Monday, August 4, 2008

Session 7 and beyond, culminating on August 2, 2008

It's been a long, strange trip getting this CD done. The first few sessions went by like clockwork, and then came the complications. The rain, the heat, the difficulties in breathing, the difficulties in getting “the message” in both directions. It’s been interesting.

Most recently, the problem has been illness. Steve was seriously hammered by one of his periodic allergy related sinus infections and, just as he was beginning to recover, Joël was knocked sideways by food poisoning. This, added to a long illness followed by a bereavement in Joël’s circle, tended to weaken the unity and the focus of the four band members and the two producers. It was in view of the fact that Joël was just recovering and that we had a long, demanding gig that evening, that Saturday’s recording session was scheduled for only two hours – between 10 and 12 in the morning. Our plan was to try to “fix” everything we could that required Kathy, since she was leaving town on business on Sunday and would miss our next session the following Tuesday. We weren’t sure how much we could get done, but we had taken the time to take copious notes on the “rough tracks” Joël gave us, and we arrived at the studio very well prepared.

As it turned out, the two hours we spent were extremely productive. Joël’s method is to complete all the mixing of the various tracks before he goes on to the mastering phase. Our plan to augment that was to provide several observations to help him with his mastering, coupled with a list of things that band members could do to augment the tracks. The most recent rough cut CD including some studio enhancements – “fattening” the guitar tracks and adding some echo to the vocals. We do a lot of multiple harmonies live, and we wanted to make sure that each voice could be heard clearly with none of them at a volume so as to be at the expense of any other. This is, of course, why Mandala Music gets the big bucks. Well, they’re getting our bucks in any event. [If you’d like a simplified overview of the relationship between musicians and producers, your attention is gently invited to the last few lines of the refrain of Ben Fold’s song “Rockin’ the Suburbs.”]

The first thing we did was to revisit “Take It Like a Man.” We came in thinking that we might have to redo the percussion track, both because the claves sounded a bit weak and also because there was a loss of tempo at one point. Luckily, Joël was able to take care of both these problems just by [warning! technical jargon follows] adjusting the thing-y and moving some stuff around. We also realized that we didn’t have to rework my guitar solo at the end. The track was there all along. All Joël had to do was bring up the volume. When we agreed that there was also nothing that needed to be done to Kathy’s lead vocal, “Take It Like a Man” was deemed “ready for final mixing.”

Given this quick resolution, we pressed on apace. How fast? Well, we fixed the “fullness” problem with “Love in Three-Quarter Time” simply by adding an additional guitar track. We were prepared to add a percussion track as well, but the basic act of down-strumming at each chord change provided the extra warmth we needed. Steve was also unhappy with his counterpoint vocals and re-recorded both of them. One more song in the “to be mixed” bag.

When we listened to “Fast” on the rough cut CD, Steve decided that we needed a couple of well-placed oohs. Steve figured out the melody and asked me to add a harmony. The idea was to teach both to the girls. In the end, he was comfortable with how we did it, so, two more mini-vocal tracks, and this beautiful song was already sliding over into Joël’s in-basket.

Then came the CD’s title song: “Take It Outside.” I knew it was much too easy for me when I got both my rhythm guitar track and my vocal track in one take each. There were two gaps in the guitar track where I had rushed the rest by about a second in each instance. It didn’t sound too bad at the time, but after Steve added his lead track and we had a chance to listen to it repeatedly, we knew we had to got back and add more guitar. No problem. After Steve did a little lead “noodling” to the song’s intro, THAT song was also ready for Joël’s magic.

By this point, we were most definitely in fast forward mode. On Mary Lou’s song, “Sweet Music Man,” we knew we needed some more instrumentation, but we only brought one concrete idea into the studio. Once again, as he had with “Love in Three-Quarter Time,” Steve added a very simple rhythm pattern that filled the song out nicely. We know we’d like to do a couple more things to the song, and we enlisted Joël’s and Bett’s brainstorming skills. We’re hoping to hear something from them on that next session.

Finally finished with what we thought we could do, I was busily packing stuff up and toting it out to the car when I heard, at our request, what Joël had done to “Everything Sounds Like a Song.” It’s amazing what finger chimes can do. We’re going to concentrate on this track, along with “Raccoon Rumble-seat,” “Light in the Night,” “South Texas Saturday Night,” ”Decisions” and “Looking Back” in our next session – please let’s have the entire four hours this time. We’re not committed to completing everything in our next session, but we ARE committed to having everything mixed and mastered by the end of this month. Once that happens, and once we’ve got our cover art, and CD innards, plus our CD release party details ironed out, we can start thinking about nagging everyone in the universe who knows us to buy it. We’re pretty discerning critics of our own work and we’re really beginning to like what we hear.

So keep your checkbooks dry and watch the skies for the release date. Until then, watch this space for our next chapter in the recording blog.

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