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​Studio Notes, Part III

June 18, 2015

For our last two days of cutting we had two more guests. Saturday we had Dan Lebowitz, guitarist of many projects including ALO, who are on Brushfire records as well.

To be honest this is the part of the recording session that starts to bug me. It’s just that everyone starts to feel the pressure to finish up - the end is in view, the list of accomplishments is scanned and the more difficult, and less straight forward tasks are many of the ones that remain. There is more and more to listen too, and be critical of, and that is taxing in a way that people are not always aware of. Some people can break down into complete negativity, and it’s easier to place the blame on others - who maybe made a mistake, or perhaps you don’t see eye-to-eye with them on some aesthetic level. None of this is productive and usually account for a potential quagmire in any project. This session had surprisingly little of this feeling, because god knows we had some difficulties in the past.

Way back - on our second record - we were recording in a incredible studio-mansion right in the Quarter in New Orleans. It had been Daniel Lanois’ secret studio for a while, and he recorded some of Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind there I believe. Anyhow, it was beautiful, and I’m sure cost a pretty penny. We were working with a famous producer Jim Dickinson, whom I know was paid five hundred bucks a day, and he insisted on using an engineer (because he superstitiously would not touch the tape among other reasons) who probably cost nearly as much. So with the studio and expenses the label was probably throwing down more than twenty five hundred bucks a day (of the 300k advance, my god those were the days!)

I think it was the second or third day at that studio, we started cutting at three or four in the afternoon. Jeff and Gar were at each others throats right away. It’s funny how easily we remember the other guy’s shit. I know I was contributing to the wildly un-productive emotional atmosphere in my own special way! Anyhow, as we finished playing a take - of what song escapes me sadly, and Jeff says to Garrett, “That’s great, you sound just like Mick Jagger.”

I don’t think he meant it disparagingly, but that was sure how it was taken. You could see the steam come out of Gs ears like a cartoon. His glair was murderous, I don’t recall him saying anything, just getting up and walking out, and that was it. Done for the day. Dickinson and the engineer just rolled their eyes - they’d seen it all before.

At the time, it just meant beer and muffaletta to me. We were crazy kids pissing away money, and I was having a blast - and I didn’t barely notice how dysfunctional it was. Today we’re so far from that - at least on our exteriors! We’re all very professional and the records are produced on budgets that are literally a tenth of what they were then. And it’s almost like G is making up for those times by working 10-12 hour days at a completely insane level of intensity.

So day five starts with G doing a bunch of vocal overdub - and it always take longer than you think - so I was just hanging out back while Dan rapped about the scene up North with Phil Lesh and all. Eventually G finished up and we started cutting as a group. This was some of the most challenging stuff, and we started to have issues with the arrangements, which some wanted to cut out section of a particular song and then we had to “try it both ways” and it’s all quite hard to follow for me, but Dan handled it all with panache. Man, I hate that kind of shit myself, especially if I’m a guest on a session - yikes! - you’re trying to learn the song in the first place then it changes, uggh, and then “wait, are you talking about the bridge? What part? the pre-chorus? . . . ”

Also, if the songwriter(s) brought it to the session then, presumably all the sections have meaning and a reason to be there. And as a musician you have to trust that the meanings and reasons for the parts has already been considered. While there’s always room for inspired last minute changes and edits, it’s the wrong place to second guess the song itself, in that arrangement is a key element in the lyrical and somewhat narrative songs G. Love writes.

Anyhow, I felt bad for Dan as we definitely didn’t make it easy on anybody that day. We ended up cutting three songs so it was cool, at least not crazy like the old days. Again we were lucky to be working with super-pro talent and cool dudes like that.

Thankfully, the last day of cutting was a more straight forward situation. It was Sunday, and we had Lucinda Williams coming in. G decided we would do a Lead Belly song called New York City, so while Jeff was cutting some percussion overdubs, me and Garrett worked out the arrangement at the picknic table out back. Dig it; once we got it together he shot a some with the GoPro on the guitar - check it here if you want. 

It’s like the icing on the cake to work with a great artist like Lucinda. Some people just have that thing, and there’s so much mojo behind her voice you can’t help but find a deeper groove. She hung with us live and I think we probably did five or six takes and she really brought it. After another nice dinner she overdubbed on Strange Brew. It sounded really cool to my ears, though it’s a trippy song with room for a wide melodic path in my opinion. I was a bit bummed when it wasn’t in the first round of rough mixes, but I’m sure it will come out eventually.

Every session results in out-takes and tracks that don’t make the intended release. G usually ends up putting them all out. He used to kind of bootleg himself and put out the out takes (originally on cassettes!) and sell them at shows only. This is somewhat illegal and was probably just one of the things we did that pissed the label off during his first deal. Now the relationship is more of a partnership and less of a weird sugar daddy type thing that it used to be. Anyway, the out takes from the Sugar sessions we did in 2013 are coming out June 30th on an EP length vinyl (and digital.) You can preorder here - though I can’t figure out what’s on it besides “I Ain’t Finished Yet” - hey is that Mark Boyce killin’ it again?

Portland Oregon, another beauty.

Photo by Emmett Malloy: Lucinda and Garrett dig the lyrics while I freshen up the drinks and Josh attends to some detail.