Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More L.A.

This has been an up and down week.  On Thursday, after four days of valiant efforts, we decided that everything we did at Ocean Way was unusable.  We were intending to keep just the drum and bass tracks and overdub everything else when we got back to Kevin's, but in trying to re-record the piano, it became obvious that this just wasn't coming across right - it all felt stilted and rigid.  Our band lives and dies on "vibe," so instead, we all set up in Kevin's personal studio - a very impressive room in and of itself - and spent two days trying to nail entirely live takes, with Rod going for keeper vocals as well.  We're really intent on this record feeling like a live show, albeit without all the hair and spurs.  We stayed at it for three more days, landing keeper takes of "Full Growin' Man" and "Don't Break the Needle"...before finding out that those takes were also unusable - the bass guitar was bleeding into Rod's vocal mic too much, and my cymbals were overpowering the drum track (which has been a recurring problem since we've been out here).  Needless to say we were all gutted - 11 days in L.A. and nothing but boxes of unusable tape to show for it.

But we rallied gamely.  Kevin devised a third set-up whereby Rod could record a scratch vocal while playing his piano (easier said than done without bleed) and if a cymbal screamed, I was getting caned.  We rose above the disappointment and banged out all five songs again on Tuesday, and those sound ridiculously good right now.  Billy is downstairs getting ready to start guitars...I'll feel confident when it's entirely finished.  

(A minor tragedy in all this is that Zach and I had to give up tickets to see a live taping of Bill Maher on Friday, as well as The Price is Right on Monday.  Could you really see Zach showing up for that and NOT getting called to come on down??)

But while the recording got bogged down, one area that has been picking up steam steadily is the industry response that's been drummed up simply by inviting people down to the studio and playing them the demos that we recorded over the holidays.   It's been a very L.A. situation - one well-placed person takes a liking to you, and before long everyone is sniffing around to make sure they're not getting scooped.  Since we've been here, we've had a meeting nearly every day, and today we've had two.  It's all very vague and superficial at the moment, and half of the people who show up on our doorstep have never heard a note of ours - they just know that other people have been here.  The main thrust of these things seem to be the label trying to gauge how together our shit is before they decide whether to take it to the higher-ups.  But they've all been going well - tomorrow we're having our first follow-up meeting downtown with some folks who came and met us last week, and I have high hopes that this leads to an expensive lunch of some kind.

Other than that, I've been enjoying walks to the library in the morning, the hot tub in the evening, and I've settled into a wonderful late-night routine of milk-and-cookies and the New York Times, cover-to-cover, just before bed.  Zach impressed upon me "Slaughterhouse Five" and I'll probably start that today.

Oh yeah, we just heard today we'll almost certainly be playing with The Drive-by-Truckers at Bourbon Street in Baltimore on June 3rd (a week from today!).  Its a new club down by Sonar.  See you there...?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Alive, But For the Living

I have no idea what that means.  It was on my lips as I woke up this morning and I've spent all day trying to figure out where it came from.  Probably a Smiths song.

We're in L.A., and frankly, it feels magical.  The effect of driving through L.A. for the first time has got to be akin to when people first visit New York and the iconography almost overwhelms you.  Everything is famous!  There's the Sunset Strip!  And Rodeo Drive!  Holy shit - are we in Beverly Hills?!  And there's the Chateau Marmot, where if I squint hard enough I can actually see Gram Parsons debauching half of Laurel Canyon.  And the mountains, and the taco trucks...and the palm trees!  Again, maybe this is the movies talking, but they just make everything feel right as they stand there tall and looming, most groomed better than the people walking under them.  L.A. is a scene.

The flights out here were my first times in an airplane, and I loved it.  I think because of all the hours we spend in the van where my life is in the hands of someone else - someone's who's probably not slept right in three weeks - I could relax enough to enjoy most everything, even the slight turbulence.  (What did suck was being in the window-less last row of the plane by the bathrooms for the flight from D.C. to Atlanta - that part can fuck off.)  Dove had told me how gorgeous it is flying into L.A. at night and he was right on - it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  As we approached, it was just a sea of lights that rolled all the way from Anaheim to the horizon, and washed over the mountains.  It was incredible...the world became luminescent.  

But I didn't come here for the sights, or the best Mexican/sushi/thai food I've ever had, or to see the drummer from No Doubt walking his dog the other day.  We've been recording relatively non-stop since we touched down on Thursday night.  On Saturday we knocked out five live backing tracks in a marathon 16-hour session at Ocean Way studios, a big shot L.A. address that was the scene of the "We Are The World" sessions, most of the Mamas and the Papas catalogue, a bunch of 80's Stones stuff, and all of Sinatra's 60's output (there's a fabulous picture of he and Nancy singing together there, posted outside the control room) along with many, many other things.  It looked amazing in there, with the original parquet floor and old muffling panels hung on the ceiling.  When I was going to bed the night before I had an attack of the nerves, but once we got rolling it went surprisingly easy...we're all knocked out by how good the finished tracks sound.  The only casualty is my 70's-era Zildjian ride cymbal, which was mortally wounded on the Murder by Death tour with a growing crack around it's belly, but remained playable until about the eighth take of "Full Growin' Man," when it finally became so shredded that it now sounds like a china cymbal.  I grew personally attached to that cymbal, as other ones came and cracked and were replaced by new models, but it withstood the abuse seemingly gladly, singing better and louder the harder it was hit, almost goading me on.  I don't know what I'm going to do without it.  They just don't make them like they used to.

Since Saturday, my part in the recording is essentially done, with the exception of scream-along backing vocals later in the week.  This is giving me plenty of time to delve into L.A., which I am plotting with relish.  We're staying in North Hollywood and I just discovered the unheralded L.A. metro system, which stops right across the street from our loft.  It doesn't have many stops, but one is at Hollywood and Vine, one is in Los Feliz, and one is two blocks from the Chinese Theatre, and those are all good ass-hoofing HQs.  Zach and I walked around Sunset this afternoon and hit Amoeba Records (you have to have a shopping list in here or you will lose your damn mind) and then, for perverse kicks, we went into the "Psychiatry: The Science of Death" museum, run by the Scientologists.  It was as fucking nuts as you can imagine, portraying modern psychiatry as an updated version of Dr. Mengele...literally.  The Scientologists are all over this place...I just want my thetan levels read while I'm here.  I NEED TO BE THETAN CLEAR DAMMIT!

All right, that's enough for now.  They're tracking vocals downstairs and I think I heard someone talking about enchiladas.

Be well...