Monday, July 13, 2015

Vocal Recording for They Stole My Crayon at Sound Sanctuary

It's Monday, and it was hard not to hate my alarm clock that rang at 6AM today. Still, there's a smile on my face left over from the weekend, along with some great memories and some undeniably great music. But I'm getting ahead of myself; let me tell you about our recording session for vocals on the They Stole My Crayon album. First, here's a little video recap of the whole thing.

Why go to a recording studio?
You may be wondering how it is that we've recorded the grand majority of the upcoming album in our homes, and yet still had to book time in a good studio for this part of the process. The answer is simple: we needed to do the final vocals for the album, and recording voices is one area where you want to make sure everything is right. That means you don't have to compromise with your mediocre microphone and front-end audio processing gear. You don't want noise coming in from outside so that the perfect take isn't ruined by a siren wailing or motorcycle engines revving. That's why we got ahold of our good friend recording engineer Phil O'Keefe, and scheduled some time in his studio, Sound Sanctuary.

Is this the same place you did the Zak Claxton album?
Yes, and no. The recording gear is basically the same, and the most important aspect of the studio, Phil himself, is still as talented as ever. But Phil and his wife Sandy had to move from their old place in Riverside awhile ago, and this was the first time we've been to his new place in Hesperia. It was great in a number of ways. First, we got to hang out with Phil and Sandy, and even if we were recording, they are old and dear friends of ours. Second, the new place is in an area called the High Desert, and especially for Christina, who always dreamed of making music in the desert due to her love of many "desert rock" bands, I found the vibe there to be terrific.

Saturday July 11
Phil's place is about 100 miles away from both where Christina and I live in Redondo Beach, as well as where Bunny lives in the Valley. We left at 10AM and it took a couple of hours to get there, which wasn't a big deal. We arrived just after noon. Since this was purely a vocal session, we didn't have to worry about transporting and setting up a bunch of instruments, which is always a time suck for any session. Instead, we arrived and almost immediately began recording. We started with an easy one to get rolling: the very short section of backing vocals from "Again". I should say that it was easy for me; Christina had never, ever recorded in a studio as serious as Sound Sanctuary before, and she did a great job on her first time in front of the mic.

Once that was done, we went straight into a much more difficult tune: "Got Guilt". It was difficult because other than some acoustic guitar and some light percussion, it's all vocals. I mean all vocals; there are tons of different parts to sing, and it took awhile to get them down. But the end result was completely excellent.

After "Got Guilt" was in the can, we were hungry, so we munched on the giant sandwich Bunny had brought, along with some chips and fresh-made guacamole that Sandy whipped up. Then we went right back in and kept it rolling. Next up was "Disarmed". This one, as we knew going in, was going to be a little more involved. We wanted to re-record Bunny's entire lead vocal on it, as well as get the backing vocals from Christina and I. I have to say, Bunny's new performance is miles ahead of his last one, which had been recorded before we wrapped up the drums (and hence had some timing issues). Now those issues are long gone, and it sounds fantastic. We were just amazed at how smooth the session was running.

Next up was "Underwater Underground" which had a series of drone-like background vocals from Christina and I. I went pretty smoothly, though the combination of the high altitude and long phrases on that song left me a little light-headed for awhile. I recovered quickly. In any case, by then, we were pretty much starving, and fortunately Sandy O'Keefe had cooked us an absolutely delicious meal of barbecued chicken, homemade potato salad, and a great salad as well. We all devoured that like extreme gluttons. I went back for seconds. Okay, thirds too.

It was getting late, but we still had the energy to knock out one more tune before we called it a night. Next up was "River Shallows", which was another pretty quick one, considering that I had my own lead vocal to do on this tune. You have to understand, we went into the studio extremely prepared, and already knew our parts inside and out, having recorded all of them for the demo versions. I would highly advise anyone going into a studio to be as ready as possible. We also recorded Bunny and Christina on this. After that, we had the banana cream pie that Sandy had procured for dessert. At about 1AM, it had been a really long day, so we departed from Phil's and headed over to the cheap but acceptably decent hotel where we were staying for some much-needed rest. We'd done five songs in one day! That was way more than we'd expected.

Sunday July 12
We got up a little before 9AM, and rousted Bunny from his room next door so we could partake in the free breakfast at the hotel. It was... edible, I suppose. But our goal wasn't to have breakfast in Hesperia; it was to record music. Shortly before 11AM, we were at Phil's door, ready to keep going. We could have probably done another 3-4 tunes had we stuck to the easy stuff, but we knew we had a big one ahead of us, and decided to knock it out. "Bag Of Nothing" was another that required a completely new lead vocal line for Bunny, so we focused on his parts early in the day. After a short while, Christina and I left Bunny and Phil to keep doing what they do, and picked up some lunch and some caffeination.

We also had a bunch of backing vocal parts to do on this tune, and we commenced with those after lunch, giving Bunny a chance to rest his overtaxed vocal cords. We could have moved over to another song, but the decision was made to get this fully wrapped up. Besides, we already knew that we'd be scheduling another session with Phil next month, so we thought that we might as well complete everything we could while we were there. So, all of Sunday was dedicated to this one involved song. It was well worth the effort.

After Christina and I did our parts, Bunny got back into the tracking room to add more vocals to this involved song. Since we'd set 6PM as a good time to start heading toward home, it worked out perfectly. Phil camped out in the control room after we were done, organizing and then transferring all of the audio files we'd done in the two days. Sure enough, right when we'd planned, we were pulling out of his driveway with portable hard drives in our respective hands.

The drive back to the South Bay was super smooth; I couldn't have asked for an easier return trip. In fact, I couldn't have asked for a better anything throughout the session. We got great work done, in the company of very talented friends, and it came out better than anything we could have possibly accomplished on our own. Win!

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