July 30, 2003

The Retarded Monkey Effect

Hmm, how to characterize yesterday's session?

As usual, Ted played some great, great, brilliant guitar on several tracks with seeming effortlessness. Then we started to examine the song "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night." That was one we had done live, and we wanted a loose feel (Kevin kept saying "I want you guys to sound drunk.") Well it was loose all right, which is good, and we did indeed sound drunk, which was good, too, and maybe not all that unusual or misleading, but the guitars were so out of tune that it was utterly impossible to sing the scratch vocal. As I've said, I don't mind a little chorusing, or even a nasty, jarring "tune-y" effect at times, especially when you're doing a staggered stereo guitar arrangement. (I still want to save some of those parts, many of which are so messed up that they'll sound pretty cool when put in the right context.) But, this was just not working. We decided, for the sake of argument, to put a simple, strummy, in tune electric guitar in the middle to provide something to sing to and to see where we were "at" with the song. This role was going to be filled by acoustic guitars in the original plan, and I think that's still what's going to happen, but it's way easier to record electric guitar and we were already set up that way.

What happened then was this big argument about how the song was supposed to go rhythmically. It's weird how you can work so closely on something for so long, discuss it endlessly and in great detail, and not realize that the other person has all along had a completely different idea. I suppose my reference points for what makes country rock work are different than his, and I have no doubt that his are "better" and more authentic. The whole thing became this kind of philosophical argument about what constitutes country rock and whether you should worry about what they would do in Nashville, which might have been pretty interesting in another forum. ("Issue 1: Country rock rhythm guitar... Byrds or Stones approach? Or, as some say, Dwight Yoakam? I ask you, Pat Buchanan...")

Anyway, in my song, the bass and drums play almost utterly regular thump (snare) thump-THUMP (snare) through the whole thing, while the guitars play on a lot of the off-beats and up-beats and leave holes for each other and quite often for the bass note/beat on beat 1 when the IV chord happens. It's that particular hole that seemed to be the biggest point at issue. I tried strumming through, and playing a big, straight chord on top of the bass on the downbeat of that IV chord, but it just didn't sound right. To me anyway. I don't think I was doing it the way he wanted.

So we pulled out my demo to check that out and we realized that we had unintentionally recorded the song slower than the demo version. It would have been easier to play faster, no question about it. We have sped up the tape on songs before (on "Hey Emily" it made the snare sound really cool.) It wasn't going to work this time, though. So that led to a discussion/argument about whether to scrap the song entirely so that no more time would be wasted on something we couldn't use. I was for scrapping it simply in the interests of stanching the relentless flow of the budget's life blood all over the tracks, but in the end I decided and we all agreed that the slower version was superior. The question was, were we equal to the task of playing it? (This has been the downfall of many of my country-ish tunes: I write 'em by the bucket-full, and they're pretty good, but it's so hard to play them well that they end up getting scratched and never see the light of day. Or we end up just playing them like Ramones songs, which makes me just as sad. More sad. But then, I'm a sad guy.)

After that whole brouhaha, I knew that, if I tried to play the song at that point, I'd end up sounding like a retarded monkey. And this definitely wasn't the song for the retarded monkey effect. So we took a break to cool off. The idea was that we'd come back and try a vocal or something, just to see what would happen. If nothing came of it, we'd clear out and let Mark work on some editing that would have to be done at some point anyway.

It's a bit early in the process for lead vocals, and I still had a bit of retarded monkey-ness coursing through my veins. But for some reason, I did what I think was probably the most efficient and the best singing I'd ever done. We ended up with four completed lead vocal tracks, which is unprecedented for one night, especially the first one. (I can take a long time to warm up.) Two of them I just did in one go with no punch-ins or anything, which is definitely a first. We'll have to see how they sound today. Maybe we were crazy. But at the time, it sure seemed good. For anyone who is keeping track, the one take, no punch-in songs were "Fucked Up on Life" and "Oh, just have some faith in me." "Elizabeth or Fight!" and "Take all the Time You Need" were the others. I tried "The Boyfriend Box" as well, but Kevin wasn't "feeling" that one. And I was spent. I have some pictures, but I left my USB cable at the studio, so I'll have to post them later.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 30, 2003 07:54 PM | TrackBack

Curious George would be proud!

Posted by: Lynn at July 30, 2003 08:06 PM

I hope you plan to put a version of these "int eh studio" entries into the liner notes of the CD. I love reading the updates and I'm looking forward to reading them again when I've got the actual album.

Posted by: greg at July 31, 2003 12:25 AM

It's amazing how much better you can do things like sing, play sports, have sex etc... when you're pissed off. I also found it interesting that you titled a song "Fucked Up On Life" because your songs are usually pretty free of obscenities. I can only think of three MTX songs that drop the F-bomb and if my memory is serving me right at this time, you only sang one of them, Frank.

Posted by: Channon at July 31, 2003 01:08 AM

I observe that too, Channon. I think I actually gasped the first time I heard the "gives good head" line in slagbag.

Posted by: spacetoast at July 31, 2003 02:48 AM

'Told You Once' off the Short Music for Short People comp was rather rude. I wouldn't play it to your grandmother.

Posted by: Bal at July 31, 2003 02:35 PM

Thanks Bal, I haven't heard that one yet. Maybe I'll order it from lookout so that I can attempt to collect all the MTX songs I can.

Posted by: Channon at July 31, 2003 11:40 PM

god damn, 2 songs with straight thru final take vocals. APPLAUSE. you musta had the groove flowin thru ur veins..

Posted by: Lee at August 1, 2003 03:53 AM

Yes as far as I can remember 'Told You Once' goes something like 'F**k the f**king f**ked up f**ks, those f**ked up f**k ups f**king suck, told you once you stupid c**ts, you f**ing f**k ups are f**ked up'. Really.

Posted by: Bal at August 1, 2003 02:44 PM

For some reason, I find it more entertaining with guitar tabs:

[A]Fuck the [D]fucking [E]fucked up [A]fucks
Those [A]fucked-up [D]fuck-ups [E]fucking [A]suck
[A]Told you [E]once you [A]stupid [D]cunts
You [A]fucked the [D]fuck-ups [E]all fucked-[A]up

(as found here: http://tinyurl.com/isl2 )

Posted by: Dave Bug at August 2, 2003 01:23 AM
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