(The following is a very rough outline of my day yesterday.)
Set alarm for 8AM. Go to bed.
Wake up for no good reason. Un-set 8AM alarm. Wonder why I haven’t slept well since fourth grade.
Check to see if my throat works. It does!
Order an ill-advised bathtub of coffee and write yesterday’s blog.
Vocal warm-ups and water-chugging session at my brother’s. Did I mention I moved out of my place this week? I’m “technically” homeless right now. Technically.
Brother leaves for the day. He wishes me luck: “It’ll be great! Holler when you’re done. Keep it weird.” Before I can ask what that last sentence even means, he’s out the door. It’s like he’s referencing something mutually understood between us, only I have no clue what that is. Picture your friend or sibling yelling, “Whatever you do, DON’T FORGET CLEVELAND” before leaving the house one day. Easy explanation here is that I’m weird. But that can’t be right.
I am waiting in an Exxon until noon. I have to wait until noon to buy beer. Don’t worry, kids: nobody’s DRINKING the beer. We use it to water the plants at Ardent.
The cashier tells me to wait until 12:01. She wants to “play it safe.” The other cashier scolds her: “you got this man waiting!” I love the other cashier.
Getting settled in Ardent Studio A. If you’re wondering how cool this place is, or how many of my heroes have recorded here, or how incredibly geeked I am to spend the next two days making noise here, click.
We’ve started tracking (read: recording), so time from here on out is a little hazy.
Let’s take a minute to run down who we are and what we’re doing here.
We’re making a two-song single. Side A is called “Never In Love” (an up-tempo, rocking one) and Side B is called “Always In Love” (a slow, quiet one). They’re kind of companion pieces. We’re starting with “Never In Love” because it’s the bigger production.
Jeremy Stanfill is on drums. You might know Jeremy any number of ways. He’s one of my favorite local singer/songwriters. He’s great at about 1200 different instruments. Today he’s chosen to be great at 1) drums and 2) having hair like Tim Riggins. In that order.
Landon Moore is on bass. You might know Landon as the bassist for 90% of the bands in Memphis. His awesomeness is well-documented. We also went to the same high school. Go Mustangs!
Dave Cousar is on electric guitar. Dave’s full-time gig is playing with Amy LaVere. His work on her new album (Stranger Me) is a little masterpiece. Nobody balances “gorgeous” and “weird” like Dave. He’s surreptitious.
They’re all in the main room. I’m in time-out (read: the isolation booth) singing and playing acoustic guitar.
Jeff Powell is producing the record. Jeff’s resume speaks for itself. He’s also a really nice guy, and knows a startling amount about the Coors (Coors beer) family history.
Everyone plays the song together, but we’re tracking the drums and bass first. If you think of the song as a house, they’re the foundation. Everything gets built up from there. So, we just built our foundation.
I love the energy of a band playing together in the same room (as opposed to tracking parts independently). It makes a difference in the sound and the feel of the final track.
Dave unleashes the world’s creepiest pick-up line.
We’ve got guitars! We’ve got guitars. I’m always surprised by how my guitar sounds in a studio. She’s like a beautiful girl you’ve known so long you forget she’s pretty.
The calvary arrives. Josh and Geoff from Star & Micey are here to work on some background vocals. We spend a while working out the parts, then spend a while longer just playing around with a million different harmonies.
(Side note: I posted a video of this on Facebook.)
These guys are inexhaustible. About an hour into singing and experimenting, Josh mentions that he recently injured his vocal chords; he tore them and is waiting on medical treatment. Meanwhile, he keeps singing. They’re all game for anything, willing to sing any part, try any half-baked idea. They put everything into it. At this point, I’m gone. I’m on my own timeline. If the rest of my life consisted of just this and eating Fruit Roll-Ups, I’d be the happiest man alive.
It’s around this time I realize I still need to actually sing this song.
I actually sing this song.
Somewhere Around 7PM
We start “Always In Love.” I had an idea that Dave might play it electric, so we start going through the song. It’s a pretty simple finger-picking pattern. After a few runs, Dave informs me that because I play “different” (read: lefty and upside-down), the finger-picking pattern I play isn’t really possible for a right-handed player.
So, I play the main part and Dave adds some “salt and pepper.” And oregano. Cayenne?
Now’s a good time to mention that the echo chamber here is like Jim James’ vision of heaven. I’m singing from somewhere inside it. I’m trying to get lost and never return.
Susan Marshall joins me in the fray.
You might notice I’m being less detailed about this song. That’s partially because it’s a softer song and less people are playing on it. But it’s really because I haven’t played it out yet, and I’d like to keep y’all in the dark. Deal with that!
I’ll say this: Susan Marshall is fantastic, and I’m thrilled to sing with her.
Dinner run for the gang. I’m too wired to eat anything. I just take pictures of condiments. Like this one. Zesty?
(My next album will be called Zesty.)
Someone at Burger King said, “Look, there’s already sweet & sour. What’s another adjective? Zesty? Sure, ‘zesty’ isn’t a flavor per se, but it’s a word, and people will eat anything. Next month let’s try ‘bold’ sauce and ‘tasty’ juice.”
Al Gamble joins the party, fresh off the interstate from Alabama. He’s right on time to play piano and B3, but a too late for the Zesty. I have a hard time hearing B3 without hearing the beginning of “Like a Rolling Stone.” Along the same lines, I can’t hear a D-chord without hearing the beginning of “Free Fallin.'” And because of a local pool-supply commercial from the mid-90’s, I can’t hear the words “it’s hot” without thinking, “and you need a pool! That’s Watson’s.”
Look, this might be the 5 Hour Energies, sleep deprivation, over-caffeination, or borderline starvation talking, but this stark, spooky piano is getting real for me. I’m thinking about 7th grade. I’m thinking about my grandmother. Where am I? Mamaw, is that you? I don’t even know what’s happening. Al Gamble is a shaman.
I’m contemplating moving into Ardent. I’ve already moved out of my place. Everything i own is in my trunk. I could sneak a toothbrush and a pillow in. I really don’t think anyone would notice. Jeff says, “I think we can call it a day.”
After Midnight, The Next Day Practically, Not Morning Yet, Somewhere In the Witching HourAM
I’m in “bed,” I’m trying to go to sleep, my heart’s pounding, my leg’s tapping, and then there’s some new melody forming in my head. And there’s a few lyrics. Nothing major, just a few words, a little phrase I like. And a nice run of melody. Will I remember this tomorrow? I don’t know if I’ll remember this tomorrow. Good grief.
Where’s the tape recorder?