Back to Bass-ics, Day 3
Before we left the Crossroads studio last night, Scott made a cd for Sav with all 11 songs, the full instrumental tracks completed. While we’d listened to the cd he’d made on Tuesday of the first 6 songs, the fiddle parts hadn’t been recorded, and a few guitar solos were pushed off for Wednesday’s studio session, so the full audio picture of those tracks wasn’t there. You had to imagine that there would be a fiddle chop here, a guitar solo there, Ron doing some backup fills on fiddle in this section, etc. Last night’s disc was another story. Because I’d been able to sit and listen in while they were talking about the arrangements before recording each of the songs, I had a really good idea of what the final product was going to sound like, but actually hearing it was a different story.
(Before I go on, let me back up a second… you hear everything 100s of times while you’re in the studio, but very rarely do you hear the full track from start to finish. That was something I definitely had to be mindful of while listening to Ron and Coop cut solo breaks on their own, without the rest of the musicians in the studio. The one that particularly sticks out to me was Coop’s break on Daley’s Reel. It’s a hard song to do a solo break on for guitar, the melody is kind of oddly placed on the fretboard, but Coop’s break is the 3rd or 4th in the song – he really didn’t need to restate the melody, in fact, doing so might make the song overly repetitive. After Coop ran the solo a few times, one of us in the control room said ‘what break is this in the song?’ and hit the talkback button (allowing Coop to hear us in his headphones) and they decided that a sparcer, fiercer break would be better. You know, he could just “git’er!” haha. One of the many inside jokes of this week came when Sav asked Coop to be ‘a little more aggro’ with a solo break. Sav meant aggressive… Coop thought he meant agricultural, so he ‘farmed it’! Thankfully, Coop must think that farming is an intensely aggressive sport – the break he ripped out was pretty fierce and cagey.)
Back to my story about listening to the cd of the rough mix… It was great to hear all of the pieces finally come together. Hearing Ron’s fiddle parts and how they lined up with the other instruments really gave the tunes more body – they all just sounded so much rounder and fuller – as well as more depth and intricacy. One of my favorite parts of bluegrass is listening to players ‘speak’ to each other. In my head, the interplay between players sounds like a conversation (since he played both fiddle and banjo, Ron got to talk to himself a lot yesterday afternoon… ha.). Even having a good idea of what the tunes were going to sound like, listening to them still blew me away. It wasn’t shocking, or surprising, at least not in the way that it is when you listen to a tune for the first time and are blown away by some instrumental portion of it – it was just a different sort of surprise. More of an ‘a-ha!’.
There’s still another piece to the instrumental ‘puzzle’ of the album, and that part comes in the mix. At the moment, the instruments aren’t at the exact volume levels that you want them to be. Part of the reason for this is that each of the musicians recorded with headphones on, and adjusted their own personal mix to hear whatever volume they wanted of each of the other players. Each of them are dynamic players and you can hear stylistic changes throughout each of their parts, as well as volume changes, but the fact that one player may have a lot of bass in their headphones, and another may have a lot of banjo means that they’re not balancing those dynamic changes with each other in the same way that a band would if they were playing on stage, or around a single mic in a recording studio. On the mixes, Adam’s mandolin chop is an absolute BEAST, and I mean that in the best possible sense. It’s incredible. But it’s really too loud for Sav to want to just throw some CDs in a case and say ‘done’, and it’s especially apparent on solo lines. Likewise, there are parts where the volume of the rhythm guitar and bass drown out the softer portions of banjo and mandolin breaks. Not totally, but enough that you can’t hear the intricacies of the solo as much as you’d like. Once the tracks are mixed, those volume levels will be adjusted, and the tunes will have a much more balanced sound.
Vocal tracking has gone quickly today. Sav’s singing the lead and tenor parts throughout the album, and he’s got a couple of special guests coming in tomorrow to lay down baritone parts, as well. Sav had 4 of the seven songs done before lunch (both the lead and the tenor). Definitely in good shape as far as time goes. As I type, I’m chillin’ with Scott behind the control room board and Sav’s groooooooooooovin’ and wailing on into some Walls of Time. Scott’s pumping his fists in the air and smiling… I think he’s digging it. I’m excited to hear another cd tonight of rough mixes with the vocals. One more piece of the puzzle.
I’ll have a full report of vocal tracking tomorrow! Until then…
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