Thursday, November 2
Loaded in my guitar gear (’74 AC30, Jazzmaster, ’61 Danelectro/Tele hybrid, suitcase full o’ pedals) with Shawn’s help, due to my nearly-useless (for lifting) right arm. Shawn brought up his ’65 Deluxe Reverb and a bunch of nice/expensive/funky/beautiful microphones & such. This is going to be fun.
Friday, November 3
Managed to sleep just fine, strangely”Â¦no night-before-first-day-of-school jitters. Maybe it’s the Vicodin, I dunno. At any rate, arrived at the studio around 10:30, after stopping by ECG and picking up Jay’s gorgeous ’48 Gibson J-45 and Andy’s ’71 Martin O-classical, graciously lent to aid our efforts this weekend. Expected Andy to be there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but no Andy. Started to set up my guitar gear while chatting with Shawn and Floyd Reitsma, Litho’s head engineer, who generously stopped by on his day off to assist with set-up (a time-consuming task, to say the least).
Andy arrived around 11, right after Porter. Porter then took Andy’s car over to our friend Javier’s place to pick up his *sweet* vintage (’69-’70, I think) Ampeg SVT tube bass head. I’d planned to start tracking around 1pm, but the hours just kept passing while mics were placed, drums were tuned, sounds were found, and we finally began around 4.
Ripped into Afterhours, got used to the click (which I liked, as it allowed me to ignore my own, unreliable internal metronome), and nailed it in just a couple of takes. Moved on to Philistine, in which Porter got to unleash the fuzz bass, and Blessed Are, which took a few takes (and a couple extra BPM) to get right, but was well-worth it”Â¦sounds incredibly hypnotic.
The boys took off around midnight, Porter first, but Shawn and I ended up hanging until 1:40, talking about our plans/hopes for the record, personality dynamics within the band, and listening to Spoon.
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Saturday, November 4
Day started around 11, listened to keeper tracks from night before, just to make sure we got “em. We did. Blessed Are is quite the head-nodder, Philistine just sounds warm and beautiful, a living, breathing thing, and Afterhours just moves. Good sounds throughout.
It was an encouraging beginning to an otherwise discouraging/trying/challenging day. Started with Sarah, which we thought would be easy, but wasn’t. A little guitar change-up, going from the tried-and-true JM/AC30 combination to the Dano and Shawn’s Deluxe Reverb. Great sounds in the room, but it took a little tweaking to get it to sound nice on tape/in context. Aside from that, we just had to play it A LOT, revising sounds/parts until it moved us. Worked on it from 1-4.
Then Porter took a break so Andy & I could tackle Time to Slow Down, which will get upright bass later. This is an extremely delicate number, a fact we took for granted, as it’s pretty much the oldest song of the bunch. It took a long time to get it right. By the time we got what Shawn considered to be “the take,”Â I couldn’t hear it anymore. Alas, I really couldn’t play it anymore, either, so we took a break and listened again. It was good. We moved on.
It was time to switch to the acoustic-driven tracks, but everyone was hungry, so we wandered across the alley to Brouwer’s Pub, a killer Belgian bier place with great, albeit pricey, food. Anyone who knows me well will know what a struggle it must’ve been to sit down and not order one of their numerous, delicious beers, but I sensibly abstained. It was still pretty early, and I hoped to get a lot more work done.
Went at Kissing Cousin when we got back, changed drum sounds. I mentioned I wanted a dead, Carol Kaye-cum-”70s bass tone (see Beck’s cover of “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes”Â for a recent example), so Porter taped some fabric under his strings by the bridge. Nice flatwound substitution in a jam! Got a nice, sorta-Jimmy Page acoustic sound (not a bad thing, especially where acoustics are concerned), and a nice take, bringing the day’s total to three songs, same as the day before. One problem: we’d started tracking at 1 instead of 4.
We really wanted to get one more tune in the bag, so we dove into Family Man, as the tones were similar and it’s pretty much of-a-piece with Kissing Cousin, anyway. After changing some drum/strum parts and struggling with the click & each other until nearly 1:30, we decided to admit defeat and tackle it first thing in the morning. We were all tired as hell and in no shape to listen to ourselves anymore.
Sunday, November 5
With fresh(er) ears and attitudes, we reconvened at Litho around noon. After the boys geeked out on Sunday football and I feigned disgust/ate bananas for a little while, we hit Family Man again. After adjusting the strumming pattern in the choruses, per Shawn’s suggestion, it was better, but I was still rushing it, esp. during the unaccompanied bits. We sped it up to 88 bpm, instead of 86, and it fell into place quickly. Phew.
Next up was 22 Rose Petal Place, one of the oldest and best-loved of the bunch. We all thought it would be a piece of cake. We were so, so wrong.
First on the chopping block was Andy’s long-standing bass drum triplet pattern-upon close scrutiny, it wasn’t locking with my strumming pattern, and changing my strumming pattern to accommodate ruined the vocal phrasing. After toying with a straight beat (boring), we found something slightly-syncopated that locked and was easier to get right every time.
Pat, of all people, was struggling, though. His bass tone wasn’t quite right, he kept missing transitions, and he was getting pissed fast. Pat’s one of those guys who isn’t really accustomed to having a hard time, and it frustrates him. I suggested he use a felt pick, Shawn suggested he front-load the bar let me handle the accents on 3 & 4, and he fell into it.
Then it was my turn to suffer. I switched from my trademark fingerstyle/index-fingernail strumming to using a pick, for the first time in a long while. Then it was rhythm guitar bootcamp, something I can’t say I enjoyed, necessary though it was. After flogging it for quite a while, Andy got a really nice take. I was fed up, but Porter and I attempted to cut our parts to Andy’s, while Andy hung out in the room, playing along on a variety of shakers. Porter nailed it, I didn’t, but I was done. We got dinner.
We came back and started work on Early Followed You. I was instantly happy with the sound of Andy’s Martin classical, so that helped restore morale. We made some minor adjustments to Andy’s drum part and cut a take that felt pretty good, but wasn’t “it.”Â In a flash of inspiration, Shawn used that take to create an ambient track in Pro Tools, greatly improving the vibe. In a couple more takes, we had what we needed.
It was getting late by this point, but we REALLY wanted to get Jesus’ House (thereby finishing the drums for the record). We wanted a really trashy drum sound, a la Tom Waits, Sparklehorse, or the like, so we fucked up everything we could think of. The worst, ringing, loose snare sound, shitty cymbals, etc. Then Shawn suggested Andy play with mallets, which was awesome. We set the click to 110 and played a few takes, and it was working OK, but the verses were too fast to sing to, and we sounded tired. It was 1am. We admitted defeat and called it, resolving to tackle Jesus’ House during the next session (Nov. 17-19), using what we’d learned.
Friday, November 17
Right now, Porter is laying down some killer, ghosty steel on Philstine, through his Line 6 delay and an Ampeg B-15 fliptop reissue. He just laid down the main steel part, dirtier and drier, through Shawn’s Deluxe Reverb. It sounds incredible.
Shawn picked me up around 11 to help haul my share of the guitars/amps (see pictures) down to Litho. Got to the studio around 11:30, Porter arrived shortly thereafter to complete the guitar-mada-some 16 (mostly vintage) guitars, 10 (mostly vintage) amps, and god knows how many pedals, all of various vintages and boutique varieties. The sight alone filled us with glee.
Setup took a while, but we started in on Afterhours around 3 o’clock. I’d been thinking a lot about that one, almost to the exclusion of the others, for some reason, so I was full of ideas. First, I wanted to try this acoustic part that accented the off-beats, like the one in “Go Your Own Way.”Â I’d never been able to try it out in the context of the song, though, and it quickly became apparent that the song needed a straighter, even strum.
After laying that down, I wanted to try a taut little fingerpicked pattern I’d worked out for the quiet part. It worked beautifully. I wanted to double it with Porter’s high-strung Thompson, but while fooling around in the control room, a slightly-different picking pattern caught Shawn’s ear. That coupled with some different voicings made for a lush, harpsichord-y effect. Nice!
After making it beautiful, though, I wanted to fuck it up just a little, so we tracked a distorted acoustic part on Andrew Norsworthy’s little “50s Martin O-18 (an amazing guitar”Â¦thanks, Andrew!). All that remained (for now) was a little dash of electric guitar, so I hopped on Porter’s newly-acquired Gretsch Duo-Jet reissue, ran it through a fast, super-choppy tremolo & my friend Brian’s Dr. Z Carmen Ghia amp. It punctuated the song in just the right spots (choruses, breaks). Off to a great start!
After a couple of hours of guitar geekery on my part, it was time to get Porter in on the action, so we decided to put some pedal steel on Time to Slow Down.
Pat was solid, as always. We plugged his steel into my vintage Alamo 1×15 combo, Shawn put a couple of Coles ribbon mics on it (one kinda close & one kinda far away), and it sounded golden.
Next up was Philistine. Pat was ready to go on the steel, so we let him have it. The first track was pretty much a breeze, just a refined version of his live part, but the second track was more of a bitch-he wanted to double the creepy lines in the chorus. For anyone who’s never tried it, rest assured that accurately-doubling a part played on a non-fretted instrumental (especially one with levers and such) is one of the hardest things imaginable. The natural chorusing that occurs when parts are ever-so-slightly out of tune is the magic of doubling, but get on the wrong side of “ever-so,”Â and you’ve got a sloppy mess on your hands.
Patrick really is a consummate musician, so it’s frustrating for him when he can’t nail a part. After some cursing, frowning, and furrowing of brow, though, he had it in a couple of passes.
My turn for fun. First I laid down a lightly-strummed high-string part throughout. It really rears its head in the sparse verses, for a cool “Fearless”Â kinda vibe.
Speaking of the Floyd, it was time to break out the phaser! Laugh if you must, but the phaser is in again. I’m not sure if it ever went out. I’d originally planned to outline the verse chords using more-skeletal versions of the same voicings, but Shawn suggested a counterpoint line. After a little fiddling, I came up with a part that was half-counterpoint, half-outline”Â¦sounded totally bitchin’.
I’d briefly plugged in Andy’s little Supro combo and deemed it “awesome,”Â but I couldn’t have anticipated the glory of plugging in the Jazzmaster, diming it, and laying into the chorus chords-the apocalypse tone! It was just what the chorus/solo sections needed to send them over the top.
Elated, tired, good work under our belts, we called it a day.
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Saturday, November 18
We all rolled in at noon, and Christian finally had a chance to stop in to take a listen while we set up.She heard Afterhours and Philistine and was really impressed, I think. I know I beamed with pride hearing them after a night’s rest.
I was ready to tackle 22′s rhythm part again, determined to succeed this time. It’s too bad I didn’t have the J-45 around this time, but I tuned Pat’s Martin HD-28V to an open G, slapped on a capo, and jumped into the booth. It still took a couple tries, but I emerged triumphant.
I doubled it, then added a high-strung part. Porter plugged his steel into Shawn’s tweed Deluxe-a pretty mean, gnarly sound for pedal steel, in keeping with my vision for turning this poppy, radio-friendly song slightly on its head.
Along the same lines, I put on a track of my buddy Mark Johnson’s ’74 Tele Thinline thru Pat’s old Digitech Space Station pedal”Â¦cool synth-string swells to outline an implied melody in the choruses. Mixed low, it pokes out just enough to make the listener wonder, “What’s that?”Â Then it’s gone.
I had a real flash of inspiration while Pat was recording the steel-a high, repeating note (Eb) on the tack piano, quarter-notes, maybe slightly-syncopated. Think of what the piano does on “I Wanna Be Your Dog,”Â even though I’ve yet to hear two more-dissimilar songs. I was super-psyched about the part, but we’d worked on this one for long enough, so we moved on, temporarily satiated.
Porter already had his steel set up, so we dove into Family Man, something he already had a definite melody for. He knocked that out in predictably-short order, and I doubled the acoustic in the choruses, just to beef them up a little
I had a hankering to use Porter’s Rick 12-string on this one, but the choruses were already jangly enough, so I was at a loss. After a few minutes of me noodling something that probably sounded like the solo to “Eight Miles High,”Â Porter said, “Hand me that!”Â He promptly worked out a loose-doubling of the steel melody that worked wonderfully. Rather than stopping to set up a different amp, he just plugged into the Alamo he’d been using for the steel and knocked it out. Perfect.
After all of the beautiful melody and jangle, I felt the choruses needed some weight & darkness. I suggested a dark, brooding slide part, but howling feedback seemed more appropriate. Porter was the man for the job again. It was finally time to break out his trusty sidekick, an old Guild Starfire.
He tuned it to DADGAD-slightly different from the D6 tuning I use for this song and several others-and I was concerned if it would jive. He plugged it into his ’61 AC30, though, and my doubts were assuaged. It was as easy as raking the open strings at the beginning of each chorus and letting it howl. I then added some light JM bits on the verses, with my tremolo pedal and the tremolo on Shawn’s Deluxe Reverb battling for dominance, creating a cool, fluttery effect, and we called Family Man finished for now.
It was time to topple Jesus’ House. Porter had a dinner date, so we sent him on his way and set about recreating the ?ber-crappy drum sound we’d achieved in the 11th hour of the last session. Meanwhile, I made the very good call to play this one on Andrew’s little Martin-such a plainspoken, dry, wooden sound.
Seems like a funny thing to say, but larger-bodied guitars, especially newer ones, have a skewed EQ. It’s part of what makes them desirable-chords compress, flatten out, seem more brilliant, or more bassy, or whatever, but this tune didn’t need that. It needed the sound of dry, creaky wood.
When we had it all set up, we tried a couple of takes, just to make sure the sounds were right, and then got some dinner. Came back and got what I thought was a really nice take, albeit one with a couple of mistakes, pretty darn quickly.
By this time Pat had returned, so while Andy broke down his drum gear, we set about conceiving our approach to Early Followed You. Pat had hatched a brilliant steel melody for the coda while Andy & I cut the basic track a couple of weeks earlier, so we knew we wanted that. He plugged in the Alamo and had it fast. I’d also planned to record a brutally-distorted guitar cycling through the coda chords, so I grabbed Shawn’s ’57 Gibson ES-225-TD (hollow=feedback!) and plugged it into Andy’s Supro. Tried that for a while, but it just wasn’t exciting enough, and the Supro was rattling quite a bit, probably a result of its tremendous performance on Philistine the night before.
By this time we were exhausted. Shawn said he’d had some luck recording bits like this through a Rat distortion pedal with the filter turned way back, so we decided to try that first thing the next day.
Sunday, November 19
Got there at noon and started work on Early right away. Shawn brought his Rat, so I put that between the 225 and my Alamo and things started to take off. Got a really nice, dark-brown kinda feedback, howling but not shrill at all. A few takes of that, piled on thick, with the classical & drums rolling underneath and the beautiful steel melody singing above”Â¦ahhh.
Then I got out Shawn’s old Echoplex and put it between my red Tele and his Deluxe Reverb. Instant Lanois! Seriously, the tone is unreal. Finally, we overdubbed Shawn’s ’77 HD-28, Pat’s high-string, plus the high-string at half-speed (sped back up for super-high playback) for those big chords in the chorus.
Once again, it was time to get Pat off the bench, and he wanted to work on Blessed Are. How could I argue? We were already stoked on that one-a killer driving song with an incessant groove. We knew it was going to be good. We didn’t know how good.
We started simply enough, with me overdubbing Pat’s HD-28 playing the rolling, fingerpicked melody in the verses. I had a hell of a time getting the low E (or D, in this case) in tune”Â¦the weird D6 tuning coupled with the capo up high (6th fret) makes for intonation hell”Â¦finally got it, though, and knocked the part out quickly.
Next we went for the Police-y piano melody Pat had come up with for the chorus. It took a little while to get all of the cases & debris off the piano (since our band doesn’t have a keys guy, Litho’s gorgeous grand had become our default tabletop), but we were ready to go soon enough and Shawn dialed in a nice, warm, round piano sound. We suggested he move the whole part up an octave, and Pat nailed the part fast, despite the fact that he doesn’t really play piano.
As beautiful as the piano sounded, it wasn’t sitting right in the mix. I couldn’t verbalize what it needed, though I knew I wanted more attack & less of the lingering, round tone of each note. Pat suggested making it more lo-fi, and that clicked. Shawn applied this “vinyl”Â plug-in, in which you choose a decade (“30s, for instance) and it makes the track sound as if it’s being played back on a record from that era. Pretty cool, and it did the trick.
While the piano was miked, Pat wanted to try doubling his bassline in the chorus-a brilliant idea. Those low piano notes made the chorus sound huge”Â¦very Spector-like. While they were setting up for that, I wandered downstairs and brought up an old Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synth that was lying on the floor, very near a puddle of water. I later found out that it’s probably worth $5K! Anyway, I’d never played one before, but I thought it might come in handy for this tune.
We plugged it into Pat’s little Ampeg combo, but it couldn’t handle the bass, so I dragged out this old high-powered Spectra combo that Jon Brion left at Litho when he and Matt Chamberlain were recording there once. It could definitely handle whatever the Prophet threw its way, and the sounds coming out of that thing were incredible. We had to use it”Â¦but where?
Up next to the choruses, which were already a towering wall-of-sound, the bridge was looking pretty bare. I went out and chose to outline the four chords, alternating between a lower & higher octave. I knew it sounded cool, but when I walked back into the control room, the guys were freaking out. The bridges exploded, and the underlying sound emanating from the Prophet-5 only hung around for two bars”Â¦a real element of surprise. We decided to add it to the final, instrumental double-chorus, with Pat playing it this time.
Pat put down some pedal steel in the choruses, tasty as ever, and I doubled the “divebombs”Â in the verses using a super-sparkly JM-middle-pickup/tremolo/MXR Analog Delay/E-H Holy Grail/Carmen Ghia tone. The end result was really cool. The verses alternate between the big divebombs and subtler, rolling fingerpicked parts.
It was officially dinnertime. We had some very interesting conversations after creating such a massive, multi-layered track”Â¦about how our oldest fans might perceive the record. These songs are pretty lush-quite a departure/expansion compared to our minimal past. This is my vision, though, and I truly believe that the people in tune with that vision will embrace it. I couldn’t be happier about the direction it’s headed.
After dinner we hit Sarah. Early that morning, before I left the house, I’d frantically called Patrick, asking him to bring his Bass VI, something I’d had no idea he owned until the day before. When Shawn mentioned it casually, it had caught my attention immediately, as I’m crazy about baritones, Bass VIs, and all things low, tremulous, and twangy. It would be perfect for Sarah. Porter had laughed, warning me that it was the ugliest instrument of all time. But I knew what I was doing.
I tuned the fifth string down to a low C and worked out a cool part for the verses, running it through Shawn’s Echoplex for a little slapback, then his Deluxe Reverb with tons of tremolo & reverb. Pat laughed with incredulous joy, and I was pleased as can be.
The only remaining guitarwork was the monster solo by Porter that I’d had in mind ever since I wrote the song. He was beat-falling asleep in the chair-but I coaxed him into getting out there and making some noise. The problem was getting him to play weird enough. This song didn’t need hott lixx; it needed crazy, dramatic sturm-und-drang, something Porter wasn’t quite used to. He’s always been way more into the Edge or George Harrison than Bob Quine or Richard Lloyd”Â¦though he certainly has the dexterity to solo”Â¦let’s just say that he played the solo to “Crazy Train”Â in its entirety a few times this weekend.
Shawn and I switched him from ordinary overdrive/distortion to my Fuzz Factory, and he started using a lo-fi delay and some wah pedal to create these cool wind-tunnel effects. Now we were getting somewhere. He played a couple of takes I liked, but he was still getting frustrated”Â¦he hated hearing the bits where it sounded like he’d fall off the guitar-the same bits that I loved. It was time to move on, but I was pretty sure we’d gotten it. Time will tell.
Porter started packing up around 9:30/10, and Shawn and I started discussing Kissing Cousin. I’d always imagined it being a pretty keyboard-dominated song, but I knew the bridge needed some guitar crunch. I went to the JM by default (it’s the only guitar I tune to D6, due to the heavy strings), but it just wasn’t thick enough. Then I remembered my buddy Mark’s ’74 Thinline, which I’d strung 13-56. Plus, it had humbuckers”Â¦instant thickness! I hit the chords in the bridge hard and left the higher fingerpicked notes to the acoustics-they really popped that way. I plugged in one of Shawn’s Schuman pedals, turned everything to 10, and made an explosion at the beginning of each phrase. I also doubled the choruses & bridge with the high-strung Thompson for a little extra glitter.
Perfect! We quit around 11, satisfied with what we’d accomplished. It was a great feeling”Â¦I was anxious to get back in there in a couple of weeks.
Friday, December 1
Started around 11, managed (with some difficulty & discomfort) to get five guitars, a synth, two pedal cases, and one very large/heavy vintage AC30-in-roadcase in our little Ford Escort. Christian drove; I cradled the Danelectro.
Started the day by laying some ridiculously-distorted guitar on the choruses of Jesus’ House. Tele through tremolo, Schumann distortion (on my preferred setting-everything on 10), tweed Deluxe. Gnarliest shit you’ve ever heard-so cool.
Another part of the plan was to cut Don’t Settle Your Debts live, guitar & vocal. I’d borrowed Jay’s J-45 again, expressly for this purpose, but once we pinned down the vibe we wanted (1am, sitting on the edge of my bed, singing the song quietly to one person), it became apparent that Andrew’s little Martin O-18 would be more appropriate. We added the Copperphone to insert some lo-fidelity to the U47 & room mics’ velvet-tone, and after a few takes, got a very nice one. Very intimate.
As opposed to the chaos we were about to inject into Afterhours’ otherwise-delicate middle section. We’d imagined feedback howling low in the mix, but after trying to achieve the magic combination of guitar/pedals/amp/volume, with varying degrees of success (Shawn recorded it allpropably several excruciating minutes of it), we simply stuck in the choice bits. Chaos achieved! Too bad Porter and our friend Andrew Norsworthy-in town from Waco, TX, en route to his homebase of Anchorage, AK-chose to stop by during the most atonal, non-musical moment of the whole weekend. Poor Andrew was driven from the control room in mere minutes…
Had some dinner, then chose to switch gears and work on a lead vocal for Time to Slow Down. There simply wasn’t much guitar stuff left to do, and no one else was around, so Shawn and I could hunker down and get to work on (probably) the most important element of the record. An otherwise-great record with subpar vocal performances isn’t a great record at all. If you’re into songs, as I obviously am, every clever guitar bit, unorthodox rhythm track, whacked-out synth sound, etc., should serve to frame an effective vocal…that doesn’t always mean pretty, but I digress…let’s just say we were both very aware that the artistic success of the record hinged on getting strong vocals throughout.
It took some experimenting with microphones…we were lucky enough to have a lot of nice/expensive/interesting mics at our disposal. I knew this song needed a really up-close, Lanois-type vocal sound (see his haunting take on “Power of One” from the odds-and-sods Rockets album), so we went for Shawn’s (and Daniel’s) old-standby, the U-47. It sounded good, as always, but not quite right. That mic has so much low-midrange, and my voice doesn’t, really, so it can make it sound pretty honky. We went for Porter’s favorite mic, a super hi-fi Sony with a heatsink protruding from the side (apparently Dr. Dre’s favorite mic of all-time…yet another thing he and Porter have in common), but it sounded too glassy. I told Shawn I sounded like Sarah McLachlan. He laughed.
We finally found a winner in an old, slightly-beaten-up Soundelux (sp?). Very intimate, singing right into your ear, but with the right amount of inherent EQ to capture my voice…only make it sound better. We then went after the vocal, and after some coaching/nitpicking, got a really nice take. I felt great about it; that, along with nailing a live take of Don’t Settle Your Debts earlier the day, was a real confidence-builder. I could do this.
We had an early morning the next day-Ed Vance was coming in at 10am to do a ton of keyboards-so we quit tracking and set up all of the keyboards, then went home.
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Saturday, December 2
Rolled in at 10, with Ed Vance’s van & Shawn’s Jeep/Bronco/whatever-it-is close behind. Shawn & Ed got re-acquainted (they crossed paths frequently back during Shawn’s apprenticeship at Ironwood Studios in the mid-’90s) and we got to work.
Kissing Cousin was the only tune that needed the full acoustic-piano treatment, so we decided to get that out of the way so Litho’s beautiful grand could resume its function as Shawn’s personal mic caddy/tabletop. The idea for this tune was clear-the piano needed to lead the song, with the acoustic guitar serving more as rhythmic accompaniment-and the approach and sound needed to be very Beatlesque. Ed accomplished this quickly, and the song really blossomed as a result.
We then moved on to Ed’s fortÂ©, the Hammond B3 (or more precisely, in Litho’s case, C2). We started simply enough with Family Man, which basically required a one-or-two note drone throughout the chorus sections, augmenting Porter’s DADGAD feedback guitar. We dialed up a cool, lo-fi tone and knocked it out pretty quickly.
Next up was 22 Rose Petal Place, which also needed a sort of ambient pad, albeit one with a bit more harmonic movement (to complement the plethora of open-tuned “slash” chords already in place). We pared Ed’s part down to its bare essentials-no flourishes or filigrees to be found here-and it gave the song the lift it needed in all the right places.
We grabbed some lunch and quickly resumed work, moving to the one tune where (I thought) Ed would get to do his thing-Sarah. I imagined a wet, smoky B3 pad throughout, with Zombies-style flourishes in the riffy bits. I’d imagined these flourishes coming from a kitschy Farfisa-style organ, and I thought Litho’s Vox Jaguar would work perfectly. It would’ve, if only the middle octave-and-a-half would’ve made any sound at all. Alas, it seemed to be broken, so we had to try and dial up a similarly gnarly-and-narrow tone on the Hammond. We worked on this one for quite some time, trying to get the right tone and time the fireworks…little did I know that I’d decide to scrap the whole track a few days later, after realizing that the whole tune had taken a turn toward classic-rocksville, somewhere I certainly didn’t want to go.
This marked the end of the B3 work, so we fired up the Wurlitzer and went after Philstine. This song already had the total Dark Side vibe, and I imagined the Wurli simply accenting the verse chords, underpinning the counterpoint melody the guitar plays in the choruses (which I feared had been swallowed up by the mountains of fuzz we’d applied), and just adding to the whole baked-’70s atmosphere. That it certainly did, and during one pass, Ed started to cut loose a bit during the solo sections, which really felt right. We tried a few more passes, but none felt as good as the first one, even though it was fairly rhythmically-loose. This one came together pretty quickly, though, and sounded gorgeous.
We moved over to the Rhodes for Time to Slow Down, which I wanted to remain very light…I just thought a tremulous, dark Rhodes would add to the dreamy, swimmy quality the song already had. It sounded too clicky and Chick Corea through Shawn’s Deluxe Reverb, so I plugged it into my AC30, turned the Cut knob back all the way, so it was dark and honky, and we kept telling Ed to play less and less, until his part was reduced to a few chord fragments. It sounded wonderful, though.
By this time it was getting quite late, and I was afraid Ed had gotten a bit more than he bargained for. Kind and generous soul that he is, he’d agreed to play on the whole record for a very modest fee, and I didn’t want him to feel he was being taken-advantage-of. I did want to work on Jesus’ House, though. Ed and I had discussed the approach to this one at length…I wanted a Tom Waits/drunken honky-tonk feel in the verses, and total cacophony in the choruses. Ed had the verses down right away, though we did have to instruct him to play more sleepily…turns out Ed is a rowdy drunk (heh). We didn’t want to lose the languid feel we had in those parts, saving the fireworks for the choruses.
Fortuitously, I’d realized that the feel I really wanted in the choruses was the “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” carnival sound…wheezing calliopes, barnyard animals-the old, weird America sound. This really sparked Ed’s imagination, and we coaxed an amazing part out of him…descending lines that sounded like a xylophone falling down stairs. We all had a blast working on this tune, and it was a very satisfying end to a tiring-but-productive day.
This day was a real eye-opener for me, because it gave me an (admittedly small) peek into what Shawn does every day. Up to this point, I hadn’t had to “produce” any sounds I wasn’t involved in making. As tough as it was to make objective decisions about them, they were my sounds…my parts. I was tied to them. Listening to myself playing them over and over agian wasn’t quite the same as sitting in the dimly-lit control room, trying to focus with fatigued ears and differentiate the bad from good and good from great. Working with Ed all day, and going home completely knackered afterward, really helped me appreciate Shawn’s job.
Sunday, December 3
Our penultimate day at Litho was sort of a catch-all; with no special guests scheduled to drop by, it was our chance to tend to some of the (numerous) loose ends we’d left during the prior sessions. This meant guitar overdubs, vibraphone, glockenspiel, and a little pedal steel.
I started the day by triple-tracking the little Jazzmaster “divebomb” in the third verse of Time to Slow Down. I dialed up a delay-soaked, glassy tone through Shawn’s Deluxe Reverb and got wiggly, putting one good vibrato-arm-shake in each speaker. It was subtle, but effective.
I’d been dying to play some guitar or sing through the Leslie since day one, and with it still miked up from the previous day’s B3 madness, my time had finally come. I’d imagined some Harrison-cum-Elliott Smith Leslied slide guitar on Kissing Cousin, so I strapped on the Tele, compressed the hell out of it, and fed it to the Leslie on its fast setting. It sounded incredible, and I soon worked out a melody that worked nicely over the tune’s bombastic instrumental/bridge section. To venture even further into quiet-Beatle territory, I decided to work out a harmony part with the slide guitar as well. Shawn and I clashed over a couple note choices, but we ended up working out a great part and it sounded awesome.
I then laid down a neat little glockenspiel part on the choruses, then doubled it an octave lower on my friend Bill Patton’s kitschy, ’60s Italian “Vibraphonette”…basically an art-deco, two-octave vibraphone with one vibrato speed, made by a company called Galanti. Together the glock and vibraphonette gave the chorus a nice lift.
Porter waltzed in about this time, surprisingly early considering he and Andrew had played a show at the notoriously liquor-generous O Lounge the night before. He got off on the harmonized-slide-Leslie stuff I’d played, and after geeking out for a few minutes, we decided to get him in on the action.
The live arrangement of Jesus’ House has featured Pat’s pedal steel work heavily from day one, and so we figured the recorded version would do the same. Pat got set-up while he listened to the tack-piano-madness we’d smeared the track with the night before, then tried to play through the track a few times. He was having trouble finding a spot to sit, though, and his parts weren’t doing it for Shawn or me, either.
It was around this point that Pat’s exhaustion from the night before (and life in general-this session occured less than one week before a much-needed vacation for Mr. Porter) became apparent. He wasn’t having a lot of ideas, and he was getting frustrated quickly. We decided to move on, tackling the choruses of our super-delicate rendering of Don’t Settle Your Debts on the Phone.
After playing through it a few times (as I’d always imagined this song as pretty much a solo performance, no one else had ever played it), Patrick fell into a repetitive, music box-y thing in the choruses that I really liked. He developed it further after a couple more passes, but he also decided that it sucked and felt undercooked. I disagreed, but I’ve also learned to trust Pat (most of the time) when he feels he can do better. He usually does, even if I feel there’s no room for improvement.
By this time, we were realizing that this really wasn’t a day for Pat to be tracking. It was good to have him around, but he just wasn’t in a very creative mood. He was spent. We needed one last thing out of him, though, before we cut him loose.
I had an idea for a washed-out Edge-y electric guitar part on the choruses of 22 Rose Petal Place. The song was sounding beautiful, but it was pretty linear…there wasn’t a lot of dynamic rise-and-fall. I knew that the vocals/harmonies would help, but I still thought there was room for some guitar.
Porter gave it a listen and felt that the song was done, but Shawn and I held the line, so Porter grabbed an acoustic and started noodling. Before long, he had an arpeggiated thing happening that we liked. Under duress though he was, he dutifully strapped on the Starfire, plugged it into his trusty Diamond compressor and Line 6 delay, and fired up the ’61 AC30 once more.
It took a few passes-there was one particularly-difficult grip toward the end of the choruses that kept giving him trouble-but he got it, and Shawn and I were ecstatic. He didn’t really have the perspective to appreciate it at the moment, but he later agreed that it was slightly-rockin’.
The rest of the evening is a blur at this point-Porter disappeared briefly, I think our friend Nathan Wade came by and we ate some dinner at Brouwer’s again. I think I tried to beef up the 2nd chorus of Sarah, but made it sound like Weezer in the process, got pissed off/embarassed, became briefly inconsolable, snapped out of it, and Shawn and I capped off the weekend by programming some cool fake-Mellotron-flute stuff for Jesus’ House.
I think that’s how it went, anyway.
Sunday, December 10
I’d had a whirlwind week: three rehearsals, two shows, and now this. But I’d looked forward to this day for quite a while, because our buddy Keith Lowe, easily Seattle’s premier bassist and a world-renowned session guy (Bill Frisell, Fiona Apple, Wayne Horvitz, to name very few), was coming by to work his magic on three tracks: Time to Slow Down, Jesus’ House, and Early Followed You.
Keith had a gig in Portland the night before, though, so we had a few hours to do our thing before he came by (around 3pm). In a stroke of amazing good fortune, Barrett Martin (best known as former drummer for Screaming Trees/Minus 5/others), who’d been recording at Litho earlier in the week with his primarily-instrumental collective Tuatara (which also features Peter Buck & Scott McCaughey), left his real-deal vibraphone behind. And we didn’t have to be sneaky about it, either; he’d given us the OK to use it as much as we liked. And boy, did we like.
Andy had worked out a part for Time to Slow Down, and he wasn’t coming by until later that afternoon, but I heard vibes on a few other tracks, as well, especially Sarah (I’d decided to ax the Deep Purplish organ and go for something smokier-see Mark Lanegan’s stellar version of Bobby Blue Bland’s “I’ll Take Care of You” for a point of reference). I played through the song a few times and worked out a simple but cool part that worked beautifully. This vibraphone was really something else, too….we were just in love with the sound of it.
I’d also come up with a way to circumvent the Weezer conundrum I’d encountered the previous week…we didn’t need Big Muff heavy; we needed Schumann scary. I plugged in the wiry/weird Danelecro on its bridge pickup into the Schumann and doubled the signature riff and chorus chords, and it injected some much-needed grime. I felt much better.
After goofing around on the vibraphone for a couple of hours, Keith made his entrance, just as cool as ever, and we played him the tracks in their current state(s) while he set up his bass and got comfortable. He was already digging the songs, but some of them (Jesus’ House, namely) had undergone quite a transformation since I’d run off the rough mixes for him. A consummate professional, he had all of the chord changes charted out, I clarified them in a few spots, and we were off and running, starting with Jesus’ House.
He nailed it quickly, playing a traditional plucked line throughout, then overdubbing a cool, staccato bowed part on the choruses. All of a sudden, the song had weight. I felt very glad that I’d hired him to do the job (on our good friend Bill Frisell’s recommendation, no less), and very honored that he’d decided to accept.
Next up was Time to Slow Down, which proved to be a small challenge, simply because it was the only track of the bunch that we’d cut without a click track, resulting in what Keith diplomatically dubbed a “wide pulse.” This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing-some tracks need to breathe a bit more, and this track was one of them-but it just made it a little more difficult for Keith to lock up with Andy’s drums after-the-fact. He ended up playing some absolutely gorgeous, minimalist stuff, with some amazing long, bowed notes in the chorus and a cool staccato bit in the bridge that I likened (jokingly) to Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass.”
The final track was Early Followed You, and I knew exactly what I wanted on this one: a cool plucked part to go along with the dreamy, shuffly feel of the verses; a completely different, baroque bowed part on the choruses; and long, low notes on the coda. Keith really nailed it. I’m so happy with the way this one turned out.
Keith and I settled up and said our goodbyes. If you’re reading this and making plans to record an album of your own, and you think there’s any chance you’ll need some upright (or even electric) bass, I simply can’t recommend Keith enough. He’s professional, funny, creative, calm, and open to any direction you want to throw at him. Basically, he’s everything you want in someone who’s playing on your record. For real!
After Keith left, we grabbed some grub and scrambled to finish up a few important bits before our time at Litho drew to a close. My friend Nathan Wade had come by to help with the chaos in Jesus’ House by laying down some singing saw on the choruses…it was perfect!
Andy then laid down the vibraphone part he’d worked out for Time to Slow Down. He really needed very little direction; it was a beautiful part, and he laid out in the right places. Not too busy, but not boring, either. Nice!
I finished out the night, I think, by playing some vibes on Family Man…a single note during the acoustic riff, and a more complex line during the choruses. We cleaned up and went home, thus adjourning for the holidays….more to come!
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Saturday, January 27
The day started around 10:30am, with Christian & I pulling up to the nondescript warehouse facade that houses Chroma Sound Studios. Up to this point, we’d worked exclusively at Studio Litho, but a high-profile project had booked Litho for months solid, and besides, we had our reasons for wanting to hold a session at Chroma: namely, they’re the only studio in town that houses a real-deal Mellotron.
Any Beatles/Zombies fanatic like me will understand the significance of this. For those less obsessive, the Mellotron can be heard on the intro to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and basically every track on Odessey & Oracle. It’s basically a primitive synthesizer, loaded with reels of tape that contain “samples” of real instruments being played-brass, strings, flutes, voices, etc. When you depress a key on the Mellotron, it causes the tape head to contact the spinning tape, producing sound. The fidelity/functionality factor is certainly lacking (for instance, the samples only last for seven seconds, at which point the note ends abruptly-there simply isn’t any more tape to play!), but there’s nothing like the sound of the real thing. Pyschedelic pop dork that I am, I was anxious to slather every exposed surface of our record in the Mellotron’s gooey gauze.
But that’s not all. Because Seattle keyboard whiz Jason Staczek is co-owner of Chroma Sound, the studio is filled to the brim with cool keyboards of all varieties, including a harmonium, Hammond B3, Steinway grand piano, a Wurlitzer console electric piano, one of the nicest Rhodes pianos I’ve ever heard, and a lot more. All of the tracks on the record were heavily laden with guitars of all types at this point, so a day at Chroma was just what the doctor ordered to throw some new frequencies into the mix.
None of us are particularly proficient on the piano (OK, OK…we’re all one-handed players at best), so we were incredibly grateful that our good friend Paul Hiraga (who leads brilliant Seattle rock troupe Downpilot) had graciously offered his services. Paul’s been playing piano since he was a child, and best of all, he’s an incredibly-gifted songwriter, so his skills and melodic sense were sure to take these songs somewhere beautiful that we couldn’t take them on our own. Paul showed up around 11, toting his suitcase pump organ, which we’d later put to great use on Jesus’ House. We caught up a bit while Shawn got re-acquainted with Chroma’s console and outboard gear (he’d done some tracking there several months ago with our friends Concorde). As soon as everything was up and running, Paul sat down at the cute little white Mellotron and we commenced work on Blessed Are.
This song was already incredibly full, with all manner of guitars, pedal steel, piano, and blasts from an old Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 sythesizer, but I thought some recurring, sample-like melodic swathes of Mellotron “strings” would be a nice touch. It took Paul a minute to get a handle on the Mellotron’s mechanical peculiarities (even the nicest, best-maintained ones are notoriously finicky), but he mastered it like the pro that he is and came up with some beautiful, otherworldly lines that really sent the song over the top. I was ecstatic!
Next up was Philstine. This song was already quite the stoner-pop epic, but I knew that some King Crimson/Zombies-style walls of Mellotron strings could be a beautiful thing, and I was right. It was (and is) sublime.
Finally, I wanted to try a little bit of Mellotron on 22 Rose Petal Place. To everyone’s ears, this song was practically finished, save the vocals, but I thought there might be some holes for the Mellotron to poke through. Turns out that Patrick’s glorious pedal steel part was already occupying most of those holes, so we only put a tiny Beatles-style Mellotron flute part on the bridge, but the song was sounding wonderful. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?
Around this time, our good buddy Seth Wonner showed up to take some photographs, which you can view by clicking here or scrolling down. They turned out beautifully, and as always, Seth’s a wonderful (and incredibly talented) cat to have around. Thanks, Seth!
After grabbing some lunch at Magnolia’s legendary Red Mill Burgers, we came back to the studio and Paul set up the pump organ for Jesus’ House. Another “relic” of the musical past, the pump organ dates back to the pre-electricity era. The sound is “powered” by a bellows controlled by two pedals, and the sound is incredibly distinctive…like an accordion, but richer and deeper. I figured it would perfectly complement Jesus’ House’s drunken-cowboy verses, providing even more contrast between them and what Paul dubbed the “circus nightmare” choruses.
Paul played a light, tasteful part throughout the verses, but I’d also imagined an unaccompanied, free-time pump organ introduction that fell loosely in-line with the song’s chords but followed no real pattern…just something moody and evocative to set the song up. Paul improvised a few passes, including one that devolved into absolute chaos that seemed to be just the right thing. We edited it to cut right to the song’s opening chord at its most cacophonic point and it sounded awesome!
Jason, Chroma’s co-owner, had been hanging out since early afternoon taking care of studio business and listening in. He’d generously offered to play some B3 on Sarah; the part we’d asked Ed Vance to play a couple of months ago had turned out not to be the right thing, so we’d scrapped it temporarily, but I still wanted to hear an organ pad, especially in the verses. Jason is an absolute genius on the B3, so we were very grateful that he was willing to play.
Despite the fact that he’d only heard the song once and had never played it (or charted out the chords), Jason sat down at the organ and in one pass showed that he was certainly the man for the job. We were stunned. Even when noodling his way through the song, his parts weren’t a flashy display of virtuosity; on the contrary, they displayed a grace and quiet intensity that was jaw-dropping. With a couple of adjustments, I’m quite sure that we all would have been satisfied with that, but to his credit, Jason was anxious to really refine his part until there wasn’t a note wasted. Which he did, brilliantly. (Thank you so much, Jason!) All in afternoon’s work! We said our goodbyes and Jason left to catch a ferry back to his home on Vashon Island while we took a little dinner break.
Of all the tunes we’d planned to work on today, the only one remaining at this point was Afterhours. Paul confessed that it was the one he’d had the most trouble imagining a good part for, as the chords pass by pretty quickly and there wasn’t much midrange space left in the mix. I’d heard a simple melodic line in my head, though, much like the one in Paul’s own song “Cataracts” (from Downpilot’s killer Like You Believe It record). Something that could be played on guitar or another instrument, but with the distinctive tone of a Rhodes or Wurlitzer electric piano.
After playing through a few takes and still not finding much to hold on to, Paul decided it’d be best to stand aside momentarily and allow Patrick to overdub the 12-string part he’d dreamed up on his Rickenbacker. He’d spent the better part of the day (with breaks, of course) restringing the terrible beast, and he was determined to get in his requisite ten minutes of recording time.
We plugged him into Chroma’s old ’64 Fender Concert 4×10, cranked it up, and Pat knocked out his part in short order. It sounded great! Somewhere along the way, we got the idea to have the Rhodes mimic the second-guitar part Pat had been playing on the verses live. He showed it to Paul and Paul took off with it, coming up with a cool, syncopated Rhodes part that was exactly what I’d had in mind.
By this time it was about 10pm, and we’d accomplished all we’d set out to for the day, so we decided to hang it up. We waited around and dorked out until Brad Zeffren, co-owner of Chroma Sound, showed up to lock up the place, and we all adjourned to the Hopvine for some celebratory beers. Cheers!
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Tuesday, February 27
Knowing that a marathon session lay ahead, I phoned in a half-day at work, caught a noontime bus home, and high-tailed it to Chroma Sound. Shawn was already there, chatting with Jayme (a staff engineer at Chroma) and getting everything set up for the string overdub bonanza to come.
We killed time and cracked jokes while waiting for the arrival of today’s guest of honor-world-renowned violist/violinist/composer/arranger Eyvind Kang. If that name doesn’t mean anything to you, I pity you! Eyvind has contributed gorgeous string arrangements and performances to countless brilliant records that have come out of Seattle (and beyond) over the last ten years or so. A short list of my favorites includes Blonde Redhead’s chamber-rock masterpiece Misery is a Butterfly, Bill Frisell’s Grammy-winning Unspeakable, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter’s recent Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul (see “Spectral Beings”), RJM buddies the Stares’ Spine to Sea, Laura Veirs’ gorgeous Year of Meteors, and virtually every other record helmed by extraordinary Northwest producers Tucker Martine or Randall Dunn. Needless to say, Shawn and I have been huge fans for a long time, and it was tremendously exciting to have him contributing to the record.Eyvind arrived around 2pm with a station wagon full of string instruments, and after a round of warm greetings and introductions, we hunkered down and got to work, starting with Kissing Cousin-the biggest, most ambitious arrangement we were to tackle.
I’d originally told Eyvind to think “George Martin” when approaching this song…the epic sweep of his arrangements for Blonde Redhead would also be a good reference point. To my surprise, he still hadn’t written out a single note! I trusted him, though, and as soon as he picked up the viola and started meticulously layering countermelodies and chord beds (dutifully triple-tracking each line for a lush, “orchestral” sound), it became apparent that he knew exactly what he was doing. He just wanted the arrangement to be a collaborative effort, rather than something he composed without our input.
We spent some time discussing the different parts of the song and what each should do to serve the song. An arrangement as grand as this one can take a very, very long time, especially when only one person is playing it! We started work around 3pm and probably didn’t finish until 10pm (breaking around 7pm to run to Ballard and get some delicious pho at Than Brothers, where we ran into Brad Zeffren, co-owner of Chroma…small town!).
It was absolutely epic…so epic, in fact, that Chroma’s slightly out-of-date Mac G4 wouldn’t allow us to play back all of the tracks at once! The song had over thirty tracks when we began, what with the acoustic guitars, roomy drums, glockenspiel, vibraphone, Leslied/harmonized slide guitars, explosive electrics on the bridge, etc. Add nearly fifty more tracks of strings and you’ve got a recipe for CPU rebellion!
Our insistence upon using a very special room mic was partly to blame for the ridiculous volume of tracks. See, Chroma Sound is one of the only studios around that owns a real, vintage AKG C24 microphone. It’s a tube condenser with two capsules that can be turned in opposite directions (or any direction you want)…pretty amazing, and perfect for capturing the true sound of strings. With that and a close mic, three tracks for each part becomes six tracks for each part. Set the C24 on stereo and you can make that nine. The tracks can pile up pretty quickly!
These are trifling matters, though. After a couple of dumbfounded playbacks of Kissing Cousin, we moved on to Jesus’ House. Eyvind had already missed his 10:30 ferry back to Vashon, so he decided to take the late one (12:50am)…my 6am wake-up time be damned, we decided to dive into another tune.
Our ideas for Jesus’ House weren’t nearly as grandiose, but there was still plenty of work to be done. The good news was that it was already pretty mapped out. Eyvind started work on the first chorus-the same approach he’d taken on Kissing Cousin-by laying down a viola part, then triple-tracking it. He then tracked a counterpoint part that weaved in and out of the other part perfectly. The overall effect was just the sort of lift that our circus nightmare section needed all along.
Eyvind doubled the bowed bass with a cello part, then a viola part that outlined the top part of each chord, greatly accentuating the 2 and 3 of this scary waltz. A wailing violin part over the top was the icing on the cake. He did the same on the second chorus, then added a ghostly viola echo to a particular lyric in the second verse (you guess which one), and we called it a night.
My head was spinning. It had been a long day (I’d been up for about 19 hours at this point), and the sheer volume of musical information I’d been subjected to in that time was overwhelming. I knew it was great, I knew it was exactly what I had in mind, but I didn’t know much else…besides the fact that I had to get up in four hours and do it again!
Wednesday, February 28
We started considerably earlier today, with everyone arriving around 12:30 and work commencing shortly thereafter. Eyvind wanted to start with Time to Slow Down, so that’s what we did.
Time to Slow Down is a very delicate song, and we wanted to dress it up a little without overburdening the dreamy, sparse vibe we already had going. As usual, Eyvind began with the viola and we took it from there.
Eyvind had come up with a beautiful, sliding countermelody for the choruses. It sounded vaguely Indian to my ears, most likely because of the slides, and I liked that. But it was a little too busy and distracted from the lead vocal. He eliminated one of the flourishes in the middle and it was perfect. Some triple-tracking and harmonizing added up to viola heaven.
Per my suggestion, he then added a little violin flutter right before the chorus, just to build some tension. A little of what he dubbed indie rock cello here and there finished off the tune, and it sounded absolutely beautiful.
With the first of (this day’s) three tunes behind us, we ran out and got some Red Mill Burgers. Christian and her friend Kourtney also showed up around this time for a listen…we cued up Time to Slow Down, first playing the whole track, then soloing the strings, and their faces said it all. It was gorgeous.
With show-and-tell over for now, Christian & Kourtney took off and we got to work on Family Man. The choruses wanted a pretty orchestrated arrangement, similar to what Eyvind did on Kissing Cousin (those two songs have been companion pieces since day one), but the good news was that all of the parts were already pretty much mapped out. The evening was flying by, and we still had a lot of work to do.
It went fairly quickly, though; Eyvind triple-tracked each part, one by one, starting with the viola, as usual. The arrangement consisted chiefly of a part that basically doubled the melody that the pedal steel and 12-string electric guitar were playing. At various times, it also answered that melody and harmonized with it, using the vocal melody (or the melody being played on the vibraphone) as a jumping-off point.
He played a high, sweeping part on the violin that mimicked the vocal “oohs,” as well. We recorded it on both choruses, just in case, but we all agreed that it would be best saved for the second choruses, just to build drama. The end of the second choruses was a grand cacophony, with a very staccato root-octave thing (very early-Velvets John Cale, to my ears) on the viola.
We all agreed the verses and acoustic riff bits were best left alone, but coming out of the first chorus, I asked Eyvind to play a somewhat dissonant, legato alternating half-step thing that seemed to echo the howling guitar feedback. It reminded me a lot of some of the atmospheric, moody playing he did on the Blonde Redhead album.
By this time it was very late, but nearly all of the work was behind us. We had one song left to complete-Don’t (Settle Your Debts on the Phone)-but this one would be a breeze, as we were going for the antithesis of the other songs’ heavy orchestration. This song needed to feel like a live performance…which is what it had been, up to this point.
To that end, Eyvind plugged his viola into Shawn’s old ’65 Fender Deluxe Reverb, cranked up said ‘verb, added some slow, pulsing tremolo, and started cranking out groans and moans, a la Warren Ellis (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dirty Three). To enhance the live, off-the-cuff vibe, I decided to stand on the other side of that old AKG C24 (set on its omnidirectional pattern) and strum along with the song, for some guitar ambience in the room mic track.
After getting our bearings, we played through the song, talked a little bit about it, and tried another take. It sounded beautiful, but we got another one, just in case something magical happened. The second “keeper” take was just as good. I had the idea to use both tracks, just stacking them on top of one another, and that made some magic happen…overlapping, dissonant lines on the viola, especially during the song’s final chorus/coda. After two intense 10-12 hour days of work, it was tough to believe, but we were finished!
Working with Eyvind really was a dream come true, and I truly belive the admiration was mutual (though probably not as intense on his end-I sincerely doubt he has a shelf at home full of amazing records that I’ve played on!). Seriously, though, he had some incredibly kind and complimentary things to say about the music, which meant the world to me, obviously. It’s indescribably elating to get that kind of feedback from someone who A) works with the absolute best and B) is a musical giant all on his own, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him. I’ll definitely be calling him when it’s time for our next record!
More vocals, mix, master, done!