Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ennis, Jack, and Groucho

Word. Saturday morning. Johannes, Kari, and Teemu are packing things up in the studio and in the control room. The sessions are done for now, and we leave back for Helsinki in about an hour. Yesterday's fifth and final day lasted a total of 18 hours, from about 11 AM to 5 AM. The first part of the day was spent working on "Tex", but in the afternoon we switched to some more swinging country, one of Kari's compositions that goes by the working title "Dirt". I spent most of the day in my own recording booth writing and trying out lyrics for it. I had an idea for a chorus and two nearly finished verses for it from before, and managed to quickly put together a third as well as fix some of the previous bits. The text has had a pretty strong cinematic feel to it from the start, and it's turning into a sort of an ode to old and bitterly proud men.

At first, the visual image of the narrator was of someone sort of like the dying old man who played Julianne Moore's husband and Tom Cruise's dad in "Magnolia". But in the course of writing, more images came to mind. One of them was of an interview with Groucho Marx on BBC (I think), done sometime in the 70's. The aged comedian was asked if he had any regrets or if he wished he had done anything differently, and his response was an unwavering: "No. I was great." I also thought of a next door neighbor from my childhood, an old retired architect, who always swore he would poison the apple tree he had in his front yard after the neighborhood kids had been picking his apples. He was also adamant about the fact that he would one day shoot our adorable but slightly simple-minded cat Topi with his shotgun. Johannes also suggested I add the name John Ross to the text, as a tribute of sorts to the one and only JR. Which sounded like a perfect name for my fictional narrator. So... whether it sounds credible or not, the song has turned into a first person account by an old man approaching the final hour with both of his middle fingers held high.

While I was immersed in the writing, some beautiful things were taking place in the studio. Johannes added some saloon-type piano takes, and Kari was recorded playing the snare drum with some dish brushes. But by far the sweetest moment was walking into the control room only to see assistant producer T-mu Korpipää playing some old time country bass with pieces of foamed plastic stuck in between the strings. What began as a really stripped down acoustic tune has quickly bloomed into a very traditional sounding country song, the closest thing we've ever done to a Johnny Cash tune. Sort of. While working on the track, we were also listening to all kinds of different country music to pick up some good sound references. And, almost as a quirky twist of fate, "Brokeback Mountain" was on tv that very same night. I couldn't help thinking to myself — while tossing some more logs into fire under the sauna stove — that the stars seemed to be perfectly aligned for making country music.

After Kari had spent a good two-three hours on alternative guitar takes, we finally got around to recording some vocals as well. Starting around two or three AM. Among some more serious efforts, we even tried what country music would sound like if sung with a distinctly British accent. Very funny, if not quite something to put on a real record.

So the first five day stint here is through. We will be coming back for another one once Juuso and Tero have returned tanned and well-rehearsed from their percussion winter escape to Cuba. It feels like we've done tons here this past week, but on the other hand, a daunting task still lies ahead... The number of tracks still in the works is, well, pretty ridiculous. A lot of tough decisions and a lot of editing needed.

Time to step on over to the control room to listen to some fresh versions. Father Metro signing off. Peace.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do Dat Shiiit!

It's Thursday night in a countryside studio out in the middle of nowhere. Or... not exactly. We're at Petrax Studios which is technically near the town of Hollola, Finland. But you wouldn't know it looking out the window. Nothing but fields on one side, woods on the other, and some race horses far in the distance.

Kari is sitting in the dark recording room and pounding the tom-toms to "Tex Killer" with a pair of mallets. L o u d. And then real soft and easy. Johannes, Teemu (Korpipää, our live soundman and engineer), Felix and myself are comfortably chilling in the control room and commenting on the takes. Teemu just pointed out some of the hits were a little hasty, and suggested a shot of whiskey to calm the drummer down. The glass is being carried into the recording room as we speak. We also turned off all the lights to find the right mood. (And Kari, if anyone, is all about the moods.) This "Killer" track is gradually reaching some pretty magical spheres. I just spent a couple of hours in my own little recording room putting some finishing touches on the three verses. And recorded some new takes which might well end up being final.

Mr. Zenger just ran downstairs where he is preparing the sauna for us. The young beatbox wizard has been kept busy all day, his mouth beats and effects have been recorded to "Sympathizer", "Dey Don't", "Boogie", and "Tex Killer". He also played the Hammond organ on "Tex", and successfully so, because the loud noise of the instrument finally got Johannes out of bed. At 1 PM. The rest of us had of course been up since 9:30 AM, as we didn't want to miss out on the abundant breakfast served by Tiina (or Mrs. Rappula of the fantastic Rappula couple who are the studio owners). There's a great full board option on offer for all the bands who come here, and the great home cooking sure does soothe a hungry musicians soul. Just like the sauna downstairs, where Felix is trying to usher us ASAP. Seems like the glass of scotch worked. Kari just hammered in his best takes.

A funny old track, this "Tex Killer". It's based on a simple repetitive loop of something guitar-strummer extraordinaire Petteri Sariola played on a very banged up five-string (yes, 5) in the Dick Tank sometime last fall. I managed to record his playing with my MacBook -- no separate mics or anything, I just basically pointed my laptop in his general direction as he was jamming. And then later, I started playing around with a ten second loop extracted from his five minute jam, and came up with a melody and some lyrics for the vocals. Kari continued the song's subtle build-up with some Rhodes piano chords, and more recording is taking the track to even deeper spheres. The song has a real rugged country-esque feel to it, and it may well turn into the most, ahem, epic DJBB track yet. Verneri Pohjola dropped by earlier and delivered some truly phenomenal trumpet action — full of the same kind of fragile magic his solo had on "Jack" on our previous album. Verneri, and his trombone-puffing brother-in-arms Ilmari Pohjola, also recorded a whole heap of horn section material to a couple of tracks. The primary target was Kari's "gypsy hip-hop" track, but "Boogie" got its fair share as well.

But getting back to "Tex Killer", it will be very interesting to present the track to Mr. Sariola. Who, of course, has no idea that his tongue-in-cheek blues jam has inspired an eight minute long ballad of dust and redemption. A sum of many a coincidence, this song.

It's sauna time. And then sleep. Another day of sessions ahead tomorrow, and you gotta try to maximize the precious 6 hours of sleep ahead... There's magic present in this studio. A truly wonderful place to make and record music. The vibe is productive, excited, restless, peaceful, exhausted, rested.