Not That it Matters

…..been known to burn a bridge and we shared a lethal wit,
They called us Scott and Zelda, but we didn’t give a shit

 

So we finally come to tracking day, the sounds are set, guitars tuned yet again.
I find a comfortable Anvil case to sit on with clear sightlines to drums and booth, my office for the next 10 hours.

It’s just Nick and me in the room, a new experience for us: tracking the basics without the bass.

Anthony has to, of all things, show up at the day job-pfffft.  Whatever.
We shall lay down the magic, me and Nicky, and let him add the bottom end whenever they let him off the deep fryer station.

It’s an exciting time, those few surreal moments before count off.  You just know the first take is gonna suck, but the tape is rolling nonetheless.  Gotta hedge the bets that this will be one of those rare one take wonders, that mythological beast that is never witnessed in person.
Chances are, we will grind this song again and again. Racing toward a finish without dropping a stick or forgetting a bridge.

Why do we put ourselves through this torture, trying to document a precious slice of time as the definitive edition?   A rare bug caught in amber, to be dissected by future scientists, its DNA inspected for clues of the day of death.

We put on the headphones and nod at each other now, each of us bobbing our heads up and down to the visceral tempo that we’ve conjured for the track.

Just before downbeat, Jim hits the talkback, an air controller trying one last time to divert disaster.

“So no click track on this, ya sure now?”

Heh.
Well, we really didn’t think of that did we?  In all these weeks of preparation, songwriting and pre production, we never really discussed if we would record to the metronome or not.

To commit the song to grid, it is really a courtesy to your future self.

In this day of copy and paste, how convenient it is to commit your music to binary code, and manipulate the 1’s and 0’s on the Mac monitor.

A sucky verse? Delete it.

Flat note? Nudge it.

Of course back in those days of actual tape, we would all hold our breaths as the engineer would cut and splice tape with actual razor blades and sticky stuff!  Somehow it was fitting, this physical act of separation and wedding, the results tested with manual rolls back and forth against the tape head.
An ancient art we like to romanticize, oh, like public telephones or smoking on airplanes,  things better left to the past.

But what is rock and roll, if not a breathing thing, allowed to stumble and race?  Like a dog straining against master’s leash, a good song bumps right against its countoff clock, and usually breaks free.
A wild run through the neighborhood, the threat of rolled up newspaper beating be damned!

 

 

Me and Nick look at each other and shrug, then shake our heads.
Nah man, let’s just play the goddamned thing!

We watch Jim and Jay talk it over in the control booth for a minute, a distant pantomime of grown up conversation.  Whenever a conversation conducts in the booth without courtesy of the Talky button, it becomes a silent movie: Did he just say sucks?

Finally Jay leans over the board and hits the button:
Producer will allow it.  Proceed.

 

Half the Day

..the stars you stare at every night, the language of the sky

 

Velvet Elvis is in the room.

Velvet Elvis always accompanies us to any studio work, the  first thing brought into the room and placed with care.  A talisman to chase out the gremlins lying in wait.

Velvet Elvis has a teardrop dripping from his eye, one that lengthens imperceptibly each time we call upon his mighty powers.

When we first found him at the Tijuana border crossing some 25 years ago, there was no teardrop visible.  But now,  liquid sorrow threatens to moisten the King’s crimson scarf.

A testament to all the tortured hours in those muted rooms.
Playback upon playback of the off-key thrashers he has had to endure.

 

Recording can be a nerve-wracking process, the right take is always the next one, or worse, the one you just deleted. The clock mercilessly ticks away the recording budget as the guitars go inevitably out of tune.

Whether it is just a one day session or we are camping out in the room for a month, the studio becomes home.  A place of heightened senses and bad jokes.  Any small comforts that can recreate the bedroom of song birth or the familiar warmth of the musty practice room are brought along.

 

We’ve been to a lot of studios.  From the heady temples with actual receptionists guarding the gates and taking coffee orders,  to the bedroom affairs of egg crate insulation and Ikea consoles.

We unbelievably spent a couple weeks at Gold Star  studio, home of the Wrecking Crew and the horrors of Phil Spector.

We once were gifted a couple days at Val Garay’s lofty studio in Topanga Canyon, a gated temple best known for producing Kim Carnes’ hardcore classic, Bette Davis Eyes.  

We loaded our torn cabinets into the pristine rooms to discover we missed Neil Young and Crazy Horse by mere hours.
Our consolation was found in the overflowing ashtrays, each containing highly  potent inch long roaches, sucked on by the soprano Canadian himself.

Those sessions created no memorable tracks but some wicked munchies if I recall.

 

 

We loaded into the feisty Racket Room, nestled in a somber Santa Ana business Park.

It was a wet rainy night, everyone burnt a bit from the long days of pre production.    The plan was to get a jump on load in, set up drums and amps and start getting some sounds. Come back the next day and the hit the Matrix hard.

Our old pal Jim Monroe would be helming the console once again, an old friend from the Doctor Strange  sessions back in 2002.  We shared an appreciation for wry irony and Beatles stories, could finish the punchlines to tales told 15 years ago.

Never shy to warn us when the cheese factor got too high or the vocals got too shrieky, Jim started us off with his favorite line, one that would be repeated enough in the following days to qualify as religious mantra:  Hey, that guitar, ya wanna check the tuning again?

 

Set up is quick, a mere moment compared to the nightmare of the 80’s when snare sounds would take up a full 8 hour session.  Ah, those days of drum triggers and hair spray, when the drums were modded out to sound like anything but actual drums.  The  sonic goal, rather, was to sound like shotgun blasts taking down weather balloons in a galvanized geodesic dome.

Satisfied with the setup, a quick check of the amps on hand, finally settling on a funky old JCM 800 that Jim was using as a footrest.  We made plans to come back sharp at 10am and start tracking.

 

You’ve heard the stories of The King in the studio, laying on the floor in a darkened booth, willing the almighty performance of If I Can Dream up to the heavens.

Elvis would wring out each song, this after ninety minutes warming up corny gospel numbers with the Jordanaires, singing a dozens of takes.  Each one a jewel.

I imagine the engineers, bewildered, as E would call for yet another rollback, another pass.

He was searching for something, as ethereal as faith, unreachable from even his pinnacle.

He’d finally take off the headphones and drawl, ya know, that one, what was it, take 24?

That’s the best let’s use that.