#GNALP3 Studio Diary: Days 1 + 2
Recording for the third G,NA album has begun!
It’s been a minute since I last updated this blog, but I’ve been keeping up with everyone via the newsletter, which I still manage to send out every month or so. I enjoyed a lazy summer after returning to Nashville from my annual Coachella gig, which had me out west for about nine weeks this year. And it wasn’t really a “lazy” summer, considering that I started composing music for the Superpowerless film score and finished writing and demo-ing a handful of songs for the new album — and finished a couple of books, started taking yoga classes again, and took a couple of trips to visit relatives. But yes, the universe gave me three whole months off this summer to simply be, which was quite the change of pace. G,NA got asked to play a few awesome local shows this summer, too. The Tomato Arts Festival in East Nashville (my ‘hood) asked us to play the main stage in August, and by the time that show rolled around, I was feeling inspired to start thinking about finding a place to record my next album..
I have known since the beginning of 2013 that 2014 is when I’d start recording the third G,NA album. But, for the first time in my life, I did not have the sense of urgency that has often made me rush into things, forcing them to happen in an untimely manner, at an unnatural pace. When this year started, I had no idea when, where, or with whom I would record this album, and it didn’t bother me. I just stayed focused on the songs. I figured that once the songs were there, the studio would fall into place, kind of like that saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But… what a backwards concept for my brain! I have always lived my life by the opposite idea: If I can just find the perfect teacher, then I will become a ready and willing student. Ah, youthful thinking…
It was at the Tomato Arts Festival show that the universe must have decided it was time for my three-month hiatus to be over; that I was ready to move into the next phase. The universe also decided that day to bring a monsoon to Nashville, causing the festival to have to shut down early — but not until right after G,NA’s set! It was perfect timing. And so was the timing of my asking a friend at that show if he knew of any good studios in town. That’s how I found out about Big Light Studios. The following week, I went over to see the studio and meet the owner/engineer, Logan Matheny.
You know how sometimes you just know? Well, after seeing a handful of other studios in town and feeling okay about them but not having anything click, it took me all of two seconds after walking into Big Light Studios to know that I had found the spot. The next thing I knew, I was scheduling studio time, putting the final touches on the demos, working on drum parts with Bryan, and announcing the plans to record. There was no sense of anxiety about it — not even a second thought! Patience is such an important virtue — one that is continually teaching me new lessons.
Fast forward, to…
October 4th: Day One
It was the first cold, truly autumn-like day of the season. We started with the first song I wrote for this album, on New Year’s Eve two years ago, called “Hunting.” Bryan was on hand to lay down the drum parts, which we did mostly on a real kit, adding a few additional parts using 808 and 909 drum machines. Bryan’s such a solid drummer that it didn’t take very long to get the parts down. It also helps that Logan is a drummer (and a great one at that; check out his band Roman Candle), and he and Bryan can talk drummer-talk while I try to explain my ideas using my hands and my sad excuse for a drummer vocab (“you know, like dun dun DUN”). I have such a deeply-rooted love for the drums — probably because I’m primarily a bassist, and the drums are my counterpart in the rhythm section. It feels very safe being in the studio with two knowledgeable drummers. I am in good hands!
After drums, I laid down the bass line for “Hunting,” which I wrote on my Casio DM-100 — a little gem I found on Craigslist this past summer. We got a great sound off that thing in the studio, and if I have my way, I’m going to make sure it’s on every single song on the album.
When I wrote this song nearly two years ago (on New Year’s Eve), I was borrowing my friend’s microKORG. I somehow found this really great sound, and made sure to record a decent-quality track, knowing that in the end I might not (a) be able to recreate the sound in the studio, and/or (b) remember how to play the part. Good thinking, Past Self! We ended up using the original track, which feels like burying a time capsule in the album, to me. It goes along with the album’s motif and title, too.
We spent the rest of the first day in the studio just talking about the song, which included me jumping up randomly saying things like, “I have an idea for a piano line!” Or Logan suggesting adding effects and delays to different instruments and parts. Or Bryan suggesting we add a shaker part. (Shakers always make everything better, by the way.) We left for the day with one a few things left to track (not including vocals, which will all get recorded toward the end).
October 5th: Day Two
The second day started off with breakfast burritos and coffee, which is always a good sign. We got right back into drums for two more songs, both on the full kit, but with a few changes like different snares and cymbals. One of the songs has a dance-y beat that required a tighter, cleaner sound — almost electronic — and the other song has more of a room-y drum sound with lots of cymbals. Needless to say, Logan did a lot of moving of mics and setting levels. He even recorded the drums through a few totally weird set-ups (which shall remain a secret for now), which is going to give us lots of options during mixing. Can I just say, again, how safe I feel in the hands of two great drummers in a recording studio?
Next it was my turn. I tracked bass for both songs on a beautiful ’92 American Fender Jazz bass, then guitar for one of the songs on a 1959 Silvertone hollow body — both Logan’s. After that it was keyboard time again, for both songs. I opted to go with some really high-quality samples that Logan had, for the Rhodes parts. I could have spent some time finding another sound on one of the instruments in the studio, but I knew what I wanted and it saved us a lot of time just doing it this way. I busted out the DM-100 again for the other parts.
All that was left at the end of the second day for all three songs was real piano, which I am going to record after the piano gets tuned, and vocals. Not bad! I probably won’t get back into the studio until the middle of November. Until then… my idea of heaven: