Recording an Album - Part 2

After the nerves had worn off from the first day we fell into a routine for the rest of the trip. Our days started with a drive to the studio which became an important ritual. We were staying with my aunt and uncle who lived a few miles away. They would wake up and go to work but we were musicians so we would sleep in, eat breakfast and leave the house around 10:30. The drive was only a few miles. To mentally prepare for the day we drove with the windows down blaring the rapper DMX as loud as the stereo in Greg’s Ford Focus could go. Snoop Dogg and Warren G were also on rotation.

Our schedule went from 11 AM to 7 PM with a short break for lunch somewhere in the middle. I think Steve preferred the late start. I got the impression he enjoyed his evenings and relished his beauty sleep. Towards the end of day 1, it was looking like we would finish the drums in another day which meant that bass and guitars would be next.

Tracking the bass

Recording the drums was a band effort. Everyone had to play every take. Making a mistake at this point was really bad because you might derail a perfect drum track. I don’t know about the others but I played as carefully as possible. We knew that the bass and guitar tracks would be replaced in the next few days so they didn’t have to be perfect. They just had to be in tempo.

The bass tracks provided the first real downtime for the other members of the band. Ben remained alone in the studio and sat on the piano bench from the nearby (and out of tune) grand piano. The rest of us sat in the control room to listen or wandered around. The building had 3 recording studios, a photography studio and many small mixing rooms. The mixing rooms were used by students learning how to become recording engineers. These people would pop in and out of the control room to shadow Steve. Most of them were our age and all of them were friendly. The students would take audio from previous recording sessions and remix it to learn the process. You could walk the halls and hear what they were working on. It was mostly softer stuff - a lot of Country and Christian. I think this was another reason we got along so well with metalhead Steve.

The recording process continued. Ben sat and played bass for each of the 10 tracks. We would listen from the control room or sit with him and try not to be a distraction. Ben preferred to pluck the strings with his fingers. He rarely used a pick. This gave his bass a nice warm tone. I don’t know how he did it - I think my fingers would have been bleeding. There were at least two places in the album where he used a different plucking style. The most notable is a slapped bass solo at the end of our somewhat cheesy instrumental song “3 Chord Madness.” The other place is in the song “Feed.” He had to use a pick for parts of that song and he jokingly resented me for writing too many fast chord changes.

I don’t remember if Ben’s bass ran through his preamp or directly into the mixing console. Either way, his tone sounded great with the drums. The control room had 3 sets of speakers and on bass day they turned on the big ones. The bass was fantastic through those. We had always been a DIY band when it came to recording and that meant making do with what we could afford (which usually wasn’t much.) But hearing the songs come together on really nice equipment with a professional at the mixing desk was an experience.

A band effort

It was at this time that the members of the band stepped up and started producing. We had not hired a producer to oversee the album. Steve fulfilled some of that role but he didn’t know our vision. Recording individual instruments meant that the majority of the band was in the control room. Rather than try to guess what sound or feel we were going for, Steve started asking us. We were happy to give our input. No one really led this effort, it just happened and everyone participated. I think it was frictionless because as a band we were all on the same page. I honestly don’t remember disagreeing about anything but it has been almost 12 years at this point so my memory is fallible. Well, there was one thing we disagreed on but that will come in a future post.

While Ben was crushing his bass tracks I began to get anxious. I knew my guitar parts were coming up and I needed to finalize them. Most of our songs, especially the earlier ones, had evolved over time. There were a few we had never demoed. Decisions had to be made. I had a piano part and a guitar line that I had always improvised and I wanted to nail both down. That evening I took a guitar home and sat in the corner with a notebook, like a kid on Sunday evening who hasn’t studied for the big test in the morning.

The drive in Driving with the windows down through the Kentucky sunshine.

The bassman Ben intensely focused. Notice the lack of pick in his right hand.

All alone Ben’s view towards the control room. The top of Steve is barely visible through the window.

Greg lends an opinion Relieved of his drum duties and with nothing to do, Greg starts producing.

Nothing to do but wait We spent a lot of time on this couch.

Cramming for the test Me trying to come up with guitar parts during the lunch break.