Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Black and Blue Go Back To Rockville.

The place: Torrance, California. The date: June 14, 2008. The occasion: Rock and F’n Roll. The Reason: Bachelor Bill.

It wasn’t really the planets that aligned, but a bunch of circumstances. Bills entire family is out of town, meaning that he is once again a bachelor, albeit temporarily. Since the BNB operation has sort of fallen behind in schedule over the past month, we thought it would be a good opportunity to really knuckle down and get some work done. The idea was that we would be free of distractions, and able to crank out the tracks.

Insert old saying about best laid plans.

I arrived at “The Studio” at about noon on Saturday. Bill had been at work in the morning, but was ready to roll. There were no construction projects mid-flight in the garage, so it seemed that we could get straight to work. But there was a problem. The computer that we had been using to do our recording was missing. Well, not missing. We knew exactly where it was. It was with Lisa. This means we had to rig up Bill’s laptop to do the dirty work. We spent time installing and configuring Cubase, the greatest invention ever granted to rock and roll.

We loaded in the Rockville project, only to discover that there were problems. Bills laptop just wasn’t powerful enough to run the project. It would cease up and pop and click all throughout playback. Even worse, it would insert pops and clicks into the recordings. I guess it just didn’t have the processing power. We spent some time dorking around with the laptop, shutting down applications and services in the hopes that it would free up some CPU cycles. No such. After much experimentation, we hatched a plan to create a scaled down project file that only included tracks necessary to sync up new stuff. We got it down to drums, one guitar, and vocals. The thought was that if we lightened the payload of the project file, the CPU could handle it better. Partly true. We still had some hiccups, but decided to plow ahead.

After some recording, we noticed that although there were pops and crackles, they were often NOT embedded in the recording, but were instead being generated at playback. So that was cool. We concluded that our technique was working, and plowed ahead. But not before we kicked around the idea of throwing in the towel. Don’t get me wrong.

Although I did keep a log of what we did during the recording session, I do not have it in front of me, so I’ll just have to do my best to reconstruct it. Actually, scratch that. I’ll just do a very high level summary, and then when I get my mitts on the log, I’ll transcribe it.

The lead guitar took a couple of takes to get right, but it turned out good. As with previous rock efforts, we interrupted practice and recording to head down to Sam Ashe to pick up some supplies. Bill was hunting for a certain combination of strings that would duplicate what Peter Buck does on his Rickenbacker. That’s cool. Sam Ashe has taken some tips from Guitar Center, and now offers no customer service, combined with long waits in line. Cool. We dorked around for a while, and I purchased a “Cabasa”, a common percussion instrument that has a nifty sound to it. I thought it would be cool to introduce some new flavor into a recording.

Naturally, this recording session was not complete without a trip to Carl’s Jr.

Back in the studio, Bill belted out the lead guitar, and it sounded good. He then switched to bass. This took a little bit longer, as Bill is not as familiar with the bass line as the guitar part. I’d like to coin a phrase for something Bill does again and again. No malice intended by this, though I am being a tad snarky. It’s just something that Fischer has been doing since as long as I can remember, and has yet to learn lessons from. It goes something like this. When it comes time for bill to record a part, it goes like this. First, we record the track all the way through the song. Then Bill listens to the track, and identifies tons and tons of parts that need to be patched. We go in and start patching stuff up, but this proves problematic. Either Bill plays with a different volume, intensity, or maybe the axe has gone slightly out of tune. We spend a lot of time patching about half the song in this troublesome manner. Then, Bill says “maybe we should just record the whole thing again, rather than trying to patch it”. Now repeat the process from the beginning.

I want to come up with a name for that. Maybe “The Fischer Iteration”. Please submit your recommendations. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the original recording was usually pretty darn good, and could most likely survive on its own.

We did this for the bass line, and new problems were introduced. When you do an insert edit, it tends to create a little pop or tick at the beginning and end. Sometimes. My theory was that there HAD to be a way to fix those in post production, so we just let them slide during recording.

Somewhere along the way, we took a break to record some basic tracks for “On The Road”. I had been practicing the drum beat at home a lot during the past couple of weeks, and felt very comfortable with it. We did a couple takes, and one was just stellar. It was me on drums, with bill in the booth doing guitar and vocals. I was pleased as punch with the recording. Not only was it going to be my next production number, but it kind of made me feel like we weren’t falling so hopelessly behind after all.

I don’t remember the sequence of events, but along the way we overdubbed vocals for OTR, and did a harmonica track. I don’t think Bill was ultimately happy with the harmonica, but upon numerous listenings, I have really become sold on it.

I had a concept in mind for the song, but no idea on execution. I explained it to Bill. One of the things I’ve been hot to try lately is to get a set of dissonant vocals going during the refrain of a song. I cite REM’s “Can’t Get There From Here” as an example. So, in the refrain of that, the lead singer sings “Can’t get there from here” while a voice buried in the background is yelling “I’ve been there and I know the way” over and over. While it was not this REM song that inspired me to go this direction, this was a good example, as I know Bill is familiar with it. I don’t really know what words I wanted to go behind the refrain for OTR, though I figured it would have something to do with motion. You know, maybe something like “going, and going, and going, and going”. It even occurred to me to use “Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer GOOOOO!”. But then, that would be a copyright violation. So I cut Bill loose on the mic, and he came up with something really great. On the final refrain, he laid down some really unique sounding vocals that paid homage to the never released “Obscene Album” from My New Invention. (Note: this was a nod to an earlier discussion we had in the day, where I declared that it was time to write a song about our other songs. Just like the Beatles!!!) Bills contribution really had me laughing, and I thought it was great. The only downside was that because it was an ad-lib, there was a part in the middle where he kind of tripped up over his own words. (more on that later, dear reader!!!)

Somewhere in the practice, we also did a little goofing around with a song of Bills that I really like called “Second Time Around”. For Bill, this song has been the butt of many of MY jokes for the past five years, ever since we recorded the demo at TRU rehearsals. Long story short, I tend to sing a certain part of the song in a mock Liza Minnelli voice. I know, I know, that sounds really odd. I guess you just had to be there. That aside, I’ve always liked the song. Perhaps due to my mocking and other reasons, I’ve always believed that Bill does NOT like the song. Getting to my point, I sort of talked Bill into playing the guitar part for the song while I experimented with a couple of new drum tricks I had picked up. The weirdest thing happened: it sounded great! So much so that Bill confessed he liked the way it was going, and even suggested that this may be the next song he chooses to produce. Wow! I don’t think we recorded any demos of STA, but I’ve got it in my head what I was doing for the drums. Easily repeatable.

But let’s get back to Rockville, despite what the title of the song demands.

One of the things that we never quite got right in any of the recordings is what we lovingly call the “Deedle track”. That’s the little guitar riff right after the vocal says “And waste another year”. We did a dedicated track for that guitar part, and got it nailed.

Speaking of “Waste another year”, Herr Produktor Bill was never quite happy with that line in the song, and asked me to re-record it. No problem. We went through the song and with a new track, recorded that part of the vocal.

We did a separate cabasa track too. Though it was not my intention to use it on Rockville, it seemed as good a place as any.

We finished Rockville at almost exactly midnight. Timeline wise, I think it was just after that when we recorded vocals for On The Road.

We then did some band interview movies, and I think I ended up heading home at about 2:30.

All told, including technical difficulties and breaks, we had spent about 20 hours on Rockville. For this authors money, that’s too much. I’m not going to soap box, because this blog is not about bustin’ Bills balls. Though that may sound like a catch album title, I’m not here to spread the hate. Those days are over!!!

So there you have it. Another month, another song in the can for Black and Blue. Who knew we could actually stay on quasi-schedule for so long? Weird.

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