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Session Notes, Part 1

June 03, 2015

Log; Started Friday May 29, noonish; continued Saturday ten am or so, Sunday eleven thirtish am, then finished up back home:

LA! The real Southern California sun came out yesterday, and it really felt like Hollywood. I don’t think I could ever live here, but it’s truly a great place to work. Ironically it’s the same element that the makes both aspects true - the people.

The climate here is brilliant, to the point where you don’t have to worry about the weather at all usually. It’s strange coming from Portland where it seems everyone is completely obsessed with the weather. When I mention the weather to people that live here, they’re like, “oh yea the weather . . . “ and give a look like they haven’t thought about that since they moved out here.

But the people, the shear mass of people is mind numbing. The sprawling suburban style city that stretches from the moment the I-5 hits the upper valley of San Fernando right down through Long Beach to the boarder with Tijuana. It’s a giant blob of humanity, visible from space I’m sure.

It’s too much, and you get the sense that everyone knows it’s an unnatural and overgrown freakout. And while that’s a tremendous source of creative fire, all those people will drive you nuts eventually. Forget trying to get anywhere at rush hour. The airport is it’s own kind of hell, that I forget when people ask me about terrible airports - because it’s beyond - and inconsistent. It’s sometimes brilliant and just hums along, but it’s a precarious system with an unrelenting input. One little problem and it all goes to shit. It’s like a crystalized door and a reflection of the rest of the blob. All those people . . . Yikes.

But the peeps are what make it great for working. Everyone is here, or will be here. Players in LA have availability, and that’s a crucial part of the trifecta of qualities -along with ‘name’ and vibe, that must align to create a perfect sit in or guest musician on a session. It’s clearly non-trivial to make the extra voice work in an ensemble, and each point of our trifecta has to work inside of the particular song as well. And in the emotional arc of the session as a whole. But Garret and the Brushfire crew work it to the max.

We actually have a little system we worked out from when we recorded Sugar. The first day we have Dave Hidalgo cut* with us on guitar - and accordion this time. We are so lucky to have access to this incredible musician (our producer Robert Carranza has worked extensively with Los Lobos.) Firstly Dave is an incredible musician with a deep CV, so we are all on our best behavior! That part is a bit crass for sure, but his powerful rooted sound connects us to the gravity of the situation and provides a firm foundation for the sessions. Dave dug right in too, and fertilized the heavy rock vibe that’s been blooming in our sound lately.

We work from about 2pm to midnight, so we can avoid traffic, and hangovers! We’re super psyched when Josh N. (who I guess is our “A&R Man” as he works for Brushfire,) has a dinner set up for 7pm. This session has been great, because he’s been getting various chefs and what-not to bring us special meals - fine italian, special sandwiches like “Wiz” who do real Philly Cheese Steaks - and they we’re awesome, they import their rolls from Philadelphia! That’s the secret man.

Anyhow, on the second day we cut as a trio first. I mean, I try to resist it, but you almost always want to listen to whatever you did the night before. It’s tricky to me, because the judgement and analysis and the critique (of yourself and your bandmates) can be painful and can affect your confidence - which is crucial when you have to go back out to the ‘other side of the glass’, and perform.

Gar pays no attention to these things and starts checking tracks the next day. You do have to pick a take -hopefully not having to edit the best parts together from separate takes. But this is not such a studio trick as you might think, and it’s a classic technique used since we started recording on magnetic tape in the late ‘40s. Something that can often happen is the first take starts unsteady but then starts to groove, and the second take starts grooving, but then falls apart as the intensity spirals up. If you don’t crush it perfectly on the third take, you can always chop the first part of the second take onto the second part of the first. You can see that once there is six to ten takes it can get pretty confusing in a hurry.

So we listen and then cut a song called Dearest Darling, and actually picked a take and Jeff and Gar overdub the vocals.

Then we try to cut another song, but on the first take I break a string on the bass, and realize, shit - I forgot to pack my extra set. Luckily I found a bass maker who is still working at 6pm, and has the correct string. We had called Guitar Center, but they were no help at all, no wonder they’re going bankrupt. So I take a trip to LA Bassworks, (thanks Lisa!) and grab a new string but that’s it for trio cutting because in the evening Citizen Cope Comes in.

The bass string fiasco feels like lost time, and it’s weird we only got one song today, when we cut eight the day before. The time pressure can build, we only have a certain amount of time, and we always have aggressive goals. But I got the string stringed up and we had some dinner - Josh got us some fancy Italian food, and I had a lovely pasta bolognese - I don’t eat a lot of past as a rule but this was home made and awesome. Also tasted some lovely raviolis and some quite interesting bruschetta. Having a nice meal, as a sensory alteration and indulgence - to appreciate the tastes helps to let your ears rest.

Working with Cope was a trip to say the least. He is like the opposite of G. Love - patient, deliberative, methodical, and yea, slow. He had Jeff playing to a click for a while, and every once and a while stop him and say ‘hit your kick drum harder.’ They got a pretty tight groove going and then me and G cut over it together, by this time it was really late, but Cope still wanted to put on a piano track. They put down some vocal ideas, but we cut some horns over this stuff a couple days later. More on that in part two.

I'm sure stuff will feel different once it is all finished.  But it sure felt like we made some deep grooves so far.

Portland, nice and rainy.

* to ‘cut’ is studio parlance for the act of actually recording - perhaps originating from cutting a groove into vinyl. I actually think of it as cutting sound into a magnetic tape, which is kind of like carving the magnetic field to match the sound waves. We can ‘cut’ as a whole group or as an ‘overdub’ which is not technically an overdub, but - in the old days anyway - recording the sound to an adjacent channel or track on the tape. It’s all digital these days, but the concept and organization protocol is the same.