Monday, June 15, 2015

Upcoming Show - Friday, July 26th

The band and I will be playing at Kitamu Coffee in Hilliard, OH on Friday, July 26th at 7:30pm! We'll be joined by the band, Clay.

Click here to visit Kitamu Coffee's facebook page.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Adventures in Nashville (Guitars & Strings 2015)

I can’t forget my first trip to Nashville. It was in 2003 that I first traveled down south to Music City with my friend Dave Bechtel. Dave was working on a project for Columbus musician Lara Gifford and wanted to record at a “real studio” with studio musicians and he and Lara invited me to come along and watch it all happen.

A little over a year later, I was down in Nashville again recording my first rock album, Backstage Pass. I learned very quickly the difference it makes to record music in a great room with top-notch players and engineers. I’ve since been to Nashville five times. (The picture above was taken at Darkhorse Recording on October 14th, 2003)

Why Nashville?
I’ve been asked on many occasions why I travel to Nashville to record my albums. Certainly, there are a lot of great musicians and studios in Columbus, right? Couldn’t I just record everything locally to avoid the cost of travel, food and lodging? The answer is “Yes!” There are incredible musicians and good studios in Columbus! Nevertheless, I’d still prefer to record in Nashville. Why? For one, I’ve developed a working relationship with certain engineers and players in Nashville and I can trust that they will do incredible work. Usually I can only afford to pay for one day in a studio at a time and I want to have players who can work quickly and creatively, all the while varying their tones and their playing styles for individual songs.

This past January, we recorded ten songs for the new album in about six hours at Sound Emporium in Nashville. Miles McPherson (drums), Joeie Canaday (bass), Mike Payne (guitar) and Jerry McPherson (guitar) did an amazing job following and building upon my MIDI demos. They learned and played each song in about fifteen minutes or less. Typically, another fifteen minutes was spent layering the first pass with additional guitar parts. Of course, we’d be dead in the water if it wasn’t for engineer Todd Robbins and assistant engineer Mike Stankiewicz who captured the performances.

Going Inside Nashville
A couple weeks ago, Crystal and I traveled down to Nashville for the second time this year to record strings with David Davidson and guitar overdubs with Mike Payne. This time, we decided to bring our three-year old, Joshua, with us. The plan was to make it a mini family vacation complete with a stop at Great Wolf Lodge in Cincinnati on the way home.

We left Columbus on Sunday, May 17th at around 9:45am. It was a smooth trip with little traffic and nice weather. However, we did stop every two hours so that Crystal, being pregnant, could get out and walk and Joshua, being three, could get out and run his little legs tired. Joshua actually did great riding in the car for eight hours, although he was getting a little antsy towards the end of the trip. He must have asked us, “Are we there yet?” hundreds of times. At one point, we pulled into a strip mall to look for a place to eat. There weren’t any restaurants we were interested in, so we continued driving south toward an Olive Garden. As we pulled away from the strip mall, Joshua started to get upset and yelled, “I wanted to go INSIDE Nashville!!!” Apparently, he thought Nashville was a place inside the strip mall.

After eating at Olive Garden and listening to our waiter’s lengthy speech on real estate, we headed to the house of our friends Dave and Emily Bechtel where we would spend the night. This was the first time Dave and his family had met Joshua. We all had a great time roasting marshmallows and catching up and Joshua had a blast pouring sand in the sandbox, jumping on the neighbor's trampoline and playing with Stella’s toy kitchen. With no nap all day, Joshua finally fell asleep around 11:30pm (Columbus time). The grown-ups finished the night with some tasty caramel and cookies ‘n cream ice cream and a hilarious story involving Dave and an angry football coach. (Basically, Dave made a comment about a bad play and the coach came up and confronted Dave while the game was still happening.)

The String Session
I woke up Monday morning excited and slightly nervous about the long and ambitious day of recording ahead. We scarfed down some Honey Nut Cheerios and as we walked out the door, Joshua shouted, “We’re going! Bye Dave Bechtel!” As we were driving, Joshua kept saying, “It’ll be fun to go to Daddy’s concert!”

We arrived at violinist David Davidson’s around 9:30am and were greeted by engineer Bobby Shin. (The last time we had been to David’s was in 2011 when we had recorded strings for Snapshots of the Shattered Soul.) Violinist David Angell, violist Kris Wilkinson and cellist Sari Reist arrived around 9:45. My second cousin Ryan Payne (who lives in Nashville) and a composer named Alex also joined us. There was a possibility that Columbus-based composer Rich Barrett would also show up, but we were unsure if that would happen.

We started recording at 9:55. The goal was to record strings for four and a half original songs — three and a half songs with the quartet and one song with a solo cello part. We had two hours with the full group and an extra half-hour with Sari, the cellist. All of the songs were songs which I had written for the new album, with the exception of a Christmas song that I hope to re-release later this year.

We recorded anywhere from three to four passes for each of the full-group songs — these passes will later be layered with sampled strings for a large orchestra sound. We started with an arrangement composed by Robert Nugent. As we were finishing up the last take of the first song, we heard the door squeak and up the stairs came composer Rich Barrett. He had left Columbus at 5:00am and had made it just in time to hear his arrangement being recorded.

After recording Rich’s piece, we moved onto two string arrangements I had composed — one for the Christmas song and one for the bridge of a song on the new album. At one point, my second cousin Ryan had to leave and after he walked down the squeaky stairs and out the door, David Davidson asked, “How many people are up there anyway?” Engineer Bobby joked that there were around fifty-five.

We finished recording with the quartet just before noon and spent the next half-hour tracking a solo cello part that Rich had arranged. The sessions went incredibly smoothly and the string parts sounded great. It’s crazy how big of a sound you can get with just four players!

It’s also amazing how well Joshua did sitting still during the recording session. Originally, Crystal was simply going to drop me off at David’s and head out for some errands with Joshua, but she and Joshua ended up sticking around for an hour or so because Joshua was behaving so well (and was pre-occupied playing with Ryan’s iPhone). However, they did leave for an hour or so in search of a Chick-Fil-A. Sadly, MapQuest led them to an abandoned mall and they returned without any food (According to David Davidson, the mall had been shut down for fifteen years).

A Stomach Ache and the Perfect Guitar Sound
Bobby copied all the files to my hard drive and we left David’s around 1:00pm. Determined to eat chicken, we began heading southeast toward another Chick-Fil-A in Franklin. Rich Barrett followed us. The original plan was to begin recording guitar overdubs with Mike Payne at 1:00, but we re-scheduled for 2:00 as we were running behind and Mike had a project he was wrapping up. After we went through the drive-thru, Crystal drove as I devoured a chicken sandwich and a side salad.

It was about 2:05 when we made it to Mike’s. He had just finished some overdubs for Switchfoot and Building 429. Crystal and Joshua dropped me off and headed back to Dave and Emily’s for a fun afternoon at the neighborhood pool. Rich followed them to Dave’s.

The overdubs went very smoothly. Most songs only needed an extra track or two of guitars — an added layer of distortion guitar in the choruses, a solo guitar part in a bridge, a chunky rhythm part in the verses, etc. These sounds weren’t meant to define the songs; they were simply meant to strengthen the parts that were already there. Mike used some sweet pedals and unique guitars, including a baritone guitar and a Jaguar guitar (made famous by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain — he added larger humbuckers for a rockier sound).

Mike recorded guitar parts for twelve songs and finished in less time than I had expected. I originally had planned to record from 1:00-7:00, but we started at 2:00 and finished at 6:30. After recording, we had a few extra minutes to chat about life and Mike was able to play me a few things he had been working on. Unfortunately, my stomach was killing me the entire time I was at Mike’s — probably because I ate my lunch so fast! Otherwise, I couldn’t have asked for a better day of recording. The strings sounded remarkable and Mike’s additional guitar layers filled out the songs and added some unique touches that couldn’t be achieved at the hurried rhythm session back in January.

Seriously, Are We There Yet?
Crystal and Joshua picked me up around 7:00pm. I thought I would introduce Joshua to Mike, but our little guy had fallen asleep in the car after a long day splashing in the neighborhood pool. He opened his eyes for a minute when I opened the door of the van, but his head quickly drooped over in his car seat and he was out again.

We thought Joshua would sleep for a while, but about thirty minutes into our trip, his toy laptop fell and woke him up. Of course, he started crying so we took a break, stopped at Kroger, got gas and then went inside so he could play with the phones (his favorite thing to do at Kroger). We then continued driving and arrived at Great Wolf Lodge around 1:30am. Joshua was awake for a long time, but finally fell asleep at midnight. This was the second day he had gone without a nap.

It took a long time to get settled into our room and I think we finally fell asleep around 3:00am. Crystal took Joshua to the room and I unloaded the van. Somehow I managed to forget our room number and I had both of our phones in Crystal’s purse so I couldn’t call Crystal to find out what room we were in. To add to the confusion, I was actually on the wrong floor for a while! I was walking up and down the halls with our bags trying my key wristband on multiple doors. I finally used Crystal’s phone to call the front desk to find out our room number (not sure why I didn't think of this sooner). I was probably wandering up and down the halls for a good half hour or so (Great Wolf is a huge place). Oh, the situations I get myself into.

Water Slides, Young Waitresses and Night Terrors
Tuesday morning, we woke up around 9:45 and just made it down to the cafeteria for breakfast, which closed at 10:30. We had a fun day playing in the water and going down waterslides. Joshua even went down a couple of the big slides — one of which he ended up going down facing backward (He was crying, "Daddy!" when he got to the bottom). The other was a large inner tube ride which he and I rode on together. He really enjoyed this slide...however, my legs were killing me after carrying him up five stories of steps multiple times (He refused to walk). Meanwhile, Crystal was jealous, as she couldn’t ride the waterslides because she is pregnant. However, I promised her we’d come back soon after baby girl is born!

We skipped lunch, ate a few snacks and then had an early dinner around 4:00 at the Lodge Wood Fire Grill. The food was pricey, but tasty. Joshua had a fun time flirting with the young waitresses.

We went back out to the water slides for several hours and then went back to our room, hoping we could get Joshua to bed a little earlier than the night before. His bedroom was pretty neat. It actually looked like a log cabin — complete with bunk beds, a TV and paintings of animals on the wall.

We did get to bed a little earlier this time…maybe around 11:30. Joshua slept in his “big boy bed” the night before and had done fine. However, this night, around midnight, he started crying. I ran into his little “cabin” room to find him lying on the floor. He was having a night terror and had fallen out of the bed! We had to hold him and console him for a about a half hour before he stopped crying. We were probably driving the neighbors crazy. We put him in his Pack ‘N Play for the rest of the night, and he slept well.

Drying Off Your Shorts And Going Home
We woke up a little earlier on Wednesday, as we wanted to squeeze in as much water slide time before we had to check out. We had planned on checking out at 11:00, but decided to pay a little extra for a later 2:00pm check out.

Minus a few hiccups, we had an awesome trip and returned to Columbus on Wednesday afternoon. However, we had to stop at a production house to convert the Pro Tools sessions I recorded at Mike Payne’s to Pro Tools version 9 (we had recorded them in version 11 at Mike’s). This is something I could have done at Mike’s, but I was so distracted by my aching stomach and the excitement of the day, I forgot this simple step!

Hurry Up And Wait
Many people ask me, “So are you almost finished with the album?” My answer is, “Yes and no.” At this point, about 95% of the instruments have been recorded. I may add a few additional keyboard/synth elements to several songs, but these can be recorded at my home studio.

The next step is to record the final lead and background vocals. Again, I can record the vocals at home. However, there are many costs that lie ahead. Last time around, I rented a compressor from a friend (necessary for recording vocals), but he sold it…so I may need to buy my own. After the vocals are recorded, the album will need to be mixed and mastered. This is a huge expense — about half of the total album budget. So, the album is somewhat on hold until I get some more freelance work.

Currently, I’m taking a break from working on the album to focus on playing concerts and finding freelance work — and of course, we have a baby girl coming in mid-July! Life is definitely going to change for us! In summary, I plan to focus on recording vocals in the later summer/early fall and I hope the album can be mixed and mastered early next year… or maybe sooner if God wills.

I'm just thankful that we could once again go INSIDE Nashville.