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.