Makeher releases new album, ‘Real Life,’ 14 years after starting production

“Makeher is John Gassett.”

That’s the introductory, handwritten sentence in the liner notes of Makeher’s new record, “Real Life,” digitally released on May 10, followed by the slow trickle of vinyl that pops up as Gassett sees fit.

Gassett, the enigmatic singer-songwriter figurehead of Makeher, has been in myriad Dayton bands of the last 25 years, like Back Stabbath, The Fire Science and I Cried This Night, to name a few. He also ran the door at Blind Bob’s for 12 years.

The point is John Gassett has been around, and his cleverly disguised solo record seems to be an amalgamation of everything that’s led him to this point: business disappointments, relationships, self-destruction and fatherhood.

After several flatlined attempts at putting music out as a band, Gassett decided to have a go at a solo career — but not without some trials.

‘Real Life’ has been 14 years in the making and is a compilation of moments as much as it is a compilation of songs.

The A-side was engineered and recorded by Nik Wells in downtown Dayton’s Cannery Loft (apartment 419, to be exact) from November 2009 to June 2010. Three tracks of side B were recorded at Levelhead Studio in Yellow Springs and were engineered by Jayson Hartings (Oh Condor) in February 2024. The remaining three tracks were recorded in Gassett’s home on his iPhone, bringing a modern lo-fi aspect to an already intimate record.

Take “Hand in Hand,” the second single from ‘Real Life,’ released in April. After some audible room tone, Gassett opens by saying “Two thousand twenty-four,” as if he’s speaking into a tape deck, informing the listener (or himself) of the recording’s timeframe in case the permanent marker got rubbed off. He then thumbs the strings of his acoustic, making them sound like the warm nylons of a classical guitar.

“Settle right into it / sometimes life just hands it to ya.”

These raw iPhone recordings — “Wait for a Long Time” and “Dotted Line” being the other two — give the listener a sense that they’re early birds to Gassett’s music, that despite these being mastered and pressed to vinyl, they feel like the raw, albeit strong, demos a songwriter would present to a band before tracking.

“That’s the camp I grew up in,” Gassett said, on the analog self-recording methods he used in the early 2000s. So when he got the take he needed via his voice memo app, he said: “I got all the wording right. I got all the phrasing right. This is the way the song is supposed to be.”

Sprinkling in three self-recorded tracks isn’t enough to derail the album, and arguably makes for a more interesting listening experience. Even the tracks from the Cannery and Levelhead sessions present a delicate Gassett, likely due to the proximity of mic placement.

Production techniques aside, ‘Real Life’ is a very personal, human album; false starts open up several tracks, and Gassett sometimes breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to us. There’s a buzz of guitar strings as he slides around the neck, and a vulnerability to his voice, like he’s an apprehensive teen sitting at the edge of a bed, pouring it all out to whoever’s listening on the floor.

Save for “Wadin in a Drool” and “You Fell for It,” ‘Real Life’ is generally stripped of the frills of other instruments, relying solely on vocals and an acoustic guitar to push the sequencing. And they do: a testament to Gassett and his over-a-decade-long effort to execute.

The cover art to ‘Real Life’ features a two-shot of Gassett and his daughter, Manasseh, who is thanked in the liner notes for giving Gassett “a purpose and for allowing [him] to finish this.”

The record’s back cover and dust sleeve, designed by Ryan France, are collages of show bills, photos, pins, handwritten notes and other memorabilia from Gassett’s life. The whimsical portrait that underlies it all somewhat resembles Gassett’s daughter and smiles with an unobstructed face, despite the surrounding keepsakes: further evidence that this was for Manasseh, even if the album’s concept predates her existence.

“When my daughter’s old, if the world is still here, she can put this record on for her kids and say ‘this is your grandpa,’” Gassett said.

Although “Real Life” was in limbo for quite some time, Gassett finished this beautiful record and pressed it to vinyl — not without selling a few records from his collection, along with a little help from his friends, to help pay for it.

He’s currently self-distributing the vinyl to outside markets — such as Columbus, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Chicago — but won’t be mass-selling locally until Makeher’s official release at Yellow Cab Tavern on June 21. Gassett rarely performs, so he says this upcoming show will probably be the last for a while.

“I don’t want to be famous,” Gassett said. “I just kind of want to be acknowledged.”

If there’s one thing to acknowledge here, it’s that Gassett’s more driven than ever since, after 14 years, ‘Real Life’ is finally off his chest. Now he has room to breathe.

More details

Makeher’s new album, ‘Real Life,’ is available on digital and vinyl. The record release show, featuring Randy Cornett (Roley Yuma) and Sam Stansfield, will be at 8 p.m. June 21 at Yellow Cab Tavern, 700 E. 4th St., Dayton.

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