car, the neighbors don't suspect a thing," says musician Kelly Keneipp, who sits on the couch in his living room in Winder, Ga. — ground zero for Backburner, the label Keneipp runs with his wife Nikki.

The Keneipps are excited because Merriment, their new collaboration with acclaimed Athens songwriter Vic Chesnutt, is about to crack CMJ's Top 20. Not bad for a modest operation that began as a way to release material sitting on the creative back burner.

The Keneipps and fellow musician Jack Logan started Backburner last year to release Logan's Compulsive Recorders. Acts like the Ranch Brothers and the Possibilities soon wanted to work with the Keneipps, and by year's end, the growing label had released a total of five CDs, all based on handshake agreements with no contracts or binding, long-term agreements. "We're the CEOs of the company," says Kelly, "and Logan calls himself the traveling salesman, since he's on tour so much." Logan, also a visual artist, helps with most of the layout and cover designs. "Everything is done pretty much in-house, literally," Keneipp says, as his wife calms their barking dogs in the kitchen.

In addition to being the base of operations, the main room is set up as a compact recording studio. Pointing to the center of the room, Keneipp says, "We recorded Vic right here." Both multi-instrumentalists, the Keneipps recorded all the backing tracks for Merriment, then turned them over to Chesnutt, who composed lyrics and vocal melodies.

"I would get a tape of two songs, then listen to them on a walkman until melody and text screamed at me," says Chesnutt. "Then I would go to the house and sing them aloud for the first time, and then I'd get two more." The entire project took about nine months to complete.

The finished product is stunning, featuring some of Chesnutt's most abstract lyrics and strongest vocal performances. "I wanted the melodies to soar," explains Chesnutt. "Being mostly piano-based, it freed me up to pretend I was Andrew Lloyd Webber."

"With Vic involved, naturally there's built-in interest," says Kelly, who's considering adding additional staff as demand increases for Merriment. "But," he adds, as he leans back on the couch, "they can't live here, there's not enough room."