Into the wild
There's something very isolating about this record that I don't think I fully expected. I mean, sure, in the studio there's engineer Jack Gauthier, producer Todd Thibaud, and the rhythm section of Milt Sutton and Jeff St. Pierre. But the times that count most as a band -- driving to and from the studio/a gig, hanging out after the work is done -- aren't necessarily there. To some degree, that's cool because it does place me deep in the work, but it can feel very odd, too. For instance, when we wrap up at 9:30 at night in the woods of Rhode Island and it's like, "Now, what?" I was supposed to go back to the hotel and sleep until we started at noon the next day. Both days I ended up driving the hour and a half back to Somerville. This is for a few reasons, too: I calculated that the drive only wastes a quarter of a tank (half a tank round trip), which is significantly cheaper than renting a hotel room, even with these high gas prices. But also, what was I going to do?
The drives are fine, not as bad as I thought they would be, and they seem to get shorter every time I do them. I arrived Thursday morning an hour early on the plot of land that looks like a former camp site. The studio is built in a cinderblock building on the edge of the property, with a large gravel parking lot leading to an enormous barn. This barn, I come to find out, is a nightime hot spot with country music and line dancing lessons. All of these buildings overlook a small lake, with a nice dock leading out onto the water. The owner of the barn and the property found me taking pictures while waiting for the others to arrive on Day 1 and took me inside his venue to show me his amps and drums. It is a phenomenal place straight out of the south, but with one key difference: totally dry. He said it used to be a rock club, but he didn't like the drinking crowd, so now he tailors to the line dancing folks. And apparently they love it. Sure enough, when I left on night 2, the giant gravel lot was almost completely full. After he showed me the barn, I asked him if I could check out the property, which also includes a dilapidated skating rink and a 1940s ladies' bath house. I walked out onto the dock, past a fish carcass that plenty of bugs and birds were picking at, with my Kalamazoo in hand, and dangled my feet in the water, playing guitar until everyone arrived. I don't know if I ever remember being so at peace.
Jack was the first to arrive, and we immediately got to talking music. He is an extraordinarily good guy, and his repoire with Todd is what initially sold me on Lakewest (along with the bucolic nature of it all). Sure enough, the others arrived and we got to work. My voice was in bad shape (though, upon second listen, not as bad as I had first thought) but we tracked all the rhythm stuff up front. It's interesting to play with professional studio musicians: on one hand, I feel awkward being in control when I'm 30 years younger than them and they've played with the likes of David Bowie; on the other, Todd had said that having guys who really feel the rhythm of a song naturally (and instantly) can be "very liberating for a songwriter." Sure enough, I noticed that in rehearsals leading up to the recording, as they came prepared with notes from my demos and really creative ideas. As a result, on the first day we were able to track an unprecendented nine songs, leaving just five songs to cut on day 2 (we are recording more than we are using). That's what makes them pros, and what solidifies the fact that if this record sucks, you know that it's because of me and not them. That's one of the true pleasures and concerns of being solo: all the risk is yours, so all the rewards or blame is yours, too.
After coming back home and seeing the new "Batman," which I did NOT enjoy but am open to seeing again to see if I missed something (OK, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhardt are great, but that was some of the worst script writing I've ever seen, that is, for a movie I had such high hopes for), I headed back down Friday for Day 2. We knocked out the other songs quickly, with the exception of "Withering on the Vine," which may be on the bubble right now. I wanted to revisit the first song we cut on Day 1, "Broken Beaten & Blue," since it is the likely album opener and must have a good feel. Everyone agreed that the song sounded good, and it did, but they were using phrases like "laid back" to describe it. I want that song to stick out, to rock, really, and not to simply meander nicely. So, we re-cut it, and in my humble opinion, nailed it on the first try. Todd agreed, so we moved on to getting some early rough mixes done.
I've never worked with a producer before, so having Todd there is quite interesting. We've been meeting once a week or so for months now, refining the song list and playing with the songs. He's a really good guy and I couldn't have more faith in him. He is a great songwriter, but more importantly, very tactful in his criticism. He likes most everything, but if he doesn't, he lets you know without making you feel bad. He can also be quite emotionally supportive, which I don't think I nessarily need, in fact I'd prefer him to slap me around once in awhile to make sure I'm on track, but he gets that job done nicely, too. And we work together, well, too. The team that's been assembled for this record is, so far, proving to be unbelievable.
So now, I'm back home on a quick break, going to see "Dinosaurs Alive" tonight, before heading down for some of my tracking tomorrow. Matt is on tour with Scissormen right now -- I think he's in Minneapolis tonight. The day Matt gets back, Scott leaves for Texas for 10 days. Mike, of course, must be knee deep in wedding prepartions. So, Cassavettes has to practice in a more raw form for the next few weeks, which should be fine. Maybe we can hone in a bit and get some of these songs ready for our big record, which I'm greatly anticipating.
This much is clear: 2009 is going to be big.