Saturday, August 24, 2013

Attica (Song #1)

This is the first of my little synopsis (I'd like to create a cartoon character called Snopsees someday) (like maybe a blind Columbo/Mr. Magoo like white beagle with black ears) (at first he'll hate immigrants, because he's a beagle,* but when he learns the error of his ways he'll begin to humorously but trenchantly expose the inherent inequity in American society**) (and there will be a lot of butt-sniffing, urine dissecting type jokes***) of songs from our next album. It just seemed like the best way to write about how this record got made.

So there was this song that Chuck brought in awhile back. And as is often the case there were no lyrics yet. As an aside, (which is different than a digression) (unless I go on too long in which case I’ll have to amend the designation) the biggest lesson I’ve learned from watching Chuck as a writer is how patient he is with his lyrics. He’ll wait 6 months for the right word. In this case the fake words included a chorus with the words “priceless feeling,” which is the song equivalent of coming across a picture of your mom in bondage gear right before you’re about to have sex with someone who smells vaguely of boiled peanuts. However, the music was good, and because one of the other things we realized in the last year being that almost everyone in the band can play each other’s instruments Lisa was screwing around on the Wurlitzer. She came up with a wicked cool little pattern that kind of made the song.  So what with this that and the other the song hung around long enough to have the basics recorded. However, with 15 songs and no one really feeling much for it we were ready to scratch it. Then at the end of one night Lisa said she wanted to try a counter-melody to Chuck’s, as she is wont to do. As an aside, (I find using the word aside twice in quick succession amusing because I like to imagine it’s annoying) (so just know I’m sighing in a very self-satisfied way right now) (same with parentheticals) getting to have the privilege of hearing Lisa sing in the studio is something for which I’m forever grateful. She sings good great whatever live, but in the studio she’s like an actress. She can sing a song 3 different ways and you feel like three different people were in front of the mic. She can harmonize in unexpected ways that are so surprising and delightful everyone in the control room shakes their head. Seriously, I’ve been singing in bands for over 20 years and harmonizing with Brian Ewing that whole time. So I mean I’m not bad at it, but damn she’s good. (I’ve decided with no authority to do so that the degree of discursion from the topic at hand goes in this order: aside, tangent, digression) (take your Strunk and suck on it) So Lisa sang her counter-melody, intending it to be sang simultaneously, but there was something about it so I asked if we could hear the song with just her vocal. And out of the speakers came a brand new song. I’ve never heard a song change character in such a profound way so fast. Oh it was a lovely moment. I pretty much jumped up and ran into the studio and started yelling (I didn’t really yell) “you saved the song!!!” I  really can’t wait for you all to hear it. Tentative title is “Attica.”

*Beagles have an inclination towards racism - look it up.
** I'm hoping Hong Kong Fuey will guest star.
*** "Hey, didja smell about Rex's surgery? It's a ball!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Digression #2 (skip this if you already know how rock* records are made)

I don’t mean to be tediously insulting, but I live in such a narrowly defined world I don’t know if everyone knows this stuff or not. I figure if I'm going to write about us making a record I should cover the basic terms. (see first sentence) Anyway, this is how most rock records are made in my experience. The band goes in to record basic tracks. Basic tracks consist of drums, bass, and rhythm guitar. Everyone usually plays at the same time (including scratch, or temporary vocals) but your primary goal is to get good drum tracks because everything builds off that and because they’re the most complicated to record. (lots of mics and such) After that, if you’re lucky you might keep a few parts from the other instruments, but in general you go back and re-record them one at a time in a process called overdubbing. I recently read that’s how Paul McCartney did his bass parts in the Beatles so he could craft them and make them melodic. (You should read "All You Need Is Ears" by George Martin. It's awesome) And yesterday I read an interview with Brendan O’Brian who said Pearl Jam still does this technique as well.  On the other hand the E Street Band recorded all of the “Born in the USA” album live with only one overdub. One of the things you need in order to record a whole band live is a big enough studio to get enough isolation between the instruments. Or in other words if you have all these noisy instruments getting their sounds into everybody else’s microphones** it can get crappy sounding quick. Of course that’s exactly how they recorded things in the old Sun Studio Elvis days, but that was a long time ago. Shit, there’s an exception to everything.

Anyhow, we spent a lot of time polishing the Strawberry turd to sound the way we wanted it, but like I said in the previous post, we loved everything about “Little Miami “ so much we wanted to do the next record as much like that as possible. Of course we’d never actually been able to play well enough to keep all the parts without having to fix them. Funny thing though, we spent a good chunk of the year touring the Strawberry album, and I guess we got better. I don’t know, doesn’t feel like we are but by the end of this week recording at Ultrasuede we will have recorded the basics for 15 songs and kept all the parts for all of them. Actually, on our first night, after getting all set up we had time to record one song and got a version of “Beautiful”*** done. We did that on Friday, recorded Saturday and Sunday, took Monday off and finished all basic tracks with drums by Tuesday. Not bad really.

I was hesitant to write about making the album because it’s frankly pretty boring. I mean, it’s not boring to us, but it’s a lot like going to a job where you muddle along, order take-out, wait around a lot and play some music. It’s the greatest fun in the world but not a lot happens that’s anecdote worthy. To that end I think my approach is going to be to tell one story for every song by the time the record comes out; even ones that don’t make the record. Throw in a few funny quotes and boom. Done. You good with that? 

* I’m differentiating because I make no claims this is how other genres go about their business. A  bunch of Bluegrass musicians propagating a dead style around one microphone is different than a beat driven Hip-Hop record is different than an orchestral recording is different than your mom slathering herself in canola oil and turning on the camcorder and singing "Volare'."
**  Reese’s commercial voice
*** Most if not all titles will change. We don’t really fuss about titles until right before the record comes out. We just call the songs whatever will help us remember which one is which.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Digression #1 or How Little Miami Came into Being


“Gold Bond’s Powder? It’s like mint for your balls”

“I’m from Clinton County. A cocktail’s on a fucking chicken.”

And now for a digression.

On our last record there was a moment that still stands as my favorite ever making records and is in the running for top moment playing music. After we had pretty much finished the record we were in the rehearsal space and Chuck brought in the chords to “Pulverized.” We worked it up a bit but we weren’t necessarily convinced. Now the way we write some of our songs is that someone plays something just fucking around and everybody starts playing along with them. On a good night it turns into a song. The rule seems to be that whoever starts singing first then it becomes their song to write the lyrics for it. Well that night Lisa starts playing a chord progression that was super pretty and we played it for a while. The next week we work on “Pulverized” a bit more and decide that we should go back in and record it. Someone brought up the Lisa thing and we kind of screwed around with it a bit more but nothing really came of it.

We didn’t have a lot of time or money (Strawberry had already taken longer than any other of our records to that point) so we had to get “Pulverized done in one night. We were set up in a circle all facing each other and we flailed away at “Pulverized” for hours. We were sucking on a Dead Kennedy’s dick and at one point John Curley (JC from now on) said he hated the fucking song. After we’d given up, hoping we got something we could use Lisa said, “Hey, you guys want to try something? Remember that one song we were playing? Well I’ve been working on it.*” Within 3 takes we had arranged and recorded the version of “Little Miami” that went on the record. Somewhere along the way Chuck had played the wrong chords and it sounded so cool it became a feature of the song. It was the first song in the history of the band where we kept everything we recorded on that take. The feeling of connection between us, the feeling that something rare had happened was almost overwhelming. Even though everyone had made some little mistakes we told JC we wanted to keep it as it was. We’re still really proud of it.

OK, so the whole point of that digression was because it directly influenced how we wanted to make the new record. We wanted to record it as live as possible.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Remarkably Boring Story of the Making of Wussy's 5th Record

Writing about making a record is as interesting as talking about fishing. It's less interesting than talking about fucking but more interesting than writing about people talking about Jeff Buckley. Anyway...

I love making records. It’s a daunting process and you never know how it’s going to go. They tend to take a long damn time to make and at some point it’ll feel like the whole thing is going to fall apart and never get done, but it’s also one of the greatest things in the world to get to do. (nestled somewhere right in there between licking an angel’s tears and rubbing the fur on the belly of a fawn) It can be super contentious, emotions run high, and the things you play that are just fine live suddenly become not so hot under the microscopic glare of the recording process, but in the end you have an actual record. You know, like Led Zeppelin III or ABBA’s Arrival, just not as good. Wussy is fortunate that Shake It has always fronted the money for our records and we pay them back as the CDs sell. This is a luxury compared to every other band I’ve been in where you try to save up a few thousand dollars and record ‘till the money runs out. We’re at Ultrasuede with John Curley (he smells of lavender and wet  leather), the man who has recorded and mixed every record except Funeral Dress. I thought maybe it’d be interesting to write about us making our 5th record. Turns out it really isn’t. Not much happens for the vast majority of the time. We’re not the Rolling Stones in some dilapidated French mansion* but then who the fuck is? So I’ll post a few bits and then go back to shutting up.

*We haven't paid our taxes this year yet though. I filed an extension though so it's really not that similar.