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.


  1. I enjoy reading your posts, Mark. One of my greatest regrets since moving away from Cincinnati is not being able to go to Wussy shows (caught you guys in Oakland). Reading the blog is my consolation prize – in the best way possible. I love it. Just thought of this: I should listen to Wussy while I read the blog. Can’t believe I didn’t think of that before. It might blow my mind.

    Looking forward to the new “record.”