Sunday, February 17, 2008

eight songs in

Yesterday, after an evening spent whooping it up at an "Anti-Valentine's Day" party, it was back to Newburyport for more vocal tracking. Fatigue and hangover were weighing on my head, but let's just say that I have learned to love a challenge, no matter what form in which it appears...on the plus side I managed to get the vocal/guitar track for a new tune that has proven to be more difficult for me than other tunes. Called "walking (to wake)" it was one of those tunes that, when I first heard it in my head, it had a couple of vocal parts where I said to myself "NO WAY you can sing that...give it up...". Usually, I would resign such song ideas to a mental box called "Come Back and Sing Me When You Learn How To Sing" but I got stubborn this time. Actually, went out and took a [dramatic pause...] voice lesson...yeah...weird... And then I relentlessly practiced the tune (and the voice lesson) for a couple of weeks until I began to hit the notes I had in my head.

Kudos to Mike Null for spontaneously composing an instrumental bridge for the tune, too. It will definitely add to the ambient impact of the song. You can read more about that on his blog.

So I got that tune down, plus two others. Then, the voice began to fall apart (after 4 hours I will quickly add...) Compared to the previous session, I will admit that a night of celebration can lead to a day-after of lessened productivity...but we are making good progress nonetheless. This project can loosely be divided into two parts: solo songs and band songs. [Note to Reader: "band" songs do not necessarily mean songs from The Jody Grind's (un-recorded) fact almost all of them are not Grind merely means there might be some percussion in the mix, which changes the whole dymanic...] The solo songs all now have vocal tracks, and now they will be put through the ringer of sonic wizardry courtesy of Tom Eaton and Mike. Textures, ambience, and the occasional fiddle or accordion will round out the sounds...I can't wait to get started on that part of the process! I feel like a kid in candy store! Let me revise that: I feel like a kid WITH NO FOOD ALLERGIES in a candy store...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

First Day In The Studio!

Wow. It has been a long crazy trip to this current predicament...but I don't want to focus on the past, I want to look with diamond-like focus on The Present. Last Saturday, February 9, marked my first day in the studio, beginning the actual tracking for my first "solo" album. Five basic vocal tracks were completed, along with some acoustic guitar backing, laying down the groundwork for a good chunk of the album.

For those of you who don't know, I was devoted as a songwriter to my first band, The Jody Grind, for many years since I (along with Mike Null and Sara Colb) founded the band back in 2002. But for the past 6-7 years, I have also been writing material that did not really fit into the band mold very well...where The Grind was more uptempo and jam-band-esque, many of my songs were downtempo and melancholy, lonely, shy, quiet, the kinds of songs that remind one of late nights, midnight musings, lost chances, squandered opportunities, quiet reflections on a dead rat in an alley, its corpse grinning back at you with gruesome confidence...

[Note to Reader: I have never actually written a song about a dead rat in an alley...]

Seriously though, I came to this project with 23 songs in consideration. Songs are like children. Some know exactly what they are and they develop quickly and BANG! off into the world they GO. You see them go and you feel like the proud parent. Other songs seem to take more time to coalesce, to "get their shit together" so to speak...but as years pass the ones that remain standing still plead to be recognized, to be released, to be let loose into the wide universe. So most of the songs being recorded now are of this latter variety, and I have also thrown in a couple of new ones just to keep it interesting. It is going to be a wild ride!

Recording is taking place at Tom Eaton's studio in Newburyport, MA. My initial impressions of Tom and the studio are that I could not have picked a better place to do this project. Tom seems to already intuitively understand what I am looking for in the songs so far, and he brings to the table many impressive skills as an engineer and as an architect of recorded sound. Overall, the record is being co-produced by Tom and Mike Null. I have been friends with Mike Null for many years, and we have a particular musical chemistry that cannot be easily found. His contributions to the project have already been indispensable. I very much look forward to the next session (this coming Saturday, to be exact)!

However, I forgot how challenging recording can be...I was very excited to finally get the ball rolling after many weeks of pre-production (where we whittled down the 23 tunes to 18) and when I finally found myself in the booth with four microphones pointed at me, I remembered how recording can also be quite a test for your head. Your state of mind becomes dramatically affected by the process and you really need to dig deep within your head/heart and focus on what you are doing, lest the anxieties and unwelcome analyses gain ground and wreak havoc. Recording in some sense is like bringing forward a jar of beautiful, multi-colored beetles that you found in the forest. You bring them to the studio and one by one they are removed from the jar. A pointed nail is riven through their backside and they are placed, in the final squirms of near-death struggle, under a glass case. The glass case is then locked and you are handed back the now-preserved specimen. You know that this is for the best, because now more people will be able to experience the beetle in its present state. Research can now be done, students on various field trips can now walk by and gape in total safety at the dead insect, progress can be made on how we relate to this multi-colored phenomenon of the forest. And who knows...we might actually learn something about our world (or even ourselves) as a result of studying these dead insects! But you (as beetle collector) know that now there is no going back, and that something has fundamentally changed. The beetle no longer belongs to you (not that it ever really did for that matter) now belongs to anyone who happens to walk by and glance through the glass enclosure.

You might think the beetles in the previous analogy are songs...this is partially true. But the metaphor can be extended in that each beetle represents each detail of every song: every phrase and the way it is delivered, the way words fall over the chord changes at the exact moment of recording, the precise strum of the guitar at each moment, the random extra note that all of the sudden appears, etc., etc.

Recording pressures aside, I am excited and optimistic about this project! Together with Mike and Tom, I think we are going to have a great time making this record. Once finished, I hope it will be a collection of songs that walk confidently and gracefully into the big blue world.