Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eric According to Ben, Part I

Since I obviously haven't had anything to post lately -- to be fair, there's been nothing to report -- I've asked Ben Shive (producer) if he would be willing to utter a few thoughts from his perspective at the head of this proverbial classroom, the dean of the college, the captain at the helm of the ship, the CEO, the navigator, his excellency...

This, to my understanding, is merely Part One of a series that he has up his sleeves. I can only hope Ben wears deodorant.

Part One: Pre-production

Eric and I have been friends since we toured together with Andrew Peterson back in ’02. I love his soul and I love his music. I thought Scarce was an especially strong record, and I’ve been begging Eric for a follow-up for some time now. So I’m thrilled that he’s finally back in the swing of things. And I’m doubly thrilled to be producing the album. And I’m triply thrilled that you have the good taste to be as excited about our mutual friend’s music as I am. So I thought I’d drop by this lovely little blog and put in my two cents for anyone who cares to read. I think I’m going to give it to you in a few installments, since I tend to go on and on about this kind of thing. Today, I’ll cover the pre-production phase of the recording.

(not pee-pee production, which is the job of the kidneys)

The making of this record began with Eric inviting me over one afternoon to hear some songs. We hadn’t talked about working together yet. He just wanted to run his latest stuff by me and maybe get some feedback. I really liked what I heard and I told him so. I’m sure I made a suggestion or two, but I was really there to be a cheerleader. I’m realizing, incidentally, that that’s half my job. You can never go wrong telling your friends how great they are.


The Songs:

By summer I had about thirteen, maybe fourteen, song demos in my possession. These were just rough guitar/vocal recordings Eric had done in Garage Band. Some of the songs were finished. Others were fragments. Now that I knew I was producing, I started listening more critically.

When I listen to a song I’m mostly trying to gauge what it’s attempting to communicate and whether it communicates that thing well. If I had to name the quality I’m looking for, I’d call it “focus.” Is the song littered with throwaway lines? Is the lyric overly poetic or overly plain? Is there an economy of well-developed ideas and metaphors? Or are words and images thrown around carelessly? Is the listener going to feel the emotion or understand the idea at the core of this song?

Focus is also a quality I look for in the music. Are there moments that distract from the lyric, seem out of character, stagnate, or belabor some musical theme? Or does the music support the lyric well, propel it forward, give it a comfortable place to sit?

In our pre-production meetings, we worked through the songs with this in mind. If you had been there with us you would have seen us staring off into space a lot, muttering to ourselves. One song that really came into focus during pre-pro is called “I Had To Tell You.” Eric wrote it about a friend of his who had a very frank and angry bout with God on the heels of some awful circumstances in his life.

It can be difficult to find an apt chorus for a story song. You look and look for the one idea that can bring meaning or clarity to the story without cheapening the telling of it. This idea has to be appropriate at every point in the story because you’re going to sing it at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. Eric had written what I thought was a strong chorus around the lyric, “I had to tell you.” As in, “These things were eating me up inside, so I had to tell you how I felt.” It was well put-together I thought people would resonate with it.

But there was another idea vying for focus in the song. Eric was ending each verse with the line, “I was always living for myself.” In fact, the working title of the song was “Living For Myself.” Though the idea was part of this friend’s story, I felt that it was putting the song out of focus. It seemed to give the verses too much closure of their own and leave the choruses feeling random, like a needless change of subject. As a listener, I wondered whether the cornerstone of this song was the protagonist’s recognition of selfishness, or his finding of a new intimacy with God through brutal honesty?

I suggested to Eric that instead of resolving, the verses should build to the chorus, so as to really deliver that moment to people’s doors. I suggested that the last line be changed to something like “so much rage within me, I couldn’t keep it to myself,” which would lead right into, “So I had to tell you.” It’s very possible that “Living for myself” was the line that started Eric writing the song, but as Annie Dillard says, sometimes you have to knock out a load-bearing wall, watch most of the building cave in, and then get back to work.

And we did create more work for ourselves. Every verse had to be revised. Some verses didn’t seem to work at all anymore and had to be rewritten. Some of this we did together, and some of it Eric did on his own. But now with the chorus in the center, the verses started to orient themselves around it and the whole composition began coming into focus. To me, this is the real joy of writing. I hope Eric felt the same way after all the hassle I put him through!

Other Pre-pro concerns

During our initial meetings, we also had to talk about budget, process and players. I won’t get into details on the budget, except to say that it dictates a lot about the process. I’m learning it’s much cheaper to record one thing at a time, and since this is a bit of a shoestring operation, we’re going that route. There are arguably some drawbacks to doing it this way, but there’s something I love about it. Namely, it helps keep songs in focus. There’s that word again. You start from the thing that most defines a song, whether that’s a guitar part, a piano part, or something else, and you build on that. So things are less likely to get out of hand. You add a drum kit to the song because it needs one, not just because he’s in the room and on the clock.

Which brings me to players. Eric told me that this time around he wanted to hire his friends. Thankfully, his friends are my friends. So we hired Paul Eckberg and Ken Lewis to play drums. We hired Brent Milligan (who produced Land of the Living and Scarce) and Tony Lucido to play bass. Andy Osenga is playing guitars. I’m playing keys. I’m sure we’ll have some special guests on BGVs and utility instrumentation.

Feeling confident about the songs, and with a process and players in place, we were ready to get rid of the “pre” and get into just plain old production. More on that later.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tracking Day Photos

Since there, unfortunately, won't be much in the way of activity or studio progress around here through the end of this calendar year, I thought it might be mildly enjoyable to post some action photos from our tracking days.

Oh, Ben, what are you thinking about as you stare at the computer screen?

The ever-talented Brent Milligan playing bass at The Attic Studio.

Ken Lewis hitting a cymbal on his legs at his place, The Attic Studio. Nice chapeau, sir.

Ben (Shive) and Ken (Lewis) in the backseat of my 1965 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia on our way to lunch at The Daily Dish. Big boys in a tiny car do not mix well.

Ben Shive rubbing his head at The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Paul
(Paul Eckberg's studio).

Paul Eckberg (l), Ben Shive (center), Tony Lucido (r) charting out one of my many spectacular songs at MMoMP. Why Ben has a candy wrapper on his right eye is beyond me.

Finally, me staring out the sky window in Ken Lewis's place, The Attic Studio. Photo by Brent Milligan.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Let There Be Electronic Guitars

Today was an electric guitar session with Andrew Osenga. We set up shop late morning at Andy's room in Sputnik Studio where he proceeded to lend us his talents on this eve of the national election. Once again, he and Ben delved into a musical language that, in my ignorance, I simply am unable to speak. This town is fluent in the good language. I wish I had grown up hearing such discourse so that I might be more useful during these brief moments inside the sequestered world of musicians.

Andy did some really great stuff throughout the day. Five guitar-layered songs today with another day of electrics tomorrow, including some jangly 12-string electrics which will no doubt make Eric a pleased witness. Andy played several of his electric guitars throughout the day, but I didn't think to take notice of any of the specifics of guitar models (shame on me, the non-guitar geek). His pedal board, burnished in fancy, cold metal gadgetry, resembled something that might go aboard a NASA space shuttle mission: glowing red lights, buttons and gaffer tape everywhere. He and Ben work mighty well together, and I was glad that A) I got to be there, and B) that they're not jerks, nor do they seem to possess any sense of self-superiority in their work. I'm glad to know them, and also glad I ate some decent Pad Thai for lunch with Ben, Andy, Stephen Lamb and Andy Gullahorn.

Though I won't be able to take part in the entirety of tomorrow's session, I'm planning on being present until lunch at which time I'll knock off early and return home for some much-needed face time with my gentle family before they leave for Orlando for seven days on Wednesday. I have a couple of shows this weekend in Michigan and west Illinois/east Iowa. Though I'm looking forward to the shows, I do not relish the long, lonely hours in the car with only the dashboard to hear my lonely voice. I will need some good music to keep me company. Besides Ben Shive's spectacular album, The Ill-Tempered Klavier, do you any suggestions?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tracking Day: The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Paul

After running a morning errand I met Ben (seated center of photo), Paul Eckberg (drums, seated on left) and Tony Lucido (bass, seated on right) this sunny day at Paul's cozy and very well junk food-stocked studio, The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Paul. I say "junk" accusationally, but what I actually mean is that we each of us ate our irresponsible fill of pretzels, Keebler cookies, M&Ms, Dr. Pepper and Starburst throughout the day. I'm not complaining. If my teeth fall out it will be because of Dr. Pepper.

Paul is more organized than anyone I know, and I appreciate him immensely for it. Neatly coiled cables, an orderly work environment, fresh coffee (and biscuits, to boot), a very well thought out display of fridge contents, and little Beatles figurines here and there make MMoMP a most welcome place. Tony, with his supreme wool fedora, is one of the funniest and most self-deprecating individuals I've ever met in Nashville. Possessing a wicked sense of humor, Tony had me laughing at his various jokes and stories on many occasions. I appreciate him immensely for it. I wonder if he does any counseling.

When I arrived at Paul's the guys were charting out "Come Back A Fool". They followed that with "I Will Go With You". That brought us to 1:15pm where we grabbed a lunch of high-in-MSG, chain restaurant Pad Thai noodles. It was an unfulfilling meal for me, and since I'd eaten there before and knew the Pad Thai was unsatisfactory, I surely should have known better than to order it again. At least I got a good fortune in my cookie: "Today you will get what your heart desires." We'll take a wait and see approach on that. Post lunch, the guys played drums, percussion and bass on "Run Down", "Sad To Watch You Wave", and "You Don't Have The Strength". Great stuff.

Once again, it was good to be in the company of talented musicians and friends like Ben, Paul and Tony. They work hard at not only their instruments but they work equally hard to serve the songs. It's so nice to hear these tunes, some of which have been around in my head for several years, finally coming to life. More recording goodness on Monday when we shack up at Sputnik Studio where my friend and fellow Square Peg, Andrew Osenga, will work his mighty electric guitar magic. I love what that guy does, so I'm looking forward to Monday.

Happy Halloween, everybody. Or Happy All Saints Day, if trick-or-treating is not your cup of tea. The past few days Danielle has been making a homemade costume for Ellis. He'll be a pedestrian banana. Yellow hilarity and photos to follow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tracking Day at The Attic

I spent the day at Ken Lewis's upstairs studio, The Attic, alongside Ken, Brent Milligan and Ben Shive. Situated next to a powder blue upright piano, I have sauntered away this clear blue day in a green leatherette chair listening to the great parts these gentlemen have individually and collectively come up with. Brent, Ben and Ken are artists in the truest sense of the word, brushing their own musical colorings on the open-sky painting at large. They infuse so much of their own art, determination and professionalism into these songs that it puts me to shame. While no man is an island, here and now I am reminded that few, if any, artists are able to create anything worthwhile wholly on his/her own. That is easily the case here. I am a singer-songwriter. These guys are musicians. They speak a language I can barely decipher, and even when I can occasionally follow, then not all the time. I sit, nearly dumbfounded, but absolutely in awe of their abilities as they listen through each song once, maybe twice, charting notes along the way, talk amongst themselves honing in on specific chord movements saying things like "four over two", and then it's off and running as the microphones detail the occasion.

Brent playing the autoharp.

Today was Day One of bass and drums. Ken (drums, percussion) and Brent (bass, autoharp) kicked things off at 9:45am with smashing contributions to "In the Movies", then "Reality Came Crashing Down", where 1pm sneaked up on us just that quickly. We four grown men (barely) piled into my '65 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia to eat lunch at The Daily Dish where we parked and ate next to country music star Brad Paisley. After some incredible chicken and shrimp cacciatore, we (barely) piled back into the Ghia to head back to The Attic to work on "Chrome", "The Traveling Onion", "I Had To Tell You" and "Louisiana in the Dark". I say "work", but what I actually mean is that they actually worked while I reposed in the green chair, coffee in hand, nodding and offering my nimble opinion when asked.

It was good, so good, to see major progress made on these songs today, to witness the contributions of such skilled artisans to these little songs of mine, to hear beauty and space breathed into the mere guitar parts I played a few weeks ago. As I said in an earlier post, this is the fun part. And it continues again on Thursday when we'll hunker down in The Modern Metropolitan Museum of Paul where Paul Eckberg (drums), Tony Lucido (bass), Ben Shive will continue the reverie and the foreign language which they so eloquently and efficiently speak.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tracking Day Doth Approach

A couple of big tracking days are occurring this week. Tuesday, we are working at Ken Lewis's studio tracking percussion along with Brent Milligan playing bass. EP = superdad eager to hear what these fine gentlemen come up with. Ken, of course, played drums and percussion all over Scarce, and is a wacky nice guy. Brent, who has been out on the road with Michael W. Smith and Stephen Curtis Chapman as of late, was the wonderful mind behind much of what made Scarce so gosh darn enjoyable (to me, at least). I'll be glad to be in the same room, at the same time, with Brent, Ken and Ben. Mental note: bring camera.

On Thursday, we will be tracking more drums and bass, this time with Paul Eckberg on drums at his brilliantly named studio, The Modern Metropolitan Museum of Paul, along with Tony Lucido on bass, a gentleman I've never worked with before. Ben assures me he's nice, especially since he knows I don't like working with mean people. I'm sure he's a good egg.

This week will be actual, physical progress, and for that I cannot wait. Recording drums and bass will be like giving a short man stilts to not only see, but be seen. It will be like filling a previously empty swimming pool. It will be like uncorking and sipping on a fine bottle of wine along with a spread of brie. In short, I am eager to see what these fine folks brew up. Poor similes aside, I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Day Seven (10/10/08)

Day 7
The final day of recording acoustic guitars!

Ben and I decided early on to record the acoustic guitars first in this process (most times drums are recorded first). Doing this will hopefully make tracking day (drums & bass) a much quicker, and therefore less expensive, process. Studio-wise, time usually equals money. A tight budget means we have to work quickly and wisely.

This morning I tried recording the acoustic guitar part for "Chrome" (a third-person song about my being a bicycle; I saw a bike at a subway stop chained to a post rusted, weathered and abandoned in Washington DC when Gabe Scott was with me on tour several years ago. It had obviously been left there by its owner several years prior. I wrote the song then - 2004 - but never did anything with it until now.), but I wasn't good enough to adequately pull off the part. So, instead, we asked Andy Gullahorn (one of the most tasteful guitar accompanists I know) to record the part. Besides, I'd been wanting to invite Andy to play on an album ever since Scarce came out in '06, so this was a great opportunity. After eating a Bar B Cutie lunch with Andy Osenga, Cason Cooley and Ben's doppelganger brother Josh, we drove to Gullahorn's place (The Night Owl's Nest) where he played the delicate, finger-picky guitar part, along with a couple of beautiful layering tracks, much better than I could have ever accomplished. Jill (Phillips) (whose wonderful new album releases on Dec. 1) was kind enough to bake us a chocolate pie upon completion of the task. Sugar rush on, Ben and I drove back to the Beehive to record acoustic guitars for "Run Down", the 11th and final song to track. This is a song based on the epic Richard Adams rabbit novel, Watership Down. If you've never read the book, please do.

A week of non-stop song arranging, acoustic guitars, and singing rough vocals has me mentally fried. I'm out of shape in more than just the physical sense. None of this is physical labor per se, but it certainly taxes the mind. At least it does mine since album-making is not an everyday activity for me. To know that we have all eleven acoustic guitar parts done is a most welcome moment. There were times while I was writing some of these that I was unsure I'd ever figure out how to actually play them, much less record them for posterity sake. I'm glad it's on tape now.

Ben and I break for another week or so before scheduling some tracking days with a drummer (to be named), a percussionist (to be named), and bass player (ditto). That's when the real fun starts. More to come. Thanks for staying tuned in. I'm glad you're here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day Six (10/9/08)

Day 6.
This morning Ben apparently got to fulfill his career-long dream of playing acoustic guitar on an album. I'm glad it was on my album and not some other yahoo's. I wrote "Come Back A Fool" on the 6-string in an open tuning (C) back whenever I happened to write it. Ben came up with a nice jangly 12-string part the other day during pre-production, and, since I was too lazy to learn said part, figured he could play it since he's no slouch on guitar. I dubbed Ben "old man Lemoyne", and record he did. Nice playing, old man Lemoyne. Then I stepped up to the mic (hey, that's actually a literal statement) and played the 6-string part on top of it. The parts work quite well together. We call this process "layering", where you record one guitar part over another creating a much richer and fuller sound. I sang a quick scratch vocal and we left for the Shive residence where Beth (Ben's very pregnant wife) fed us some delicious meatloaf and mashed potatoes. We chased that down with a cold 1554 and some dark chocolate before returning to the Beehive for a crack at another tune.

Next up was "Reality Came Crashing Down", a song that I doubt will make any so-called "positive" or "safe-for-the-whole-family" radio playlists (as if any of my music ever has breached those walls). I really have to wonder how listeners will ultimately perceive this song since it is what it is: the facing up to what has become the reality of my inconsequential and highly unsubstantial career up til now. Honestly, as much as I don't want to (and probably shouldn't) admit this, I get the sense that this will be an overall downcast collection of songs (divorce, anger, melancholy, hopeless dreams, comparing myself to an onion, waving goodbye -- these sort of sad subjects). But I also sense that they will be true out of the only voice I know from where to speak. I'm a saint, I am a monster, as I said on Scarce. Not that a song makes anyone either, but knowing thyself is far more revelatory than any melody could ever be.

Ben came up with a very pleasant, Shawn Colvin-esque mandolin part for the song after I recorded acoustic guitar and a rough vocal. I came up with a nice counter-melody/catchphrase which we have yet to figure out what actual instrument will play the part, but we both agree it will be nice. Done day. On to the next...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More recording, Fall & non-Presidential Presidential Candidates

Yesterday was officially Day 4 of the recording process. We're working at Ben's new place (The Beehive) south of town. It is situated in a townhome complex on a high hill overlooking the bald and rocky scalp of a Kroger grocery store and a few other strip-mall locales. At the stoop of the westward-facing front door, giant electric power line structures are strung overhead humming their constant atonal melody. Its sound is that of something being fiercely guarded. The trees' leaves, from the upstairs work window, are beginning to settle into yellow, red and orange murmurs, and it is a good and pleasant sight. The world is falling to sleep.

I meant to post this last night, but other things at home took precedence. After putting a very tired boy to bed, my wife and I tried to watch the town-hall Presidential debate, but it wound up being anything other than Presidential what with all the antics, blatantly evasive answers, and childish finger-pointing those two goofs demonstrated in front of a national television audience. We turned the TV off after only 20 minutes of their belly-aching and blowing hot air, all while being corrected more than once by Mr. Brokaw to adhere to the time limits to which they previously agreed. I am seriously considering writing-in Ron Paul on my Nov. 4 ballot, the only candidate I've heard to make a priority of balancing our nation's ridiculously bloated government spending and debt. I ask you this: What, if anything, is wrong with a three-party system in this country? And what, if anything, is inherently wrong with living under the strictures of a balanced budget all without owing another nation a single dime? The Dems are prepared to turn our nation into an economic Socialist republic (just a hop, skip and jump from Communism, I might add), while the Repubs are nearly blind and clueless as to how to fix just about anything. Maybe we should all write-in Tom Brokaw as a candidate come Nov. 4. Have you ever read his book The Greatest Generation?

Ben and I started working (I still shudder to call this "work") at 10am, we hemmed the arrangement and close-to-final lyrics for "I Had To Tell You" (a song formerly known as "Living for Myself") for a couple of hours, then met Centricity label-mates Andrew Peterson and Jason Gray for a speedy Gonzalez lunch just down the hill, and afterward walked back up the slope beneath the buzzing power lines to The Beehive where we recorded the 12-string acoustic guitar track and a scratch (non-keeper) vocal for IHTTY.

Today (Day 5) we recorded the 12-string acoustic parts (a strum part and an arpeggiated part) and a scratch vocal for "Louisiana in the Dark", a song I wrote while piling up storm debris at my mother-in-law's curb in Louisiana just days after Labor Day in the aftermath of hurricane Gustav while awaiting my father-in-law's funeral which was delayed by the surrounding turmoil and uncertainties. I am eager to hear how this song turns out. Another mild-mannered mexican lunch, this time beef tacos, was followed by a Hershey bar and our threatening to scale the paving stone bluff back up to the studio. At an 80-degree angle, we climbed to 10 feet above ground and quickly realized that this was not necessarily a smart activity. But, still, the boy (redneck?) in me wanted to throw glass bottles against the retaining wall watching them smash into pieces. Like a child - or a Presidential candidate - I digress. Back at the Hive, after some frustrating tuning issues, we recorded double acoustic guitar tracks for "The Traveling Onion" along with a quick scratch vocal. We knocked off at 4:45, and I began the 30-minute drive home. I'm jealous of Ben who lives maybe five minutes away from the studio. More updates to come as we are set to work the rest of this week. Huzzah.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Plodding Progression

How is it that life can throw a pail of curve balls our way and then expect us to dodge every one of them? That's what my life has felt like over the past month ever since returning home from summer camp. I expected a slow, paint-filled and largely uneventful August, but that came and went. Now, September is blurrily halfway over and I can barely recall its first half. It has been a mournful month thus far with us having experienced the double devastation of losing Danielle's father to cancer and that of hurricane Gustav, all on the very same day.

Ben came to the house this morning, and we worked on developing some of the songs. I believe this is called pre-production, where you tweak, manage, and massage verses, choruses, lyrics, melodies, bridges, or add or subtract dynamics, develop flow and energy as a song moves from point A to point B. It's figuring out how and where to trim the fat and how to get the most out of every single word and note. Most days this would sound like teeth-pulling to a slow-brained person like me, but Ben (Shive) was ridiculously helpful in fine-tuning the lyrics to "Living For Myself", the overall melody to "Come Back A Fool", and the bridge to a song called "Run Down" (think, a takeoff on the rabbit epic, Watership Down).

We started the meeting by my playing him a new song I wrote last week while in south Louisiana chainsawing tree limbs and picking up branches and dragging storm debris to the curb at my newly widowed mother-in-law's house. It is a rare event when I am able to write a song apart from the guitar, so with boots too big, shorts far too baggy, in borrowed gloves, socks and longsleeve shirt, I penned the majority of "Louisiana In The Dark". The heat and humidity, I remember, were rampant. I am grateful for the song, and especially grateful that Ben seemed to sense its gravity and meaning to me in the sad and losing events that transpired on Labor Day 2008. In my mind, the song could more than likely stand alone without any instrumental accompaniment whatsoever -- a rare accomplishment for me.

We broke at noon for leftover spaghetti and chilled Dr. Pepper, and continued work until Danielle and Ellis returned from running errands. Ben and I drove the two minutes it takes to get to nearby Portland Brew where we hashed out budget stuff, and then whittled the song list from 14 down to 10 (maybe 11) songs that we feel are the strongest of the bunch. I have no idea what I'm doing by telling certain songs that they're not up to snuff and are being cut from the team. [I'm an LSU football fan, so, voila, there's your sports analogy. Down, set, hike.] We compared calendars and got a general idea of nailing down some work days. Tracking (drums and bass) day looms near. That means I need to get these songs in really good shape before then.

I'm sure I said this before when I was recording Scarce a few years ago, but I simply cannot overemphasize the value of having a producer, a friend even, who is quite possibly more excited overall about the songs than I am. I realize I'm just another paycheck for Ben - he would never say this - but his genuine enthusiasm and investment in this project is a therapy to me in my lethargy and acedia. We pressed the record button only once today in order to get a quick verse idea down for posterity sake. There were no expensive microphones, no patch cables, no studio hobnobbery, but this day of work, as bare bones as it seems, was quite productive, reassuring and encouraging. Progress, though plodding, is still progress.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Same Vector, Victor

I am back home from a month of playing... er, working... at a Young Life camp in Minnesota. Thirty pleasant days on beautiful Pelican Lake in the midst of some funny, caring and hard-working folks. I feel as though I am ripping in two when I must finally pack up my belongings, sing my last song, and ultimately depart camp headed southeast on MN Highway 59 exiting Otter Tail County. I've spent the past eight summers at this particular property and every year it is the same emotional bomb upon me -- my heart breaks and I sense that I am leaving something so very good, so true to the Kingdom, and authentic. The end of each summer brings tears to my eyes, and this year was no exception. I cried spontaneously from Minnesota to Missouri. My first stop, after leaving camp, at the local gas station or McDonald's is usually a shock to my community-oriented system where I recall, as if slowly waking from a long dream, that the world is not nearly as friendly a place as I had hoped it would have grown up to be. Perhaps one day. I cry and I like friendly people, what can I say.

Home again, and time to get to cracking on the new album. Ben (Shive) is wrapping up production on a young lady's Christmas album, and then we shall get back to work on my as-yet-to-be-named album within the next week or two. That is, unless he fired me.

Thanks for staying tuned in despite my decrepit ability to provide any real news here. The Album Patronage is going well. We've got 50 wondrous folks signed up so far. Only 250 more to go to reach the goal of $15,000. If you're just tuning in for the first time, please read more about the Patronage, and ask any questions you might have. Thanks, folks. More to come.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Album Patronage

Unless Ben has secretly gone and brought in a hired gun to replace me, my songs, and my previously recorded guitar parts, there are no new recording updates to speak of.

However, the Album Patronage, which I have slyly alluded to in the past, is now officially underway. The goal is to raise $15,000. You get CDs, concert tickets, and liner note credits, in return. For more details, visit Eric's Next Record.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

News From Nowhere

Hey folks:
You're probably wondering why there's been no new content published here. I promised consistent updates, but honestly, there's been nothing to report since my last official studio post. Ben has been wrapping up a slew of other album projects (Sara Groves, Allen Levi, etc.) and has been swamped with that work. Myself and my family will be out of town the entire month of July where we'll be volunteering at a Young Life camp in Minnesota (I get to play my music). So, in essence, though Ben will be brewing up production ideas for the album and I will *hopefully* be writing another couple of new tunes while overlooking Pelican Lake, there will be very little, if any, actual recording done for the album. So, I guess I'm writing to tell you that I won't have much to offer you in the way of updates for the next month or so.

Ben and I will hit it hard in August and thereafter. I'm excited about what we're doing, though still in infancy, and I will be cautiously eager for you to hear these songs. Stay tuned to my website for the Album Patronage, coming soon. Thank you all, and to all a goodnight.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ben Shive: The Ill-Tempered Klavier

A reminder to those reading that Ben's brand new album, The Ill-Tempered Klavier, releases today. It will be special. You can order it in the Rabbit Room.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day Two : 6/12/08

Met Ben at 10am and we looked at You Don't Have the Strength (War of Wills), a song I had written on the 5-year anniversary of 9/11. I'm not much into politics, and I certainly don't appreciate mixing politics with entertainment or the arts, but this song is certainly a political statement of sorts, though mild in proportion and not laced with bile or anti-leadership venom as seems customary and trendy these days. It is more of a statement to America on the whole and our constant waffling on foreign and domestic issues. It's not that I'm trying to be a jerk in this song, but for a mild civilian like myself, this feels like I'm screaming at the top of my lungs the way Elisha, as bald as a paved street, might have done when he called down the she-bears on those cub scouts who were mocking him in the Old Testament story (2 Kings 2:23-24). I imagine that you might one day have more questions about this song once the album is released, so perhaps we could pick back up with this topic at a later date. Besides, maybe I'll later come to realize that the song is not at all a political statement, just my way of griping at the way things are, and issuing a challenge.

We ate lunch at The Copper Kettle, a superb little meat-n-three (apparently, this is an exclusively southern dining experience). The "meat" stands for meat; sometimes pot roast, sometimes chicken, sometimes meatloaf. The "-n-three" stands for the number of sides you get; sometimes actual veggies, sometimes mashed potatoes, sometimes salad, sometimes mac & cheese. Today was yummy coconut fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. None of it is good for your arteries.

Back to the Nest where I got Ben's remarkably astute opinion on some first verse lyric changes to better set the tone for the song, In the Movies. This song is about the vices that maim and destroy marriages. This is about some friends of ours who experienced this first-hand. At some point after I'd recorded the guitar part, Ben had to edit it, whereupon I "wrote" jingle #2 ("Editing in Pro Tools"). I should start recording these jingles for posterity sake.

We knocked off early since I had to drive out to the airport to pick up Danielle and Ellis who had been gone for the better part of two weeks in Louisiana where she was taking care of her ill dad. Our house has been way too quiet and I have noticed a growing loneliness in the plaster walls of our home while they were away. It is more than good to hear their reverberations echoing throughout the house again.

Day One: 6/10/08

Late this morning, Ben and I met at Andy Gullahorn's studio, The Night Owl's Nest, to work on final song arrangements, tweak/clarify lyrics, and officially begin recording this album. From the moment I asked Ben to produce it, we've never been quite sure where we'd wind up working since Ben does not have a work space to call his own yet. So, it worked out well that Andy & Jill (Phillips) were out of town for the week, and allowed us to use their studio while they're away. Neither Ben nor I are much in the way of late night owlery, since we both have little ones at home who like to wake up bright and early in the morning, but I do happen to like birds, so perhaps that gives me some small modicum of credence in recording at such an ornithologically-named studio. Neither here nor there...

Ben set up a couple of condenser mics behind the makeshift baffling (jingle #1) while I checked email and mentioned to him that I was thinking of "going viral and blogging it out". He and Nick seemed to think that a few folks might find this album journaling process interesting. I wanted Ben to hear a new song I'd been working on, so I sat on the futon and played him what I had of Sad to Watch You Wave on the 12-string guitar. He responded favorably, so we worked on the arrangement (basically, how to get from point A to point B, from beginning to end), he provided some great imagery to help clarify the first verse, and away we went to record the main acoustic guitar part. I sang a scratch vocal (a very rough, non-keeper vocal, just so the other musicians can have a roadmap of the song) and then we broke for lunch since we had started late. We were set on a generic Mexican meal when we happened upon my new favorite Thai place in town, Thai Kitchen. Here, we wound up downing Pad Thai noodles, an excellent spring roll, flat soft drinks, and lots of intermittent spices. A good start to the meals-eaten-while-recording experience. Next up was to record a keeper 12-string acoustic guitar for I Will Go With You, a song I wrote for my son, Ellis. I sang a scratch vocal for it and that was the end of day one. A healthy start. 

I've noticed that it's been a little difficult honing on the actual keys for some of these tunes. Some feel too low for my voice in the verses, while getting pretty high, and challenging, by the time the chorus kicks in. It will be interesting to see how my non-25 year-old voice handles it once we begin recording vocals. More on that later.

Note: If you're a recording-phile (audiophile?), you're probably already wondering why we seem to be working backwards tracking acoustic guitars first, not drums and bass as is customary. Brent Milligan did this when he produced Scarce and Land of the Living, and I absolutely love the way it worked, placing the absolute essence of the song - me & the guitar - before any of the supportive production values. He built the production around the basic elements of the tune itself. I thought it worked well. This way, the song hopefully stands on its own when I get out and play these songs live in a solo setting. Or maybe not.


Hello from Nashville, TN!

I'm thrilled that you are willing to follow along and watch (or help, as the case may be) as I connect the dots for this, as yet untitled album #8, in this vocational career of a husband, father, and indie singer-songwriter. Thank you for being here and for being interested enough to spend a few moments with me *hopefully* each working day as I catalogue the recording process with my good friend and producer, Ben Shive. Also, I've begged Ben to occasionally offer up some of his own witty insights and thoughts along the way as we press the "record" button, eat good food, tidy up songs to their purest form, and perhaps even pen a few unsaleable jingles together (which has already begun).

Thank you for being you and for being here. Here's to good vibes, great signal paths, and a collection of worthwhile, edifying material. I'm so glad you are for me, not against me.