Friday, May 16, 2008

Recording History

So, you may or may not know that I participate in a musical group that we eventually decided to call, "The Lower West." Dom, Jeff, and I, along with our spouses, have all been good friends for about 4 years. Sean and I moved to Bklyn in the fall of '03, Jeff and fam arrived in about Feb of '04 and Dom, et al, arrived that summer. Since then we spent just about every Thanksgiving together and hung out several times. It's hard to make friends sometimes, but not with these people.

We each played music in our own individual way, but it wasn't until last fall where we got together with several other church members to play some bluegrass tunes at a church party. Dominic has always been a singer/songwriter and has recorded several albums. I'm not sure of Jeff's musical recording history but I think he is way too humble to share much of it. But I know he has some. I have recorded my own lame stuff but it's mostly church things with a few piano tunes. But we realized, "hey, we're all pretty good," and Dom had the idea to form a band before he jets off to AZ in a few weeks.

Thus, we began to start practicing. Dom brought some songs he'd recently written, he'd tell us the chords, and we'd arrange the songs together. There's something about creating music with a group that is very very cool. At first I was a bit timid to be terribly showy. I felt I had the skill but this type of music was not my typical style. So I kind of had to learn how to play just chords and not use the sustain pedal, things like that. At first I began providing the bass & basic rhythm to the songs. Then, Jeff bought a bass so that left me free to play in the upper register of the piano.

I don't want to bore you but I'm just trying to give a little back story. What I'm trying to say, I guess, is it's been so much fun for me and is something that has given me great joy and happiness. And we are all such good friends that no one was a diva and we worked together well, offering good suggestions and sometimes suggestions that got vetoed. But no feelings were hurt. It was just easy. I feel like we were all sufficiently musically inclined to recognize a good or bad idea. Band dynamics are funny sometimes. And I can't really describe to you the feeling when you're in the moment of playing and experimenting with a song, trying to figure out what part you should play that will best suit and balance the song and other instruments, and you suddenly play something and people are like "THAT. Do THAT. That was awesome." And you know you've struck a bit of gold. Each of us had moments like this and we all celebrated them for one another. Here are some pictures of a typical band practice.

Actually this was our very last one, which was bittersweet. I love band practice, so very much. It is a highlight of my life. We did less playing at this one because we were listening to the rough recordings we'd just made. A friend attended this band practice to help with the overdubs.

So about the recordings. Recently we were able to go to a recording studio downtown to get these all recorded professionally and to make this album. If you've done some recording, I don't have to tell you how cool it is. We each got to play some pretty awesome instruments. I had a luscious grand. Jeff and Dom got to borrow some pretty stellar guitars that the studio people had. And, with the help of a super friendly and wise sound engineer, we set to work.

Here are some pictures from our first recording night where we recorded 10 songs in 5 hours which is apparently pretty speedy. Sitting there playing with these guys and hearing the sound quality through the headphones was near euphoric and I told myself several times to remember the moment, to savor it.

Here I am at my piano.

This Wednesday last, we got together again for the overdubs. This means backup vocals, additional instrumentation, percussion, etc etc. In the first recording session, we knew exactly what we were doing. We laid down the basics and it was pretty smooth. This time we were unsure because we were never able to experiment with those things at band practices. A) we only had 2 hands each, and B) no one had any drums, etc. So we borrowed the skills of a friend who plays the mandolin and dobro (<-- i have no idea) and our sound engineer pulled out a big box of tambourines, shakers, jingle bells, castinettes, a zither, and many other things. We rifled in it and started to play. Here we are at the beginning:

This is me starting to get nervous when we each had a weird little doo-dad that we didn't really know how to play properly. It's easy to get caught up in all of the possibilities of instrumentation and you can lose sight of the vision.

Fortunately we had a great engineer who also recorded the drums for us on a few songs. It's so funny. A couple people were like "Ehh.. i'm ok on the drum kit. I can do like the cymbals and the snare..." and we were like, "oh, let's have a foot bass on this one.." Basically, we didn't know what we were doing and then our sound engineer stepped in, said he was ok on the drums, so we had him try and he proved to have some mad skills. So he showed someone how to record on his big fancy console thing and he went in the studio and recorded while the rest of us were in the listening room. Ha. I don't know why that's so funny to me, but it is/was.

The overdubs turned out to be pretty fun. For one of the songs we decided we wanted some raw beat going on and thought that clapping would be pretty cool. So four of us went in, surrounded the microphone, and recorded the clap track. It was really fun and we did it twice so it would sound like 8 clappers. My hands started to hurt after a while and i felt like I forgot how to clap and by the end was clapping like someone who just grew hands for the first time. Completely uncoordinated. It was funny.

We also did some group vocals for the chorus on a couple of songs. That was also fun, and Sean got to join in!

Yeah. I sing on a few of these songs. I know, what?? One song I just really wanted to sing instead of play so Dom and I do a duet. I am not a singer. So get excited. The song is called "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" and it ROCKS. It came together like magic.

Here is Sean living his rockstar dream.

and his dream of playing the congas.

We listened to the songs, again and again. Adding this here, changing that there. Deciding which take was better. We were at the studio from about 7:00 until 12:30. After hearing the songs so many times and thinking about what to add, eventually our brains started to turn to mush and nothing made sense anymore. Someone was like, "OK, OK... what if... we added the SAXOPHONE!" (Dom) and other ridiculous ideas. Fortunately we barely finished the last song before we had all gone completely insane, and barely stayed conscious. Sean, not so much:

And that was our magical night of recording. I'll never forget it.

p.s. the title of this post is a play on words except no one but me would know that. We actually recorded a song called "History." Yeah, i'm so clever. So now you know.


Amy said...

That is so great. What a fun experience that would be. So awesome. You look good by the way...and I can totally see Sean as a rockstar. HA

Natalie R. said...

That is so awesome, I'm really glad you got to have this experience. Rock on!! ;0)

Brooke said...

Now I can finally claim I know someone cool. Thank you, Jen. Thank you for being cool.

)en said...

I will tell Sean the "HA" after your comment, ames, is out of the deepest sincerity.

Brooke, you've had me as your cool connection for a long time now. But you're welcome.

Our Blog said...

WOW - I'm so jealous of your amazing life!!!!
I never knew Sean had such mad skills at everything!!