..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.