Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mondays at the Rover....

....have been extended through May. We're going 9 to midnight -- come on out!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Studio Blog: "Calling You Out," day 2

Going out to Mark's studio this past Wednesday, I had, for the first time in a while, this amazing Zen-like feeling that everything was where it should be in my life. I mean, let's not even get into my dating situation -- that's always a mistake, and no one should ever ask how that's going, because like I ever know. Still, it's nice to be working on something again, and to have that feeling that this time it's going to be different, better.

When I showed up, Mark and Abby were rehearsing for her Living Room residency (which I haven't been able to go to because my Rover gig conflicts, which is I guess show biz, but it's really great that she has this opportunity and I hope it finishes well), and I got to zone out listening to her and a few of the finest vocalists in NYC work on harmonies for the final blowout set they have planned for week 4. Great stuff. We all shot the shit a little as they were on their way out, and after a little while I remembered each of them from some thing or other and we talked about how much fun that is, then we all moved on.

After a few listens at my rough draft, and a conversation about dynamics, we started work on the piano part. I'm proud to say that I played most of it, except for a figure that Mark suggested go a different way, which sounded so good I was like, "Well, play that then." We stripped down some of my ideas, fleshed out a few others, then moved on to drums.

When Mark does drum tracks, he pulls out only the pieces he's going to use. In this case, he started with just kick and snare, then played through once and said, "I think one cymbal." Then he pulled out some brushes and went to work. He's a completely vanity-free drummer -- the fills were present but not fancy, lots of space given to what was already on the track. A couple of times, we talked through some sections, me going "how about boomDAKboom instead of boomDAKKAboom...."

On one note in particular, we auditioned a series of zzzzzing sounds from his cymbal until I realized that the reason we weren't getting the one I was hearing was that he was holding the handle in such a way as to prevent an attack at the top of it, so I showed him what I meant, and he recorded the Tik-zzzzzzing that I had been going for. It was a cool moment.

Last, we worked on guitar. I did a standard open-strum background to thicken up the sound a bit, as I tend to do when I record at home, then dropped in the lead phrase from the demo with some minor revisions, and some harmonics to sweeten up the breakdown. My favorite part was adding lead bits to the second verse. Because I wanted the guitar to sound as open as possible, and because I'm an inexperienced lead player whose ideas don't always translate well to performance, I used the capo in two separate positions to get the little interjections. All in all, we got a lot done on this track -- all that really remains is to do some vocal bedding (which I longed to do and never got to do on the last album), and we can move on to the next song.

I love this process, so far, a great deal more than the one on the last few albums I've made, which have involved rehearsing a band, going in, doing basic tracks, then fleshing those out. Building a track from a straight acoustic performance is how all of my home recordings were done, and I missed that method so much. It's gonna take a little while, but I think we're going to have something good at the end of it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Studio Blog: PreProd in record time, "Calling You Out"

The first day in the studio with a producer like Mark is all about pre-production. The two of you sit across from each other and talk about your music. You play him a song, he listens to it beginning to end and makes notes about how to make it flow better, trim excess time, tighten up the intros and outros. That's usually the whole day, and then the next week maybe you start recording.

I am proud to say that after about an hour and a half, give or take, we were ready to start recording "Calling You Out." Mark listened to eight of my songs, all of which he felt were already tight enough on their own, all of which he felt began and ended strongly. When a producer and an artist agree on all the issues of flow and time, it's a great start. By process of elimination, we decided to start with "Calling You Out," because it's a very accessible song that will allow us to feel out our process without getting too bogged down in the technical aspects of the composition.

The version we started with felt a little slow to me, but not to Mark, so he made a strong pitch for why it worked. I was ready to acquiesce when he said, "But let's try it faster anyway. Who knows?"

I played it maybe two clicks faster than last time, and it was like night and day. We listened to the two versions back-to-back, and I said, "It's minute," and he said, "Yeah, but wow, what a difference, huh? I'm glad we did that."

At the end of the day, I went home with a reference mix waiting in my inbox, with scratch lead vocal, completed acoustic guitar, bass guitar and shaker tracks, and a fully developed idea for a piano motif.

I spent some time today (two days later) playing with my Zoom HD8, sketching out ideas for background vocals, lead acoustic guitar, and laying in the full idea for the keyboard part. This is invaluable, because when I go back next week, I'll have fully formed ideas for what I want to do, instead of vague stuff that we hedge around.

Dudes, I am so psyched.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Studio Blog: Introduction

I've looked around for about two years for someone to work with on the new album -- recording in Pittsburgh would have meant too much travel expense, and I want to be more present during the process this time around. Last time, I wasn't there for half of the sessions, allowing the producer leeway to play through his ideas until he found something he was happy with, and it worked to my detriment.

I can't stress enough that I think "Boy Meets Girl" is a perfectly good, listenable album -- I've re-ordered, which is the goal of any independent release -- but the point of my solo career, at the end of the day, should be to be this guy with an acoustic guitar, and "Boy Meets Girl" doesn't reflect that so much as ask you to infer it. This time around, I'm putting my styling on shout, and gambling that it will work.

When I moved to New York from Pittsburgh, I had the good fortune to become re-acquainted with some of my fellow exports: Jamie Rae,
Jenna Nicholls,
Brian Halloran, and Abby Ahmad are the four that immediately spring to mind, and as best as I could, I set out to incorporate them into my showcases in Astoria.

During Abby's set at my earliest showcase, at Winegasm, she played this awesome song called "Landing Gear" that, well, picture "Time For Change" with an expanded focus, one that nailed pretty much the national post-9/11 outlook. The best part of the song for me, though, was this intense rhythm figure that ends with her fully spanking her guitar. "Wow," I thought, "That is NASTY. And AWESOME. And will never be recorded."

In the studio, things tend to change. Microphones placed to the left of the soundhole of your guitar will pick up the sound of you playing your guitar if you're a standard player, with a plectrum or a supreme grasp of the fingerpicking styles of Robert Johnson and the like. However, if you want to spank your guitar, the only sound that mic is going to pick up will sound like a mistake. I was certain that they would take out Abby's spanking noise and make it part of a percussionist's figure, or worse, turn it into a snare hit.

Then the album, "Curriculum," came out, and it was there! Not only was it there, but it was the catalyst for this awesome chain reaction of nervous tom hits. Abby's producer/boyfriend, Mark Marshall, had completely bowled me over. I have pored over this album, and I can tell you it is a piece of incredible worth, an intimate portrait of Abby's style and attitude. The end of "Lost on Me," a later track on the disc, has this crazy drum fill that feels like frustration is melting away from her every time it attacks, with a rhythmic incongruity not unlike a dresser falling headlong down a flight of stairs. Fantastic.

I had a meeting with Mark, and we talked a lot -- about "BMG," about "Curriculum," about the album I want to make and the music each of us listen to, the approaches we've taken and would like to take. It was like a choir preaching to another choir that modeled themselves on the choir that is preaching to them. Kind of amazing.

I'll keep you guys posted as more stuff happens.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When I was a drama kid, I was required to take Theatre History.  It was mind-numbing for most of the time, but one awesome thing I took from it was a tidbit about vaudeville actors.  Apparently, when vaudeville was in its prime, two complete strangers could meet at the stage entrance, compare notes, and do an entire show, no rehearsal required, just by creating a rundown of pre-established bits that were being done all across the land.  Mind-boggling, right?

Last night, Andy Mac and I did our first of at least four, and hopefully more, gigs at the Irish Rover in Astoria.  We've done hour-long sets before, and on one occasion, we traded sets (I helped him out when his voice went out) at the Diving Bell, but we had never done three full hours together. 

Andy is a consummate professional -- when I tell you that I play a lot, know that Andy plays even more often.  When he's not doing his own shows, he's doing sideman gigs as a percussionist.... Which is what he thought he was going to be doing last night.  I surprised him by learning the first half of his latest album, "Struggle Fantastic," and having the charts at the ready (I had practiced with my iPod so I could nail it at the show.)

Other neat things happened -- we played a completely new song, "Is It Enough," which literally had never been played at a show, much less in front of people.  I showed it to Andy as we were setting up, he made a suggestion about the prechorus, and an hour later, we just shot it out into the air.  That was rad.  Also, a version of "Use Me" where we traded verses.

I think my favorite part was when we played "The Way Things Are," which Andy had never heard or played before, and we got to the bridge, with its bouncy rhythm change-up, and he landed on the cue of me bouncing on my toes to indicate that the change was happening.  Totally non-verbal, totally awesome.  Can't wait to do it again.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mondays at the Rover

For those of you that don't know, the Irish Rover is located on 38th St and 28th Ave, in my home base of Astoria.  Every third drink is free!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's

March 31st, 2008, I had just finished moving my stuff from Pittsburgh (home for over 20 years) to New York, assisted and enabled by the ever-generous Kari, and was struck by inspiration. I was never one to go for April Fool's jokes, but this one couldn't be missed!

The morning's MySpace bulletin read:

"Ha! I got all of you -- I didn't move to New York! I just found a smaller place on the South Side -- I wanted to be close to the scene again.

Come hang out with me tonight at Dee's, I'll be there at 10:00 sharp."

This afternoon, my karma returned to me when my roommate's prank of telling our absentee roommate that there was something wrong with the toilet resulted in a chain of concerned calls, which then resulted in the caretaker waking me up from a much-needed nap.