AKA "The New Guy" AKA "One of the Guitar Players."
I'd like to share an interesting experience I've recently had recording our album.
When does anyone do their best work? For many people it's first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee. I've heard that alcoholics and drug addicts do brilliant work when they're sober. I've heard from tons of people that they do genius level things when they're stoned (Yes, I've said that). I've heard many are best under pressure. John Lennon was well known to write his most brilliant songs when he was under the gun. Surely, it varies for everyone. Well, up until recently in our recording process, I thought I knew how to produce my best work.
Let me quickly break down for you how we, The Cold Chills, record our songs. Rob (drummer/ producer/ all around workhouse) has a studio that he built into his garage. This is where the magic happens. Zeke, Ferrari, and I all have microphones on our amps. Rob has his drums mic'd and Aaron obviously sings into a mic so everything is recorded (Later in the recording process we plug directly into the sound board with DI boxes, but not for the primitive stuff). When we first come up with an idea we jam on it, play it a bit, and try to run through it with whatever tentative decisions we've made on the structure. In order for Rob to start recording a song properly, he needs a basic rough version of the song recorded. We call this a scratch track. Once he has this he can begin to map out on the song on his recording system, layout the drums, and get it set for all of us to properly record our instruments over. Many a times we do these scratch tracks at the end of rehearsal when we're all pretty spent. Rob always says, "If you do anything brilliant we'll keep it," but that rarely happens. We know we need to get it done and we grind it out.
We have a song called "Luxury." It's pretty damn cool. We basically wrote and recorded a scratch track to this song in one night. I remember the process of laying it down vividly. It was around midnight. We'd had a full rehearsal and stayed late to record a rough cut of "Get Yourself Right." That was our main goal that evening. Once we had finished we all figured it was time to pack it in, but Rob in pretty standard Rob fashion wanted to press on. We already had Pro Tools up and running, we were already all plugged in tuned and warm. Why not stay an extra 20 minutes and get a scratch down of Luxury? Everyone was ready to go. I was exhausted, as was Aaron's voice, and Ferrari was risking missing his last bus home. After a little debate and tension in the room we decided to trudge on. We did three takes just to get it down. It was a bit of a weird vibe. I had no idea what I wanted to do on the song. Zeke had come up with the main rhythm line and was playing that throughout the song. I had the solo. Let me repeat, I had no idea what I was doing or wanted to do other than go home and sleep for 15 hours. So I did a half-assed job. I just played a minor scale, got embarrassed, and got the hell out of there as soon as Rob said it was a rap.
Shortly after this we had our show at the Roxy. In the weeks leading up to the gig I worked very hard on Luxury. I looped Zeke's rhythm section and jammed on it for a couple weeks eventually picking out certain licks I liked. I worked on threading these licks together into a cohesive story, something with a dramatic build. Very artsy. By the time we played our Roxy show I was very confident with what I had. I was proud of it (probably a bit arrogant).
Fast forward to two weeks later. Aaron had spent the day at the studio working on vocals. Afterwords, he went to work his delivery shift at Baby Blues where I tend bar. We discussed what he had done that day and started talking about the songs. "I really like what you're doing on Luxury," he said. Pause. "On the scratch track?" I replied. "Yeah, I really dig it." I was confused. "Dude, you can't like that. It's terrible." "No, I really dug it." He walked away and probably didn't want to give me a compliment ever again.
Zeke, Ferrari, and I all came in a couple weeks later to record properly. These would be the clean versions that we would play directly into Rob's system through our DI boxes to give optimum control over the sound. We did Luxury second. After we all got our main parts down it was time for me to do my solo. So I pulled out the solo I worked so diligently on for the Roxy show. After I finished the first take Rob had an "Ehhh" look on his face. I tried it a couple more times with about the same success. Finally Rob said, "Can you do what you did on the scratch track. Me and Aaron were creaming over that." I was baffled. "Seriously," I said, "That was a throw away. I was just trying to get something down so I could go home." "It was fucking cool," Rob replied, and proceeded to play it for me. "Holy Shit" I thought. "I owe Aaron an apology." It WAS cool. It fit the song. It had a great feel. It was simple yet interesting. I tried on the next couple of takes to replicate it, but wasn't really sure what I did. Finally, Rob got this epiphany look and said, "You know what? I love this solo. Why am I trying to get you to recreate it? Let's just use it." Just like that. My amp mic'd tired performance was the scratch track that made the final cut.
I phoned in the winner. I was actually bummed out. I worked my butt off on that solo and it wasn't half as good as my throw away.
So what's the point of this story? Is it that the best music creates itself when we're not trying to manipulate it? Is it that when we feel the most fatigued is when we are at our most heightened capabilities? Is it that I piss excellence? I'm still not sure.
I am sure of one thing. I love that damn song. The more I hear it the more I love it. In fact, as we continue to grind on with our upcoming album, "Lighter in the Shadows" I find myself getting excited about a lot of our songs, and can't wait to hear the finished product. I know without a doubt that the first time I hear that solo on the new album I'll smile ear to ear.
Signing off on another B- job.