“Oh Sleeper” with S.C.A.B.E.

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So much thanks to the formidable, world-class, beloved bass player for and collaborator with artists such as Jackson Browne, Stephen Stills, Keb’ Mo’, and Brett Dennen (to name just a few) – Mr Kevin McCormick. Just as watching a master carpenter work is relaxing because you know they won’t cut themselves, watching Kevin McCormick play bass is dreamy and engaging and comfortable – not a note goes by that he doesn’t dig on, automatically giving listeners the room to dig on ’em as well.

When I approached Kevin about this project, I gave him a very rough scratchy voice-memo recording with the A and B parts of the song, and said I’d like to do a choir of vocals with a choir of bass parts, and nothing else. So he took it to his cave for a couple of days and then had me overlay on his creation. It reminded me of gradeschool when I’d draw a few lines and pass it to my friend Jenny, and she’d elaborate on those lines and pass it to our friend Mandy, and this would continue until we had a full-fledged dragon on our hands (and no idea what the teacher was talking about). It was good to collaborate, and opened my mind to the idea of co-writing, of which we may see more in the near future…

In the meantime, please enjoy what Kevin and I (and the Southern California All-Bass Ensemble) co-created – I remarked to him in the process that learning his bass solo in the middle of the tune was making me a better musician…

“Rake” at Electracraft

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A Word on the Studio:
Electracraft is in the heart of Hollywood and embodies so much of what you’d hope to expect in an LA recording studio – belied by the dingy exterior, you’re admitted in, ascend the stairs, and the first thing you notice is the expansive smoking area, “for whatever,” as Hal puts it. Inside is not only an open control center reminiscent of something of which James T. Kirk would approve, not only a large-yet-cozy isolation booth, but also a full kitchen and breakfast table. “Sometimes you’re in here a while,” Hal says. “It’s nice to have.” It was clean, inviting, easy to navigate, secure parking, and rather hugely professional vibes.

A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer/Accompanist:
Hal Cragin took the bare bones of a demo recording and gave them not only skin, but sinew, muscles, and even an organ. His drum samples are some of the tastiest and liveliest I’ve ever heard, and it’s a very rare exception that I’ll even consider fake drums. #veryhardsell The moment we were settled in Hal showed me what he’d already done to the track, needlessly adding caveats about how we didn’t have to keep anything he did ever, and from that point we worked fairly seamlessly together, volleying thoughtful ideas, feedback, candid opinions, and over-the-top humor. He took exceptional care of both me and the song. Many, many thanks, Hal! To the future!❤

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Blood & Water at audioGrand Analog & Digital

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A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer:
Doug Messenger‘s audioGrand is a blast from the past – his studio is fully analog, which was a great pleasure for me, being amongst sights and sounds and even smells I remembered from my childhood when my dad ran a recording studio in the 80’s (if you listen carefully to the beginning of the track, you can hear the tape starting and Doug’s voice saying “Rolling!”). Doug himself has worked with innumerable A-listers, including-but-not-limited-to Jimmy Eat World, Beck, and Milla Jovovich (who knew??), as well as played tunes with Van Morrison back in the Boston days… The man has been everywhere and done everything, and now tends his studio contentedly, happy to take on the shoestring, crack-knuckled projects of maelstrom waifs out for blood and water in the Los Angeles desert. He’s careful and meticulous, was incredibly encouraging to me and my crew, and went out of his way to make certain I was happy with my product and had everything I needed. Thank you, Doug!

A Word on the Band/Co-Producers:
I had the distinct pleasure of bringing three great guys in on this project, who I only knew of because I chanced to catch them playing as the house band for a comedy show called Boobie Trap. I have to say, in addition to being great listeners (read: great musicians), on point and in the pocket in their delivery, totally respectful and supportive of a complete stranger’s music, flexible on budget, punctual, and masters of adapting to a largely ill-conceived plan, these three fellows were also NICE and charming, WHILE communicating their needs and keeping the flow flowing. Their exceptional individual and collective musicality aside, these boys have got a lot of depth and character, and I see where their training and style have helped it develop. I would say I got lucky, but some people wear their awakeness on their sleeves, and you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice. Please call them for just about anything, including but not limited to high-profile event-production, composition for film & television, and rip-roaring good fun:
More to be found at Fireleopardshow.com

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Get Lost at Katonah Studios

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Meet Steve Postell, an earlier generation mainstay of the Santa Monica songwriter scene. Enter his studio, which like so many studios in LA (including the one in which I live), is a very effectively re-purposed garage…and is nearly completely overrun with frogs.

Glass frogs, plastic frogs, metal frogs, cloth frogs, frogs that play bass, frogs that read, frogs that dance, frogs with afros…just about any kind of frog you can imagine. Somewhere way back in the annals of time a client brought a gift frog for Steve, and somehow the trend never died. Steve is, in fact, no longer accepting frogs, so when you call him to record you (and you should), please do not bring a frog. Not even as a joke.

A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer/Accompanist/Studio:
I’m finding over time how an engineer’s energy can make or break a recording, and Steve is a master of efficiency and focus, things I readily include in the list of helpful vibes. We sat down at the beginning of the session and planned what we would do and how long we should take at it. He made a quick chart of the song as I explained what I had in mind, and what he wasn’t able to execute to his satisfaction in our session he put together on his own time, an extremely generous gesture. His intellectually-informed creative contributions, both on the dobro and in his totally worthy feedback, put me at ease and let me know I was working with someone who enjoyed the work. Steve does not engage with projects which will not live up to a certain standard, so his willingness to participate in the Singles Project with me, with just about zero precedent, was an immediate compliment, and I am honored to count him collaborator.

The Blessing Song at Jax Trax

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Jack Lee was a quiet tree of invitingness when Therese Barron and I entered the house at the very northern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. His home felt occupied, but with enough room in it for those who entered so that they didn’t feel they might knock something or someone aside by being there. A stone on the desk in the living room where we recorded read a comforting quote by the poet Tagore. Anyone who values the work of Tagore is a win in my book. Thanks to our mutual friend, Nick Thorkelson, for the introduction.🙂

A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer/Accompanist/Studio:
Jack Lee is a master of a comfortable silence. He was genuinely excited about the “three-hour challenge” of the Singles Project, and rose to it effectively, making excellent use of both our time by setting a schedule of what needed to happen by when — “Let’s do your part first, then add my parts until such and such a time, then comp, mix, and master.” His dobro and soulful piano parts – created on the spot – fit succinctly into the Blessing Song, unobtrusively, with a spiritual loveliness that not many have naturally in their fingers. The man is an artist and poet in many capacities, and we only scratched the surface of it by calling upon his skills as an engineer and instrumentalist. I’m glad to have him on my roster.

Not Being There at 663 Studios

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More than one of my friends have invested time, money, and pain in a tattoo that says “Be Here Now,” and through the pressures of life I figured I’d submit my version. I leave it to the listener to decide how to quell their own dissatisfactions.

A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer/Accompanist/Studio:
It would seem there are very few people with whom Ted Wulfers has not worked in some capacity or another. Rife with creative ideas, add-ons, and ability – patient with foible, experimentation, and rejection – happy to speak honestly, encouragingly, and hospitably – these are all accurate summations of Mr Wulfers the engineer and producer. There was nothing he boasted as an accompanist that he could not execute. His upstairs studio is a sight to behold: littered with instruments, cases, cables, jerry-rigged objects about whose application you’d be forced to ask, amps of all ages, analog and digital mixing applications, and about a trillion stories on a hair trigger, 663 Studios reeks of good use and good coffee. Well worth it. Thanks a mil, Ted! Good times leading to more good times!
And thanks to Jagger, the Good Vibes Cat, as well.

Deep In the Homeland – Krueger Studios

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So back in January there was a special sort of single – the kind that is terrifying to undertake because it is so bare. The kind that leads me to the soft dry hills of Sunland, where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. The kind that even though you can’t afford the cello and the viola this month, you’re not so disappointed because the alternative turned out to be just as interesting in all its quiet simplicity.

The story of Michael and Sarah is not a new one, and not a true one, but I have to hand it to Dave Morrison and Greg Krueger for bringing it to light in such an honest, laceratingly raw fashion. Thank you, gentlemen.

A Word on the Studio and the Engineer:
I made up the name Krueger Studios since Mr Krueger has never settled on a title for his amalgamation of high-end gear, exceptional resume, and sensitive ear. His sense of humor coupled with his in-studio efficiency made for a truly enjoyable experience. For more information write me. He’s worth a bit o’ diggin’.

A Word on the Accompanist:
Dave Morrison is not accustomed to singing without a guitar. The man has a shining, well-deserved reputation around the Los Angeles scene as one of the finest American songwriters around, and I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with him, accompanying him, and seeing his genius for myself. He presents a concert series in Pasadena called “Quarter Moon Revue” at an ancient Unitarian church by the name of Throop, makes the audience dinner with his two hands, and never puts on a bad act. Dave is in the process of forming the 2.0 version of the Dave Morrison Band, and for goodness’ sakes, keep your ears peeled.

Take This Ring to the Hayloft!

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(This will be the last free download people! You can still listen on soundcloud, but downloads will only be enabled for patrons on the Patreon site!)

 

A Word on the Accompanist:
Chris Murphy is one of those surprise people in life who mysteriously appear at exactly the right moment and seem to be a complete survival kit of all the things you need. It’s kind of like getting lost in the Rockies and stumbling into the camp of a grizzled mountain man who’s been panning successfully there for years with his mule, griddle, and beat-to-hell coffee pot. Getting the opportunity to work closely with him on his own projects has been rewarding enough, and thanks to his efficient, expert, and excellent work on fiddle, mandolin, bass, percussion, and side-coaching for both me and the engineer, this track is one of my prouder productions. Thanks Murph!!!
http://chrismurphymusic.com/

A Word on the Studio:
Hayloft Studios is typical only in that it packs an amazing amount of tools into one tiny garage space, and you don’t even realize they are there until you think to yourself, “Man, it would be great if I had a tiny accordion…” and there are at least two suddenly within reach, for example. Cartier’s state-of-the-art operation is a no-space-wasted one, and while you never feel crowded at Hayloft, you can be sure that you’ll never be in want, either.
http://www.hayloftstudios.com/HAYLOFT_STUDIOS_2009/Welcome.html

A Word on the Engineer:
I told Josh ‘Cartier’ Cutsinger that I could be a snarky person and he was welcome to use sarcasm with me (sometimes people don’t know). But Cart is also a gentleman and while Chris and I dashed to and fro making noises and changes, he sat quietly and patiently (and productively), keeping his beloved pug in check and acquiescing to all our mad-hat requests, sometimes even before we’d made them. He was a pleasure to work with, was more on-time than I was, and while often agreeing with me on certain points, was by no means an annoying “yes-man.” A pleasure, Cartier!!!
http://www.hayloftstudios.com/HAYLOFT_STUDIOS_2009/BIO.html

A Word on the Good-Vibes Dog:
Every session should have a listener. Thank you, Mickey.

One Ranger in the Treehouse

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So my uncle is a Texas Ranger and he wrote a pretty rad book that only bears mentioning because it inspired the November single.

Recorded with Ed Tree at The Tree House in San Gabriel. Ed’s playing the baritone guitar, I’m playing the regular ol’ guitar and a pile of dead leaves (not at the same time).

A word on the Studio:IMG_0252
Cozy in what seems like it might have been a garage before years of gear, instruments, artwork, jokes, cables, sound insulation, and a veritable mountain of amps situated themselves in a manner so agreeable that you feel you can stretch your legs without knocking anything over, the Tree House lives up to its name. Not because it’s in a tree, but because it boasts lofty ideals while having its roots firmly planted in the ground. Ed’s state of the art equipment has immortalized countless artists much finer than myself, and I feel honored to have set foot there.

A Word on the Engineer/Player:
IMG_0246The first time I saw Ed Tree play was at a minute songwriter festival in the dusty hills of Santa Clarita, and it was also the first time I saw the Tall Men Group perform. In talking with Ed after the show, and discovering he was an engineer, hungry and blind I got his information, little knowing what an artist he was behind the board. When I tried to do some foley in his studio (dropping leaves down a plastic sheet) and wondered why it didn’t sound like anything, he noted that another sound was missing: Wind. Whereupon up he jumped to his library of CDs, procuring one he himself had produced and engineered, and “borrowed” the sound of wind from one of the tracks. (Thank you, David Serby and Carl Byron for your unwitting collaboration…)

 

Studio 770 (the single back in October)

I wanted to blog retroactively about Studio 770, because I think what they’re doing is such an interesting and creative way to keep the place afloat even in the dark times of bedroom iPhone recordings.

A Word on the Studio:
If you go to the website you’ll see that they’re a fully-equipped, multi-soundproofed-roomed operation boasting several staff and a house band to boot. Situated in Brea, CA, in what appears to be an old motel converted to office/studio spaces, Studio 770 (based on the address) seems to be thriving. How do they afford this when the rest of the recording studios in the world are struggling to stay relevant alongside the easy, user-friendly, gear-light technology of the digital age? The answer is simple, community-oriented, effective, and fun: Open Mic Night.Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 4.05.12 PM

A Word on the House Band:
If the above picture isn’t registering, for $20 you can come for the first time and either do a jazz standard, or bring your own chart and trust the (very trustworthy) house band to get the take in 10 minutes (which is all the time you have! And if you prepare well enough, it’s all the time you’ll need). Let them know the tempo, the feel, any kicks, whether you want the bass player to walk or to hang on roots, how many times to run through the form, and how to end the thing, and in ten minutes and for twenty bucks, you have your monthly single, Sarsaparilla, accompanied by the following professional studio players:

Ron Kobayashi – Keys
Sam Montooth – Bass
Isaac Sanchez – Drums

A Word on the Engineer:
Part of the reason I was so interested in this particular studio is because it’s owner and chief engineer is a graduate of the Dick Grove School of Music–the school where my parents met and from which every alum I know has fascinating things to say in regards to their music educations. More to come on Dick Grove in future writings. In the meantime, Shantih Haast, who graduated from the composition and arranging program in 1987, has a long history working in and around studios and in lieu of the looming obsolescence of her business, tried something a little different. (She’s pictured below, but don’t be scared, this was in honor of Halloween. Her real visage is in the frame beside her.)IMG_20151013_191322_500

Big thanks to Troy Ambroff for mixing and mastering on the spot! And Kimberly Lane for coordinating the event, and Alba Tucker for the photography! Studio 770. Keepin’ it floatin’ in the funnest of ways.

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