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Studio Notes, Part II

June 10, 2015

The third day our guest was Mark Boyce who’s ostensibly a member of the band - he toured with us for a number of years, the oughts I think mostly.

We met Mark back in the day, he played in The Goats, who were working on their second record as we were working on our first, at Studio Four in Philadelphia in ’93. He joined us years later, when we were looking for a keyboard player to come out on tour. It’s really tricky to add the fourth member to a trio - and keyboards are hard to get right in our kind of raw thing that we do. We tried out players of various stripes, and they were good, but Mark really fit in to our vibe, and was able to handle our touring thing - which was pretty crazy then. I can’t await ‘till we can afford to bring him out on tour again!

Boyce’s groove is so deep and he really brought it to this session. We cut five tracks before dinner - we do about six takes of each, once we get the arrangement worked out. When you cut live like that, you have to sparkle every time, you can’t do very much correction, because all the different instruments are in the other microphones, if you change something it will sound weird, and there will be the old part in the background.

It’s pretty challenging to stay fully engaged, with the appropriate emotional level, keep it fresh and not make any mistakes . And Robert our producer/engineer might say “you’re rushing the bridge” or “it sounds unsteady going into the chorus”, and you have to translate that to what you should be doing, on your instrument. I digress, Mark handles it all with aplomb. Inside all that he’s fun to play with and we connect to our years of touring and musical histories.

After dinner our good friend Adam Topal joined the four of us. Adam is Jack’s drummer, and leads his own groups and projects. Adam was actually kind enough to do a session for my own solo project a number of years ago.

He brought conga and percussion and a powerful flow that definitely brought the energy up. We cut a rocker called RU Kidding Me, and it was super bumpin’ - oh man it’s nice to play with all these excellent musicians! We got too three songs that evening before everyone was exhausted.

If you’re keeping count that’s 15 songs in three days. Whew, that’s enough for a CD, but we probably won’t use them all.

We cut another song on day four called Let’s Have A Good Time (I think.) We have three of the fellas from Ozomotli - Raul on guitar, Ulises on Tenor and Asdrubal on the Trumpet. Of course it was a party! After dinner we had the horns do some overdubs. At this point my actual work is pretty much done, but I like to keep an ear on the overdubs. It’s actually hard -but crucial - to hold back, and to only contribute in a way that’s helpful.

I feel like I gave some good suggestions on the direction of the horn parts. It’s really up to the musician who’s out behind the glass to interpret the information coming back - through the talk back mic in the headphones. It can easily become confusing especially if more than one person at a time is trying to direct the player(s). Jeff likes to ‘produce’ these sessions sometimes. So I often make a suggestion quietly to him - ‘maybe it should go up at the end’ and then he can suggest it to the musician at just the right time and kind of blend it with his other concerns.

It’s tempting at this point in the session to try to engage in everything, but really, a big part of the art of it is to trust in the people you’re working with and just let them finish it. Eventually it will just be Garrett and Robert and I have to say, I’m a lot more comfortable these days leaving it to them. We’ve all grown up a bit. Back in the day I used to spend a lot more time in the control room trying to make our albums into epic rock operas. That was what Electric Mile was supposed to be. It was a lot of fun, but I guess not that successful, mainly because no one else wanted a rock opera!

OK, well, last night I got an email with the rough mixes, and I have been really digging them. I’m psyched that I can hear my bass coming through on my laptop. This is going to be our heaviest record so far.

Portland, brilliant sun and not too hot.

Photo: Emmett and Garrett check photos out back.