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#5- Recording session for Amy Heffernan at Guest Room Studios, 4-25-09



We're finishing up tracking for Amy's new full-length record, down to the last handful of tracks on the last three songs.  Amy's brother Doug is producing at his place in Reseda, affectionately known as "Guest Room Studios" mostly because the studio is, well, the guest room.  I headed to the valley yesterday afternoon and the three of us sat down with the intention of wrapping up all the bass tracks once and for all.   

String Theory
I've been using DR strings for about six months now and completely loving them.  Never really have had a "favorite" before, although I've tended to use Rotosounds for 4 strings and Blue Steels for 5 strings.  Always with little actual preference, but ya gotta pick something, ya know?  The DR's add a little zing that I dig, and still have growl and punch, good gritty rock strings.  I use standard gauge .45-.105 sets, but when I dropped by West L.A. Music on my way to the studio they didn't have my friggin' gauge unless I bought the
"Black Beauty" set (coated strings that are literally covered black).  Took a chance and picked up a couple sets and hoped they sound as good as the non-coated ones I've been using.  Fortunately they sounded great, and I gotta admit they look really bad ass.  I may have a new fave, but I'll have to see how long they hold up and how well they bounce back after a good boiling.  

Gear
If you've been reading these entries you won't be shocked to know I brought my '06 Fender Precision bass.  Easily my best recording instrument, hands down.  I ran it through my
Universal Audio LA-610, which is a combination of two classic UA recording units (the 610 preamp and LA-2A compressor) and a KILLER tool for recording bass.  It has two components; first, the 610 tube preamp that is great for dialing in that classic tubey grit/mild distortion and also has great EQ options (I typically roll out a touch of bottom end and add some sparkly highs when I'm tracking).  Second is the LA-2A compressor, which is fantastic if you want to keep your levels even and slightly color the sound, especially for aggressive pick playing.  

We ran the signal through Doug's
Apogee Duet interface into his Digital Performer rig and pretty quickly dialed up a sweet pick tone.  I almost always record with a pick, the attack is just so much easier to work with for most of the projects I get involved in.  There are exceptions though, usually with mellow music I can do the finger thing (I tracked Arrica Rose's record "La La Lost" almost exclusively sans pick).  Most of the fingers/pick debate I've been having with myself lately is about playing live, the choices become really obvious in the studio.  

I Can't Wait
We dove into this tune first.  It's a very Sheryl Crow-ish, feel-good pop tune with slight country undertones.  I brought the rough tune to Amy and Doug and they did a great job of finishing/shaping/co-writing it into a winner to my ears.  Anyway, not long into the session I realized the bass part for the chorus was going to be a problem.  It needed something to glue the acoustic strumming pattern with the drum part.  I kinda butted heads with Doug a little bit about what exactly needed to be done.  We all wanted it to sound "pop", but part of the vibe is this country/campfire thing and it was a fine line between hokey-country-wannabe and groovy-cool country-pop.  We ended up changing the kick drum pattern and trying everything we could think of.  Subtle note-changes really messed with the part and it teetered between
stupid and clever several times.  I got a little stubborn and resisted Doug's instinct for what the part should be, but we've worked together enough to know that is gonna happen on occasion.  Eventually we found what I think was the right part, but it took some doing.  Once we had it figured out the tracking went pretty quickly, I did a few passes and slowly found the right touch to match the track.  Not my best playing, I was still a little frustrated with the effort it took to get the notes figured out, but hopefully it will work for the song.  Might need to revisit this later, but Doug and Amy seemed to dig it so I'm hoping that isn't the case.  

Boom Chuck Boom Chuck
A quick note on the
BFD2 drum program that Doug (and me too in my demo studio) use- It's really, really, great!  Amazing sounds, fantastic programability, bitchin' interface.  Doug is an AMAZING drum programmer and he has recently worked out how to "humanize" the timing on each individual drum by minute percentage points. This removes the typical stiffness of programmed drums and creates the impression that a drummer actually played the part.  It's pretty phenomenal, definitely the closest I've ever heard drum programming sound to the real enchilada.  

Being Awesome
The three of us sat down and wrote this one a couple weeks ago.  It's a party anthem about drinking, really fun and obnoxious with a big, stadium-rocking swing beat a la
Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2".  We added a bit more compression for this one cause I needed to play it pretty aggressively, really digging in and going for some fast stuff in a Mike Dirnt from Green Day kinda way.  After the semi-ordeal of the last tune, this one went really smooth.  We worked out cool parts quickly and it came together great.  I stood up to play, made the angle of the pick more manageable and got me digging in better.  Getting even sixteenth notes at this tempo and switching up some cool rhythmic changes and position shifts was the challenge here.  We did about four passes and it started to feel rock by the end.  I think I punched in twice on the final pass, but otherwise it was definitely a solid performance.  

Punch Drunk

Some producers don't like to digitally edit tracks much, but Doug isn't one of those guys, he'll get in deep and make it "just right".  That always motivates me to give it my best and minimize the amount of cuts he'll make to my part later on.  I usually follow up with him to see how much editing he did to my track just to see how close I was.  Often he doesn't need to cut it up at all, sometimes he gets it all gridded up and locked down.   Keeps me on my toes, like a contest to see how few splices he'll make in the end.  "Being Awesome" is one of those tunes where the chorus really needs to be crazy-tight, I'm curious to see how well I hold up under serious scrutiny.  Felt good going down, I'll keep ya posted.  

The Word
This is a slow, pained ballad that Doug wrote about ten years ago with a beat similar to "
When the Levy Breaks" from Led Zeppelin.  Amy sings it great and I think it could be one of the highlights of the record.  I've recorded it four of five times over the years and it's one of those slow tunes that can give me trouble if the vibe isn't happening.  We toyed with the idea of losing the pick, but decided against it, the tone just wasn't as good.  Funny thing about this song is I used a chart, even though I've played it roughly a million times in the last decade.  It has a couple of weird chord changes and we've switched the key to suit Amy's voice, so I thought it would be easier to follow along on paper.  Anyway, it went well, lots of long holds with occasional muted grace-notes to match the ghosting snare.  Did three passes I think, and the last one felt really good and in the pocket.  I'm sure it's the best I've played this tune, I guess ten years of practice came in handy :).  

The Record...
...is gonna be rad!  I'm excited about it for sure.  
Amy is really hitting her stride as an artist, the songs are some of the best we've written, Doug's studio is better than ever (and he is at the top of his producing game), all the tones are going down smokin' hot, and I think I've played really well on the bass front (except maybe for "I Can't Wait", we'll see).  Very pleased with the barky, vintage bass tone we got, I think it's gonna sound top-notch when all is said and done.  Recording is a tricky business and it can be really frustrating stuff, but this project has been pretty damn smooth.  I'm also happy to have been involved with the writing, I brought in two songs that got tracked, plus got to co-write several more with the team.  Fun!  

Thanks to those of you who have been following along with this blog and for the words of encouragement you've fired my way!  My next gig isn't until May 6th with
Saucy in San Diego, so I may take a stab at a Rehearsal Blog between now and then.  Maybe...

Hasta,
-s

 

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