Thursday, July 23, 2009
Monday, July 06, 2009
So, last Wednesday the Misanthrope took his ES-175 and his Pod X3 Live and went off to Smoke & Mirrors to play on a track by House of Blondes.
I've really come to enjoy working as session guy on recordings for other people. A few weeks before, I was over with George Vitray working on the Via Skyway recording and it was one of those great nights where you just click into a groove with the work quickly and get a ton of ideas down. That night, we ended up laying down some cool guitar parts on 4 tracks in just over 5 hours as the stars aligned and George and I found agreement very fast. It was immensely satisfying.
The House of Blondes session was also very satisfying, but it was different kind of work altogether. Whereas with Via Skyway, George had left big blanks for a guitar-based sound to the tunes, the HoB was, in a certain sense, almost complete when I got there. The basics of the song, acoustic guitar, bass, voice, were all there already. There was no need for complicated guitar arrangements and certainly no place for soloing. The song was a delicate, longing, tragic song and John Blonde was already delivering it with the vocals.
When I got to the studio, I told John that the only thing I was hearing was some kind of atmospheric sound in the background, not any obvious guitar playing. He agreed and we thus launched into a four hour odyssey looking, first, for the right sound and, second, for the right way to fit that sound into the song.
Coincidentally, the last time I played on a House of Blondes tune, "Glow Brighter," I ended up suggesting a similar background atmospheric sound that I had stumbled upon because I had been paying a slide solo. (The sound is created by putting the slide on the 12th fret and then picking behind the slide, on the side of the fretboard. This creates a shimmering, floating harmonic that can be "wiggled" by gently moving the slide in a vibrato.)
Finding the sound was fairly easy. I used a mixture of Fuzz Pi, Phaser and Analog Delay with feedback turned all the way up to get a floating, grinding sound. The challenge was (a) getting that grinding sound to grind in rhythm with the track and (b) play the sound so that the chords just appeared, as opposed to bursting out and sounding like a guitar.
George was the key man on (a) as we used the tap function on the delay to get me into synch. That moved us forward quite a bit. I stumbled on the answer to (b) by accident during a take. I had been playing on the downbeat and the chord would ring out on the two. When I waited and played on the two, and the chord popped up on the three, the whole thing fell into place. It is funny to think how playing a part that is incredibly simple can turn into such a challenge because you need to learn to control a crazy new sound you have created with effects.
At any rate, we got there and I thought it was pretty cool. Chrispy, John and George all have excellent ears. More importantly, all of us were in agreement that the best way to try an idea is just to try it. I think we've all been in situation where an idea is suggested and then minutes are wasted debating it. With the four of us that night, we just tried everything that was suggested and it helped us get to the goal line.
It was a very cool night. I can't wait to hear the final result.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 8:45 AM