Studio Blog

As the Bridges Burn (part II)

Thursday: We started the day working on vocals for "As the Bridges Burn". After running through a handful of warm up takes, I got a solid vocal take done. We spent some time trying to figure out what to do for a harmony parts. The former version featured a few higher harmonies, but in most of the song, the melody is in the higher end of my range. This makes it hard to feature an even higher harmony without bringing in a female singer. We decided to try a lower harmony part on the "bigger" parts of the song. I was a little hesitant to try this at first. I felt like the dynamics of the song were at their highest point, and I didn't feel like a soft, low vocal harmony would compliment it well. Once again, I was wrong. The lower harmony brings a calmer, more grounded feel to the most hectic part of the song, and the contrast in dynamics is the perfect touch.

We took a break Thursday afternoon to wrap up a few outside things. As I mentioned last time, Bishop Gunn had a 2 hour slot to prepare for at the Balloon Race Friday night. I also had a gig Thursday evening to get set up for, so we parted ways for the evening. I made it back around 9:30, and shortly after that, Walton Jones showed up with his Nord and a really cool Leslie cabinet that he had revamped. Walton is a priest at the local Episcopal church as well as a top notch organist. It was pretty entertaining for me to introduce Walton and Burne and then just sit back and watch. Both of them are total gear nerds and they both seemed equally impressed with the others toys. After some brief research on YouTube, Burne had a strategy for micing the Leslie, and we began recording. Several takes later, we had "the one", and that was that.

Alan Solano arrived about the time that Walton was getting set up. Alan is a well known bass player in town. He has played with just about every band in town at some point in time. He was very familiar with the song, so he was well prepared to record when his turn came around. He played an Alien Audio bass that belongs to Daniel (Bishop Gunn's bassist) which he ran directly into the console. After a few minor adjustments, he had a nice warm tone dialed in, and the track was done in a few easy takes. His bass line adds a good solid "drive" to the song and really pulls everything together.    

As the Bridges Burn (part I)

Hello again faithful reader,

Last week was another very productive week for me in Natchez. I was able to record a new song in its entirety, bring in several guest musicians to record their parts on a few preexisting tracks, and participate in an amazing performance by Bishop Gunn on the main stage Friday night for this year's Balloon Race. I even recorded a secret bonus track (shhhh). It was an overall great week. Here's how it all went down.

Monday: I made it to Natchez around 4:30 that afternoon and dropped off guitars etc. at the studio. That evening we spent a few hours catching up, listening to tracks, and discussing the upcoming events of the week. A game plan was loosely formed, and I went home to get some rest.

Tuesday: We started the day with lunch at Pearl Street Pasta. This wasn't the best idea. The food was great as usual, but it is sometimes known to cause naps and overall laziness. Afterwards, we slowly made our way to the studio. The task at hand was to record a song called "As the Bridges Burn". I had sent an older recording of the song to Burne to give him an idea of what we would be doing. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, but I knew I wanted it to be different. I never could fall in love with the previous version of it, but I knew the song had potential. I could tell Burne wasn't really feeling it either. There was something with the drum track that wasn't sitting well with him, and I had this overwhelming sense of unpreparedness that was making me feel uneasy. When you combine that with the pasta overload from lunch, things weren't off to a great start. We needed a starting point, so here's what we did.

Step 1 was to record an acoustic guitar track as a foundation for the song. This was my job, and it was difficult to do because, like I said, I wasn't sure what I exactly I wanted. So I played through it a few times in my head while Burne was setting up mics, and we just started recording. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to jump right in and go for it. I followed the basic arrangement from the last version and added a space for a guitar solo toward the end.

Once that was done, I added a scratch vocal track to give the song a little structure, and Burne added the drums on top of that. He had to use a good bit of imagination to lay a foundation for the dynamics of the song to build on. As it turns out, the snare drum in the previous version of the song is what was standing out to him. It just didn't fit the rest of the song. So, he played the quarter notes (previously assigned to the snare drum) on the kick drum. This small change gave the song a whole new "driving" feel that wasn't there before. All was right with the world.

Now it was time for electric guitars. Burne has been researching about mic placement techniques on YouTube recently, and decided to do something a little different. He placed the mic about 3 feet from the speaker. Apparently, this is how the Beatles recorded most of their guitar tracks. It produced a sort of "chimey" sound that I didn't care much for at first. On top of that, something was sounding out of tune. I was using Hudson's late 70's Les Paul Standard and when I played the Fmaj chord in the chorus, something sounded out of tune. Looking back, I think it was the way I was holding the chord that was causing a few notes to go sharp. At any rate, it was frustrating. I switched to my Telecaster and was finally able to get the first electric track done. I'm a lot more used to the feel of a Tele neck. We recorded the second track with the '59 ES 330T and he moved the mic closer to the speaker to get a "fuller" sound. He then panned one to the left, the other to the right, and left the acoustic guitar in the center. After a few quick EQ adjustments, everything started to come together. Once again, all was right with the world, and we called it a night.

Wednesday: We started the day off with a lighter lunch this time from Rolling River Bistro. It was much easier to get up and moving afterwards, so that's what we did. When we got back to the studio, the plan was to get Travis to record another guitar track for the intro and verses. While we were stressing about electric guitar tones and mic placement the day before, Travis was sitting on the couch playing along on a old Spanish made classical guitar from the 70's. What he was playing was and Am, G, F over my E5, D5, C which sounded very cool. The texture of the nylon strings on the classical guitar added a very different feel. The two guitars seemed to contrast each other just enough to make it interesting. We also used the classical guitar to write a cool outro for the song with a lot of trippy delay and reverb.

Hudson Laird (Bishop Gunn's guitarist) showed up shortly after that was done, and I talked him in to playing the guitar solo. Rock 'n' Roll guitar is his bread and butter, and his style just seemed to fit perfectly. It didn't take much arm twisting to get him to agree to it, and it didn't take long for him to compose a monster of a solo to complete the track's guitar work. This thing screams! He played it on his Les Paul (the one I tried to record on the day before) proving that it had no apparent tuning issues. Chalk it up to user error on my part.

The guitar work and drum tracks were complete, which was great because Alan Solano was scheduled to lay the bass track the next day. And speaking of Bass players, John Cooper swung by after work to record his bass line to November Sunburn. After he got setup, I stepped out for a few minutes to make a run to the store. When I got back, the bass track was done and we gave it a listen. It was perfect! My guitar rides an Fm during the intro and verses, and John had written a very cool groove based on the relative major of G#. I had never thought of doing that, but it sounded amazing! It gave a whole new "happy major key" feel to the song that just wasn't there before. Surprises like this seem to be happening a lot with this project. Now the only thing missing from November Sunburn is the organ part, but that's a good project for a Thursday.


Sunburns, Vintage Guitars, and the #3 Golden Era Tube Amp

Greetings all,

Last week I spent a couple of days in the studio with Burne Sharp and Bishop Gunn back in Natchez. We were tracking an old song that I wrote back in 2009 called November Sunburn.

The title doesn't explain much, and the general train of thought throughout the song is a little unclear, but that's because it was written about a rather wild party that my band at the time played for. The lack of clarity in the song is a reflection of our state of mind that night. A warm front had moved into Louisiana that November. The title is a reference to the first conversation of the evening where Riley, a Baltimore native, complains about getting a sunburn while she was working outside that day. Riley is also the girl at the end of the song whose car almost ends up in the hotel swimming pool. Thankfully that never came to fruition. It did make for a great song though, and it seemed only natural when looking for guest musicians to record on this track to ask Riley's ex and a former band mate of mine Jon Borum, lovingly known as Jon Juan, to record the big guitar track at the end.

The process started with a new Golden Era amp. This thing is awesome! It's a 36 watt all tube guitar amp with a 1/2 power switch to cut it to 18 watts and make it more manageable for studio use. It features a single 12" Eminence Red, White, and Blues speaker for a very "American" sound. We backed the Master Volume way down and set the Channel Volume to about 3 o'clock to overdrive the preamp tubes just enough to get good breakup without losing transparency.

The first guitar on the track is a 1959 Gibson ES-330 with a single P90. It is present in the intro, the verses, and the slow part at the end as one of the rhythm guitars. This guitar is a true hollowbody which gives it a lot of natural sustain right there on the verge of feedback. It can be touchy to control, but it is very manageable especially in a studio setting.

The second guitar isn't a vintage piece at all. It's a 2011 Fender American Special Telecaster. It has an Alder body and Maple neck and fretboard. I replaced the Texas Special pickups with a set of Lollar Special T's. This guitar also has a 4-way switch which offers the 3 standard tele positions plus a 4th position where the pickups are wired in series together like a humbucker. This gives a bigger, fatter sound which is exactly what we were looking for. This guitar is present in the left channel both during the chorus and at the big ending as one of the rhythm guitars. 



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