Sunday, January 30, 2005

photographic documentation

Photographer Ryan Schierling spent some time with us in the studio and has posted a photo essay of sorts about the recording of the album at his website:

Click on the "recent work" link. Make sure to check out some of his other (awesome) work elsewhere on the same site.

In album news, it's all done -- save for a little ending bit that still needs to be mixed, but that's only going to take a couple hours Tuesday morning. I daresay those of you that have been patiently waiting won't be disappointed. I'll hold off a bit on describing it, but it's kind of a natural progression from WHATMMG and KJV....

Friday, January 28, 2005

in the immortal words of a certain rabbi

it is accomplished.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Let me be the first to say

holy fucking shit. this album is the best thing we have ever done. by a lot. it'll be done tonight, and i will break my month of abstinence to celebrate. despite having been in bed for most of the last three days with horrible hives and other allergic reactions, i feel euphoric and full of joie de vivre. to anyone who has stuck around, thank you. you won't be sorry.

Monday, January 24, 2005

tracking is done!

Wrapped up tracking today. Now all that remains is mixing, which should happen in the next four days. I'm completely exhausted but it's all sounding really fantastic. The strings and horns turned out wonderfully, thanks to the skills of the players. We're all very very excited to hear the songs with proper mixes....

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The relentless march of technology

One of the things that's been fascinating to observe is the difference in working method due to advances in technology. Both Merrymakers and KJV were recorded onto 2-inch tape on 24-track tape machines; for KJB, since we were on a major-label budget, we could afford to use studios with two tape machines synced up in order to give us double the number of tracks. This time around, though, everything is being recorded directly to a hard drive, inside Pro Tools (a digital audio program that runs on an Apple Macintosh). The tape machine sits unused, another victim of Moore's Law and the advances in hard drive storage capacity.

The math goes like this: If we were using tape, a 2500-foot reel of tape would yield about 16.5 minutes (running at 30 in/sec), for 24 tracks. A reel of tape runs (well, used to) around $240. Assume you keep two takes of a song, with an average of 4 min./song, and you have 12 songs to record, that's two songs per reel, or 6 reels. 6 x $240 = $1400, just for tape. And remember that you're limited to 24 tracks total.

Now let's look at digital storage. Recording at 24-bit resolution requires 16.5 MB/min per track; in order to do an apples-to-apples comparison we'll calculate 24 tracks, so we're at 396 MB/minute. Therefore it takes 39,204 MB (or 39.2 GB) to store the same amount of audio as 6 reels of tape. How much does it cost? Last week I ordered a 200 Gigabyte hard drive for $111, shipped. That's the equivalent of 30 reels of tape ($7,200).

Personally, I prefer the sound of tape, but at some point even the most die-hard tapehead has to realize that the cost for marginal improvement becomes too much. Is it any wonder Quantegy declared bankruptcy earlier this year?

things are getting RAW

First of all, I have a cold sore, so it's getting difficult to concentrate on making music. But, in the spirit of HD's ongoing commitment to excellence, I will endeavor to persevere.

Secondly, I am singing my ass off as we hurtle headlong into the final days of tracking. There are five songs left to go, and all of them are really hard in different ways. Still, everything is sounding so good that the vocal work becomes a pleasure. Since I quit smoking (1 year, 4 months, 3 weeks and counting) and have been abstaining from all intoxicants besides caffeine since the new year started (20 days and counting, though I'll probably crack my new expensive bottle of bourbon on Sunday night after the last track is laid down), I can feel a new strength and elasticity in my voice. My range hasn't changed much--I can maybe go a little higher now than before, or at least, I can hit the very high notes a little more easily now. The big difference is breath control. I'm pretty sure I can hear you snoring, so I'll lay off this subject, but for me, it counts as exciting.

In fact, I think everyone has increased instrumental alacrity this time around. Jeff's piano playing is really assured and dynamic, while his (vastly underrated) guitar skills have turned a corner as well--especially now that the guitar isn't the dominant instrument on most of the songs, he's able to play more nuanced rhythm parts. Which is not to say the album doesn't rock, of course; it just rocks smarter and more subtly than we ever have before. I'm amazed listening back to Merrymakers and King James, just how snotty, brash, and kind of obnoxious a lot of the songs are (not just the singing either, but the whole approach). I daresay that HD3--and no, that will not be the title as long as I live and breathe--comes closer than we ever have to sounding like ourselves, rather than a way we want to try and sound, or more accurately, a way we wind up sounding when we fail to make good choices... Not in terms of live vs. studio, but in terms of me and jeff and aaron as people. We're not a bunch of teenagers anymore. Well, I am. But those other guys are OLD!

Which reminds me: I am now the youngest member of Harvey Danger. You can call me The Kid.

And let us not forget Aaron, who has combined his bass-as-lead-guitar approach, which I daresay is the single most defining element of our sound, with more classic (and occasionally McCartney-esque) active bass parts on the piano songs, to say nothing of his impressive guitar work. Along with Michael's truly exemplary drumming, I'm very pleased to realize that our overall sound, or tone (as the guitarists of the world insist on calling it), has become very pleasing, where once it was abrasive. I'm surely tempting fate to say it, but the stuff we've done so far almost feels sophisticated.

In all, it's been a wickedly productive time. I'm still sweating the lyrics to a couple of these numbers (and one metaphor in particular), and am sorely tempted to revisit the verse melody on one song before all is said and done. I won't give details, of course; that would be telling.

One thing I will share, though, is the fascinating process by which a certain song (again, no names) has evolved in the past 72 hours from quasi-early-'70s-Stones-style stomper into some bizarre hybrid variant of Eno-era glitter pop (which was mostly based on the same basic late '50s r&b blueprint as the Stones, anyway...), new wave freakout, and classic rocker. I mean, the process was basically this: we added a bunch of weird keyboards to the intro and the choruses. But the way it all happened was one of the most exciting and collaborative moments in the history of this band. All of us in the room, trying ideas, keeping the good ones, encouraging one another, using the resources at our disposal and not getting territorial about instruments or pre-conceived ideas, and also having the respect to hang back, knowing when it's time to stop, etc... It was basically the way I'd always hoped things could happen in the studio. Major credit to John & Steve for fostering the environment, of course, but for me, the key was that no one ever said no. The song needed something, and it got something none of us would have predicted.

Which is basically the dominant theme of this whole project. Thanks for staying interested.

the home stretch

Only three more days of tracking! Other than vocals, this is purely bells and whistles time. Steve's collection of old keyboards, synths, etc. is playing a significant role in this process. There are rumors of horns and strings this weekend also. I've spent fewer hours in the studio during this second week, mostly because I gots to pay the rent, but also in order to avoid getting burned out and to be able to approach the stuff that's done in my absence with fresh ears. It's cool when there's something new in a song that was different than what I expected. I'm looking forward to mixing, which happens next week. I imagine John and Steve will do most of this without us (that's why you hire great producers, after all) and we'll be there to suggest changes and to give it the final thumbs up.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Day 6

Just got back from a full day's worth of overdubbing work. For those unfamiliar with the studio process, overdubbing is when you go back over the basic tracks and put "keeper" versions of the scratch tracks on. So you replace the scratch guitar, put doubled parts on, and also start filling in some of the secondary parts. We (I) tend to be pretty overdub-heavy since there are usually a fair number of different parts for each track, so the shift to Pro Tools (and therefore away from the previous 24-track limit) has its benefits.

Did the more "rocking"-er songs today. It felt good to strap on a guitar and plug into an amp -- a lot of songs on this album are piano-driven, so I spent the majority of basic tracking sitting at the piano. It was a bit strange; I don't prefer one instrument or the other, really, but it was quite different than what i'd been used to. There's something really satisfying about standing in a room with a cranked amplifier, chugging out some power chords. It's satisfying in the same way that playing really good air guitar can be satisfying (RHYTHM air guitar, playing air lead guitar is lame).

More overdubs tomorrow. So far it looks like we're keeping up a pretty good pace. More to come...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The first 5 days

And so, we come to our first day off. So far we've finished all the basic stuff (mostly drums, bass & piano) for 11 songs. That leaves two more that still need some work. We left the hardest songs for last, which made for some very productive days up front, but today was a little frustrating. I'm sure it'll come together, though. We've definitely made a lot of progress on the massive supply of beverages we brought to the studio on day one, which consisted of: 1 case of Coke, 1 case of Diet Pepsi, 1 case of Gatorade (assorted flavors), 1 case of Red Bull, 1 case of Henry's, 1 12-pack of Diet Squirt. Luckily for all of us, we're not even coming close to matching the heroic consumption of Coke that took place during the recording of King James Version. We should've gotten some kind of endorsement deal. Anyway, come Friday it's on to overdubs, which can be either really fun or mind-numbingly boring, depending on if it's your turn or not. Personally, I love overdubbing stuff because I can play in the control room and hear exactly what it's going to sound like as I play it, instead of listening through headphones, which always make me feel separated from everything else that's going on.