July 31, 2003

More Pics

My guest spot as Smugglers vocalist at the Great American Music Hall:


The MTX at the GAMH. The guy in the baseball cap is Vova from Moscow. I think he's the first Russian kid to make it out to the East Bay to see the band. It is very difficult for getting visa, he told me. He was pretty disappointed to have missed the Queers, but he seemed to have a good time anyway.


My good friends (and familiar Lookout Records devotees) Frank and Heather took those photos, and they stopped by the studio: here's a photo of them, me, and Spacetoast's favorite shirt. Sa-lute!


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Man or Monkey?

I can usually tell what's going on in these studio pictures from the shirt I'm wearing, but I honestly can't tell by looking at it whether this was taken during my retarded monkey episode or not.


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:33 PM | TrackBack

Nursing the Product of a Deranged Mind

Lookout Records has put up a page devoted to the new album. So far all it has is some links, the photos I've already posted here, and the XML feed from this blog. (There's a link and summary for each blog entry in the category "songs." Pretty cool.) We're planning to put more stuff up there, though (like more photos, audio, maybe some video clips, and who knows what else) so keep checking if you're interested.

People seem to like the photos, so I'll keep putting them up. Unfortunately, I left the blasted USB cable at the studio again, and I never got around to unloading the camera while I was there.

By the way, I think we managed to solve our country rock problem. I did another Byrds-y guitar to come out of the left speaker to complement the right speaker track that Ted had already done, filling in some of the spaces in between his notes but chiming in chorusy unison on certain "thematic" lines; and I added a rhythmic strummy guitar in the center. (This was using Bobby's Tele deluxe through the AC30 with an Altec pre-amp-- what a great-sounding little machine. Very shiny, shimmery, the single notes of the off-kilter arpeggios sounding like tiny glass bells, but the chords sounding pretty rough-edged when you hit them hard. You know how sometimes the attack of a guitar chord can have a sound/feel sort of like ripping open a corrugated cardboard box? No? Well, it can be very satisfying.) Then we just started piling them on, adding several layers of guitars of different kinds. As it stands, the song is a big, beautiful (in my eyes), tangled mess of many, many guitars doing a zillion different things in different frequency ranges and poking holes in each other's holes. Ted played some more great "fill" type licks on a track to be used as needed. I think it sounds nice. I've sullied nice things before, though, with my unruly vocals, so I still have to be careful. But so far, it has outdone my dreams sonically and arrangement-wise. I still may have to fight for the Johnny Thunders-y guitar I want to add to the B parts of the second and third verses and outro, but I'm up for it. If my pal Chuck Prophet gets back in town in time, maybe we'll get him to do it. Either way, he's gonna laugh when he hears it. Pretty cool.

No vocals yesterday-- it was a guitar day, pretty much, and we got most of the lead stuff and fancy parts out of the way. We finally got the right sound for the main rhythm guitar for the "Boyfriend Box" verses (after trying half a dozen guitar/amp/preamp/eq combinations over the last few days.) That's a relief, as that song is pretty much done now, except for the lead vocals. Today is going to be ebow day, and then we'll be all done with guitars except for a couple of acoustics.

Then I'm going to try to get the rest of the lead vox done, so we may be there all night.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:03 PM | TrackBack

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 07:54 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 29, 2003

Blatant Vocalism

The tuning demon seems to have left the building. Yesterday was extremely productive, and we ended up with the basic guitars on all but one song. Towards the end of the night I did some scratch vocals. These are for a guide and so you can make sure that your overdubs don't stomp all over the vocal melody, not intended to be kept or used (though sometimes you end up using some if something really cool randomly happens.) Despite the fact that they were just scratch vocals, we did spend a bit of time getting a sound. You have to get the right combination of mic, mic placement, pre-amp, compressors, and EQ. Where you stand in the room can make a difference, too, believe it or not. Anyway, it was worth doing, as now we have a mic set-up and headphone mixes dialed in so we can do the real vocals pretty much any time we feel like without a lot of preparation.

You really learn a lot about your songs from singing them for the first time in the context of the real recording. I've been working on some of these songs for years, and I know them backwards and forwards, but, in a sense, up until a few days ago they didn't really quite exist. You always have a plan for how they're going to "come out" (which very rarely happens) but even those that match the plan perfectly present you with an experience you've never had before the first time you put the vocals on.

Recording singing is different from other singing, not just in terms of technique (which as you may know, I don't have any) but rather as a psychological and conceptual matter. You have to make decisions on how you're going to sing it, where to hold back, where to let loose, how to articulate, when to moan or sob or scream or belch (if you're that kind of vocalist): in short, how to make your delivery be a help rather than a hindrance to getting the song across. Essentially, the vocal delivery, if you take it seriously, is like a mini-arrangement within an arrangement. And the criteria are completely different from those that are brought to bear when you're playing live or sitting around in your bedroom strumming your guitar and annoying the neighbors. This is where singing songs can start to feel a bit like acting. You're playing a character, delivering lines, though all you've got to work with is sound and a backing track. On some level, in my head, I'm doing this kind of Dustin Hoffman method acting kind of thing, actually pretending to be the narrator, trying to make my delivery hint at or suggest what it might sound like in a funny world where people give little rhyming, melodic self-revealing speeches when they pass each other on the street. I know it's goofy. I am a big goofball when it comes to this stuff.

As with acting, the process can be embarrassing, both for the "actor" and those in the room to witness it. (Or hilarious-- you know, embarrassing and hilarious are two sides of the same coin, depending on which side you happen to be on.) It's really important to work with a producer or engineer with whom you are comfortable and who you trust not to inhibit you or deter you from doing the embarrassing stuff. I've always been self-conscious about my singing anyway and there was a time when I used to insist that everyone leave the room. I guess I'm just so used to the humiliation now that nothing phases me. But I can't really imagine recording a vocal with anyone other than Kevin Army at this point.

One other angle about how context changes the sort of vocals you do: as you get closer and closer to the final version, your options become narrower and your choices become more and more irrevocable. Like I say, I've been working on some of these songs for years. Like the proverbial battleship or the proverbial Cher, many of them have been gradually tweaked and parts replaced piece by piece several times over. I don't want to get into a philosophical discussion about whether Cher is still technically Cher, or "The Boyfriend Box" is still essentially "The Boyfriend Box," even after every single part has been replaced with a new improved part. I have no information on Cher. But let's just say that if you wanted to go back to the original version of "The Boyfriend Box" lyrics you'd have to do hundreds of undos. I'm still tweaking the lyrics even now. Needless to say, that process comes to a halt with the final vocal track. (Well, it doesn't come to a halt, actually, as you still keep tweaking after it's been recorded, but no one knows about it and it doesn't really count. I read an interview with Jimmy Webb where he said he has continued to tweak and rewrite the lyrics to "Macarthur Park" continually over the last several decades, like Walt Whitman or something. Success or failure, it never ends. In your head, that is. But as a recording matter, the final one is it.)

That's where people run into trouble with the delivery, since it's very tough to have natural-sounding phrasing when you're singing something for the first time. I hear records all the time where I can immediately tell which lyrics were hurriedly written in the studio as zero hour approached. Including some of mine, which is how I learned the lesson. I imagine there must be professional singers who are so sharp that they can pick up any lyric sight unseen and deliver it perfectly, but we are not that kind of singer, are we? You need to be really comfortable with the phrasing. Of course, it really, really helps if the lyrics scan properly: there's just no way it will sound right if circumstances force you to sing "im-poss-IB-le" instead of "im-POSS-ible." Or if you have to cram too many syllables into a single beat. Unless you want to sound retarded (which is perfectly legitimate, if that's what you're going for, but it really should be your choice, rather than the lyricist's.)

Also, you're way more comfortable when you know it's not "for real." That's why Kevin saves all the scratch takes (I think that's why) because in the midst of all the funny, amateurish, vocal debacles, there may be moments when you do something uninhibited that sounds cool. But as the zero hour approaches, it becomes more stressful, since it's all leading up to an eventual track you can no longer fix.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2003

A Scene from the Great Tuning Debate

Kevin on the left, me on the right, and Bobby's '77 Telecaster Deluxe in my quivering but not-yet-defeated arms. It's a great-sounding guitar, and it stays pretty well in tune, but arguably the most wonderful thing about it is the fact that its pickguard looks almost exactly like the linoleum in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Anyway, that's my best guess as to why it makes me feel warm and comforted, yet somehow hungry as well. I think it's called Hacienda Rust, or something like that.

Now I've got to go practice before heading down to the studio so I'll have a shot at not sucking quite so bad today. See ya.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuning Issues

Yesterday's recording session was a bit off-kilter because everyone was still a little wrecked from the previous night's show. We got a lot accomplished, nonetheless, finally finishing all the bass, putting down the sketchy basics of some of the sound effects, and getting a start on the guitar.

All in all, the rhythm stuff went remarkably smoothly. Now that we're in the guitar phase, though, we're faced with a new set of challenges. Yesterday, we hit what was pretty much our first snag: a big tuning kerfuffle. Tuning seems like it would be straightforward, but with multi-track recording, string instruments, and high fidelity, keeping everything in tune with everything else can be a real struggle, particularly when, like us, you're trying to use a lot of second-hand (I believe the technical term is "vintage") equipment. Absolute perfection is not possible, nor even really desirable: it's possible to be so utterly accurately machine-certified in tune that it sounds bad, unnatural. You can quite literally be so in tune that you're out of tune. The trick is to try to manage your tuning, with the goal of ensuring that the degree of out-of-tuneness is going to work with the track you're working on. To make matters more complicated there are times when you want to have the guitars a bit out of tune for an occasional wake 'em up sonic assault that is itself an "instrument" in the arrangement, or more often when you want a pretty chorusing effect, or even more subtly when you want to make a wall of guitars sound a bit "thicker." On the other hand, too much chorusing in a wall of guitars can make them sound too distant.

What I'm saying is, Tuning Issues can be way more subjective than you'd think, a matter of opinion, taste, debate. You can spend hours arguing about it, and I've witnessed and been involved in some quite bitter such arguments. The tuner says you're in tune, you've got a great sound going, two out of three engineers surveyed think it's pretty close, but it doesn't work with the track. You fiddle with the intonation, try continually re-tuning and punching in every four bars, try a dozen different guitars, listen to the playback muting the other tracks one by one to see if there's another culprit. Maybe you're hitting the guitar too hard; maybe too softly. Maybe it's the humidity or the temperature in the studio. Maybe you should change the strings. Maybe you shouldn't have changed those strings, that sounds even worse. Maybe there's just something wrong with your ears. Man, you should have just gone to graduate school after all. Forget this rock and roll stuff.

Sometimes there's something about the room, some angle or acoustics-affecting plane, that exaggerates the overtones, making things sound out of tune when they "really" aren't.

That was the case in the biggest Tuning Freakout of my recording career, the Great Bass Tuning Debacle of '97 (during the recording of Revenge is Sweet and So are You.) We eventually reached the conclusion, hotly contested by the studio owners, that something about the control room at the studio made the bass sound out of tune no matter what we did. So how did we check the tuning? We made cassettes at various points in the tracking and mixing and went out to listen to them in the van. A very time-consuming solution, but the only one available. The second biggest tuning freakout was during Alcatraz, when we finally figured out that the two different classic/vintage/antique two-inch tape decks we were using for the guitar overdubs ran at speeds that varied too infinitesimally to be caught by the normal calibration process. I blamed my guitar, and I blamed myself, I cursed God, the Universe, and the day I was born, but it never occurred to me to blame or curse the tape deck. Once we figured it out, we were able to recalibrate using special tones and a special gizmo and everything worked out, but there were a couple of days there where I felt like I was losing my mind. Needless to say, when you're forced to obsess about technical things like that, your playing can suffer. There's some guitar stuff that was supposed to be on Alcatraz that never happened because I was too rattled to make my fingers work properly and we never had to time to revisit them once the problem was solved. It can be a psychologically shattering experience.

What happened last night was nowhere near that serious. When I referred to it as a Tuning Freakout, engineer/studio dude Mark Keaton said "this isn't a Tuning Freakout. It's just tuning." He's right. Tuning is part of the process, you have to do it, and it's always hard. This fell well short of Freakout level; it didn't even really reach Episode status. Still, by the time I started trying to play my parts on "Everybody Knows You're Crying" I was sounding a bit like a retarded, thumbless five year old who couldn't tell his IV from his V. Ted had just recorded what I think is the most beautiful, perfect guitar part ever to appear on an MTX record, and I just wasn't equal to the important task of complementing it. That's first on the agenda today. I hope my nerves can take it.

Here's Ted, trying to see if using my quirky batwing would more closely match the tune-scape of my earlier quirky batwing track. It kind of did. (That's camera shy Kevin Army's head on the left.)


And of course, the whole time I have this little spinning digital display of the depleting recording budget in my head. You know how the gallons and price numbers scroll around when you're getting gas, or on that big national debt sign in New York? That's the kind of thing I mean.

Anyway, don't worry about it yet.

And trust me: our music is really a lot better than it sounds.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 27, 2003


I had a really good time at the show last night (and I'm still feeling a bit of that lingering g. t. even now.) I don't have time to give a full report right now. The Queers cancelled, but the show must go on and the show did go on. One of the hilights for me was singing "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" with my Smugglers:


That fellow on the left is the Smugglers' Grant, who danced and sang on the choruses. The guy in the middle in the Converse All-Stars is me. I'm usually not that blurry, but I've had a rough week.

Off to the studio. More later.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 26, 2003

I played at parties, I played in bars, I spent my money buying new guitars

I was going to do some blogging today, but a massive Lookout Party aftermath headache has made even the sound of the keys a bit too much for me poor little head. I better get over it fast, though-- tonight is that Great American Music Hall show, and it's going to be much louder in there.

Yesterday, I left the studio around 5 to head over to the Parkside for the Lookout Cocktail Party/solo gig. While I was gone, they did a couple of bass tracks and some editing. Tracking and overdubbing can be tedious and repetitive, but I hate to miss even one moment of it. Before I left we finished the bass on "London," and I have to say it sounds really nice. Bobby told me the rest went pretty well, too. I hope so, because if not, we'll have to make one of those awful decisions: fix it and take time away from some other track, or live with it and spend that time on something else. Actually, recording sessions are pretty much made up of those decisions from beginning to end. Even dinner breaks and sleeping enter into the calculation. Today, however, is our day off. We've got the show tonight, and then we're going back in tomorrow to work on the edited stuff.

The Lookout Party was fun. Many people there I hadn't seen in years. Talked chess with Jesse Michaels. Got caught up with my dear friend Tristin, whom I don't see nearly enough now that she has moved to New York. (New York was pretty well represented-- Frank and Heather and Bill and Christine also made the trip out.)

I suppose my set went all right, despite a practically non-existent sound system. No one could figure out how to get the input for my acoustic guitar's pickup to work, so they had to mic it. I'm not used to that, and I kept forgetting that if you move the sound hole of the guitar more than a few inches from the SM58 on the taped-together stand, your strumming simply disappears and all the audience can hear is your funny, slurry, wavery voice. (Sorry about that folks.) Or if you move it too close, you get this tremendous, booming feedback sound. That was pretty cool actually. I have to admit though, once or twice I got caught up in experimenting with sound hole feedback calibration and sort of, like, forgot I was supposed to be playing a song. Hey, it's all part of the act. Really.

I played a few oldies but moldies with scattered new tunes, including "She Runs Out when the Money Does." (That was the first time I'd ever done that in public, and it seemed to go over pretty well.)

I have this song called "Even Hitler had a Girlfriend" which is pretty popular, and people often call out requests for it. Because of this, I often find myself in the following strange situation: I hit the final chord of a song, and the crowd starts applauding and yelling "Hitler! Hitler!" It has happened so often that I hardly even notice it, but for some reason last night my soul left my body, surveyed the scene, gazed upon the tableau, picked up the audio, and returned to tell me what was up. And I believe I truly realized for the first time just how bizarre my whole Hitler situation is. Of course, I could take care of it by playing that song first every time. Maybe that's what I should do.

But what is it with San Francisco audiences when it comes to acoustic/folk performances? I've done solo shows in a great many cities, large and small, and they pretty much go like this: you play a song, the audience listens and claps when you're done, and you repeat this process till the end of the set. Sometimes you'll get heckled, which is all right by me. Sometimes they're indifferent.

But at every single solo show I've ever played in San Francisco, it's a different story altogether: the audience smiles politely and just talks amongst themselves about this and that through your entire set. It sounded like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in there. I was trying to introduce the songs with these cute little stories, like I do, you know, but it wasn't easy. I was the Eleanor Clift of rock up there, constantly shrieking "let me finish, let me finish, will you let me finish? Tony, you had your chance to talk, don't I get to finish? Let me finish..." Except there was no moderator to say "hold on, let her make her point..."

Actually, of course, I didn't go all Eleanor on the crowd. I just played my songs as best I could, and finally stopped when I got tired of fighting them. The weird thing is, a lot of the chatterers seemed to be listening, maybe even enjoying the songs. I guess maybe they were multi-tasking, listening to the songs while simultaneously taking the opportunity to remind their friends how much money they used to make at their old dotcom jobs.

Tonight, however, I'll have a big old amplifier, so it shouldn't be a problem. See ya tonight.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 25, 2003

More Studio Stuff

Today is going to be a little strange at the studio. We're going to try finish all the bass and get to work on the guitar overdubs. Then I've got to head over to the Parkside for the Lookout Party where I'm playing a solo show. (Tonight at 9pm. If you're in the area, stop in and say hey.) Chris Appelgren is going to give me a lift to the show, and there has been some discussion that he'll bring along and drop off my buddy Joe Queer to do some guest backup vocals while I'm away. That would be a good use of time, but the idea feels weird: I'd kind of like to be there, you know? He'll walk in, and I'll say "hey Joe" and he'll say something like "Francisco! Madre de Dios!" and we'll do one of those kind of awkward guy half-hugs/half-backslaps, maybe, and I'll say "have fun" and leave it all to him and Kevin? See what I mean? Weird.

Also, it would mean I'd have to do some kind of lead vocal on the tracks we want him to sing on, and we're not really at the lead vocal stage on most of this stuff. No idea if it's going to happen.

I was hoping to have my pal Chuck Prophet play a bit of guitar, but sadly, that's looking unlikely at this point, as his touring schedule exactly coincides with our tracking schedule. Rats.

Moving right along, here's a photo of me at Sharkbite last night with my '57 Les Paul Junior:


It's a cool guitar that, like everything, I should take way more care of. I hardly ever use it these days, as I explained before, because I like the Epiphone Coronet so much. The last time I took it out of the case was in Haarlem, Holland a couple of years ago when we did that Euro-tour with the Queers. I know that because the strings were still loosened for air travel. Lame.

Anyway, more later, and I'll see you at the show tonight. Those of you who come, I mean. You know what I'm getting at.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Struggle Continues

Here I am with Jym listening to the playback of a drum track-- I think it was "She's not a Flower." "


To my amazement, we actually managed to finish all the drum tracks today. Some of it still needs to be cleaned up, but this puts us further ahead than we have ever been in three days. Jym had done a great track to the Boyfriend Box demo yesterday, and today we spent some time making sure it synched up perfectly. So now we can use bits of the drum machine if we want, and much of the other demo tracks will work if we need them. (I haven't decided whether to use the machine for the fake percussion bits-- finger snaps and frog-- or do something fancier or loopier to replace it.) But it's great to have the option. Heard in the right context (with real drums and a new bass track) even the vocal, which I recorded at my house with a hand-held SM-58, didn't sound too bad. We tried using some of the original bass guitar as a subliminal super-low end "presence," and even that sounded pretty good, if weird. We've still got some things to do to it, and I'll probably re-do the vocal with a good mic and pre-amp, but if we had to we could almost use it as is. Amazing.

The basic tracks of six out of the eleven "band songs" were done "live" in the big room. "Live" means you all play together in the drum room, hearing the isolated amps through headphones. It's a pretty uncomfortable and disorienting way to play guitar, especially if you're half-deaf like me. The headphones can never be loud enough, and the whole thing has a ghostly, distant quality, kind of like how rock bands used to sound, and occasionally still do sound, on TV shows: loud drums, funny, thin guitars. If you're lucky, some of the guitar might be usable, but the main point is to capture the drums and the sloppier-than-a-metronome feel of a live band. You generally do the faster, more "rockin'" ones that way, though sometimes it's nice to try mid-tempo tunes that you want to sound loose. (We did the country rock-ish "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night" and the sixties-y guitar-oriented "Everybody Knows You're Crying" that way, for that reason, even though they're mid-tempo and not super aggressive.) We haven't recorded so many songs "live" in quite awhile, and I have to admit I find it a little discomfiting. But I think we got some good stuff nonetheless.

Part of me wonders whether it's a good idea to be writing in such detail about the process here, as the ultimate goal (in many if not most instances) is to produce a recording that creates the impression that it is a "performance" by a band. Of course, it is that in a sense. But in another sense it's not that at all.

But now that I've written that, I'm not all that sure it's true. That is, I'm not so sure that listeners hear recorded rock music that way. For example, do people hear, say, "Wouldn't it be Nice" and picture a bunch of guys on a stage playing instruments and singing into microphones, and when that first horn comes in they imagine that one of them puts down his guitar and pulls out a baritone sax (or is that a trombone?) and blows a couple of notes before picking the guitar back up and joining the rest to sing "woo oo oo oo"? Or in "Across the Universe" do they imagine John playing an acoustic guitar and singing into a mic, while George sits across from him with a sitar in his lap, which he deftly ditches just in time to pick up the electric guitar and somehow play it backwards here and there, while a crowd of around 12 castrati huddle over on the side piping in with "nothing's gonna change my world" every now and again?

Maybe those aren't good examples. How about "Safe European Home"? When people hear that recording, do they automatically get a picture in their heads of a group of four guys with leather jackets and bad teeth playing in a garage after a meal of fried poster paste? Because I totally don't. I hear "Safe European Home" and I picture Sandy Perlman saying "and we're rolling" on the thirtieth take as the drummer rolls his eyes, and, months later, punching in one of the multi-tracked leads in the little instrumental bridge part; and I idly wonder whether, when they did those guitar overdubs (famously at the Automat in San Francisco), that was before or after three or so Mick Joneses sang "where'd you go?" on tracks 14, 16 and 18. What amp was it? It sounds like a Mesa Boogie to me. Was it a Boogie? Mark III? A Fender bassman, maybe? 4 X 12 cab with two of the speakers mic'd with 57s? Celestions or EVs?

But then, I'm a little weird.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:15 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

July 24, 2003

What's the noun for slovenly?



I don't know why I took a picture of this, but it's the Sharkbite couch with some of my ADAT demos strewn about. This is the stuff I recorded at home (some of which I put out on that "eight little songs" self-release.) We're using them as a reference, since I worked out some arrangements on them that I'll have a hard time remembering; and we're considering using pieces of some of the bedroom tracks, mixing them in to the recordings we're making now. How much we'll do this hasn't yet been determined, though at minimum I think we'll probably snatch some of the sound effects, at least, from "London" "The Boyfriend Box," and a couple of other tunes, and maybe some back-up vocals, too. Some of the sounds on those tapes have me scratching my head trying to figure out how I did them, so it's nice to have the option of using them without having to deconstruct everything. I should write this stuff down, but of course I never do. I should take better care of my tapes, but of course I never do.

Over on the left is my taped-up Epiphone Coronet/batwing, which is the main guitar I use these days. I have all sorts of others that I've acquired over the years, including some with pretty impressive "stats", but I always come back to that one. It's as old as I am and sounds better than anything I've ever tried. So, I should probably take better care of it. But of course I never do.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:21 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Lemme introduce the band, continued...

Here's the MTX bass player, Bobby J. I think he'd just done the bass track for "Oh, just have some faith in me."

Was it rockin', aggressive, innocent yet jejeune with a soulful been-around-the-block, Slade-o-centric joie de vivre, an oddly human, if primitive, feel, and just the barest hint of she can really do the brontosaurus?

You bet it was.


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

30 Days to a More Irritating Vocabulary

We got a lot done during the second day of tracking, though it didn't feel like that was what was happening while it was happening. Trying to judge sounds and weigh the merits of the performance of parts that are, for the moment, disconnected from the context in which they're intended to be set at some future point is pretty difficult and confusing. You get disoriented, lose perspective, and end up having intense arguments about whether a given beat or phrase or fill or run or what have you is doing a proper job of helping the as-yet-non-existent track to embody a set of qualities that can only be described in vague, often largely meaningless, terms. Well, I know what I mean when I say "loose" or "easy" or "mechanical" or "rockin'" or "stilted" or "sloppy" or "clean" or "dark", etc. But I think it's safe to say no one in that room completely understands what anyone else really means. Describing a sound or a "feel" in words is, as far as I can see, impossible.

Sometimes people take this maddeningly vague, irritatingly picky critical sub-process personally (though I have to say there is remarkably little-- in fact, practically none-- of that action going on in these sessions; but we haven't run into any big snags yet.) Sometimes that can lead to arguments about whether or not that's happening. Then the whole thing can take on a momentary guise of a kind of therapy session: "now, Joe, try to tell Tim why you think it fucking sucks..."

For us, though, it's mostly a case of the inarticulate leading the indecisive on a quest to verbalize the inexpressible, the critical- and self-analysis equivalent of a Jerry Lewis movie where, say, the dog takes the steak and goes from room to room with it while the Jerry character chasing him keeps guessing wrong about the dog's next move, causing more and more chaos till the final scene where the love interest arrives to find him lying in the middle of the living room floor tangled up in the contents of the house, curtains, bedclothes, rugs, clothing, furniture, various foodstuffs, while the dog calmly eats the steak in the foreground. The girl gives him an exasperated, indulgent, demi-smile. Dissolve. (I don't think that's a real Jerry Lewis movie, but it would make a pretty good one. It might be called "She Runs Out when the Money Does.")

"Rockin'" is probably the most-used and least specific of