While the the soon-to-be record began taking shape I found my writing had taken some sharp turns. On one hand I found myself writing more ballads- songs that I would have never brought to a previous band, on the other I was picking up the electric guitar more and embracing a more forward rock and roll style.
Six-string in hand, “The Bells" was born - a trip into paranoia, obsession and memory. I can remember the sounds of many church, mosque and city bells around the world and they became a device in this song, endless and replaying in my mind.
Once the demo was mulled over it was time to call in the wrecking crew and we turned our friends loose to give “The Bells” some attitude. Miles McPherson’s drums were tight in the verses and increasingly frantic in the choruses. Tony Franklin, who played the fretless bass on “When I Saw Your Ghost” cut the bass on this one as well. If you listen close you can hear he only “sounds” fretless when he wants to, and the bass slithers and growls around before driving the choruses. A foundation to live up to, indeed.
In order to keep the song explosive there was great effort made to keep sections contrasting and slowly building as the song progressed. The electric guitars mainly stay in the choruses, leaving the verses open with some jangly acoustic and some synths. Some of Bruce Kulick’s old Les Pauls, including a gold top with P90s I particularly loved, made this track, and in the amp department I believe we used his vintage Bassman and an old trusty Marshall. Tones were fairly dry and crunchy, bookends to the old warbly analog synth (my Yamaha DX7), except for the “new wave-y” clean guitar in the choruses which we compressed and lathered in ambience.
Time to sing. Engineer/mixer Jorge Velasco, a guiding force on the album as a whole, drove the bus on this song as we began vocals. We spent a summer afternoon in North Hollywood knocking out the vocals for “The Bells” and it remains one of my favorites on the entire record. When we got to the chorus vocals all I remember is just breathing deep and going for it- thankfully, the notes came out. Having the bridge chant continue to the end over the chorus like a round was an idea that I had sketched out in my original demos but Jorge and (producer) Jeremy Rubolino brought it all to life as we chanted and sang the background parts over and over. If you can zoom in enough to the vocal booth picture below you can see my numbered tracking lyric sheet.
It was a portly finished session file, mostly filled with vocal tracks, that was handed over to Brian Virtue to mix and his first pass hit the nail on the head. So, “The Bells” was a wrap and added to the ‘finished’ stack. Give it a listen or two, perhaps in headphones- you may hear something new each time.
On iTunes: http://smarturl.it/hardlight
Before I begin please indulge me in a moment of thanks - my album “Hard Light” was digitally released one week ago today (05.06.14) and I couldn’t be happier. Thank you to everyone who got their copy as well as those that have shared the album with their friends. It is excited to be back with new songs to sing and concerts to play for you.
Now, another look in the booth, over the console, and in the writing room- this time with the track “Someone That Makes You Happy”.
"Someone" was the latest bloomer on the album - we were well into basic tracking when the need arose for a sing-along, uptempo song, and rather than try to salvage a song for the sake of finishing it I decided to take a step back and write from scratch. Once the chorus was worked out over a few voice memos I was thrilled and began to work backwards, building verses and a bridge that would propel the song along. Words took shape and I outlined a simple lyrical plea- through all faults and shortcomings I simply wanted to make the one I loved…happy. I wrapped up the demo, sent it around, and within a couple months we were taking a break from a vocal session to listen back to Miles McPherson’s drum overdubs, cut from his Nashville studio and agreed upon over FaceTime. Truly, record-making in the connected age.
Overall, this album has a great deal of emphasis and effort in the rhythm section’s groove and “Someone” is one of my favorite examples of a success I cannot claim credit for. While Miles’ drums bounce in the choruses Chris Chaney’s bass part gallops along. Great effort was made to make sure everything from electric guitars to egg shakers and triangle (yes, triangle) played nice with the elements we had built.
Originally I had recorded piano throughout the entire song, but as fate would have it we would end up tracking vocals at a small studio with an original Wurlitzer 200A and I could not resist replacing some grand piano parts with it. It took some effort to get around the crackly old knobs but became entirely worth it once we heard the new sounds in the track. Synths were fairly basic but I created some different textures by running them through a version of an Eventide H3000 on its “Crystal Echoes” preset at nearly 100%. The shimmer ended up adding a great brightness to the song, almost string-like at times that grows in intensity to the end.
"Someone" involved yet another midnight oil background vocal session of ooh’s and ah’s and harmonies all around. Much of it came from the demo, my interpretation of "what would the Heartbreakers do?" and from our desire to make this song the fun, top-of-your-lungs number on the album. You’ll be hearing it live this summer and I hope you dance along.
On iTunes: http://smarturl.it/hardlight