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#22- My Own Machine at Sunset Lodge recording studio, 7-19-09


The band in front of Sunset Lodge and "The Elliot Smith Wall".  Left to right Brent Hoffort, Abe Vigoda, Forrest Everett.  
My favorite power trio went into Sunset Lodge Studios yesterday to lay down basic tracks for a new record.  We've been working on preproduction for the last few weeks, getting the arrangements pinned down, working out parts, all that good stuff.  Some new songs, some old songs, we had ten total tracks to rock out in a twelve hour day.  The goal was primarily to get Forrest's drum tracks because we could always get bass,  guitars and vocals another time.  Still, we also wanted to TRY to get as many other keeper tracks as we could and capture some live energy.   

So I pull up to the studio on West Sunset and of course the first thing I see is "The Elliot Smith Wall".  It was used on the album cover of his album Figure 8 (check it out here).  I must confess, in this age of digital downloads I own lots of Elliot Smith records via itunes, but I don't know any of the artwork cause I don't have a physical copy.  So the iconic image wasn't quite as impactfull as it might be on some.  Still, I'm a HUGE fan of his music and when I saw all the graffiti that fans had drawn on the wall and was told that it's a memorial site with candles and flowers and whatnot every year on the day of his death, that was moving.  Here's a wider shot of me in front of the whole wall...
Behind me is the front door to the studio, right in the middle of the wall.  Kinda weird to literally walk into an Elliot Smith album cover to make a record.  
Okay, once the touristy sightseeing was finished, we drove our cars around back and started loading in gear.  We all brought plenty of equipment, you never know what will come in handy on these marathon recording sessions.  I brought my Precision and Jazz bases, 8x10 SVT cab to mike up (I knew they had a bitchin' SVT head to use with it), my home studio bass rig (rackmounted UA LA610 comp/pre and a Sansamp RBI), pedalboard full of effects, and my red bag full of cables, batteries, tools, strings, etc.  

We met Chris, the owner and our engineer for the day.  Cool dude originally from North Carolina, came out west to skateboard in San Diego, spent time as a chef and is now a studio owner and operator.  He had his joint really well oiled and ready to go, very fast with great ears for our brand of loudness.  I meant to take a photo of the four of us but forgot.   Chris will show up in one or more shots below, but I didn't get the good, head on, "hey, this is Chris" photo I wanted.  And I call myself a blogger.  

Setup Details
So initially we tried setting up Brent and myself in the same room with the drums.  Our amps were isolated in other rooms and we were wearing headphones to monitor.  That lasted all of one song for me.  I needed to hear the bass better if I was going to play well.  I'm sure that doesn't shock you if you've been reading these entries.  That meant moving me into the control room.  Brent thought he'd be okay in the drum room and stuck it out for awhile, but later in the day we moved him to an isolation booth with his amp and that worked much better.  But I'll get to that.  

Forrest (standing) and Chris (sitting) getting the drum kit up and running.  This is the view from the doorway to the control room.  The iso booth where Brent ended up is behind Forrest.  

I love cool signal chains.  We got some bitchin', raspy, rock tones out of this sucker.  


The Bass Setup!!
Oh yeah, the good stuff :).  We got my SVT cab setup in the isolation booth and ran cables to "mission control" where the actual rig would be.  Chris set up two bass channels, one was the miked SVT and the other was my home studio direct line.  Check out the photo above, it was a pretty gnarly setup.


Okay, so let me run through the two bass channels.  Number one went into the Sansamp pedal sitting on top of everything.  The signal was split at that point, one line going to the strobe tuner on the bottom right (with the blue edges), the other going into the Ampeg/SVT amp at the bottom.  We ended up using the "bright 2" input channel on the Ampeg.  Notice the orange tape markings for ideal settings.  Then there was a LOOOONG mike cable to the iso booth and into my SVT 8x10 cab where it was miked up.  Forgot to ask what kind of mike he used and didn't take a photo, I know at least a couple of you that might have been interested in that.  I don't know squat about microphones so it didn't stick in my brain.  

Okay, that was the first channel.  Number two went into my rackmounted Sansamp RBI, the thin unit highest within the silver edged rack with the red glowing light.  Then out of the Sansamp into the high Z input of the larger unit below it with the big knobs, my Universal Audio LA610 for some additional tube grind and slight compression.  Then we sent that line to the board.  

(Yes, the font changes from here on out.  I can't fix it.  Kirsten fixed some other problems for me in the html code, but neither one of us wants to deal with the screwy font switch.  Ghosts I tell ya.  All these computers are haunted.  And begin new font, starting... )

We didn't end up using a "dry" signal, which some folks like to do.  I've NEVER ended up using those, would rather setup a cool blend of two channels, one cleaner than the other but neither completely unaffected.  That's what we did here.  Plugged in my P-bass and dialed in a really nasty, raspy, trashy, cool tone on the miked SVT.  Then coupled that with a cleaner but still gritty tone on the direct line.  We had a crazy good sounding Geddy Lee-ish "distortion with clarity" tone going, I was a huge fan of what we got.  The downside is we'll be stuck with this tone and won't be able to second guess our choices and reprocess a clean signal while mixing.  The upside is, it's SO MUCH MORE INSPIRING to lay down tracks when the tone you're hearing is greasy and has an appropriate vibe.  This band is rowdy and the tone felt really cool to me.  Hopefully it won't drive anyone crazy when we go to mix, but dammit, we were going for something and everyone was really digging it in the moment.  Guess we'll see.  I can always retrack at home if I need to, I can get cool sounds there too, but not that miked up SVT thing.  No isolation booths in our condo :). 


 Time To Hit Record!

Once the drums, bass and guitars were up and miked and the tones and monitoring situations were given everyone's seal of approval, it was time to dive in.  Here's the running order as best as I can remember it.  


Shape To Shift, NYC, Yeah Yeah Yeah, I Don't Wanna Let You Down, Now I'm Over, Florescent, Sing The Silence, Broken Back, Too Heavy, Blackfin Diamond.

Ten songs in twelve hours, including setup, lunch and dinner.  Tall order, but that's what we'd been prepping for.  I guess I'll go through each track and see what I can recall about the experience.  

1- Shape to Shift- First up is always tricky.  Everyone is getting used to their monitoring situation and getting a feel for the room.  This one is a really straight ahead, walking-paced, boom chuck kinda groove.  Mostly eighths on the bass with a couple cool slides but tried to stay real minimal here.  Used an up and down picking hand stroke rather than the more traditional rock thing where it's all downstrokes.  The notes were coming out more evenly that way.  Tried to really concentrate on steady, even, pulsing eighths, hitting the couple of stops and a few little chromatic passing tones and slides.  I was high on the cool raspy tone when we did this.  We put down three quick takes and decided to move on, agreeing that if we had time we'd come back and revisit at the end of the night.  We might end up getting more warmed up and used to the room and want another crack at this one.  

2- NYC- Another tune with a similar pace.  This was by design, Forrest wanted to start with the slower, less crazy tunes and warm up into the day.  This one does have a few more chord changes and some high octave stuff above the 12th fret for me.  I always seem to scew up the bridge changes too.  So we got a few passes and Forrest was nailing the drums down solid.  Did a quick listen and Brent noticed that my intonation was a touch wonky.  He was right.  Fortunately, he's a great guitar tech and quickly pulled out a phillips screw driver and got it all dialed in.  I felt bad, should have taken care of that myself before we got here.  Bad, lazy Steve.  Anyway, we decided the last drum pass was a keeper so I overdubbed a pass on the bass, got a real good one on the first take all the way through.  A little nerve racking to have everyone standing around watching you record, but I got in the zone and rode that cool tone to a pretty rad pass I must say.  

3- Yeah Yeah Yeah - This one is only one minute long, just a fast and furious verse/chorus/verse/chorus/ending.  Upbeat and manic, has a ton of punkish energy, really fun.  I think we did three passes of this tune and it went really well.  Trashy bass tone was especially appropriate feeling on this one.  I recall needing to get the feel of a couple of the bends and slides over the course of the first two takes, then putting it all together on the third.  

We took a quick lunch break for sandwiches across the street.  Also, at this point Brent was expressing that he was having trouble being out in the drum room.  He wanted to be next to his guitar amp so he could work the feedback with more control, plus, his headphones had to stay low so they wouldn't bleed into the drum mikes.  We decided that after lunch we'd switch things up.  My bass cab came out of the iso booth and was moved into the back room of the lounge.  Brent and his amp were moved into the iso booth.  I stayed in the control room but to accommodate the newly placed cab we'd need to shift the actual crazy preamp setup from the photo above into the control room where I was stationed.  Perfect!  Easier to reach.  

So, to recap;  Forrest is drumming in the drum room.  I'm bassing in the control room with the board and Engineer Chris.  Brent is now guitaring with his amp in the iso booth.  We can all see each other through the glass walls (Yes Kirsten, I know "bassing" and "guitaring" aren't actually words).  

Hey, how bout a photo of the board and some of the outboard gear, just cause I've got one!


 What you can't see is the awesome Pabst Blue Ribbon lamps dangling just above the board.  I actually did snap a photo but it was too blurry to bother posting here.  You'll have to trust me, they were magnificent.  

Where was I?  Oh yeah, the song by song rundown.  Okay, so we finished lunch, rearranged the setup, and dove into the next track.

4- I Don't Wanna Let You Down -
This was the first of several in drop-D tuning, so the E string gets tuned down a whole step.  It's a pocket song, a bit on the slow side, lots of eighth notes with some cool unison riffy parts with the guitar in spots.  I won't lie, we struggled a bit on this one.  I had Chris drop the click track out of my monitor and just concentrated on locking in with Forrest.  Felt like we were a touch swimmy in spots.  Also, this has a LONG jam at the end, we just rock in A for a few minutes after the song is essentially finished.  Live, this can go all kinds of crazy directions, we were hoping to capture some of that energy.  We did three takes, the first of which I just locked onto an A and let Brent and Forrest go nuts.  Second two takes I got into some more bits, went for some things, chords, riffs, runs, tried to pick up on what Brent was playing and follow along.  I'm curious to hear this when we go to listen back and review what we got in the coming weeks.  I'm suspicious it was the weakest performance of the days work.  

5- Now I'm Over - Staying in drop-D tuning, this is a really cool, dreamy song that came from WAY back in the archives until a couple weeks ago.  Brent pulled it out and I'd literally forgotten it existed till I heard it again.  I love the song, great lyrics, super cool melody and chords.  Unfortunately the first couple passes I was overplaying a bit, looking for some cool note choices in the choruses especially.  Chris recommended that I keep it simpler and it immediately felt better, he was totally right.  Last pass I left out the frills and concentrated on keeping the pocket alive and well, world of difference.   I think we got it good on that last pass.  

6- Flourescent - Also still in drop-D, this one is an upbeat, punkish, driving fun song.  Always has gotten good reviews when people have heard it in various demo stages over the years, it's a band staple.  We recently slowed it down, closer to the original tempo, it had kinda gone off to the races over time and was losing some impact.  Felt good to get it back where it belongs, still fast, still rocking, but not quite so over the top reckless.  Plus it's easier to play.  I'm not sure how I did on this, I seem to recall struggling a little to do anything particularly interesting.  Might not have been my most inspired performance of the day.  I think the drop D stuff is tougher for me, as some of you know I'm not a big fan of low string tension and what it does to the sound.  

7- Sing The Silence - Another cool, dreamy kinda number, might be my favorite song we do, some of Brent's best work as a writer if you ask me.  Back to standard tuning as well, so I was happy.   I think we settled into some great performances here, very sparse in the begining, adding tasty bits in small pieces throughout the song, crazy bridge section with tons of doom and gloom style energy, then it ends with a revisitation of the beginning with less space and more cool fills and runs.  After a couple passes, Chris started having some ideas for Forrest's part in the crazy bridge section and the two of them went on a long stretch to work out a cool arrangement for the drums in that part.  Added some groovy structure, gave it more of a sense of orchestration and purpose.  It was productive and totally worked, glad he spoke up and took charge.  He had a nice blend of "paying attention and offering opinions" on one side and "not being obtrusive" on the other.  Anyway, the tune turned out great, I have high hopes for that one.  

Dinner break!  Ordered pizza and chicken wings.  Crazy drunks were getting hassled by locals in the alley out back so we shut the door and locked things up.  Then, back to work, we had four hours to get the last three songs.  Hey, how about a couple more photos first...


Some unrotated basses and guitars and me tracking NYC, I believe this was my single pass nailing of that tune, overdubbing with my just-intonated Precision.  


Forrest behind his kit and Brent behind the glass in the isolation booth.  

8- Broken Back -  back down to dreaded drop -D for this one.  Okay, not dreaded, just not my fave.  This song is a total riff tune, something like Rage Against the Machine meets Black Sabbath, but not entirely like that.  But kinda.  In the sense that Brent and I are doubling a bitchin' riff for most of the song.  I really try to lock in with Brent, bend the note exactly how he does, slide up to the tenth fret for the end of the riff right with him, make it sound like one big ballsy instrument is rocking that riff.  It's a heavy track, Chris was digging it and I think we rocked it out pretty damn good.  This one has a big, long jam section in the middle where I just keep plugging the riff Tim Commerford-style while Brent and Forrest go kinda apeshit.  It's different every time, although we typically break it down and get super mellow a few minutes in.  This one can really go off the deep end in rehearsals and sometimes at shows, we were trying to get that sense happening here but without making it fifteen minutes long.  More like six hopefully.  I think we got a killer pass on take two of four, but I'm not sure.  Another one I'm anxious to hear.  

9-  Too Heavy - This is the newest song we did, just started working on it a couple weeks back.  We're up to standard tuning again, and it's in the Chili Peppers vein of cleanish guitar, funky-ish beat and active, pulsing bassline.  This was probably my favorite performance of the session, I think I nailed some cool parts, some hooky walking bits, a couple high sliding things.  Got my groove on too, felt like I was in the pocket and making music.  That raspy tone was just singing for me, it all felt real easy.  Chris had a groovy idea of dropping the bass out in the last verse and having me hit some tasty accents in the holes.  I ad- libbed some cool stabs and a re-entry that ended up being really smokin'.  I'm gonna push for lots of bass in the mix of that one, I think it might be my best "feature" type tune.  

10- Blackfin Diamond- Last but not least was a song I didn't even have to play on, sweet!  I was done for the day.  Forrest was overdubbing a drum track to the pre-existing recording so my bass track was already done.  I sat in the control room while he and Chris got to work on how it was gonna go for a bit, then headed to the store for a six pack of beer.  Reward time for a hard day of fun work.  Forrest ended up bringing a new flavor to the track, more Pink Floyd than tribal, more airy than tom-heavy.  I think it's an improvement and really made the song jump out of the speakers more to me.  

And that was it.  We pulled it off and I think we got some good tracks to work with.  We'll do some comping and compiling of the official keeper drum tracks in a couple weeks when Forrest gets back from Europe.  Then we can see how much of my and Brent's parts we can keep.  But for now, the heavy lifting is done.  I love this part of record making, you never know which of these sessions will turn into something life-changing.  The sky is the limit when it's all being put together, energy and expectations are high and we're all wondering how it will turn out.  

Some quick, obscure code words for funny shit that happened- "Mother!", The fart CD (tears), Kermit sings "Hurt", "Running With the Devil" on acid, "ain't my chair, ain't my problem."  You had to be there, but trust me, we laughed...

Okay, I'm done for now.  I've got Saucy at The Kibitz this Wednesday and Arrica Rose and the ...'s at Zoey's in Ventura on Saturday.  I MIGHT take a break from blogging after Wednesday's show, not that much left in my brain to say about the Kibitz.  Or maybe I'll try to make it super damn crazy short and just touch on a couple things.  We'll see.  

Thanks as always for reading, talk soon!