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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Off the Beat N Tracks Recording Session #1

I stopped to get a cup of coffee, but could not find the $200 that I knew I had taken out of the bank just the day before--what to do???? Turning around and going back home to search for it meant I would certainly be late--and I suspected that my seriousness about this project was something that I needed to SHOW all involved....I wanted everyone to be working hard on my project and not taking it as the 'vanity project' I liked to say it was.....and besides, I am ALWAYS late....

I did find a couple dollars so that I could buy an egg and cheese on a biscuit, and, along with my coffee, that would hold me until lunch. I got back on the road and tried hard not to drive fast enough to attract the interest of the troopers.

When I pulled into the driveway five minutes late, every one but the producer, Todd Mack, was inside the studio and set up. Oh yeah, and ME. Todd came out of his house, still eating breakfast, and helped me with my guitar. He explained why I would not be needing it--since I would not be actually recording my vocals or guitar work today, he would like me to play his tele to minimize 'bleeding' into the drum mics, which is the part that we would be recording today.

The drum set was off to the side of the room, but looked to my eyes to be taking up more than its share of space, with all the mics on stands directed this way and that way over it and on the sides, and under and every which -a-way....and I immediately figured out why it took a couple hours to get THAT set up properly. I was introduced to Rob Sanzone, who would be the drummer on my CD. He turns out to be a joy to work with, and I hope that he will also be able to work with me on this project more in the future (I hear he plays a lot of different instruments.....really good).

My friend, mentor, and teacher, David Hodge, already had his bass strapped on, along with the smile that makes me instantly more relaxed, always. 

And Will Curtis, who I had worked with on the demo, was smiling HIS smile, which never seems to leave his face except when he is thinking HARD about something concerning the switches, knobs, levers, monitors and other assorted fear-inducing gear that is his domain. The Engineer.

The pleasantries are brief before Todd explains what he wants me to do and we set to work. It took a few songs for us to get a working rhythm going, but the professionalism mixed with good natured banter was great from the start. Basically, I would play the song while Rob tried this and that on the drums....I would often give a little instruction at the beginning as to the story, or the mood of the piece, or some other thing just to give the men an idea of the song as I saw it. Then maybe I would ask for a more simple part, or David would suggest a fill, or Todd ask for a certain sound ('a little more snare'), but what you will hear on the CD is just about *all* the hard work and soul of Rob. At one point, pretty far into the session, actually, I did comment that 'Neil Young is my musical hero by far above everyone else, and he is ALL about the feel and that is where I want to go with my music, too....I want it to sound good, yes, but more from FEEL than from perfection.' After that, decisions were made based mostly on 'spirit' and 'feel' than on 'notes' and 'beats'. Perfect.

I have been frustrated often, listening to my friend's CDs--they often don't sound like the person I know, but all spiffed and polished and cultured. Maybe they wanted the CD to sound like that, but I don't. I want my CD to sound like me, and I am not spiffed, polished OR cultured. I don't want it to sound sloppy or have bad notes or out of tune guitars or whatever. But I DO want it to sound organic and alive and and like me.....or rather like my BEST. 

The first time that Todd changed my song arrangement, I have to admit I got a bug up my arse. I don't know if he knew, but I did. And then he convinced me to try it, and I did and he was right and that sort of set the stage from then on in.....yeah, I am the artist, but Todd's art is to craft my songs into a CD. And his sense of what to do when and where was really spot on. 

And always such a great support, a great musician, with a great ear, a great trove of ideas to use and a great sense of when to do so.....he IS inspiration.

So, we played on......
And on.......
And on.......

Six and a half hours, with bathroom breaks, but really, we WORKED for six and a half straight hours. Playing. Singing. Suggesting. Trying. Deciding. Recording. 

Standing stock still after finishing for that looooooong silence after the take. 

When we finally did all the songs and Todd said, ok, let's listen, I thought perhaps three hours had gone by. LOL.

I wish I could remember more details, how we got certain ideas, the process we used to make decisions, but I can not. I remember Rob telling me, 'I trust Todd's ear', with the air about him that he was giving me some advice I would do well to heed. I remember how well Rob took my nebulous directions ('I want a lot of spook in this song') and Todd's ('little more kick drum') and DID IT. I remember watching David's face, eye's closed, feeling the song out, listening for the bass line the song wanted. It was a wonderful experience to be in the middle of those artists, calling on their creativity, their muses, to add to music that came from MY muse....


So we listened, and decided which track would be the drum track for the CD. Just decided. Sometimes, it would be obvious, but often, we listened again. The decision usually went to the track that showed Feel. But some had no decent takes, and we went back and did some more.

In all, this one thing, laying down drums, took eight hours. And I can't even remember the arrangements we came up with so that I can practice them. I left tired and energized and very very hungry.....LOL. I bet everyone was.....

I can't wait to go back and work some more.....

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