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April 4, 2013 — A summer motorcycle trip to Wyoming three years ago changed the life of California native Doug Balmain, not only in terms of completing his degree work, but also jump-starting a burgeoning singing career.
Balmain, a University of Wyoming senior from Colfax, Calif., will soon graduate from college with a degree in philosophy, but he realizes that singing is what he wants to do with his life.
Balmain will release his debut album titled “Troubled Mind” -- a collection of 15 songs he wrote -- this month.
He expresses his music with an alternative-country genre that often bleeds into “red dirt, rock 'n roll and even blues,” Balmain says.
“My main focus is creating music that serves each individual song as its own unique entity and helps to tell its story in the most effective way possible. That is the heart of Americana music,” he says. “Regardless of the genre you take up, Americana music is about story-telling. It’s music that speaks of life, love, struggles, triumphs -- life the way it is. Miles Davis boiled all that down by simply stating, ‘Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is.’”
Balmain’s new album -- featuring a photo of an upright guitar with a weathered cowboy hat in the middle of a desolate two-lane blacktop along a lonely prairie -- was all written, recorded and produced in Laramie.
Actual recording and production took place at ThunderGround Sound Studio, which is owned by Dan Tinker, a UW associate professor of botany.
The album includes contributions from several UW artists, including Professor Jason Shogren, UW Department of Economics and Finance chair; Shaun Kelley, Department of Music master’s degree candidate; and Erik Olson, UW Department of Music. A string quartet from the UW Masters Symphony Orchestra, which includes 2013 Dorothy Jacoby Student Soloist Competition winner Ara Harutyunyan, is featured on one of the album’s tracks. The album’s drummer, Todd While, is a UW graduate, who was in several performing groups at the university, ranging from marching, jazz, and concert bands to the orchestra. He also was in the Casper Troopers Drum and Bugle Corp in the early 1980s.
Balmain, whose manager is his father, Douglas Balmain, says his interest in music began at age 10, when he pounded out noise on a small guitar. He later formed a band in high school.
“I guess we called it a rock band but, if you heard us, you’d think differently,” he says laughing.
The turning point in his life came when he was completing two years at a community college in his home state. He and his dad took a motorcycle trip to Wyoming, where they took in the sights and camped in the Cowboy States's wide open spaces.
In a spur-of-the-moment side trip, the pair visited UW. And once Balmain returned to California, he decided to come back to Wyoming and enroll at UW.
“Basically, I wanted to disappear and go somewhere where no one knew me and I didn’t know anyone,” he says. “When I stopped by UW, I applied and later was accepted. Next thing I knew, I was headed to Wyoming.”
While at UW, his music aspirations continued. One day, a song came to him out of the blue. He started to strum his guitar, put the notes down on paper and then added more chords.
“The song just popped in my head and I wrote it down. I never wrote one before,” he admits. “It was a pretty typical down-and-out, heartbreak type of story. But once I wrote that first song, it all just snowballed from there.”
It took just 20 minutes to write “Troubled Mind,” which happens to be the new album's title track.
“I realized that what I had so frantically written down was actually a song. I was hooked. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop writing,” he says. “It was a thrill. Freeing is the best way to describe it.”
One album track, “I’ll Lay Down in the Rain," was recorded in the Wyoming Union Ballroom.
Balmain will debut “Troubled Mind” to the public, when he performs at 9 pm. Saturday, April 13, at the Bear Tree Tavern in Centennial. He joins five other musicians in the Doug Balmain Band.
To learn more about Balmain, visit his website at http://DougBalmain.com/.
University of Wyoming student Doug Balmain, posing in front of his friend’s 1964 Lincoln Continental, will release his debut album “Troubled Mind” this month. (Doug Balmain Photo)