Friday, May 21, 2010

recording blog: making 'down to sleep'

recording ‘down to sleep’ was a really surreal experience- it stretched over about six or seven moves. There’s some overlap with ‘petals’ as well as ‘learning how to crawl,’ but really ‘petals’ was pretty much done by the time we moved to chicago and ‘learning how to crawl’ was an accident- everything was recorded very quickly and without much fanfare or planning or intent of release. ‘down to sleep’ was very pre-planned, however.

‘the sun is so bright’- written in 2006. i wrote the lyrics down randomly during a drive back to chicago from st. louis after i’d played at the 2006 st. louis noise festival (we had been invited to play, but stefanie wasn’t able to go with me for some reason so I had to play the show by myself, which wasn’t so fun). i had to get in the van and drive straight home at about 9 or 10pm so i could get to work the next morning. while i was driving i kept thinking up little phrases that would make great lyrics. i wrote them all down when i stopped. they were a mish-mash of a million different ideas on the same page. the music was written later in 2007 once i’d bought my new fender twin reverb amp and my fender jaguar. the jaguar became best used for the open C tuning that i’m so fond of and it still is to this day. i wrote the chords out with the idea being that they would build from something simple to something fuller- sort of like the song ‘honey’ by spacemen 3. it was done with the built-in tremolo setting on the fender twin and the reverse reverb effect on a yamaha spx 90, which i use for damned near everything. one day i happened upon the page of random lyrics when i had an idea to make a song with tons of different overlapping, layered lines a la ‘ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space’ by spiritualized and i tried all of the random lines over the chords and they fit, so i figured out which order they should come in and i made a 4-track demo to figure out the best way for them to layer and determine who should sing what. i also loved the fact that in ‘ladies and gentlemen…’ jason pierce had segued into a cover of ‘can’t help falling in love’ but i wanted to be able to do it with something that was in the public domain so it would be easy to do in a legal sense. i also love old folk songs. ‘didn’t leave nobody but the baby’ seemed like the most obvious choice because i’ve always loved the version that’s in ‘oh brother, where art thou?’ i gave that a try and it fit. so it goes. i started a version on the 8-track with the figure played on acoustic guitar and a rhythmic time-keeping section in the middle during what would become the a capella part. the guitar part was recorded during a trip to kansas city in may of 2007 to record tons of guitar parts with different amp combinations (i was going to try to use a ton of my friend mike’s amps in addition to the two i had) as well as record as many of billy’s cello parts as possible. this took place at stefanie’s parents’ house while they were away. i was pretty much working around the clock over the course of three days. the amp combination on this one was my fender twin reverb and mike’s fender blues deville 212 pointed towards each other and five different mics between the two (pretty much all sm57s on each speaker and an sm58 in the middle), through the spx 90 reverse reverb, with the built-in tremolo from the fender twin and a fender blender distortion pedal for the ending. the drums were originally from before stefanie had bought a floor tom and consisted of the metal table from the ‘learning how to crawl’ ep. once stefanie had bought the floor tom this was one of the first drum parts we re-recorded because all i did was mic the floor tom with an sm58 and the tambourine with an sm57 without any overheads. not sure if that was the best decision as it’s possible that the low end would’ve been easier to hear if i’d used a few overheads or at least one room mic, but it works. the bass on it is nice and phat. the vocal parts were done after the may trip to kansas city- rather than sing the three overdubs (stefanie’s first line ran through the entire length of the song) ten times each we did each one two times and i only added reverb to two of the voices. in retrospect it would’ve been much easier to just do the vocals using the inputs that we still had, but i think there were only one or two because we’d also recorded billy’s two cello parts in kansas city in may, so i had to do the vocals in the typical way that most of the vocals were done for ‘down to sleep’- i transferred the guide track to another tape, we recorded the vocals then sampled the individual verses and tried to sync them up on the main tape, something that was often easier than expected, but hair-pullingly frustrating when the two recordings refused to match up. in this case they matched up perfectly on the first try- something that only happened a few times especially in a case like this where the vocals run the entire length of the song with no break. the background textural loop was added last. the inbetween track was a glockenspiel duet that I did in one day during a dead period when we were biding our time until we had the floor tom.

‘don’t go’- this was written in 2004 in Portland and demoed there as well at the same time as a song that didn’t end up making the final cut called ‘my love is a hole.’ the first version was built around a loop that i had made using the toy piano that we used to have, a tambourine and a few other things that i don’t even remember now- the original idea was to make these massive, symphonic loops that would fill up all of the inputs on the 8-track and build the songs around those. we did an old version of this song in august of 2005 just before we moved to chicago after our break in kansas city during which time we got married, went on tour and recorded a ton. stefanie sang the vocal ten times in the shower of the guest floor of her parents’ house. the version didn’t quite soar the way it was supposed to, so we elected to attempt another version later, which ended up not being for quite a long time. the glockenspiel part was the second thing we recorded with the glockenspiel once we bought it in late 2007- stefanie played the part twice exactly the same with exactly the same mic set-up. the guitar part was done in our apartment with the fender twin reverb and the fender princeton chorus amp pointed towards each other. the distortion pedal was stefanie’s old russian big muff pedal from her bass playing days. i tried to use the vintage big muff that i had at the time, but it was a bit too fierce and stefanie’s pedal came out warm, fuzzy, thick and smooth, which suited the song beautifully. the vocals were done in the same style as most of the ‘down to sleep’ vocals- doubled ten times clean then run through an amp in the abandoned stairwell of our apartment building so that the echo could be recorded on a microphone three floors up, then sampled and synched up with the main tracks later. the melody was added via a fender bass vi through chorus and a floating delay (a la ‘disintegration’ era robert smith 6-string bass parts). it was doubled during the may trip to kansas city by billy on cello, but the notes were hard for him to reach and they made the vocal sound out of key. at that time the glockenspiel part was played on the toy piano, which sounded a bit tinnier than the glockenspiel (which is why we redid it later). this is what prompted us to place a craigslist ad for a violinist, which is how we found chris. the violin part he plays here is the first one we ever had him do and it turned out beautifully. this song was a go-to song when we played our first restrained electric shows and we played it at our first chicago show ever- which was at the black spot gallery. the inbetween bit is the instrumental demo for ‘my love is a hole’ which was demoed at the same time as ‘don’t go’ in our apartment in portland in 2004- it was in a similar style to the ‘don’t go’ demo, but came out much better than it’s final version, so it was included here. it’s just a few guitars through delay and reverb recorded backwards and the toy piano.

‘to the sky’- this song was written when i was at columbia college in 1997. i recorded the earliest version of it over thanksgiving break- it was done with backwards guitars and 6-string basses. it still sounds pretty cool, i must say- one of my earliest and most successful 4-track experiments. once i’d conceived of ‘down to sleep’ this is pretty much how i envisioned all of the tracks. the loop is made up of a bass droning a dissonant chord, a 6-string bass, an acoustic guitar with a swirling delay on it, a bass strummed in rhythm, a tambourine and an old shalloboi-style percussion looping technique that can be heard all over ‘blue-eyed’ and a great deal of ‘petals’ and ‘invisible against the sun’- to simulate drum sounds that i liked i would pound out rhythms on the back of my acoustic guitar, hitting different areas of the guitar to simulate snare and bass drum sounds and then flip it backwards and mess with the eq in order to make it sound more convincing. this is the last such loop that ever appeared on a shalloboi record and it worked so well- the loop is perfectly synched in time so it’s incredibly easy to play along with without sacrificing any of the fullness and drony expansiveness. the loop was started in an apartment in portland that we lived in that was on the northeast side off of sandy blvd. at 23rd street (the only apartment of ours in Portland that wasn’t in the southeast). i used to record a lot of my noisy guitar and bass parts for loops direct in this apartment. most of ‘petals’ was done while we lived there. i later redid it at stefanie’s aunt and uncle’s guest house- which is where the majority of the loud guitar parts for ‘petals’ and ‘invisible against the sun’ were recorded. the other stuff was added later in our last apartment in portland. we started the final version during our stay in kansas city in august of 2005- stefanie recorded her vocal in the shower, double ten times and i recorded the guitar as two separate parts. later on i wasn’t happy with how crowded the track was and started a new version. i recorded the cello part with billy’s friend hannah trobe, who only played on this song and the version of ‘on the bridge’ that can be found on the ‘wish’ digital single. it came out very nicely and she was a great sport about playing along using my weirdo method of music notation. the guitar part ended up being done in order to meet the application deadline to apply for a south by southwest music showcase slot- i thought it would be good to include a new track. sadly it didn’t work. at the time i still didn’t have the fender twin, so it was done through the fender princeton chorus and also through my bass amp pointed at each other using the aforementioned vintage big muff, the reverse reverb, some delay and also the guitar part is played with a bow and it is a combination of the two parts from the previous recording- when we’d play this song live i’d combine the two parts and it always worked very beautifully and when it was recorded this way the track sounded less crowded. i pulled stefanie’s vocal from the original version and was able to sync it up very easily. i also recorded a toy piano melody in the stairwell. it was a beautiful track that i thought worked well as a template, but the album then took on a completely different and more organic direction and none of the songs that were built entirely around loops worked anywhere near as well. the inbetween bit at the end is from an answering machine message from a job in portland that i tried to get in order to supplement my income in preparation for our move- after going in for the interview and finding out that working there for a few months wouldn’t be worth my time i just didn’t show up for my first day of training and the guy who interviewed me left me this hilarious message in which he makes a freudian slip, sounds really annoyed and then still says ‘thank you’ at the end. what’s more i felt that his acting upon an impulse that most people would say but not do was admirable enough for a tribute. amazing. i bleeped out his and his company’s name just in case. the background is a recording i made out the window of our apartment in portland in the southeast during a rare spate of thunderstorms that they were having in the summer just before we left town- for whatever reason while it rains constantly you hardly ever hear the sound of thunder there, which became something we adored whenever it would happen because we missed it so much. there are some popping looped sounds and those are from the fourth of july at my parents’ old house in the brookside neighborhood in kansas city (it’s a very residential, affluent suburb-feeling neighborhood)- someone was setting off fireworks outside my window so i recorded them and looped this phrase and ran it through some reverb on the boss sp-303 sampler.

‘crawl to you’- written in 2004 or 2005. the acoustic guitar part was recorded in the closet at the studio apartment above the congress theater- sounds so fantastic. the vocals were done in november of 2006 in order to send a copy to billy so that he could hear it before we played it at davey’s uptown. the original percussion part featured the table, but made the whole thing a gargantuan, muddy mess. the cello was recorded during the may trip to kansas city by billy. there was an electric guitar part done at that time as well using the vintage big muff as the distortion, but it just didn’t work that well and was later redone in our apartment with the fender twin and princeton chorus and a marshall shredmaster- which whipped the distorted part of this song into shape- it always worked the best for the dronier stuff. the drony, synthy sounds were made with some really loud high guitars, low bass parts done on an analog fowley organ that was set up in the performance room of our last apartment (in the first artist in residence building) using the bass pedals mostly and then I had Stefanie sing along to some notes a few times- each chord would last for about thirty seconds and would often end with Stefanie laughing in multitrack. they were all mixed together and sampled as four different chords that could be played by Stefanie when we played the song live. the emphasis on this album was on the analog- even the keyboards that were used on the loops had to be analog, even though they would be sampled digitally. the drum part was done on the same day as ‘the sun is so bright’ in the same way since it was just the floor tom being hit with a mallet. the inbetween bit is a piano piece I made up and recorded at stefanie’s parents’ house during our stay. the other part was an improvised noise-making session with a delay pedal and the fender jaguar in the open C tuning.

‘you turn down’- written in 2006 over the course of about a week while i was working at lorna’s laces. i used to enjoy spinning the mohair yarn- it was a chore no one else liked doing, but it allowed me to do something mindless and repetitive while listening to my ipod and, perhaps most importantly, i didn’t have to answer the phone while i was doing it (which i intensely hated doing there as it was always getting me into trouble). this is a song i wrote while i was over there spinning- one of the reasons i like mindless, repetitive work so much is because my mind wanders and sometimes if it’s somewhat rhythmic i end up writing a bunch of songs while doing it. i have no idea how i made up this tuning because it’s a weird one- basically i took the two bottom strings on my acoustic guitar and tuned them up a full step so it was (low to high) EACFD. A variation of this tuning became the basis for ‘glasslands’ off of the ‘dandelions’ ep- the same tuning, just a full step up- F#BDGE. acoustic guitar was done first, then i did some multi-tracked, backwards textural stuff as the background- first two really high guitars that were played really loudly on the fender twin reverb with some delay and reverb and transposed so that the tape speed could be turned all the way down when they were recorded, so they would be completely stratospheric in pitch and float over everything else. after that i did an organ part on that awesome fowley organ that was in the next-door artist in residence building. once i had those parts i had to bounce them down to a single input in order to make room for the electric guitar, drums, the vocals and the fully-fleshed out string trio part that i had arranged for the song (the first arrangement of its kind which i continue to use to this day). i bounced it down and left it for a long time while i was doing the vocals on another tape in the normal fashion for the record- recorded ten times on a separate tape then adding reverb, sampling and syncing. once that was done i recorded the electric guitar part, which was done by bowing the low E string open and looping it on a boss dd-5 and then adjusting the volume to a proper level so that the two parts meshed well and then i played the electric guitar part over it- very unadorned as it turned out. the guitar was played through just the twin reverb at a really loud level with only one microphone, the reverb on the amp, no delay and on the bright channel (which I hardly ever use on the twin) setting with that vintage big muff. something about it just worked and i’ve never used the same setting since, even during this song’s solitary live work out (on a live set record for WZRD). the two low cello parts were recorded in billy’s apartment and were the first notated music that i gave to billy- written out in bass clef. chris recorded the violin part later during the same session as ‘don’t go.’ the inbetween bit is from an improvised feedback workout with the fender jaguar done with a delay pedal in open C tuning. the background was recorded at union station one night after i got off of work at chase- i love the weird overlap of voices calling out the track numbers- a nice ambient and rhythmic quality to it and fitting the eerie mood that pervades at union station late at night (i got pretty familiar with that feeling during the megabus years).

‘angels floating on the head of a pin’- written in 2005 at ceda (my first job in chicago) at the same time as ‘life in a hive’ off of ‘dandelions’ and ‘ashes ashes’ off of ‘all hope is blind.’ Weird, sonic youth-y tuning- EAC#C#C#C#. another instance of a symphonic loop that actually worked. not sure where all of the different parts came from- just messing around with the tuning in the closet at our first apartment in chicago- there is a floor tom part played by stefanie on mike tuley’s drum set from a mostly non-productive session recording some drum parts for loops during our stay in kansas city in august of 2005- the first time stefanie had played drums actually, a guitar with just reverb playing doubled harmonics in the different octaves, a bass playing some harmonics rhythmically and a direct fuzz bass with a bit of delay- all turned backwards except for the floor tom. perfectly looped and very easy to play along with live. i started an old version of this that clocked in at about nine minutes. i even recorded the vocals for it in the congress theater- one of the only surviving vocal parts recorded there. during one of the ten times i was doubling it a rat ran up the stairwell and i screamed like a woman and stopped the tape to listen to it later and it was quite hilarious. i wish i could’ve used it on something else because i was shocked at the sound that came from me- hilarious. stefanie’s original drum part featured the ever-present table and two guitar parts that were supposed to be scratch guitar parts- done with the twin and princeton chorus facing each other. for some reason i couldn’t get a decent version of the guitar part laid down while we were in kansas city in may of 2007 and it ended up being pushed clear to the end almost. the final rhythm guitar part was done with a marshall shredmaster and the twin and princeton chorus facing each other. the lead guitar part ended up being what was supposed to be a scratch part- it just sounded too good not to keep- done with the fender twin and princeton chorus and using the vintage big muff and a crybaby wah wah pedal. stefanie then redid the drum part with the floor tom.

‘sloba’- written at the eleventh hour in late 2007 while i was still working at chase. in the dropped D tuning of ‘crawl to you,’ ‘voices in the air’ and ‘on the bridge.’ i worked out the guitar parts one day and recorded them immediately along with a click track- both are first takes and the idea to loop at the end came to me as the tape was rolling- brilliant and inspired noise-making. fender twin and princeton chorus facing each other through reverse reverb, a little delay and the marshall shredmaster. the lead guitar part has a moment where i pick up a slide and start using it as well as an inspired feedback loop- neither of which were planned. after doing the guitar parts i recorded the vocal immediately- doubled ten times and bounced on the main track so as to save time including the added reverb which i also did that day. once stefanie came home from work i showed her the track and she played the drum parts immediately- it was her idea to double them. also not planned and done in one take- i particularly like the strange way that her maraca shaking doesn’t quite match up but has a pleasant effect all it’s own. she even came up with the drumbeat- the only touches i made were in the chorus. the last part that was added was the droning keyboard. i was going to go next door and do it on the fowley organ, but i was selling an old digital organ that my dad had given me in order to pay for the record (the remaining balance was paid for with the $600 stimulus check i received in the mail). i figured it was a fitting tribute to at least use it on one thing on the record and since it was a full keyboard i was able to tape down several octaves worth of the D chord and it made a nice, full drone. my dad was not happy about me selling it, but i hardly ever used it at that point. all told the song was only a few days worth of work and we continue to end with it whenever we play as a two-piece. good stuff.

‘ahn’- written in 1997 at columbia. the last of the three foundation tracks. this was written via inspiration from ‘softly’ by siouxsie and the banshees and the original 4-track recording had a bunch of volume swelled 6-string basses over some casio keyboard strings and some samples from a play i wrote in high school recorded on a little micro-cassette recorder i had (wish i still had that actually- it’d be handy for some textural spoken stuff). this started as a guide track with just clean guitar and vocals on the same track, then billy added three cello parts in may of 2007. vocals were done next- there was a ten times doubled version that just didn’t work so well for whatever reason. the one on the album was only doubled once, if at all, although it did get the stairwell reverb treatment. chris added the violin part during his first session with us, which was supposed to replace billy’s third part, but the two meshed so well we just kept them all in there. i did the 6-string bass in the original style, but i just didn’t like it so much and came up with a bowed guitar part that i felt worked a lot better. the variation of the main figure was made up on the spot and during the distorted part is played through the marshall shredmaster. stefanie did the drum and glockenspiel part at the same time- she was having a really rough time that day and the part isn’t perfect, but i have trouble remembering where the mistakes are to this day when i hear it.

‘down to sleep’- written in 1997 while i was at columbia college. one of three foundation tracks for the record. this was originally done entirely on 6-string basses with a rhythmic delay setting, i started a version based on the original 4-track version while we were in kansas city in august of 2005. it ended up being redone completely in the closet at the apartment above the congress theater and the version is definitely fascinating as an alternate take on the song as it was completed- billy even did a cello part for it in may- he did both versions back to back in fact. the version that ended up on the record that we play live occasionally was begun with a guide track where i played the song on the guitar clean, with reverb and singing along recorded to the same track. i still need to check to see if this demo survived on the main tracks as the song doesn’t have that many parts, really. the guitar was done during the same trip in may of 2007 using the fender twin, mike’s fender deville and a shitload of beautiful volume. knocked out of the park in a single take- overtone heaven. no distortion, gain is only the result of pressure applied to the strings while playing. no outside texture necessary. the melody that billy plays is basically the transposed 6-string bass part from the original version. the vocals were redone for this version as the ones from the original version didn’t sync up properly (they were done in a room in the congress theater with an obscenely high ceiling and a defaced picture of joss stone- in all of my notes for the album it’s called ‘the joss stone room’ for this reason) in the same style- doubled ten times, stairwell reverb. the original drum part was done by me with the table and it stayed for a really long time- stefanie redid the drum part later with the floor tom. a few of the early mixes had both. there’s not much to it, really- guitar, vocals, one cello part and drums.

‘so goodbye…’- written in 2006 around the same time as ‘narcoleptic.’ it’s the first entry in my second ever moleskine pocket notebook. in that entry it’s titled ‘flowers for amanda’ after a friend of mine from high school who had just died in august of that year. very sad, unexpected and sudden, she was only 25. my story with her was a strange one. anyway, this song was built around a loop made with the toy piano and a droning guitar pattern, not entirely sure of the tuning as we’ve never played this song live. it could be done, the loop is easy to play along with, but stefanie hates this song- the lyrics are very out-pouring and they don’t hold back and i had her sing them with me ten times. understandably she wasn’t very happy by the time we were done despite my explanations that they were more indicative of the way that i used to feel rather than how i was feeling at that moment. it takes the piss out of a lot of love song clichés such as ‘i’d climb a mountain for you’ sort of stuff. i used to love that stuff around the time that i’d met amanda and applied a lot of that to my feelings for her. kind of naïve and misguided, but also special in the sense that you can only really hold those sentiments for a short period of time in your life. it had occurred to me that i had outgrown the writing of those teenage-type lovesongs and to me that was very lamentable as there’s something very special about remembering those feelings. all of these things were on my mind as i was writing this and i am pretty happy with the way that it turned out, even though stefanie really took it to heart. the guitar part was done in may of 2007 in kansas city as was the cello part. the guitar was done with the fender twin and deville and also no distortion- probably done immediately after ‘down to sleep.’ the tuning is (i believe) DGDGAD maybe? the drums are one of the first drum parts that we did with the floor tom- stefanie played the table and the floor tom as well, the only time we ever did this. i believe we recorded them on martin luther king jr. day because i had the night off from chase as i was working there at the same time as beans and bagels. the glockenspiel loop from the inbetween part after the ‘sun is so bright…’ returns as a loop and speed manipulated which worked fairly nicely. and now, the ending random bit- that ‘i love you, mary,’ song. that song came to me in a dream that i had- imagine woody allen singing it from the bathroom of a space shuttle leaving earth. that’s pretty much what it sounded like- a jazzy piano and organ. i was going to add strings to it too, but it was a bit much for something that was pretty much a complete joke. the version of it that i have recorded is about five minutes long and there is another version that was done on 4-track at our apartment in the southeast in portland in 2005. i had originally wanted to have it pressed to a 78 and record that onto the end of the track, but no one presses 78s anymore. again, a lot of trouble to go to for what is essentially a joke that only i understand. recorded using the piano and fowley organ in the other artist in residence building. the drum part came from a session i did with mike playing drums with the intention of using the recordings to make some loops with. we got some great drum sounds that day, so it seemed a shame not to use at least something from it. i think this was supposed to be for a song called ‘i hear.’ this is probably the only song where i actually used any of those recordings and i have no idea when they were done.

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