Clarity, Phase Two: Unclenched

Greetings & Salutaions!

So, I’ve figured out the problem with recording devices: they don’t get drunk.

On stage, it’s all so simple: connect with the drummer, find the pocket, hit the right notes, and do your best to entertain the crowd. You have high volume, adrenaline, the vibe of the room, and the knowledge that this is only one moment in time, to fill in the gaps. I imagine that in the earlier days of music recording, the mindset was similar: the band wired up, played the best version of a tune that they could muster, and called it a day. No need to put things under too large a miscroscpe, no silly self-conscious worries about whether this recording will cut it as the “definitive” version of a song. Not that such an approach has completely gone the way of the Dodo, of course, and the more modrin concept of track-by-track recording certainly has its compensatons, with the good outweighing the bad in my opinion.

It’s just that my bass lines on this new CD have been much tougher to put down than I had anticipated. On One Left Turn, we did all the basic tracks together, then went back to clean up little bits and pieces. A few of my passes from the initial sessions survived (I think “Do Me” and “Misery” are first takes for both DC and myself) and the others came along fairly quickly. This time, I played along during the drum sessions but knew that for the sake of better sound and more precision I’d be laying down the “real” parts later.

I got off to a pretty good start, actually; nailed the first tune on the first take, and completed two more by the end of the day. Then at subsequent sessions, I just couldn’t make anything work. Rushing here, fumbling there, getting a whole lot of unwanted string &/or pickup noise, and making an uncomfortable amount of sheer bonehead mistakes (ironically, the simple parts have been much more difficult than the complex parts to pull off so far.) In short, I was not in the zone. Not even a little bit. The frustration was made worse by how prepared I thought that I was for this; not only had I been doing a ton of prep on my own with the drum tracks, but a few of these tunes have been in the live rotation for over a year. I could hear the bass lines in my sleep and my brain knew exactly what to do, but fingers were simply not obeying.

After a couple of sessions, Matt and I decided that we weren’t all that thrilled with the bass tone, either. We had been running a direct line in and alternating between Matt’s Yamaha and my Frankenstein Fender Jazz, both of which had performed fairly well in the beginning but were now losing their luster for some reason. For help in raising our sonic standards a bit, we enlisted the gear and know-how of our friend Ray Opheikens — a major tone freak, and the only man I know who owns more than a dozen bass guitars and also finds time to actually play them all on a regular basis. Raymond brought in his live rig, and we tried a combination of direct signal and the miked cab, which made an immediate difference in punch and definition. I also got to try out a couple of his basses: a Fender Jazz with a somewhat more respectable pedigree than mine, and and a white Spector, which I once borrowed for a SoN gig back in 2001(!) but hadn’t touched since. Both sounded great. Now all I had to do was conjure up performances worthy of the sounds we were getting.

Earlier this week, I finally got my head back in the game, and churned out a further five bass lines in a single session. Whether I’ll like them as much when I come back to them with fresh ears remains to be seen, but they sure felt good at the time, and restored some of my confidence. It was as close to a Zone Moment as I have come so far — even the more chops-intensive tunes like “Positively Evil” came without too much weeping and wailing an gnashing of teeth (like I said, it’s the “easy” stuff that’s killing me this time around) — but still nowhere close to the comfort level that I have when playing on stage. Times like this, I envy Matt having access to the recording gear 24/7. Still, I’m now about 90% done with my parts, and about 90% happy with the way they’re sounding. Good to finally be able to unclench about it.

Overall, basic tracks are coming along ahead of schedule. In addition to my work, Matt & Tim have added quite a few of their guitar and keyboard layers, and by sometime in January we should be ready to start lead vocals — of which, I am relived to report, I have very few this time around.

bye for now,