Monday, June 1, 2015

Weekend Crayon Update

I'm rather enjoying this routine of starting my Mondays with a report about what my band They Stole My Crayon did over the weekend. Well, truth be told, this report is not the first thing I do at the start of a new week. There are responsibilities, of course; getting up, getting showered/dressed, getting my son to school, getting back, and going through work-related emails and schedules to get the week rolling. But once things settle down, I do enjoy telling you people what we did over the weekend, while simultaneously being wistful about the fact that I can only devote a couple of days each week to our music. But that's not an unusual situation for all but the top echelons of musicians. You'd probably be amazed how many well-known musicians also have day jobs. It's just how it is.

But I'm not here to complain; I'm here to triumphantly relate another good weekend of creating new music. In that regard, how lucky am I to live in a time where making music in the way we do is even possible?

Saturday May 30: "Vendetta" and "Blew The Dust Away"
I couldn't be happier that we finally went back to a couple of our earlier songs and did some much-needed work on them. "Vendetta" and "Blew The Dust Away" share the fact that they were initiated as songs that Bunny did as a solo artist. Christina and I loved them both from the first time we heard them, which was in March 2013. When we have a song that just one of us creates on his/her own, the challenge is a little different than on a song we all start together. I think there's a balance that happens so that the initial vibe of the song (which we all enjoyed) isn't lost, but that the feel and sound of us as a band gets added without it being contrived.

We had done some previous work on both songs, but then they kind of fell by the wayside as we went on to work on newer music in recent months. For "Vendetta", we'd made some notes at our last band meeting to make some additions to the song without drastically changing the very sparse sound found in Bunny's original track. We started that process last weekend, and continued it this weekend with some changes to the new drum additions. With "Blew the Dust Away", it had been so long since we worked on the song that the previous mixes and audio files were dated exactly a year earlier, at the end of May 2014, and I had to rescue them from my old MacBook Pro, which is now in disuse for the most part. Upon pulling them out of the archives, a few things were very apparent; we needed a new acoustic guitar, and the former version had a computer-generate tambourine sound that would be much better using the real thing. Both of these additions went smoothly, and we posted a new mix for Bunny to hear.

That night, we went back to our notes... a good idea whenever you're in the midst of a project this big. We saw that we'd decided on adding a military-style snare drum to the final chorus, so I added that and posted a new mix.

Sunday May 31: More "Vendetta", More "Again", and a Chat with a Friend
Speaking of our notes, we also saw that someone (Bunny, perhaps) had suggested that on "Vendetta", there needed to be more layers of vocals toward the end to build the song to an exciting conclusion, something we enjoy doing in The Crayon. We didn't have any plan, though, for what these vocal layers should be. Christina and I thought it through, and came up with an idea that was so good, I fired up the digital audio system on the spot and we recorded the parts before we'd even bothered to get dressed for the day. Hey, I don't mind doing vocals in a bathrobe. I do mind forgetting a really good part, though!

After we'd wrapped that up, Christina and I were once again having the conversation about how we were going to do the final recording of some of the most essential tracks... namely, the vocals. We had a few options, but we knew which would be our preferred method: recording with Phil O'Keefe, the audio engineer who is a great friend of all three of us, and did a ton of the heavy lifting on my solo album. Phil had gone through some upheaval in recent times, and we weren't entirely sure if he was set up in his new residence to be able to record. You have to understand that while we have some fine recording gear here, it pales in comparison to what Phil has available. Also, as I've mentioned before, I live on a busy street, and recording things like vocals, with sensitive condenser microphones, is never, ever ideal here. We'd greatly prefer to record those last crucial tracks in a more acoustically sound environment.

Back in 2009, here's Phil, me, and Bunny during one of the sessions for the Zak Claxton album. I can't wait to work with Phil again!

So what happened about an hour after we mentioned talking to Phil about tracking some vocals at his place? The phone rang. It was Phil, calling me out of the blue about a totally unrelated topic. My mind was blown. We chatted for awhile (it's always good to hear from him regardless of anything else), and now we're all looking at our respective calendars to take a little weekend trip to his new home and knock out a chunk of the vocals. This is incredibly exciting, as it represents the last hurdle before handing off tracks to our mixing engineer, Spencer Crewe. This will likely happen in early July.

Later that evening, Bunny had made it back from a weekend family trip to Northern California, and in the late evening he delivered a new pass of drums for our song "Again". As of this moment, I am awaiting the first spare moment of the day to get those plugged into the tune, and I really can't wait to hear what he's done; he seemed quite pleased with them, and that's always a good sign.

So, there you have it. Another good weekend producing hopefully good music. More to come!

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