Studio Diary Part 11
Drum blankets and Dexys
Thursday, October 12
I have an appointment first thing with my voice therapist, in farflung NE Portland. It takes me forever to get there. I’m starting to get sick of this whole commuting thing, if I’m honest. I suppose if I did it for a longer period of time, if it became a part of my daily life in a more foundational way, I’d become inured to it. The novelty of a thirty minute daily commute has worn off; I’m no longer charmed by the time I have to myself in the car, listening to music and catching up on podcasts. Now, I’m positively grumpy about it. My voice therapist also gave me the wrong address, so I’m fifteen minutes late getting to her office. Not entirely her fault; it’s not like I’ve not been here before. I was just on autopilot, following my car’s direction.
Anyway, all is well. We discuss trachea anatomy and diaphragm support; we run through different helpful exercises. Then I’m off to the studio, threading my way through the traffic on Fremont.
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I’m not too late. The gang is mostly there, all milling about with their coffees. I’d sent out a text this morning: both Hank and Carson have colds, would it be possible to jam out the rest of the vocal tracks before the virus hammer inevitably comes for me? Tucker and I hover over the big board and realize there are really only three more songs that need a finished vocal treatment. We listen to one of them, “The Reapers,” and decide that — hey! — it’s actually in perfectly good shape. I’d wanted another whack at “America Made Me,” so I do that, upgrading various parts of the comp. Then it’s time for “Joan 2,” which is a peak to climb if ever there was one. I don’t know what my deal is, I keep finding myself writing these songs that scrape the very tippy top of my singing range. This one does that in spades: it finds the tippy top and just hangs there, like a lazing mountaineer, enjoying his baguette and chianti in the alpen glow. I’ve only got a handful of these in me — the vocal is blessedly short, but it’s a doozy.
After that bit of manual labor, we spend a little time, Tucker and I, hunched over the mixing desk, digging through the tracks, listening to the vocal performances. Are we done? I think we might be done! It’s bittersweet, this moment in the record-making process, a process that started however many months or years ago with me strumming some nonsense on a guitar. These songs are leaving me; they are starting to not belong to me anymore.
Manager Jason has come down from Seattle to check in with the band and discuss business things. We have lunch on the sunny patio with him and talk while Tucker addresses some comps in the control room. Then it’s back to work — we bring up “Won’t You Come Home,” the problem child of this record, and hem and haw about what it needs or wants. There’s a mutual feeling that while the drum part is the *right one,* the treatment isn’t quite right. The drum sound, for the most part, has been very wide open, with plenty of mics capturing the sound of the drums inside the room. What this song wants, though, is a deader sound. Something less reverberant, roomy. How do we do this without spending an hour disassembling the entire drum mic apparatus? We use blankets!
Finally, the desired sound is achieved. John clobbers out a handful of passes, tracking along with all the extant noises, and we get something that is better. This song-thing is still slippery, but getting less so.
Jenny straps on her accordion and attempts a pass at it — a sound which certainly feels at odds with its New Wave trappings, but maybe that’s cool? John and I discuss a possible touchpoint — wasn’t there a movement of new wave in the 80s that incorporated folk instruments? Dexy’s Midnight Runners is the best we can come up with. Well, maybe that’s what we do. We’re new wave folk music.
Friday, October 13
Funk remains unconvinced about the accordion on “Won’t You Come Home.” To be sure, putting accordion on something is a sure-fire way to punt that something out of whatever it was all the way into…something with accordion on it. There’s no turning back. It’s a real choice. Funk says it’s familiar territory for us, something we’ve already done. I mean, I suppose I get his objection, but isn’t putting accordion on shit kind of our calling card? And, guess what? There wasn’t a lick of accordion on I’ll Be Your Girl. How do I remember this? Because when we were designing the record cover, we had a great photo of Jenny playing her accordion on the initial mockup that we decided not to use because, yes, there was not a lick of accordion on that record.
Anyway, this is the kind of garbage you have to perseverate over when you are in a twenty five year-old band releasing it’s ninth record. The accordion will stay. Maybe.
Tucker and I are unconvinced, too, but mainly because the sound of this particular accordion. Jenny offers to try again with a different one, one that’s not so warbly. I don’t actually know how many accordions Jenny has, but I suppose if you’re a dedicated accordion player, you have many arrows in your quiver. Whatever she picks up, though, is the right one and we’re feeling pretty happy with the result. Look out, Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Jason Quigley has arrived at the behest of management to get official photos of the session. Jason’s not a stranger to our music lives; he’s been shooting Portland bands since the early aughts. He’s got a show up now at The Writer’s Block; there are a couple photos of us in there. Go check it out!
It’s a little awkward, having photos taken now, since we’ve long put to bed any song that might require us all playing in the room together. But there’s plenty of work to be done and content to be captured so we just set about doing our thing while Jason politely clicks his shutters behind and around us. We pull up “Oh No,” that song that received such a percussion treatment early on in the sessions; I had put down a scratch bass part to aid the percussionists and it is in dire need of replacement from an actual bass player. Nate is our guy here. Doesn’t take much to get a good one down. Jenny tracks an accordion part at the same time. The song is starting to feel very close to finished.
Next is “Tell Me What’s On Your Mind,” the only holdout from our February sessions that’s worth it’s salt. Tucker is keen to re-record the drums on this one, to put it more in line with the rest of the songs. I listen while John attempts another pass, deciding I could probably, at this point, upgrade the vocal track that’s there. I head into the vocal booth and John and I both pave over our past selves for an hour or so. There’s also some discussion about the Farfisa part from the February sessions being too cloying; Jenny leaps from one keyboard to another in the control room, trying to find the right sound. John and I are done before this searching has concluded; I imagine it will seep over into next week, when Jenny is due to finish up her overdubs.
John and Nate bid their adieus for the weekend, their work here done. Then it’s just Tucker, Funk, Jenny, and I. We decide to take up “William Fitzwilliam” and add some accordion and pedal steel to it. It’s an unapologetic country number, this one, so why not lean all the way into it. Funk and Jenny track simultaneously and it’s not long before we’re transported to some distant honky tonk, weeping into our Coorses. That’s enough for this week, thank you very much.