August 01, 2003

Running out of Time

We had three things on the agenda yesterday: acoustic guitars, e-bows, and finishing out the lead vocals. Sharkbite has really nice Taylor acoustic (probably the best-sounding acoustic guitar I've ever held in my hands) but for some reason we could never get it to sound good with any of the mellower tracks, and by "mellower tracks," I mean the non-heavy ones where it is intended to be audible rather than only barely perceptible. We put it on the loud, ringy, wall of sound song "Elizabeth or Fight!" and it sounded great. But on "Everybody Knows You're Crying" and "Sorry for Freaking out on the Phone Last Night" the chorusing and overtones/harmonics were too weird when added to the track. Tuning again. We tried various tuning methods before we gave up. We're going to have to bring in some others. The Yamaha I always use is little more than a toy, though I've used it on many records and on all my demos. Kevin has a pretty nice Martin and (my favorite) his Grandma's guitar, an old Harmony archtop. It's not just a question of getting it to stay in tune, but of judging which version of slight not-quite-100%-perfect-in-tune-ness is going to enhance the track in question rather than make you want to shoot yourself. So we have to keep fooling with that.

We've got two e-bow songs this time around, "Elizabeth or Fight!" and "Fucked Up on Life." For those who don't know, an e-bow is a little vibrating device that you hold near or on the strings above the pickup of the guitar. It's meant to be an "electronic bow" like a violin bow, and it's true that you can get a kind of metallic cello-like sound if you're careful and/or lucky. Mostly though it's difficult to control and just sounds like itself: an over loaded, harmonic-generating tone that sounds fat and rich and/or squeals all over the place randomly, but which sounds pretty cool whatever it's doing. My e-bow technique has always been extremely rudimentary, like all my other techniques. I just position the groove on one string and move my finger up and down the frets of that string in a random way that sounds good. If you do it randomly on two or more tracks, you can get some pretty great sounds when you put them together. That's what I usually do.

For "Elizabeth," however, I had carefully worked out a stereo arrangement on my drum machine bedroom demo. They are distinct parts that are intended to complement the vocal line and each other, separate lines that sometimes fit together and occasionally coincide to form harmonies that are intended to add another dimension to the vocal harmony arrangement. Of course, I forgot long ago exactly what I did or how I did it. It would have taken me the better part of the day to try to reconstruct the parts, and even then I wouldn't have been able to play them very well.

Fortunately, guitar ace Ted Angel came to the rescue. He took the demo into the lounge area and listened to each side on the TV's playstation. He actually wrote down the notes on two paper plates, one for each speaker:


He played them perfectly, and way better than I could have managed, and the whole thing took around fifteen minutes. What a pro.

As for vocals, this has been by far the easiest time I've had. We've had to spend less time and the results have been better. I did a couple more first take keepers this time as well, believe it or not. We now have usable lead vox on every song if you count the songs where we're theoretically able to use the demo's lead vocals. There's still a bit of debate on this: I like "Jill" pretty much exactly the way it is, but otherwise, I feel uncomfortable using the vocals I recorded with a handheld SM58 in my apartment when there's a really nice-sounding set-up available. Kevin Army likes something about the spirit and feel, if not always the tone and execution, of the demo vocals of "London," "Disaster's Recipe," and "Big, Strange, Beautiful Hammer." I see what he's saying, but since we're slightly ahead of schedule, I'm probably going to give at least a couple of them a shot. After doing five lead vocal tracks last night, I tried "London," but my voice and concentration were shot by that time, and it didn't work out.

Posted by Dr. Frank at August 1, 2003 05:13 PM | TrackBack

I'd really hoped that you'd actually meant elbow. Now that'd be an instrument I'd look forward to hearing.

Posted by: Dave Bug at August 2, 2003 11:46 PM