Thursday, August 7, 2008

Session 8: Dodging Edouard – August 5 Recording Session

In a summer this hot and dry, the phrase “60% chance of showers, some of them intense” is usually encouraging. It usually is accompanied by wistful smiles of anticipation. This is how it normally is for the four members of The Tim and Bob Show as well, but not this summer. We’ve already documented the sieve-like nature of the roof at Mandala Music, and how Bett and Joël often have to camp out on the premises overnight if rain is forecast to ensure that none of the sensitive recording equipment gets damaged. And so it was that the fact that it was a good 15 degrees cooler than any of our previous recording sessions [83 degrees!] as we approached San Antonio’s Southtown, didn’t give us any of the relief that it should have.

We began watching the skies in the early afternoon. TS Edouard was hitting the Texas coast around Houston and was supposed to proceed northwest of Austin. If this turned out to be true, and if we continued to be at the weaker, southern, outer edge of its rain band, then we should be okay. Of course, tropical storms either have a mind of their own or no mind at all. As early as 1 in the afternoon, we could hear the echoes of thunder. I kept in touch with Steve and Bett, and we all agreed to give it a shot and hope for the best.

In preparation for the gig, the three of us – Kathy was in New Mexico this week on business – had reviewed the rough cut of four tunes Mary Lou and I picked up Monday afternoon. Once again, we developed a script detailing what we – the musicians – needed to do, and what Joël – the magician – needed to do. We could tell by listening to the four tunes that Joël had made good use of studio time when we weren’t there. Guitars sounded “fatter;” there was the odd dash of echo here and there. The little touches that make a finished product sound “finished” were starting to appear. We were all getting a bit excited.

This is not to say that we had no notes for the session. On the contrary, we had comments on no fewer than seven tunes. We knew that we needed Kathy to be able to listen to “South Texas Saturday Night” before we could decide on whether or not percussion was required, and we also knew that we hadn’t reached a consensus on whether “Sweet Music Man” was “pure and unadorned” or “thin and in need of instrumentation,” but we still gave ourselves a list of 5 songs to work on. We figured that this would take up plenty of the four hours ahead of us.

The four of us had already discussed enhancements to “Looking Back” and “Decisions.” Each required an additional guitar track from Steve and from me. We started at 6 o’clock, and by 7:35pm, both songs were passed on to the “ready for Joël” category. Things were moving along.

Everything Sounds Like a Song” was next. At our request, Joël had added some finger chimes in a few places. Steve, Mary Lou, and I all had different ideas about the efficacy of adding more chimes in more places. In classic Tim and Bob Show fashion, everyone’s point of view was heard and considered, and then we came to a consensus that embraced but did not exactly replicate any individual’s initial desires. Joël was able to adjust the chimes to our liking, and then Steve laid down a guitar track that considered of down-strumming a low E-minor chord four times. After that simple enhancement, this song also slipped into Joël’s in-basket.

Next up was “Raccoon Rumble-seat”. This song is a classic blues-screamer in E that I began writing about 30 or so years ago. Some time in the mid-1970s, my friend Bruce Limpus handed me a slip of paper with these words on it: “I got my bottle of bootleg gin. I ain’t gonna let no depression set in. I’m at the raccoon rumble-seat flapper-dan crystal ball.” It took me only another five years or so to add enough lyrics to make this into a standard 1-4-5-1 blues. I had pretty much forgotten about it until Steve and I formed the group. We had so few songs in our repertoire at the time, and the key of E is so much fun for guitar players, we added this one almost at once. Steve’s assistance with the song’s structure and his scorching solos over the last couple of years have more than qualified him for co-writer status. From the beginning, Steve wanted two things for this song. First, the two guitars needed to be recorded on a single track. We slow down and speed up and trade licks when we do this live, all of it cued visually between us. This is almost impossible to replicate “one track at a time.” Steve’s other plan was for me to record the vocal late in a tiring session so my voice would be rougher than usual.

The original recording satisfied both those desires. Steve then added a nice rhythm track, and, when we heard this on the rough cut, we had only a couple of “I gottas” to discuss. Joël was able to dispose of them and fix the track in only EIGHT MINUTES. Man, we were seriously smoking. We were about two hours and 15 minutes into our session and had completed all band work on four more songs. Then came “Light in the Night.”

This was the first song we had recorded, and we did it without the clicker – the little metronome thingy that keeps us on tempo. I’m the rhythm player on this song, and I have a bitch of a time with the metronome. Why? Because my rhythms tend to be a little syncopated and this doesn’t work well. So, we recorded it without the clicker. Mistake. On stage we each can keep the other from running away with the tempo on a song with looks or other cues. We didn’t have this opportunity, and so it turned out faster than we’ve ever played it on stage. Since the lyrics are more symbolic than concrete, going fast isn’t a good idea. Unfortunately, we were so new to the process, that we recorded all the vocals and all the guitars all at that breakneck speed. When we heard it, each of us was sick. Money is a little tight in Tim and Bob Land, and we thought about just leaving it. But then we realized that if we left it, we’d hate it every time we heard it played. So, it came down to two choices: start from scratch, or forget the song entirely and go with 13 songs on the CD.

Since we were moving along so nicely, we decided to re-record it. Steve took the initial rhythm track, since he’s much more disciplined than I am in using the clicker. One take got it down. Then I added my rhythm track. So far still so good. Steve then added his lead track. There’s a simple, but gutsy lick here that makes the song rock. As a matter of fact, that lick came before anything else in the song. So, three guitar tracks down and it was time for vocals. As we do with a lot of the songs we cover, Steve and I trade off, with one taking the melody and the other the harmony and, then, switching off at points. This song was written that way, so we needed to do a single vocal track with each of us singing. This is fine, except that one of us making just a little gaffe will, in effect, kill two tracks. We took a lot of time knocking off the rough edges, but we still had all of “Light In the Night” in the can one hour and fifteen minutes after we started. I’m glad we didn’t decide to ditch it. I really like this song.

At this point, it was 9:30pm and we had completed work on five songs. Joël said he’d get a rough cut of “Light in the Night” for us ASAP so we could be prepared for Monday’s session. We’ll have Kathy back in time for Friday night’s gig, and so I’m confident we can work out a script for the three songs not yet fully in Joël’s hands in plenty of time. Joël is guessing that he’ll need a total of four more studio hours to complete all the mixing. The mastering should be fairly speedy, and then we’ll have something to deliver to the presser.

It’s amazing to me. It was only three years ago this month that the band played for the first time. Our gig on August 2, 2008 was our 100th. We started with a repertoire of roughly 30 songs, and now that repertoire includes 159 songs. We’re a cover band about to produce our first CD with 12 original songs on it. When she was setting up microphones for our vocal track, Bett mentioned to me that she and Joël were still waiting for our first in-studio temper tantrum. She was amazed that we had spent so much time working so hard and concentrating on each second of each person’s performance, and we still spent most of our non-recording time laughing. I said that in three years I could only remember about 5 or 6 even momentary losses of temper. I guess it’s just not in our nature.

Well, another gig on Friday, a team meeting on Saturday – wine will be involved – and then into the studio. Life is good when you play rock ‘n roll. Oh, by the way, the rain never really showed up here in San Antonio.

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