Monday, July 11

Album 4: Day 5

Technically, it's the morning after, but Steve and I joined Will Leathem of Prospero's fame for some late night beer last night (after he got a sneak peek at the new sounds!), so I didn't have a chance to nerd it out. :)

We are done with basics. For the uninitiated, basics (at least as we define them) are more or less the band playing as it does live - bass, guitar, drums and keyboards. We tracked as an ensemble until we got the right take, with a great performance and just the right feel throughout. Then we made minor corrections and moved on to the next song! In all, we did this for fourteen tunes in five days and we are thrilled with the feel of the performances and sounds. Truly compelling stuff.

In terms of new trackage, we only worked on one number yesterday, an acoustic rendition of You're Not Alone featuring trumpets (from Mark Hamblin), acoustic guitar, mellotron and assorted light percussion. This isn't just a new mix - it's an entirely different performance of the song. It's even in a different key! It came out sounding lovely and I can't wait to show it to you. :)

The rest of the day was spent bouncing rough mixes of all the songs, backing up files and getting the structure right on a new, Optigan-based version of I'm Just Trying To Help (Me Like You) from Mantoloking.

In all this was a wonderfully productive and enjoyable experience. And Kansas City band peeps, I strongly suggest checking out Westend if you haven't already. It's a great studio in top shape and nothing compares to tracking to tape! And to top it off, at Westend you don't have to buy the reels! Mike's setup allows re-use of a stock of tape via really high-end dolby noise reduction (Dolby SR) from the waning days of analog recording. This saves you oodles of money.

And with that, it's time to get back to focusing on the kids and the day job. Happy monday! :)


Saturday, July 9

Album 4: Day 4

I can't believe we're almost done with our July sessions already...

I am having so much fun with this record. I will confess that previous projects have been far more uncomfortable. When we tracked Mantoloking, I was in the middle of a job change, and I was tremendously intimidated by the magnitude of the whole thing: working with Steve Fisk, arranging a session that involved serious dough and airfare, etc. Before that, tracking, mixing and sequencing Kinda Like Fireworks in 40 HOURS in the near presence of Steve Albini wasn't an afternoon swim, either! :)

Don't get me wrong. It's not entirely old hat, now. I don't take success for granted and I give it my all in every respect. But I'm worrying less and just really enjoying myself. Daniel seems to be in a similar place. For Camry, it's still so new. She clearly doesn't want to drop the ball (and she isn't.) And for Mark, this is a diversion of sorts. A temporary, limited engagement that he's taking seriously but enjoying as a change of pace. A new experience. But to sum it up, the point is that I'm having fun. And it's really groovy to be doing that while creating the biggest bunch of art I've initiated yet!

We finished the last of the band tracks today! I am backing up files as we speak (for the songs we have already transferred from tape.) We took out, in order of appearance, 1) Monica, 2) You're Not Alone, 3) Ninja Ninja Fight Darth Vader and 4) All Surface (Redux)

The hight point for me was undoubtedly Ninja Ninja Fight Darth Vader, the first Sexy Accident song written by somebody other than me! The author, of course, is Tobias, my 5-year old son. :) He dropped by the studio with his mom and his brother Jonas, and the band hastily put together the sounds we needed and made some last minute "structural" decisions. When all was (loosely) arranged, we ripped through two takes as a band while toby sang along live. The keeper take was number 2, and it's a gem. I'm just so thrilled to have a song sung and written by my son on this record! And I think he had fun, too. :)

We are solidly on schedule and resume tomorrow morning. It'll be a day of very rough mixes (for vocal practice), a little tracking, and tape transfers into Pro Tools for the songs we tracked today. Then the project goes on pause until August, when we reconvene for a second 5-day run of vocals and overdubs.

Thanks for reading along. More tomorrow! I can honestly say that this record is clearly a big leap forward from Mantoloking, and we can't wait to share it with you! Enjoy your weekend! :)


Friday, July 8

Album 4: Day 3

And the hits keep coming! Another whirlwind of a day. I'm totally pooped but ima gonna write this here note anyway.

The shape of the day was dictated by Mark's gig at Zona Rosa with his funk band, Multiphonic. We were going to lose him in the afternoon, so we started at 9am. We smacked out basics for two songs (I Guess I'll Never Know and You Don't Exist) before taking a lovely lunch break at Cupini's, during which Mark and I shared a dainty little plate of artichoke salad with extreme masculinity.

I Guess I'll Never Know featured my most elaborate guitar tone ever, leveraging my telecaster Bass VI, two amps, an A-B switch, an outboard spring reverb unit, built-in tremolo and reverb in the other amp, the electro-harmonix POG, a Line 6 delay and my 1970s ROSS flanger. This combination sounds awful in concept but I promise it is quite luscious in execution. For serious!

I must also mention that Steve's drum sounds on this record are phenomenally good and widely varied. He's doing some really unorthodox things with mic placement and each track has its own truly distinct take on the same kit (albeit with snare drum swaps, rods vs. brushes vs. sticks, etc.), producing results that range from the immense to the intimate. I should also mention that in addition to his producerly gifts, Steve is available for birthday parties!

After lunch, Mike Miller (head honcho at West End) regaled us with stories of The Road To OzFest, circa early oughts. Then we put the smack down on another tune, called Welcome Home, which our over-achieving rhythm section flat out aced on the first go. I did a bit of guitar clean-up and we called it good, and Camry helped out by manually operating my vibrato pedal!

Around 4, Mark took off for his gig and we released Daniel to visit Cindy in lieu of their traditional Saturday-morning breakfast (thanks for being flexible, Cindy!) while Steve, Mike and I transferred the first eight songs from tape to Pro Tools. Then Camry, Steve and I walked to Westport for the food truck festival! I had a lovely vegetarian meatball sub and a bean and portabello burrito. Steve enjoyed his second go at Boulevard beer.

Finally, we walked back to West End and Steve and Camry worked on keyboard overdubs while I ran home to put Toby to bed and spend an hour with Steph. I checked in at the studio again around 10 (over 12 hours since we started), locked the place up and we called it a night!

So yeah! Basics done for 8 songs in three days, with both serious tone sculpting and live, band-playing-as-a-band mojo. We're back at it in the morn, bright and early! :)


Thursday, July 7

Album 4: Day 2

Today was our first real day of tracking. And what a day it was! By the time the sun set we had completed basics for four songs, sometimes on the first or second take! We covered, in order: 1) You're The Reason Why, 2) Sauvignon Blanc, 3) Under Summer Stars, and 4) Love Doesn't Get Old.

Steve is both direct/efficient and meticulous in his approach. He's already whipped out some pretty fab mic tricks on the drums and his way of capturing guitar (and distorted marimba) sounds is both simple and very robust. And he is a master of encouraging bands to be exactly who they are. But his shining moment for today had to have been the manual LFO moves on the tape machine. But I'm giving away our secrets. Shh... :)

Recording to tape is hella fun. I can't express how nice (and focusing) it is to have NO COMPUTER MONITOR staring you in the face. This marks my fourth major project on tape and the third Sexy Accident release approached this way. For those considering it, I have one word of advice: prepare. Everything with tape is both more luscious and also more difficult. You can ruin a take with a bad punch-in! So the bottom line is to work in big chunks and ideally, whole performances. The best side effect of working this way is it forces you to be a better musician! And isn't that the point of it all?

So far our MVP trophies have to go to Daniel and Mark. The Sexy Accident's rhythm section is a force to behold. And Mark has downright mastered the art of using a bass whose E and G strings can't be trusted! :) Of course, it's nice that we have a nice P-Bass when the parts won't cooperate with the limits of Mark's dad's ornery (but absolutely toneful and mojo-laden Thunderbird.)

Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to Mike Miller and West End Recording, where we are making this record (and where we tracked our last EP.) The studio is solid as a rock. It's simply my favorite place to record in KC. Thanks also to my wonderful wife for not only supporting me in these financially improbable musical boondoggles, but also for feeding the band amazingly tasty home-cooked indian food. :)

Back at it tomorrow. Goodnight!


Wednesday, July 6

Album 4: Day 1

I am time boxing this post to 10 minutes because I need to unwind and get to sleep!

Got Steve from the airport last night and had a lovely dinner out with Steph (my wife), Daniel and Cindy (Daniel's girlfriend) and Steve hisself. Then I got Steve to his hotel and we called it a night!

This morning we started at 10am and ended at 9:50pm. Almost 12hrs of work with minimal breakage. Most of the day was spent getting the studio up and running (Steve picked and placed mics, got the tape machine running, etc.) and dialing in sounds. By the time we got rolling it was about 7pm.

We started with What We'd Do, which most of the band burned through with ease. I, however, was struggling with the fineries of my wah pedal and the somewhat touch-sensitive solo in the bridge. As a result, we ended up doing four takes. But the joke's on the rtythm section because they kept getting better and better with every take! I should screw up more often. The last take was fantastic with a sexy and confident groove.

We ended the night by (perhaps foolishly) pushing on and dialing in the tones for tomorrow's first number: You're The Reason Why. So now we're all sleepy!

Back at it in the morn. I hope to also see my kiddos! :)