Feb.17. After three full days in the studio we have basic tracks on six songs. The most interesting thing for me has been that we have worked our asses off, been stuck in close quarters, could most probably identify each other blindfolded by smell, and still have yet to experience the least bit of friction. Something is definitely wrong here. I'm not used to working like this.
As I've said before, we are trying to record the rhythm tracks as live as possible. Because SolidTube performs a lot of their gigs as a trio, some of the songs derive their feel from Mike's acoustic guitar. Translating that feel to a full rhythm section is intrinsic to retaining the original intent of these songs. In order to keep the band members in one room, I've decided to record acoustic tracks with the onboard pickups that work so well on live gigs and sound equally like shit in the studio. The object is to capture the feel, not necessarily the perfect sound. After we have a great feeling track, we record electric guitars and then we will replace the acoustic guitar tracks with proper microphones. So far this strategy, although requiring an extra step, has been very successful.
Paulie recorded what I believe to be his first fretless bass track today and simply gutted the part. We cut the track with his Fender 5-sting and I just felt that something was missing. He played the part perfectly, but the song was begging for a mysterious sense of urgency so I asked him if he would care to take another stab at it with my fretless. Well, sometimes making things hard on yourself can pull a great performance out of you. I don't know if it was the concentration required to keep that bass in tune or just the unfamiliarity of the instrument in general, but the entire band was speechless after the playback. It wasn't the part he played, but the intent behind it that put the whole track into focus.
We rounded out the evening by setting up the seventh track which I hope to have in the can before 2:00 PM tomorrow. Tuesday the 19th should be our last tracking day after which we will set up the studio for guitar overdubs. I plan to set up and mic at least five different amp rigs for solos and doubling chorus/bridge sections. At the same time, we will set up the room to replace the acoustic guitar parts that were tracked with the drums. The guys are very well rehearsed so we hope to give Mandana some inspiring tracks to sing over.
One culinary note, the goulash at the little joint around the corner kicks ass. I've had it three out of the four days we've been in the studio...and I don't care what the band says, I'll probably eat it everyday we are recording.
Feb. 22. Today is the day. At 4:00 PM, okay, 16:00 for the continentals, we will begin recording lead vocals. And anyone who knows Mandana's voice will realize how important this next phase of recording is to the project. To review our status so far, all ten tracks have been recorded by the full band. We have completed recording all acoustic guitar tracks and are well on our way with the electric guitar solos. The band has done a great job and I feel that we have accomplished more than we could have imagined at the outset.
One of the important aspects of making studio recordings is trying to capture the feeling of the original demos. When all the tools of the trade come into play it can be easy to get lost in the "fun factor" of technology and lose sight of what made the songs charming in their original form. We've worked very diligently at not over-thinking. In some cases we've recorded a track and, finding something amiss, stripped it down to the way Mike and Mandana first wrote the song, explored the motives behind the lyrics, listened to the interplay between the voice and acoustic guitar in the demos, and then took a step back to see where we may have missed the boat. When Mandana takes her position at the microphone today I think that she will be inspired by the tracks that the band has recorded but will also be well inside the comfort zone of the original demos.
The first task at hand today will be electric guitar overdubs at noon. On a side note: as concerns the whole time thing...I have finally realized that no matter how impressive 4:00 PM looks in a 16:00 smoking jacket, the time is the same. An hour is an hour. Pity, It would be nice if the hours went by as slowly as their inflated numbers would seem to indicate, something on the order of the 7 to 1 dog year ratio would be nice.
Feb. 23. Yesterday's vocal sessions with Mandana...I don't want to give up too much, but I will say that she is one of the easiest singers I've worked with. After trying a few microphones we decided that the Tube from AKG really fell in love with her voice. I think it would be hard to find a bad Mic for her, But the AKG really seems to capture the vocal nuances and, more importantly, the emotional aspect of her performance.
Mandana does two things which are of great value. She makes written notations on the lyric sheet, and she remembers what those notations mean. So many singers and musicians fail to take notes and this can cost valuable studio time. Sometimes the difference between a decent track and an amazingly never-to-be-repeated performance can come down to a few pencil marks on a piece of paper. Every take we recorded was an improvement on the one before because Mandana was able to execute the changes according to the written notations on her lyric sheet. As far as I'm concerned, two of the most valuable tools a musician can bring to the studio are a pencil and a good memory.
Earlier in the day we recorded an electric guitar track with Mike. After all the fun of tracking with the band, Mike and I settled in to create a part where there had been none. I have to thank Mike for his patience and positive attitude because this sort of work can sometimes be nerve-wracking. After tweaking knobs we found the sound we were after and dug in. We took a few passes at the entire song first just to throw ideas and feels out there. And then we began to assemble the part by section. Sometimes we punched in for only a note, just to get the idea solidified exactly the way we wanted it. The result was a really swinging part full of character and was perfect for the song. But Mike, being the balls to the wall guy that he is, wasn't satisfied. I know that I had the part I needed but, this being Mike's song I agreed that we should take the time to see if he could beat what he had just played. So, after a short break to clear the old noggin, he listened to the part from front to back one more time and took one pass...and there it was, the same notes, same phrases, same sound. But this time performed with an intensity that the pieced-together version would never have.
Today we will continue with vocals. SolidTube had a gig last night so I hope that everyone slept well and can bring their best to the studio. I'll know in a few hours.
Feb. 24. Today brings another exciting day for the SolidTube gang. Early on in my discussions with Docnik about the production, I thought that it might be fun to include the local Viennese ST believers in a more substantial way. In listening to the demo version of "Sunny Day" I had the idea that bringing a group into the recording studio to sing along with Mandana and the guys would serve as a proper "Thank You" to the folks who have made all of this possible. Since it will be impossible to put headphones on as many people as we expect, and as I don't want the track to bleed into the "believer's chorus", I will have Mike play his acoustic guitar and Mandana sing. Both of them will be listening to the track on headphones and hopefully this system will allow us to record the believers in time to the music. It will either work or it won't...but we have plenty of bubbly in the fridge to lubricate the effort so either way it should be fun.