Wednesday, April 29

Album 3 Recording Diary: Day 6

I didn't expect that I would call this experience the third most intense of my life thus far. The first most intense was the birth and early childhood of my son. The second was my wedding. The third is/was recording this album.

This statement is probably very hard for anyone who hasn't done this to understand. And honestly, I'm kind of disappointed in myself for making it. I don't know exactly why. I sort of feel like I should be able to do this - to record an album - to spend seven days in the studio more or less non-stop. And I suppose I *can* do it. I have done it so far. Only one day to go, and barring any sort of sudden awfulness it should go well and be relatively enjoyable. But god am I tired. And at times the pressure (entirely self-inflicted though it may be) was almost too much for me to bare.

It's the fact that you have to be ON. You have to perform. You have to get it right. Right now. This moment. This take. Or maybe on the next one, but today. Not tomorrow. Sure, you could take another day. You could come back. But that'll cost you more money. Hundreds of dollars. You don't want to do that. That's not the deal you struck with your wife. Plus, you hate to be inefficient, right? You want to make this record as cost-effectively as possible. Great, but for the minimum cost. That's why you spent months and months rehearsing twice a week: to a click track, on your own, in groups, in coffee shops, on stage. All in preparation for THIS MOMENT. Right now, when the "tape" is rolling. But this moment isn't a moment. It's eleven hours of moments. And that's just today. Then there's tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

And it's easier than it's ever been, recording. You can copy and paste things. But we choose not to employ some of the tricks that seem to sacrifice too much or make it too phony. We don't do auto-tune. We punch in, instead. We sing the word right, at least once. There's certainly some satisfaction in that.

And why, at the end of the day, do I do this? It's a question I've been asking myself a lot over the last few days. I will most certainly get a high off of hearing this record when it's done. But chances are, when I play it for my friends, for my family, their reaction somehow won't give me what it is I'm chasing, no matter how enthusiastic they are. I'll still want to do another one. And another one. And another one.

I think I'm chasing something that I'll never get. Maybe it's self-acceptance. A feeling of "yes, you did it well enough." A feeling that I can be satisfied with the work that I've done. I don't have any answers here. I don't know why I do this. I know that I've read and said and heard others say that it's not really a choice. That if you're a creative person, you have to be creative. But maybe I have choices within the non-choice.

Steve is an excellent producer. He works hard, he gets great sounds, and he's really patient, kind and supportive. And all of this despite some major, major disruptions from outside of the studio. I can't think of a better person to work with, both aesthetically and in terms of professionalism.

I hope that when I recover from the stress and exhaustion of this week I can look back and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. I can already see it over the horizon. And I hope I can bask in the glow of that satisfaction and maybe, god forbid, take a few weeks (or at least days) off.

Of course, there are shows booked, etc. I've made sure that I have a stacked plate. No changing that, now. But I need to carve some time out to lie under a tree or similar. Life's too short not to see it as it's happening. I spend a whole lot of time being somewhere else.

Anyway, that's enough of that. Today we finished the last two vocal tracks and did guitar overdubs and percussion. But now my wife is finally home, and we finally have a child-free and studio-free hour to talk. I'm not going to miss that, even to blog about gear and nonsense.

Until tomorrow!

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE

Tuesday, April 28

Album 3 Recording Diary: Day 5

So. Today Mr. Fisk continued to share his wisdom with us. While listening to "Merry Christmas" he noted that it's a very marketable thing, to have a Christmas song. He also pointed out that everyone has a birthday, everyone has a mom, everyone has a dog (or cat) and everyone (everyone!) loves Christmas.

In response to this critical marketing intelligence, The Sexy Accident have immediately begun penning a new song. The most marketable song ever! The song that is sure to catapult us to superstardom! What's it called, you ask? (Wait for it...)



Happy Birthday, Christmas Dog!

And don't forget: Christmas Dog was a gift from your mother! And one of the verses will conveniently mention that now that we know how much we love Christmas Dog, we need to get a Christmas Cat, as well!


In other news, we had another fun (yes, fun!) grab bag of a day in the studio. We did a whole mess of guitar overdubs on Merry Christmas, including a veritable sea of acoustics. We also did a tremendous surf lead overdub on I'm Just Trying To Help (Me Like You) (previously referred to as I Kind Of Want To Be With You) and smacked a vintage fender organ of I forget variety on there, as well.

I recorded vocals for I'm Just Trying To Help (Me Like You), All Surface, Buy Me Out and Merry Christmas. And I sketched in the vocal line that will be replaced by a female vocalist of Steve's choosing to turn Merry Christmas into a duet! The hardest of the four was All Surface by a significant margin. To give you a sense, I spent about an hour and half to net out two solid takes of All Surface, whereas I got two complete takes of Buy Me Out in less than fifteen minutes. AS is hard because it involves many, many sustained notes near that top of my range, which requires not only good breath and pitch control but awareness of where you are standing/looking in relation to the mic. Steve taught me to sing away from the mic for the long notes, so I was doing a lot of playing around with that technique. In contrast, Buy Me Out is just fun - it's angsty and expressive and involves no sustain whatsoever. It's almost like acting. (I am not in fact a shifty executive.)

Oh, and after I did the sketch vocals for the female duet thing, Steve doubled the pitch of my vocals to see what they would sound like in the likely womanly range. Needless to say, I make an awesome chipmunk. It was funny enough already, but when we got to this part that goes "ha ha ha ha ha ha" in various pitches, it just about killed Chad, Daniel and I. That was probably the high hilarity mark for the session thus far. :)

Continuing the list of new gear used, today we introduced:

- My Takamine classical
- The Fender organ thing
- Line 6 delay modeler (used on the organ)
- Single jingle bell

I left the studio at 6:30 to go get my wife and son from the airport (yay!) but Chad and Daniel continued to work through all kinds of stuff, including in depth work recording a single jingle bell and a whole bunch of backing vocals!

So we now have two songs left to sing and a variety of misc. overdubs to finish out, then it's on to rough mixes! Vive la Sexy Accident! :) Wish us luck!

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE

Monday, April 27

Album 3 Recording Diary: Day 4

This is going to sound strange: I had fun today! To be quite honest, with a few exceptions (playing I Just Need My Car, for one), I really can't say that the word I'd use to describe our studio time thus far would be "fun." Intense, intimidating, focused, challenging, stressful, exhausting, gratifying, enlightening. These descriptors are accurate. But "fun?" Not so much (at least for me!) Until today.

You see, we're done with basic tracking. Now it's all about adding extra colors and flavors (percussion, guitars, hand claps, whatever) and about doing vocals. To a degree, the pressure is off. I was still nervous going into tracking today re: the vocals. We had planned to do them in Seattle in the summer, so I hadn't really prepared to sing. I've been practicing guitar parts and all that jazz. Thankfully, we've been doing a lot of live shows. And the coffee shop shows are especially good vocal prep. So today when we started on vocals because we were ahead of schedule, I was able to do a pretty good job! Some of the songs took a few takes, but we got five of them done. I sang You're Out Of Luck, I Tried Again, Say Goodnight, The Chatty Bandit and Daddy Loves Me Some.

Like I said, we also did guitar overdubs. I won't enumerate all the details, there, but I'll continue the list of new gear deployed for the first time:

- Keeley Compressor
- Pat's Fender Hotrod Deluxe
- Pat's Sovtek Mig 50 (produces what we're now calling the "plow guitar" tone.)
- Black Lodge's Alamo amp (6L6s)
- Black Lodge's 2x12 Marshall cabinet

Tomorrow I'll sing some more songs, we'll lay down some more guitars, percussion and Steve will probably play a keyboard or two!

Speaking of Steve, he has the most amazing stories. Today he told me all about how Marvin Gaye challenged his father to a broadsword duel. It's fascinating stuff, all the things you learn when you're a record producer! In honor of Steve's profession (and Steve's outstanding and excellent representation of said profession), I have decided to stop using the phrase "over-produced" to refer to albums that have been buried in overdubs or otherwise over-slickified. The new word, as proposed by Steve is "Gelded." A strange choice of words from somebody who is so groovy and careful about gender stereotyping and such things. :) Just messing with you, Steve. Don't Geld me.

Well, that's it for today! More tomorrow.

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE

Sunday, April 26

Album 3 Recording Diary: Day 3


Today was a good day. First thing, we knocked out the basic tracks for the last two songs on our list: I Just Need My Car and Will You Be Mine?. That took about 4.5 hours, including all the guitar tone setting, etc. Then we took a nice lunch break in Lawrence at the Thai place there.

Next we headed back to the studio and switched over to overdubs.

Now, I'm not gonna lie. Ole' Jesse has been pretty damned stressed out for the past few days. Like really stressed. Today my forearms were tingling. We've been making amazing progress, undeniably quickly. But somehow it's still my baby, and we're still not done, and the more we put into it, and the more perfect and awesome it sounds, the more my subconscious fears losing everything we've done. I know it's not very rational, but there it is. I mentioned this to Mr. Fisk and asked him if he had any words for me, and he said something to the effect of "Let it go. It makes sense. It's OK because how you're feeling is a reflection of the same determination and commitment that got you here." I thought that made a whole lot of sense, but I'm still glad we have three hard drives (two backups.) You never known when a moose is going to run into the control room and smash everything.

I neglected to mention in my note re: yesterday that Steve got to experience his first tornado drill in our company. I could tell he was pretty perturbed, as anyone would be (and as I was, for sure) the first time they experience one. But we checked the weather map and he was relieved to know that these things only last a few minutes or hours. I still think he thinks we're a little crazy for putting up with it, though. Maybe he's right! Of course, we don't live next to an active volcano. :)

So re: the overdubs, today included some interesting activities:

- Chad, Daniel and I clapping in unison to a click track ("That was awful!" - Fisk, re: the first take.)
- Me plunking out some piano parts in two-finger, hunt-and-peck fashion.
- Daniel banging a bass drum with a rubber mallet.
- Daniel playing a tambourine (he was relieved that I didn't see this part as he felt it made him look effeminate. :)
- Chad and I arranging a wall of amps so we could rapidly switch between sounds for different parts of different songs.

Gear-wise, today saw the debut of:

- My Heritage played through the Tweed Bassman replica
- Chad's Yamaha played through my Z.

In other news, it appears we are going to finish all of the tracking here in KC! The intial plan was to do vocals and a few dubs in Seattle, but we're moving so fast that we should have enough time to finish it all up this week!

That's about all I've got, sports fans. And now, it is time to sleep.

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE

Album 3 Recording Diary: Day 2

OK, so it's 12:40am and I am unbelievably tired. But I'll write a little update nonetheless. Just forgive any weird grammar errors, OK?

Today was incredibly productive. We got through basics for (in order of appearance): All Surface, Buy Me Out, The Chatty Bandit, Daddy Loves Me Some and Say Goodnight. We worked for 11 hours with a one hour lunch break.

All Surface came off well. We had to sort through some issues re: where and to what extent to use a click track (we decided to use it at the beginning of the song only, before the drums come in) and that took some time. Buy Me Out went more or less easily and we knocked The Chatty Bandit out of the park. Daddy Loves Me Some was a royal pain the ass, though. It took FOREVER to get it right. It's extremely slow and delicate, which is honestly about twice as hard to do vs. fast and aggressive. We ended the night by pushing for five and got 90% of the way through basics for Say Goodnight. We'll scrub it down in the morning and make sure it's right.

Gear-wise, today saw the debut of:

- My Heritage H-535
- Silverface Fender Champ
- Yamaha DI-10MII distortion pedal
- The Hotcake and Keeley Rat on bass
- EHX Wiggler
- EHX Memory Man
- EHX Small Stone
- Z. Vex Fuzz Factory

Honestly I don't have the energy to go into more detail. More tomorrow! Now I've gotta sleep.

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE

Friday, April 24

Album 3 Recording Diary: Day 1

Yesterday I picked up our producer, Steve Fisk from the airport. It was around 8pm, and we kicked off his trip to our fair city with a band meal at Blue Koi! I ran into Natasha and a friend of hers, and then Steve and the rest of the Sexy Accident got to know one-another.

After dinner, I drove Steve out to the Black Lodge. We couldn't figure out how to get into the apartment (we knew it involved an untrustworthy set of stairs, but couldn't remember which) and after some fumbling about while using our cell phones as flashlights, we gave up and called David Chutka, who got us squared away. Steve got situated and I headed back to KC.

I got home around 11pm. I had been so excited the day before that I hadn't slept well, and so I started to crash. I figured I had all the time in the world to get a good night's sleep before we were to begin at 10:30 the next day, but I went to bed early anyway. Unfortunately, sleep was fleeting. I woke up at about 2:30am and just couldn't fall back to sleep. I was too excited! Exhausted, but excited. I couldn't get my brain to stop. So at about 5am, I found myself at the local Sun Fresh buying some Valerian to help me sleep. I had to wait for their cash registers to reboot (this apparently happens just before 5) before I could check out, and I got home and back in bed by about 5:30. I woke again at 7. Then at 8:30. So I basically got a completely garbage night of sleep. And I wasn't the only one. Pat Padgett (our bass player) had a similar experience.

So at 10:30 this morning we all congregated at the Black Lodge. When I got there, Daniel and Steve were already hard at work setting up the drum kit and positioning the sixteen microphones that Steve would use to track the drums. At about noon, after we had set up, the three guitarists took a trip to Lawrence while Steve and Daniel continued working on getting the drums to sound right. We ate at the Aladdin Cafe, and stopped off at Mass St. Music where the gracious staff let us rent a stunning 5F6-A Tweed Bassman clone for the week for the extremely reasonable sum of $80. This amp will augment our arsenal of Chad's Vox AC15, my Dr. Z RxES and my Silverface Champ. We've already used it on one of the songs.

At about 2:00, we got back to the studio. Steve and Daniel were wrapping up work on the drum kit, so Chad and Pat and I began working on our guitar tones, checking intonation, etc. We set up such that our guitar amps were in the Black Lodge's three isolation rooms and the drum kit was in the main room. We kept the isolation room doors open, however, so we could all stand together and avoid using headphones during the group takes. This makes everything much more comfortable and natural-feeling. Headphones can be pretty sterile. They're fine for overdubs, but Mr. Fisk is wise enough to realize that they kind of kill the vibe of a group playing together.

At about 2:30, we took our first take of our first song - I Tried Again. We nailed it on the first try, which felt great. There were maybe one or two tiny edits made, but it was a great take. Next we moved on to Merry Christmas, which also went down swimmingly on the first pass. My guitar part required a little help, but nothing major. Chad played Pat's Strat into the Vox.

Next came You're Out of Luck, which was a much more ornery beast. The song involves a lot of repetitive sections with the only differentiation coming from the vocals, so I sang a scratch track live while the rest of the band played their instruments so everyone could keep track of where we were in the song structure. Pat had a question about the song arrangement and I gave him the wrong answer. It took us three tries, but we eventually got the perfect drum take. Pat fixed a few bass flubs, I put down my guitar part in 1.5 passes separately (using headphones) and Chad more or less sailed through without trouble. Chad used the Bassman, but we realized we missed the awesome snarly harshness of the AC15 at times, so we put it back in in a few spots.

Finally, we moved on to I Kind of Want to Be With You, which took four takes to get right. But man, was it worth it. Each take was better than the last, and when we finished the fourth, not only did we have just the right feel, but almost everyone had played their parts absolutely perfectly. When you hear this one on the album, excepting the extra instrumentation that we'll add on later to round things out, you'll be hearing what we sounded like this evening in Eudora, KS. How satisfying!

By the time we finished playing back the tunes and double-checking things, it was 8:30pm. We had gotten four tracks worth of basics down in six hours, which is quite speedy. Steve was pleased, and up for doing more, but Pat and I were exhausted from lack of sleep so we called it a night and headed home. But not before I gave Steve the keys to my Corolla so he could get around out in Eudora!

And now it's a perfectly stunning Friday evening. The weather is flawless. 71 and just right humidity-wise. I'm probably the only person within a 10 mile radius on a computer right now. But all of my friends are either occupied with other plans or out of town, and I need to sleep, so I probably won't be heading out. Maybe for a quick walk, but nothing major.

So that was our first day. More tomorrow!

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE

Sunday, April 5

New review!

Aaron Kupferberg over at had some nice things to say about our latest album, Kinda Like Fireworks. Check it out!

- Jesse Kates / Download Kinda Like Fireworks for FREE