Award-winning country music artist Miranda Lambert’s new collaborative album featuring fellow Texas singer-songwriters Jack Ingram and Jon Randall is anything but typical. But then neither is Austin photographer and video editor Spencer Peeples (’99), who was invited to document the creative process behind the making of The Marfa Tapes.
Peeples, who graduated from Abilene Christian University with a degree in English and a minor in digital media, met Ingram through a project he was working on called “The Next Waltz.” One thing led to another, and the three musicians invited him to join them in the small West Texas town of Marfa – a remote location that has served as songwriting inspiration for the trio for the last six years.
He brought six cameras and a sound engineer, Brandon Bell, from Nashville to record the country tunes that blend acoustic guitar, vocals and ambient sounds of the desert. What started out as a plan to capture b-roll turned into a full-length film, directed by Peeples and featuring live performances set against the West Texas backdrop, candid interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from their sessions.
The film will premiere at 6 p.m. CDT on May 8, one day after The Marfa Tapes album is released, and will be available on Lambert’s official Facebook page for 24 hours before going to a streaming service.
Peeples’ love for videography began when he was 10 years old and his parents acquired a VHS-C camcorder. “That’s when I started asking my teachers if I could make a video instead of a written paper, and at the time they were excited to let me do that.”
A video production style with which he had been experimenting turned out to be perfect for The Marfa Tapes project.
“I’ve been working on an approach that is liked by musicians,” he said. “It’s just me and a sound guy trying not to be a big deal, and hopefully they forget we’re there recording. Kind of a fly-on-the-wall approach.”
At first, “I had a crew with me in the studio with these musicians; then I realized the crew was in the way and it needed to be just me with stationary cameras around. It’s about the video production not being in the way,” he said. “And when COVID hit, my one-man-band style took off. People wanting less folks around was the best thing to ever happen to my career.”
For The Marfa Tapes, “we went out to a ranch house a few miles from Marfa for a week and hung out – they sang and I recorded,” Peeples said. “They had been going out there for the past few years and invited me when they were ready to share with the world.”
In addition to capturing and editing video during that week, Peeples also took still photography for a book Lambert is working on, and one of his photos graces the cover of her new album.
Lambert, talking about the project live on her Facebook page, said the idea was to create an organic recording of songs. “We just thought, ‘Why don’t we put these out for the fans just how they are in their raw state to go along with the sound of the cows and the wind and everything that tumbleweed country has to offer. We wanted to show the vastness and the beauty of something we’re so proud of, as part of our state,’ ” she said.
“We brought Spencer Peeples, who is an amazing photographer and filmmaker,” Lambert said. “We actually meant to take kind of a b-roll situation and just get a few shots here and there, and it turned out to be the most gorgeous footage and turned into a whole film. And it just lays so perfectly next to this project musically. And when you can see the visuals and hear the music, it just fits like a glove.”
– Robin Saylor
May 6, 2021