A few months ago we decided to wade back into the record label waters. Hosted by our blog LuxuryWafers, we are launching Luxury Wafers Fresh, a boutique label that will feature some really special projects that I’ve produced and/or mixed.
Launch is set for July 16th. I’ll be posting more info almost immediately. The one bit of news that I want to share right now, is that I will be headed home to Boston, and the east to take part in a ToUr that begins JuLy 20tH in nEw HaMpShIrE.
Joining me will be Courtney Jones
and bassist Jeff Eyrich
Right now we have Massachusetts dates, New Hampshire, Maine, and NYC. If you have or know of the perfect venue somewhere else in the neighborhood, send me an email. We have 2 more tour stops to book.
Every once in a while I’ll get an email about a project that was released in 1999. Known affectionately as “The greatest album you’ve never heard” by friends, it sold about 100 CD copies, and has never been released digitally. The album was Sons of the Jet Age, and the band was a collaboration between Detroit soul rocker Amyl Justin and myself. To be fair, by the time the album was pressed and released, the band had pretty much broken up. I’d already made plans to move to New York City, which turned out to be a pretty solid decision.
The fact that hardly anyone has ever heard this thing has continued to bug me. If you’ve ever visited my studio, this is old news, because you’ve probably had me force a copy on you from the cartons stacked in my garage. Sorry.
This is all headed somewhere… and the where is that we’re in the process of finalizing a digital distribution deal that will allow us to release many of my new productions, as well as some cool archival stuff. Lots of music that’s never been heard beyond the walls of my studio.
More news soon, but meanwhile, surf over to Soundcloud for a listen to a Sons of The Jet Age track, You Are My Sunshine.
Update: I forgot to credit the talented Tom Hambridge, who not only produced the album, but played drums on many tracks, and wrote a couple of the songs. Ducky Carlisle was the recording engineer, as well as Mixing Engineer.
I’m in the process of creating a YouTube series on my style of vocal production. Part 1 was shot with my iPhone from inside the Pie and Tart Shop vocal booth. Part 2 is in process, and it would be done if I had more video tutorial making skills, but alas. Luckily I’m pretty sure that I’m better at producing vocals than I am at making tutorials about it.
Here’s my take on the technical side:
1. Understanding the instrument :: Although I no longer consider myself a singer, I did study voice with Mark Baxter, Elizabeth Sabine, Rosemary Butler, and eccentric Boston legend Dante Pavone. I have a solid understanding of the mechanics of the voice. The human voice is a complex and mysterious ‘musical instrument’ and in the studio a vocalist needs someone who understands the care and nurturing of that instrument. Higher budget projects may employ a dedicated vocal therapist or specialist, but every lead singer needs informed feedback in the studio regardless of budget.
2. Having an ear :: A producer must have perfect pitch, or relative perfect pitch. With a talented vocalist, real time accurate feedback from an engaged producer can lessen the need for tuning in the mix.
3. Flow :: There are times to push for that additional take, and there are times to stop. There are also times when the performance just isn’t going to happen, and the best plan is to come back tomorrow. When a project has a set budget, it’s important to have a plan B, just in case the vocal session is not going to happen. Physical issues, emotional issues all play into the vocal performance. Capturing a compelling performance is the elephant in the room. If we can’t capture a magical performance at today’s session, we will tomorrow.
4. Support :: I know that the worst thing a vocalist can hear on her headphones at the end of a challenging take is nothing! Feedback is key.
And there I go… I started out talking about the technical and quickly veered off into the more esoteric. Which reminds me of a job I once had.
Quite a few years ago, I played Texas Hold Em poker for a living. It was long before the poker TV shows. Let me categorically state that it was not a very fulfilling job.
That said, I learned a lot about life at the poker table. I learned that thinking is the enemy. If I could get out of my head, and step back from the hand I was betting on, I could intuit exactly what my opponent had. Then, if I continued to stay in the flow, I could act accordingly: Raise, check, bet, fold. It was all pretty straight forward, because the goal was to get the chips (like the one above).
Recording and Producing Vocals is not quite as straight forward as a Texas HoldEm game, but the principal is the same. The goal is to shut off all internal conversations. Immerse yourself in the music, and let the river flow. Stand at the bank, close your eyes, and let the water take you away.
I first played with Otis Spann in January of my senior year in High School. When he asked me to “join his band”, and I told him that I could be in Chicago in June because I’d promised my parents I would graduate from high school. He didn’t have a phone, he didn’t have a band, and he’d recently left Muddy Water’s band to strike out on his own.
I read the Village Voice every week, and when I saw that Otis was playing at The Cafe a Go Go during my spring break, I grabbed my guitar, hitchhiked to New York City and showed up at the ‘gig’.
Spann didn’t miss a beat, telling everyone in the room “See here’s my guitar player now.” There even was a band: SP Leary on drums, Johnny Young on mandolin, Lucille Spann on vocals, and occasionally Luther ‘Georgia Boy Snake’ Johnson also on guitar. There was no bass player. Then there was “The Queen” Victoria Spivey. For those movie buffs who remember Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, The Queen was the blues equivalent of Norma Desmond. She’d been a young blues singing star many decades past, and now lived in Brooklyn with her husband. They owned a small record label whose claim to fame was recording a very young Bob Dylan when he first hit the village. They also recorded the Chicago blues greats when they passed through New York.
The first set at the A Go Go was uneventful, until the curtain that separated the dark club from the entrance opened and in walked The Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Big Mama Thornton. It was amazing! Muddy Waters was in town, too. It seemed as if the entire Chicago Blues Royalty was in The West Village.
After the first night, The Queen (who spoke to everyone as her child) told me “Your father (her husband) and I were talking about you last night. We want you to record an album with Spann. We’re going to do it tomorrow.”
Nola Penthouse Studios was literally a penthouse space in Midtown Manhattan. It was large, with high ceilings. The control room featured a THREE track tape machine. The Queen couldn’t budget for the 3 track, and we recorded to mono – ONE track, recorded and mixed in real time! I’m sure there’s other pages about Nola out there, but here’s a link to some information about Nola Penthouse Studio. It had a fascinating history, and many iconic Candid Records jazz albums were recorded there in the ’50s and ’60s.
We set up. Spann on the grand piano, there was a mic for Johnny Young’s mandolin, and Luther Snake Johnson was there. Both Luther and my guitar amps were mic’d. S.P. Leary brought his kit which was also set up and mic’d.
The Queen paid us in advance for the session. We each got an envelope with $30 cash, and there was a fifth of whiskey to share.
The session began, and after we played 3 or 4 chicago blues standards, The Queen tripped over Luther’s guitar chord. The chord was cheap and snapped off right by the amplifier jack. Unbelievably, there was no other guitar chord in the studio, and consequently, Luther appears on only half of the album.
Spann passed away at the age of 40 just about a year after the recording session. The album didn’t come out for another year, and as you can see on the cover my name was almost spelled correctly. Honored to have been a part of it at the age of 17. Too cool.
And into the present…
I decided to write this post because that one track session at Nola Penthouse Studio is as much a part of me, as working on a 150 track session with programmed drums and Virtual Synths is today. I feel that my work is solidly rooted in the present, but also informed by the past, and I’m proud to have that foundation as the starting point in my work.
Volagio is a rock band from Mexico City. When I got off the plane and prepared for our recording session, I had only met the band via Skype. The demo tracks I heard were really good, but I had no idea what a great time I’d have at Honky Tonk Studios in Mexico, nor how amazingly the sessions would turn out.
Here’s the Souncloud link to “Hollywood”:
Enjoy! Volagio is about to embark on their first US tour, check their website, or Facebook for more details.
OK, West Coast friends, you might not know Antje. East Coast friends, you must know Antje.
One of my all time favorite co-writes was with Antje Duvekot, and the song is called Into The City. It appeared on the Chance and Circumstance album, and I am bummed to this day that it didn’t get more recognition.
But, Antje has just released a new album titled “New Siberia” and she revisited Into The City. It’s the #1 track on the new record!
I think it was about 2 years ago that Daphne Willis started visiting us here in L.A. to co-write with me. The bunch of songs we wrote ended up getting focused into a six song EP that we recorded at The Hobby Shop, and finished here in The Pie and Tart Shop.
Daphne was signed to Vanguard Records at the start of our project, and since has parted ways. As of today there’s no release date for the EP, and I’m hoping that the music doesn’t fall into that black hole of an incredible artist and her former label.
If I were to look back through my posts, there would likely be a promise to keep this site updated with my studio projects. I have failed!
This post is meant to be a sort of belated New Years resolution to keep my site current. My excuse for the long silence is not that there’s been only crickets hanging out in the studio. I’ve been too busy most of the time, and the rest of the time I’ve been being a dad, husband, new puppy person.
And so, I’ll start somewhere near the present and move backwards in time. As Uma, my two year old says, “Set, Go, Ready”.