Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SolidTube at Wild One Music

Feb.15. Ah, as I write this, I'm looking out the window and see the first Austrian snowfall since my arrival. Yesterdau ehj sdh iutet ...oh, sorry, I should know better than to type while looking outside! Let me start over...Yesterday was our first day at Wild One Music studio. On my calendar I had predicted the following schedule:

11:00 AM Arrive at Studio for load in. Set up drums.
12.00 Noon Set up drum microphones and line check.
2:00 PM Set up guitar amps for basic tracks.
4:00 PM Begin playing first track(Know Me) Address/correct/adjust any technical issues.
5:00 PM Dinner break(get the band out of the studio)
6:00 PM Begin running "Know Me"
8:00 PM Go Home after hopefully accomplishing all of the above.

How did we do? Well, because this band is very excited to be making their first studio album, and because they harbor mixed feelings as to wether I am a maniac or not, the studio arrival was on time. We have really tweaked the budget to insure ample studio time, but the concept of "roadies" is still in the future. Julio the drummer chipped in by lugging a guitar cable down the stairs to the studio but I thought he got the better end of the deal when I saw Mandana dragging his bass drum case out of the van.

Actually, we met every time deadline. The day went like clockwork...Cuckoo clock that is. We accomplished everything we needed to and by the schedule I had set for us, but not without the cuckoo popping out occasionally to remind us that shit happens...and often. Different snare drums, different mics, bad cables...and the biggest problem, no milk for the coffee!

Jakob the guitarist( newly renamed Chi-Chi) is now officially a rock recording musician. He reached a personal goal by dusting a sweet old Vox AC30. I don't know why I should have been surprised. The amp was sounding absolutely fabulous...and in my experience, that is usually when they give up the ghost. So we went to plan B and set up his Orange head with one of the studio's vintage Marshall 4x12 speaker cabinets, a sweet basketweave loaded with vintage Celestion greenbacks. The Vox is now at the dentist's having a tooth filled and we'll have another stab at finishing it off when we do overdubs.

Mike is playing through his Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. The studio has a great set up that allows us to run the speaker output of the amp to an isolated cabinet. This cuts down the sound level in the room and the entire rhythm section can record together in the same proximity as rehearsals.

The bass will be recorded directly to Protools through an Avalon pre-amp. Paulie got out his great sounding Fender and tested the system. After all of the basic tracks are cut we will run the recorded bass tracks back through a live amp and add that to the mix for space and dimension. Paulie and I will be sharing the bass chair and I've brought a few of my babies along to give some variety to the bottom end. The '66 Höfner Violin bass will rear it's head on two songs and there will be some subtle fretless here and there. I was really happily surprised when I put the fretless Jazz in Paulie's hands. Every once in a while two things collide to make magic and from the first note I knew that Paulie is a natural on fretless.

So, today we will start recording in earnest. This band has never heard themselves in the laboratory conditions of a recording studio. I am looking forward to scanning their faces when they hear how good they really can be.

Feb. 16. Actually, late night between the 15th and 16th. Today was a gas. The band has made Wild One their home away from home and the recording is proceeding to plan. Everyone is relaxed, Chi-Chi(Jakob) has been unable to blow up any more amps, Julio, although playing his ass off, is intriguing all of us with a brand of English of which I am unfamiliar, Paulie is getting his ass hammered between takes by Mandana at the fussball table and Mike's only question is "When do we go eat?"

Wild One Music
is in what I would consider a pretty cool part of the city. Plenty of shops, restaurants and other assorted businesses within walking distance. Among the afore-mentioned "assorted businesses" is an emporium of, well, let's just call their product "personal stress relief and pleasure management services." There is a sort of "menu" posted that looks interesting but the dollar exchange being what it is, I'm opting for goulash and beer across the street. Pity though, a place like that would be handy if we had an infestation of label executives to get rid of.

Tomorrow we will track two more songs and prepare a third in the evening. At this pace we will track the album in five days, have plenty of time for Mandana to deliver killer vocal performances, and the guys will get to set up a nice assortment of guitar amps for overdubs. Ah, it's a rough life, but somebody's gotta live it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SolidTube Pre-Production

Feb. 4th. The first full band rehearsal went very well. Since this was my first face to face meeting with the rhythm section, we did a short "let's find out something about everyone" session before hitting the first downbeat. The combined age of the drummer and bassist is less than one of my basses, and I'm sure that I have at least one pair of shoes older than the guitarist, so getting in touch with what makes these guys tick seemed a good way to start.

It can be a mixed blessing to work with young musicians. But this group really "wants it" and their enthusiasm and open-minded attitudes more than compensate for any lack of...let's call it, "vintage vocabulary." As a group, they have much to learn. But those things that must come naturally are abundant. So we embarked on a journey of discovery. We have two weeks to become a band with a twenty year history. The first session put us well past the third year.

All of the band members are excellent musicians and very capable. The key concept for them to master is how to combine their talents to create a group identity or signature sound that is beyond what any individual member would have previously conceptualized. The process is simple, really. We just take the song, throw it in a pile on the floor and start picking out the bits that aren't absolutely necessary. So, we have another pile of drum fills, bass licks, turnarounds and so on that we can either discard, recycle or file away for future reference. What is left is usually a lean, groovin' little track devoid of all the extras that frequently obfuscate a good song.

Today will be rehearsal number two. Let's see if we can get a few more years under our belts.

Feb. 7th. As you may know, SolidTube's Bass player, Paulie, had an engagement he could not get out of so I will be stepping in to sub for him tomorrow night at the Vienna Calling show. Today's rehearsal schedule consisted of getting me into the mix of these great songs and I'm really looking forward to seeing what this band does after the hard work that they have put in this week.

I can say in all honesty that I've seen few musicians demonstrate the dedication, concentration and perspiration that the members of SolidTube have this week. They are hell-bent on taking their music to the next level and have been a dream to work with. The rhythm section is made up of Jakob, Paulie and Julian(recently dubbed Julio), Guitar, bass and drums. All three are excellent musicians and have way more chops than this style of music requires. And this is where we have experienced the greatest degree of growth as a band.

These guys are really into jazz and are well-studied. Now, many quasi-jazzers would tend to look down on music that doesn't allow for extended chord voicings, poly-rhythmic beat patterns or two handed tapping bass parts. It can be a nightmare to get a jazz musician to just play a goddamned triad or a simple dotted quarter, eighth note kick drum pattern. But these guys, as easily as they could launch into "Donna Lee" at 208 have accepted the concept of playing simple parts as if this were the hardest thing in the world to do. This is where the magic of a track will be found. It's not just playing simple...It's playing simple and MEANING IT. I think that their audience tomorrow night will know that they mean it.

As far as Mandana, Mike and Gerry, what can I say? After the many years that we rehearsed together this week, we have become true brothers(and sister) in arms. It's been a long time since I've worked with people who have such a love for their art and have remained un-jaded. The band and I have been working, eating, joking and conceptualizing together now for only four days, but it truly is beginning to feel as if they are working on their second or third album. The effort has been amazing. We start on time, end late and no-one is in a hurry to leave. Reminds me of what band practice was like before money entered the picture.

Well, Vienna Calling tomorrow, a much deserved day off and we dive into a solid week of preparation before moving the circus into Wild One Music studio.

Feb. 10th. The band has taken two days off to digest our intensive week of rehearsals, recover from the adrenalin rush of Vienna Calling, and to make final preparations for the studio. The initial rehearsals served as an aging process and were quite successful. The next three days will be spent concentrating on basic rhythm tracks. We will spend fourteen days in the studio and in order to walk out of Wild One Music with ten solid tracks in hand we must work very efficiently.

The first day will be a load-in and set up day. We have been very fortunate to have Mike's house available for rehearsals and I want the band to feel every bit "at home" in the studio as we have felt during rehearsals. Recording environments can sometimes feel restrictive for a new band so a lot thought went into our choice of studios. After looking at pictures, videos and equipment lists of the available facilities, I chose to go with my gut instinct. I listened to the mp3 samples of all of the short list choices and felt that the tracks put up by Wild One somehow "felt" comfortable. All things being nearly equal, the vibe was, in this case, the tipping point for me. Jakob Grabmayr, the studio Mgr. at Wild One seems like another kindred spirit. The studio has all the hardware we will need and a massive protools setup. The microphone collection and arsenal of pre-amps will provide all the colors required to make a very interesting album.

And so, tomorrow we hit the rehearsal studio(Mike's living room) at noon. By Thursday we need to be a lean, mean tracking machine. If the experience of the past week is any indication, I have no doubt we can pull it off.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Delays!...or, Good Things are Worth the Wait

My family immigrated to the United States when I was three years old and the trip took twelve days. My latest trip to Austria took much less time but felt every bit as taxing on the nerves. It started out beautifully. I was able to secure an aisle seat in the exit row and settled down to what I thought would be a nice nap for the twelve hour flight into London's Heathrow airport. Ah, lucky me, my neighbor was a nervous twit who had never flown across water. Every noise, every vibration was cause for a new panic attack. I found myself constantly having to remove my headphones to respond to her inane questions. So, deprived of a good night's sleep, I made it my duty to torment the girl. Every time I noticed her start to relax, I grabbed the adjoining armrest and said something like,"Did you hear that?" or, "Did you feel something strange...what was that?" Turnabout is fair play after all. And the loss of my nap cost her at least five years in terms of roasted nerve endings.

The kicker was the speedy lay-over at Heathrow. I had never passed through security and from one terminal to the next with such speed...only to be advised at the next gate that my Vienna flight had been cancelled! I was quickly and cheerfully assigned a seat on the very next flight, but when I asked which gate I should go to, the well-mannered British Airways representative let me know that the gate would be announced one hour before boarding. And so I made it a point to stay awake, and also within sight of the departure monitor. I could have taken the nap I missed on the first flight because I stared at that monitor for a full seven hours before the departure information was posted. I did have a chance to inspect the fine products available in EVERY GODDAMNED SHOP in terminal least five times! I realized that I was being looked at askance, for those unfamiliar with the term, it is the way in which one is viewed when a misdemeanor is thought to be imminent.

I finally landed in Vienna at midnight, local time. As I was meant to land at 17:20 (I know, it looks imposing, but it's just the European way of making 5:20 look important) I was certain that there would be no-one to meet me. Ah, but all travail is rewarded when one is patient. In the time I was delayed at London, Mike Pobisch, Solidtube's guitarist and songwriter had, upon being informed of the flight cancellation, left the terminal, done a gig in the center of the city, and returned to collect my tired ass. It turns out that Mike has a great command of English, but I'm certain that I was responsible for helping him add a few choice expletives to his arsenal.

So...twenty-four hours en-route and finally in Vienna. What to do, what to do? Drop off Luggage? Get a much-needed shower? Eat? Sleep? HAH!! In Mike I have found a kindred spirit. We are not men to trifle with such things as food, rest or hygiene. From the airport we went immediately to the Casablanca club located in an area of Vienna known as the Bermuda Triangle and the site of many Solidtube gigs. The place is about the size of three of my shoes and it was fortunate that I was wearing only two, otherwise some of the guests would have been forced out the front door.

As it was, I had the time of my life. Mike was a great host and kept one of my hands filled with a large "bierkrug" while the other was occupied shaking hands. We closed the place and I finally hit the manger as the sun was rising.

What I thought would be a restful first day in Vienna was really a continuation of apparently unfinished celebrations. I met with Mike and Mandana in the early afternoon to begin discussions about the way we will be proceeding with the recordings. In the early evening we stopped in at Replugged, the site of the Vienna Calling show to look the place over and speak with the sound crew. Mike then dropped me off at the Postsporthalle so I could meet my son Pete and his wife Sheryl who had just resumed playing with the Flying Foxes basketball team after having her first child. We had a great family reunion and Mike picked me up at 11;00 PM...I mean 23:00. Did we go home? Hah!

Mike had some friends in the car and minutes later I found myself at a club full of carousers. One thing obviously led to another and before the night was over it was round two at the Casablanca. By this time I had no clue what time it was or what day it was for that matter. And I didn't care. All I knew was that the clocks here start over after they go past 24:00 and wherever we were, we were back in single digits...and I was having a great time.

Next post I will have visited Wild One Music studio and will also have had the first full band rehearsal. If Mike and Mandana are any indication, I'm sure the rehearsals will be everything I could hope for musically and a ton of fun as well. But for now, forgive me...the sandman is calling, and this time he won't be denied.