Joah-Fish and Enegin Studios

Two weeks ago, Murray moved the recording into another studio. Today he finishes working there, and he’s completely exhausted. The other day he was lying on the couch, barely awake, saying: “It’s weird being so tired and so inspired at the same time.” The songs are perpetually shape-shifting, taking new unexpected directions with every element he adds. He was browsing some samples in Logic while near passed out, and was triggering these angelic harp arpeggios, saying: “I think I’m going to lay this down on Half Mast; it’s gonna take the song to a whole new level.” That’s what’s been going on for the past four months of recording this album.

Rob has been coming in laying down some sick bass lines…now that he’s finally back from tour doing sound for Stars. Thursday I was in recording backing vocals, and I had to try not to listen to his new bass track I was accompanying. Like Murray and I were saying its not even a bass line but its own, melodic track. Crazy. Anyhow, one of the parts I was singing was pretty high in my out-of-shape vocal range, and I burned out my throat a bit. I left the studio not sure if I was catching cold or really, really not used to singing. I forget how much touring trains the voice, seasons it, and if you stop it gets, well, flabby. My voice is flabby, but it usually is whenever we’re recording; it sounds different than on tour, more honest and vulnerable instead of confident and blaring. I like it…like everything else, it’s classic.

Anyway, this studio has great vibes. It’s clean and cozy (and has a window, but all you see out of it is the wall of the building next door) and is the newly built, relocated Stock Market Audio (check your NCL and Protest liner notes). They changed the name to I think Mountain Studio or Mountain View or something, but Joseph and Adrian really stepped up their game. Neptune calls them Joah-Fish and Enegin, obviously, by their superhero names. In my headphones, I could hear the sound of the snow-clearing trucks in the talkback mic. It was comforting, reminding me ever so gently of the outside world, of the piles and piles of snow still on the streets, and of how the resignation to snow affects the Montreal mentality.

12 String Guitar Blog

On a drive down to Studio Economik to exchange a finicky Bryston power amp, Murray bought a 12 string guitar. While previously we’d dismiss the 12 string as fromaggio, this record has been busting out from all convention. Everything that’s old is fair game, things we’ve dissed now posess infinite possibility: Banjo: fine. Quirky peercussions, check. Face melting borderline metal guitar shredding: definitely. Vocoder: bring it. Chorus pedal: of course! Benvie’s rave synths: all over it. Anyway, and on and on.

So Murray calls Jason and asks him to find a 12 string electric guitar for rent in Montreal. And, classic Montreal, in the entire city there isn’t one: however we’ve long learned that this city does not have shopping or “customer first” among its list of strengths. Murray, while negotiating through St Henri, instructs Jason to hit the net. He finds one on eBay, in an auction ending in 45 minutes.

Looking back now I realise this was a little leap of faith: Jason’s never bought anything on eBay before, and we were in the car, internet-less. So I gave Jason an eBay crash course, my login info and sent him to the auction. We won the 70’s Univox custom 12 string hollow body electric guitar, from a very nice seller in Kentucky. Five days later, the fifth day being yesterday, it arrived at our house.

The UPS guy was hilarious. He asked: “Is this for you?” I said, “Yeah.” “You play guitar?” “Well, no it’s for my husband.” “What they didn’t have it at Steve’s?” “Uh, no it’s pretty particular.” I bet he’s a total weekend warrior.

The shipping box was stuffed with strips of shredded magazines, which Neptune loved absolutely. The guitar was in perfect condition, needing only a little tune up to cure some buzzing on one of the strings. Amazing. Last night Murray and Krief tracked it on a few songs; Murray described the experience of playing a solo on a 12 string like trying to wail on a bass guitar. Oh. But apparently it sounds great.

I seem to be saying this a lot: it sounds great, the album is amazing, incredible, mind-blowing, whatever, but really how else could I describe something so pure and real, something with an undeniable energy, channeled from the souls of a handful of musicians and written from the heart by one anointed composer? It feels like The Dears are The Dears again.

Piano: Check

Last night I finished all my piano on the album. Well, except for some B-sides we haven’t recorded yet, but the plan is to work on those later. Drew and Dan hooked us up with this incredible Stienway baby grand piano from Montreal Piano for these sessions, and it’s such a pleasure to play. Everything sounds amazing, each note is inspired; it makes me wish I was a better pianist. I re-did this piano jam part Murray had originally played at the end of one of the songs and this part is ridiculous. It’s like a funked-out, Sly and the Family Stone, country, cotton-pickin’ jam with clav, wah-wah and banjo. And crickets. It’s very gently conceptual and very aggressively wicked. Anyway, it felt good to get those tracks done. I motored through three songs last night. While we’re recording digital, we are still avoiding editing and punch-ins like the plague (the only difference is that now our songs have 80 tracks instead of 24, like on Gang of Losers). I did one song in one take because that’s my style; I didn’t want to jinx it by trying another pass or second guessing myself. It was just locked in and sounded right. That’s the vibe. People come in, lay down something killer, have a beer, then leave. Or, as Jason would say: “BOOM!”

The Studio: Windows or No Windows?

Murray’s been at the Studio for a few weeks now. Benvie came in last weekend so him and Murray basically went on a bender. I blame Nick Robinson (click here, guy on the right) for letting them hang out after hours at his bar. Anyway, so Benvie came in a laid down some serious vibes, they laughed a lot and then drank a lot. Nobody is really sure how or what exactly happened that weekend, but it sounds great.

On Wednesday Murray took a session “on location” at Jace’s for some top secret keyboard work. It turned out killer, and his studio has windows (see natural light pictued in the header). I had a discussion with Dan L. (who’s engineered most of our sessions so far) about having windows to the oustide world in the studio and it’s a serious debate. On one hand it’s nice having light and breaking the feeling of total isolation. On the other hand, when recording, do you really want a reference to how much time has passed? That night has fallen at least a few hours ago? Dan L. made the good point about how just seeing the night triggers his internal clock that reminds him to be sleepy.

Verdict? I think no windows (though this shouldn’t devalue fresh air…that’s important too). We don’t need to know how long we’ve been in there, how long it may have taken to get a particular sound from an instrument. Recording devours time, rendering it powerless. Longing for the outside, for freedom from the beast of creation, is counterproductive.

Studio Mornings

The studio morning is like a fire alarm: Murray gets up around noon, with purpose. He is determined and scheduled and there’s no time to waste. Usually just a shower, emails, phone calls, some power cuddles then out the door to run a bunch of errands before the session begins. He’s been working late night, ten-hour sessions, the first few days playing everything himself. Now he’s got a band vibe happening with Krief and George, and Sunday he reunited the Brébeuf Brass (check your NCL liner notes). As things move along, our direction is becoming clearer and clearer, which slowly alleviates the stress. Very slowly. Kind of like this stop-and-go, rush hour bus ride I am making. Ugh its frustrating…is there such a thing as “bus rage” because I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m feeling right now. Add to that the fact that I am carrying a backpack. I put it on and looked into the mirror, thinking: “Aren’t I too old to be carrying a backpack?” What would Dora do?

Out of Shape

We have started recording today, just a little. Murray’s in Drew’s studio for a week to lay down some tracks, and they’ve rented this Stienway baby grand piano. I’m like “holy crap,” so I started practising today. I learn a song where the piano definitely sticks out in Murray’s demos, and after about 30 minutes my pinkies start to get tired. Wow. I’m really out of shape. So I did some of The Virtuoso Pianist piano exercises by Hanon. After that I didn’t feel so bad; my fingers just need some daily workouts. You know, push-ups and crunches, finger yoga and hand pilates. Get that core stronger. I gotta get back to it: baby’s sleeping, daddy’s working, this is my chance!