Monday, August 31, 2009

Central Incompetence Agency

It's hard to say if the song I finished last night is the twelfth or thirteenth completed song with the record because I'm not sure exactly how far along the songs are that Kelly is working on. I am especially open to others' opinion on this one for re-writes as I think there's something that could be added to make it really pop.

At any rate, it's about the CIA and the way they've handled, or mostly mis-handled, American foreign affairs for 70 years. When you put it next to three of the four twentieth century tracks ("Know It All" being the exception, and it's the only one I didn't have a real hand in writing), it really speaks of how the last century has been a violent affair and how deep paranoia strikes in our psyche when you think about it. The tone of the record turns a little darker on the twentieth century pieces, and this is the most paranoid. I don't think it will cripple the record or hurt the tone of it because it still is still pretty light, but it's there.

Musically, I sought to make something more exciting than the rest of what we've been working on lately without a big guitar solo. Instead, I decided to use riffs that will play sometimes together over the same chords but mostly with the whole band stopping and one guitar riff going with no accompaniment. It's been so long since I created the riffs that I'm not sure to the first time listener how much I preserved the feel of the spy songs I was using as influence. Daniel's lead ideas when we first played it together in April were to make the verses sound like a James Bond opening credits song. He can be in charge of that. The pre-chorus may have a little R.E.M. in it since that's what I've been listening to lately, but the crowning piece, the piece that requires this song to close the history record, is the outro, which I took a small cue from Abbey Road as to how to do, not by calling it "The End" or tacking on a 17-second ditty at the end, but something else more grand and under-stated that they did on that record and that I'm making more pronounced for ours. I hope the other guys like it--I'm intentionally not saying what it is because I want it to blow their minds when I play this one for them.

I hope to make a demo for this one, but I'll have to use a multi-track recorder to do it, and time and borrowing one are two complications on that one. I can't estimate the time it will take to this one until then, but I'm pretty sure it falls between three and four minutes.

Running time is a big factor for making this record, as we've discussed many times, and I'm starting to wish we had the time and resources to make a double album of history songs. I think we're already getting a little tired of refining ideas to write the songs, and we want to get it out while the project is still fresh. It would probably take much longer to double what we have, and I don't think the end result would be the effect we really want deep down.

Still, I'm glad that I had time to finish this one and to give it a chance to see the light of day since I liked the song since its inception. It will now have to pass the test with the other boys.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Obsession: For MEN

There is nothing wrong with a little obsession!!! (read below post)

I go back to the studio tomorrow. Possibly with Tha D in tow. Hope it all works out!!

Cut Off

I am making a confession to...well, basically to you, Kelly, since you're the only person who reads this blog that we imagine other people read.

I am the biggest fan of Kelly Kerr and the Distractions there is. That's probably sad since I play bass for us, and in many ways it doesn't count me as the title of "fan" since I am a part, and it's lame and sad to admit it among a profession where we're all supposed to be too cool or too busy or too deep or too ironic to actually like our own stuff. But I like it.

I listen to us more than anyone.

The rough cuts have been a sore spot for me because I want to listen to them for purposes of enjoyment and for creative purposes since I'm still thinking about new things to do with the works in progress, but they are also something I want to stay away from because I don't want to wear out the record or feel too familiar with it before it actually comes out.

So I decided that, for a while at least, I will not be getting the new batches of rough cuts we get from the studio each time as we add more bells and whistles and proper vocal takes to the recordings each time we go to the studio. I can't wait to hear "The Great Stink" once it gets the lead part and all the solos to come, but I want to wait until something closer to a finished product. I've already had to pace myself with the roughs to keep from playing them too much, and I think new ones would only perpetuate this.

The only reason I'll need them is for practicing, like with "Eli" this week, or for a few listens to make sure I'm satisfied with the parts, or later on, when we're talking seriously about track listing. For that reason, I'll probably get roughs of any new songs we record, like when Kelly goes in tomorrow and puts down an initial track for "Dear Abbey." And okay, I was going to cut myself off earlier but absolutely couldn't resist listening to that fiddle that had us playing "air violin" in the control room as soon as she started. But other than that, I'm taking a break, another step I have to take keep this record from being my full blown obsession and to let some other areas in my life have some room to get the attention they deserve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Read The Post Below First! Then Read this one SECOND!

Peach did strings last night.

I was jealous he got to go back and work some more. I was going to meet him up there and get in on the session but the last week has taken its toll on me. I was too tired to go anywhere. I probably would have fallen asleep on the couch in the control room. But after talking to Peach after the session was over, I didn't really need to be there.

I haven't heard it yet. But I already like it. In fact, I don't need to hear it.

I need to start giving up control on certain things. Peach made the strings happen whether its good or not. The string section could completely suck and it wouldn't bother me. I have trouble making decisions on things because I want to do EVERYTHING that can be done OR limit everything t the smallest degree. One extreme or the other. Complex or bare bones. I find no middle ground. I used to say I either want 10 kids or 1. If that gives you a reference.

I find it flattering that the band thinks so highly of Eli Whitney. I wrote it in 2 hours and it has not changed since. Sure there have been band changes and what not but the song remains the same. I take pride in delivering a good product the first time around. What next? A dance remix?

But in the end the "big" treatment was something we wanted. For about a month I was trying to do it the way we have always done the song because I still feel the recording on the first record is very medicore. The only thing I really enjoy about listening to the Whimsical version is the fuzzy guitar solo. Deep down I know the band can perform the song better and certainly have performed it better.

Then for about two weeks, it was looking as if it would only be acoustic with some bells and whistles. Adding all the orchestrated stuff has led me to think there can be more done to every other song. But this album is supposed to represent us as a live act or as a unit. We can save the Brian Wilson stuff for the next record. But not for this song. Is it our hit? Maybe. It's the closest to the conept becuase it was my response to hearing the Giants song "James K Polk." Even for a short time Peach didn't want to be a "history band." I couldn't help it. I just kept writing songs like that. I remember sometime in October/November we were all sitting around thinking "we could totally do this!" And look at it now! We have strings!!!

I say bring the violin player back for Dear Abbey. Guitar, piano, violin. Boom! There you have it. Next song.....

Kudos to Peach for making the strings happen. We can now safely say we are not just a rock band. I just wish I could been there to see it happpen. I always wondered about mic placements, eq, and stuff for strings.

Now it's back to making demos....

Overdub Session #1: Strings!

I spent the evening for our first overdub session with two string players who came in and did new parts for "Eli Whitney." I had thought there would be time to record more afterward, but that didn't happen, so I will have to go back and do some more at a later date.

The bass player came first, per my request. He was very professional and came in and nailed the part. As he started, I kept thinking, "A real bass player is playing our song! Wow!" I told him he could change the bass line to whatever he wanted, and he came up with a completely different part. It changes the groove of the song considerably. What he played would not work as well on electric bass, so I'm not sure if I would change what I do, but it is the first and smaller way that "Eli" will be a different listening experience on this record from what anyone has heard before.

The question arose while he was playing whether we were recording a sweeping string section or if the bass was acting as part of the rhythm section. I had envisioned a sweeping string section, but that would mean him recording another part and considerably more parts to record. We recorded additional bass for the song in case we wanted to go that way later, but in the end we decided that the bowed upright bass would still serve sonically as part of the rhythm section and the violin would serve as a lead instrument over the chorus. The effect is similar since both are bowed instruments playing at the same time, but it's good to have an important mixing decision made early.

The violinist came in next. She's a high school student who has been playing ten years and has a good ear for melody and harmony. I think she might have been a little nervous to be recording a session with just me and Daniel Reekay there, so I tried to keep it light and encourage her so that she would be comfortable. I thought about adding documentary footage of her saying how Kelly kept hitting on her or how she's in love with Kelly, but I never felt quite like I knew her that well.

Her parts came with much discussion. The bass player came in and did his part and knew what to do, but the decisions that had to be made for playing her part kept getting more complex as the session went on. Aaron would come down with the baby and give input when he could.

I had given her R.E.M.'s "Electrolite" as a reference piece for the solo, and Aaron had given her the rough practice cut of the song we had done on the day of the first band tracking session, which she took to her instructor and learned the first part of Daniel's solo note for note (which is really cool to hear). As she was starting, I also gave her one of my favorite pieces, "Ashokan Farewell" as another reference to what she could do. She could play that famous violin piece easily and it may have made her more comfortable to get started.

The bass player took about an hour and forty-five minutes to record his part, and she took probably two and a half hours on top of that, and the result was quite a bit different from what I imiagined they would do. I had a certain part in my head for the strings to play, but in the end the sessions musicians were so smart with what they did that it left what I had envisioned behind in the dust. They both thought it was a great song and were interested in the whole concept album, making me happy that we can impress strangers who are also musicians.

The question then arises now that the strings are on "Eli" is whether or not this acoustic symphony (the original concept for the song, I might add) doesn't come too far out of left field for the rest of the record. I could easily envision a similar treatment to "Dear Abbey" to give another counterpoint to this song and alleviate that, but time and money and the fact that it's the band's decision ultimately may keep that from happening. I guess we'll decide once we start to hear more of the record all together.

But at the end of the day, having listened to the rough cut once since hearing it on their awesome mixing speakers, the changes to this song are extremely positive. The argument could be made that "Eli Whitney" is itself the history album and that the other 12+ songs are just buffers to fill out the concept captured so well on what could easily be our finest song ever. What we did yesterday ensures that if anything, the song we've paid the least attention to in preparing to make this record (as it was worked out in our minds long before we started) will stand out among the rest of the tracks as the classic song it is. The whole record could revolve around or hinge upon this one great song, perhaps the best song Kelly's ever written, and it also presents the interesting and frightening challenge of making sure that the other songs can top it or at least come close to it in some arena.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Coffee Made My Teeth Yellow

I woke up yesterday morning and immediately thought, "I need more sleep." I dragged all through the day's tasks at work and was ready to go to bed by the time I started cooking dinner. I had to pick up some stuff from my local Kroger afterward, and I noticed for the first time that they have complimentary coffee in the front. Normally I wouldn't drink it and would just go on to bed, but I had a big night ahead of me. I'm going in to the studio tonight to oversee some strings and do my own overdubs, so I had some extensive practicing to do. Two cups of coffee while I shopped later, I was ready to get home and practice for a solid two hours (not bad for one song) before going to bed.

I'll blog about the actual session tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dead On The Same Day

I hope we can go back to the studio this weekend. I'm just waiting to hear back from the Tha D and hopefully we can make it happen. If not, next week will definatetly work out.

As of right I'm finishing up the tail end of all the written portions. I went camping over the weekend to find that I had it in my write a song to completion in one sitting. I brought some reading material and while sitting in my chair next to the fire pit, I hammered out a new track that is tentively called "Dead On The Same Day." I made a demo for it yesterday using drum loops and amp simulation on the Garage Band program. I just to need to apply the vocals and we will hopefully have a new tune for the record. It's a pretty interesting song but VERY straight forward. It's my attempt at writing a song that sounds like Cheap Trick and Roger Clyne combined. Naturally, considering thats what I have been listening to alot lately. I've got msot of the song worked out, I only really need the band to apply their own musings and leads, and work out a few start and stops with the drums. I'm putting in alot of extra work on these last few because we really don't have much time to dwell as we are trying to knock all this out in the 4-6 weeks. Using the computer as opposed to the cassette deck makes this go faster.

I also demoed another untitled track on wednesday that is VERY Cheap Trick. As a matter of fact, its a rip off but very jammy and lends itself to be extended for a longer track. I've been trying to come up with sort of jammy and extended songs. I've been using Television's Marquee Moon as an example for this because the riff is repeated over and over and it clocks in at about 15 minutes. The song goes in so many directions. DO we have time for something like this? Maybe. And I hope. Then again, i'm sure we do. A little magic goes a long way.

I have also sort of decided to stop thinking in a "book end" type way. The album needs to be bookend but the question has been "how?" To avoid that, I don't think we need an intro or an outro. Just substance of song. I have mentioned before, so far, the album is 31 minutes with the potential of 35. That leaves really only 7-8 minutes to try and fill as we don't want to go over 42 as that would be too long for a single LP. We don't want to bore the listeners. new song, two more coming. Maybe more. we can pick from those and we will have a record. a very diverse record I might add. thats been the problem all along. we have so much content but how do we make EACH track stand out from one to the other. Thats difficult. Thats like making a greatest hits from scratch.

So....almost there. I can feel it. Here it comes. I managed to trade my piano for a real upright, so maybe more songs from that change of instrumentation. I need to get together with everyone, whether as a group or individually to hammer out some stuff. My engine is lit and I feel the need for speed. The last surge might spawn more than we can or want to work with. I told Peach the other day "I have good stuff and crap." and then Peach says "crap is good, even if its useless, i like crap"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Soon be DONE!!

All geared up!

Next week I hope to go back to the studio with Tha D to finish tracking what needs to be done tracking. Hopefully it won't take longer than a day to complete.

4-track PLUS Garage Band equals COOL!! The last two/three demos made for the album will be awesome. I recently got a new computer and have been messing with the garage band program along with my four track. The results are are great and make the cassette demos sound wonderful. I hope to have all of my home recordings for the album available for free download sometime after the album comes out. It gives the listener an very different look at how all this has come together.

I still have not replaced my overdrive TUBE SCREAMER pedal. Saturday's impromptu appearance at Tomato Tomato proved that I and We can't live without it. Big Muffs are too noisy for what we do. I want my TUBE SCREAMER back.

We also got rejected from playing Next Big Nashville. I guess its no real loss but honestly, I think we should be playing and we deserve to be on any bill for it. It's very lame we got a negative answer. As far as I'm concerned they are making a mistake by not letting us play. I'm sure all the obvious Nashville bands will get to play. I feel very distanced from that whole scene. It also feels like a waste of a $10.

Hopefully the money-fairy can bestow the funds needed to finish and press the album. We have an art idea for the cover that I really want. I need to do a little more research and talk to a few people to really nail down what we can do and we can't afford.

In other news, I'm "producing" the new Henry Daggs album...more on that later.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I've Done This Once: Making Good Records Means Recording Them Twice!

Josh, Chris Freeman, and I were talking about how some albums are made two, even three times before the final product is even heard. This is not true for us.

I've made 4 trakc demos for pretty much every song on this album. Actually, Commodity was the only one i did not have to do because there was nothing to do with it or change. I didn't even need to practice singing it. Therefore, no demo for that one, except Peach's. But other than that, I've made this album once already. I can't even fathom having "band" demos, and then recording. I guess if you aren't playing live very much, you need that middle step, but that seems as if you're starting and then starting over. So for the next record, and the record after that, we will just stick to 4 tracks recordings and band rehearsal. Besides, we don't want to pay for the album three times either.....but.......

Lately I've been wanting to expand my home recording set up. I love doing simple 4 trakc cassette recordings and will continue to do so, but for the band as a whole, I want to expand and get some nice/cheap equipment. I've got a new computer, so maybe a nice mic or two, an 8 channel mixer, and some nice/cheap plug ins. As a band, we love being in the studio and always feel sa dto leave. This record starting off as a home project and the switch was a good one, but what about that need for more? I'm pretty confidant that we can emerge as a great studio band and make something as good as Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, Dark Side of the Moon if we have more time in the studio. Working quickly does not leave much time for experimentation. Plus, I want the current project to represent us as a live act because we put so much time into being a good live act.

I guess what I am saying is that I have big ideas and big things I want to achieve but can't with limited time. I see Josh three times a week outside of band activities and Tha D and Tha Peach are always up for a few hours of nonsense. I want to start recording us more and not just live shows. Many of my songs and ideas fall by the way side because I don't have somone else there to play the drums or just someone to "perform" to. In the future, I'd like to try recording the band myself because I have learned so much from Daniel and Aaron these last few months. All this makes me wish I had remained in the RIM program. I got out after completing all the core classes, all of which have been useful to this day.

So...anyways....all is good...some shows coming up, some more sessions coming up. There is a lot coming up. This fall is going to be good and big for us. The record will hopefully be out before Xmas and we can all sit around and have a beer and listen to our wonderful piece of work.

I also plan on keepingthis blog going long after the record is finished........

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quick De-Brief of the Last Session

There was essentially one objective with Friday: band tracks. Everything else can be added later, but not having to coordinate between bass and drums and extensive set-up for later will make it much easier for Daniel and Kelly to go in and do their parts. To that end, we succeeded wonderfully in putting down tracks fror 6 songs.

"Eli Whitney" There had been much contention about whether we should go through with an acoustic version of this song instead of an electric one, and we decided to do acoustic in the end. The drums were the same, and I was wondering how it would really sound when we put it all together. Daniel made one of his best performances of the song with the Martin he bought from my Dad, finger picking out this needles and pins for each note. Kelly used the classical guitar my Dad made to come in behind it with a blunt broad stroke that filled out the sound. I can't wait to hear it once we add other instruments. The roughs are being sent out to other people to bring some more to it.

"Bob Dole" It really was neat to hear this song finally committed to tape. There's only one acoustic guitar, and Josh and I put out a particularly tight rhythm track on that one. I have to use a much lighter touch on the bass in the studio to make it come out right, especially on that one where the airy arrangement does the least to hide my slurs and extraneous bumps. Overdubbing this one was fun as Kelly added some little sound effects and we all crowded around a microphone to record some laughter.

"Election: 1800" and "Commodity" It still blows my mind that two songs we've never played live have already been cut in the studio and are 90% finished. It feels good to have them worked up with that accuracy before playing them. "Commodity" was our best performance of it so far, even though I think future live performances will eventually make that one pale in comparison. With it and "Bob Dole," it is really neat to hear my own song that I wrote and demoed reach that kind of development and treatment.

"Let's Go to War" didn't come as easily as Kelly was saying. There is some question of the guitar tone on that one. Since our primary goal was the bass and drums, Daniel played it as a live track and the difficulty was bypassed, but it will take some head scratching in future studio sessions to figure out how to get more volume and less gain and not lose the feel of the song. Less distortion also means more work for Daniel to hit the intricacies of that lick with more precision as the the FabTone pedal he uses often covers up the way he walks up to the C and dances on the 16th notes with a stutter in there before walking down, leaving him some breathing room to make a mistake live without anyone noticing. A cleaner sound will make it sound more like an engine propeller, which is cool, but it may take a few extra takes.

"Gold Rush" The session was winding down in the evening, and we decided to do still go ahead and do Gold Rush instead of polishing off what we had already done. We began joking around which helped to psyche us out for it, culminating in us determining that the only way we could perform this redneck anthem was shirtless. So we did it. We ripped through the song in a few takes, but there were some hiccups in there, some that we fixed and some that we didn't, that could have been avoided if we had played on that one longer before recording it. Still, the cut of it sounds good, and I can't wait to hear the D's shredding tracks over it. What I really want is a double solo.

We spent so much time on band tracking that the rough cuts are not quite as listenable as the last batch--Kelly didn't put in polished vocal tracks, and knowing that some of the main guitar tracks will have to be done over gives us a feeling like we have much longer to work. But we can now listen to 10 tracks of the history record and continue to look at the big picture of the album and think about other aspects with that much at our disposal.

I also can't wait to go back, even if it is for little pick-me-up sessions along the way in the coming weeks.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I Want To Go Back

Yesterday we completed our second full day in the studio.....and now we have 10 rough tracks ready for overdubbing.

Thursday night was nice. We set up, hung around, ran through some songs, and went back to Peach's for a sleepover that included the Beatles movie "Let It Be." An early morning and a trip to IHOP, we were back at the studio ready to get down and rock.

From 10am to 3:30 we knocked out basic tracks for 5 songs. I had to drive back to Mboro to take care of my dog, but when I came back two hours later to find Tha D finishing up his acoustic parts for two of the songs. After I jumped in did my acoustic parts and a few other little nuggets, we all cranked the amps to 11 and piled through "Gold Rush" like it was 1976 again. The long day ended with rough tracks in my hands and a rather silent trip back to the Boro. Everyone was in awe and wonder from the extremely productive day.

Tha D and I have ALOT of work to do. Peach has got some random things to do, and Josh just needs to look good. We didn't get to Dear Abbey which will be on the agenda for the next session. We also found out that the running time so far is 31:12. Abbey plus two more should do the trick. We are also in need of an epic closer, which is well on the way after a long and boring day at the office (not joking, all i did was write today).

It's weird listening to all 10 songs together. it really feels like an album now. Yesterday's session has jump started the engine and I'm full speed ahead to finishing this thing.

Anyone know any good vocal coaches? I need to figure out getting my piano to the studio to do one 20 second solo for Eli Whitney....

I miss the studio already, I want to go back.....

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm Nervous and Excited

I'm nervous and excited about this weekends recording.

Last night we had a practice that was a tad bit off. I attribute this not to our playing but our equipment. Josh's drums need some work, repairs, and replacements. I could tell he was getting very frustrated and was not feeling it, that is until we kicked into "Let's Go To war" and he practically tore the drums to peices. Thats more like it. But its that type of intense playing that keeps his drums in constant need of repairs and Josh ALWAYS plays at a Dave Grohl intense level. Small price to pay, but this is a bad time to need anything like that. I borrowed a nice snare and some hi-hat cymbals to get us through the recording.

On top of that, my Tube Screamer Overdrive did not make it back from Rock Camp. I've had this pedal for three years and it was a gift from my parents. It's gone. This has been my main overdrive since day one of the band and I really feel naked without it. I was using the FuzzFace but it really only works for two songs. Noise and fuzz is Tha D's department, and I try to keep my guitar low key and just overdriven. I have a solution but other than that i miss the Tube Screamer and when I get the money, I will just buy another one.

Speaking of money......we don't have any and we need it to finish the record and press it. Any ideas? We are considering holding a bakesale. This is not a joke. Only we'll be selling beer instead of cookies. We made close to 150 bucks at the last show. If only we could do that more often! The shirt have helped out and I sold three more today. Thats money in our pockets to aid in these weird financial times. But after some talking with the guys, peddling Bucket City beer will be a great way to bring in some extra cash flow. Selling a case of beer at the price we plan will bring in a half day of studio time. Now all Tha D and I have to do is make the beer and bottle it.

Even with a shaky practice, I still feel good. Josh and I felt good on the way home. We know these songs and have had alot of practice, we just have to be confident in our playing. I say this over and over, we play like the greatest band in the world but we don't act like it. Starting now, we are the world's greatest band and this is the greatest record ever! (cue the music)

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