Monthly Archives: July 2009

Recording Journal, Vol. 7: “The Grind”

Considering the fact that I’m totally burnt from all the challenges of the last few months, this wasn’t a bad week. In golf, they call it “grinding”; it’s what you do to keep yourself in the game even though you don’t have your best stuff. That’s been me over the last few weeks.  It’s cool when people ask me, “How do you manage to do all those things?!” But it also takes its toll. I’m always searching for balance, finding it sometimes more than others.

This was a week spent searching while trying to move the machinery forward at the same time.

Music wise, we carved out a little time to work on a song called “South Carolina” and I like where it’s headed. The choice of that song was ironic this week, given that it is an autobiographical plea for peace of mind (“For just a moment’s peace, I hope South Carolina can help heal my mind …”).

We also re-addressed the work we’d done previously on four other tunes, and took a little time to discuss what we felt was working and what was not. Interestingly, I’m finding that coming back to songs with fresh ears (i.e., leaving our work alone for a week and then listening to it again rather than hearing the same thing over again and again) has given me some fresh perspective on some arrangements and approaches. I’m anxious to keep the project moving, but I can also see the benefits of giving the task some room to breathe so the songs can flesh themselves out at their own pace.

We soon will be ghost tracking a few new songs. Already, we’ve worked at five of the eleven tunes I’ve got targeted for this project. Not bad when you consider making the CD is way down the list of immediate priorities.

In “real world” news, our CPT Entertainment crew finished our most ambitious video production project yet earlier this week, and began post production on another. We’ve continued to “spin a lot of plates” while getting into full gear for our upcoming trade shows, which loom ever closer on the horizon.

None of this takes into account that I’m on the radio six days a week. It can be difficult to keep a clear head. But I prefer those kinds of challenges, as opposed to your biggest decision of the day being what lottery numbers you’re going to play.

So things move ahead, though I continue to be the antithesis of the character in “No Schedule Man.” I’ll try and tap into that persona this week, with a day as MC of a golf tournament on Monday and a couple of precious days off scheduled for later in the week.

– Kevin

Recording Journal, Vol. 6: “Tinkering with No Schedule”

We made a little more musical progress last week with one studio session, most of which was spent on the song “Bagley Avenue.” Going into this process, I had imagined that we’d use Kevin Gorman’s piano to carry the lead instrumental melody. Or, maybe I should say it this way; I hoped that would be the case, since Kevin is a gifted player while I … well, I do the best I can and we’ll leave it at that. Trouble was, we quickly found that putting the piano up front gave the tune too much of an Elton John-type vibe, which was not at all what we were looking. The acoustic guitar sound roots the song in its folk roots.

Looks like I have more practicing to do.

We made a few minor modifications to the lyrics and slogged through much discussion over some very nitpicky parts of the overall arrangement (all very necessary), and then tracked what we could of the song. Having then reached the point of redundancy in our constructive discussion about what the song needed or didn’t need, we shelved it and moved on.

We then dusted off “No Schedule Man,” beginning with a question I was not expecting. Kevin asked about tempo and the overall feel of the song. I’m always open to his suggestions, but this time I was quite surprised to find myself (internally) reacting quite rigidly to the thought of tempo tinkering for that particular number.

“No Schedule Man” started as a group of chords I’d deliberately written at 140 beats per minute as a kind of boogie-woogie shuffle  so that, at that time, my old pal Dave Cook could fill the song up with his favourite guitar licks while I flailed away on a heavy-strumming pattern that used 6-string chords through the whole song. Later on, when I started playing primarily with Kevin Gorman, we found the same worked even better with his piano. I’d never even considered changing it.

Nonetheless, we went searching to see if we could find a better groove for the song. We didn’t (and I’m still hoping I was open-minded enough to give it an honest chance at changing). So we ghost-tracked what we could (including some percussion and bass we’re not sure we’re sold on) and left it alone so we could return to it with fresh ears in a week or two.

Meantime, it was another crazy week in the land of “real” work. At CPT Entertainment we finally wrapped up a video production that was easily our most ambitious to date. I was responsible for writing and voicing the script (I think we had done seven or eight drafts by the time we were through) and collaborating on the pre and post-production. I even shot some of the footage for the video, down in Bristol, Tennessee last March.

Next, we have another video to finish. It, too, is a project that has been in the production stages for far too long. I have the same duties with it as with the one we just finished, however I’m also being looked at to record the guitar part of the original soundtrack which I also wrote, along with Kevin. We’ll try to get that done this week, which means I better get practicing.

In other events from the past seven days or so, I started and finished a terrific book by Steve Alten called “The Loch”; bought some music from a great songwriter named Will Kimbrough (I found him through Jimmy Buffett, who has recorded the Kimbrough tune “Piece of Work” and has played with Will many times); wrote and recorded more radio commercials for Delaware Speedway; started in on more work for CPT Entertainment’s upcoming trade shows and … oh yeah … celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary with my wonderful wife Tracey.

I’m not worthy. But I try.

See you next week,

– Kevin

Recording Journal, Vol. 5: “Zac Brown, Green Day and Progress Made”

Boy, was this a great week for music in my world. After sitting a little stagnant for a while, I became suitably jazzed thanks to two brilliant CDs, each by artists I’d never given any positive thought to previously.

The first was “21st Century Breakdown” by Green Day. Having heard from an acquaintance that the album was “a masterpiece,” I first thought, ‘A masterpiece, by Green Day?! C’mon.’

Sounded like an oxy moron.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never given the band any thought. They’re the punk guys who sing “Basket Case” and that “Time of Your Life” song (sort of like how I used to think that Extreme were only the guys who sang that “More Than Words” song; Springsteen was the guy who sang that “Born in the USA” song and Buffett was the guy who sang that “Margaritaville” song). Anyway, yadda yadda yadda … I bought the CD and, in my humble opinion, the thing is a masterpiece. I don’t like it – I absolutely, totally love it.

The other is “The Foundation” by the Zac Brown Band. You know – the “Chicken Fried” guys. Well, I “accidentally” heard a couple of other cuts from their CD, which were good enough to peak my interest. So I looked into them and very much liked what I learned. So I bought the CD.

Holy cow. The thing is fantastic, but in a totally different way than the Green Day CD. “21st Century Breakdown” is a wall of sonic emotion that twists, turns, rises and dips in and out of all kind of razor-sharp themes and lyrical content. It’s the kind of CD you turn up to ten and wish, like Spinal Tap, that your volume went to eleven (“one louder”).

On the other hand, the Zac Brown Band is an incredibly gifted group of players who know the art of what notes not to play, and which instruments to leave out. The Zac Brown Band CD is great from start to finish, and on every single track, the group gives each song only what it needs; exactly what it needs, and nothing more. It is a wonderful collection of songs. The tune “Highway 20 Ride” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this side of David Francey. Great stuff.

I’ve been listening to – and loving – all kinds of music for a long time now. I know the difference between hearing some good, catchy songs that I’ll enjoy for a little while versus experiencing something that just connects to me in a way that’s hard to explain. The two CDs I’ve described are the latter. My gut tells me that, five or ten years from now, I’ll still view them as being in another class than most of what I own.

Off the top of my head, I recall that had the same feeling when I heard “III Sides to Every Story” by Extreme, “Skating Rink” by David Francey, “Live: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays” by Jimmy Buffett and “Courage, Patience and Grit” by Great Big Sea.

On top of that, a little internet noodling revealed to me that the Arc Angels are working on another CD and are currently on tour! Those who do not own the band’s only record (“Arc Angels,” 1992) are cheating themselves out of one of the best albums of my generation.

Fire in a bottle is what that CD was. So, in my opinion, are “21st Century Breakdown” and “The Foundation,” in their own way.

Naturally, excited about all this great music, I took to my guitar as much as I could this week. I also managed to take advantage of my lone visit to Kevin Gorman’s studio to start fleshing out a couple of songs. It was the first time we’d played music together since last October, and it felt great.

Having already “ghosted” five of the songs we’ve chosen for the “No Schedule Man” project, I told Kevin to choose whichever one he wanted and we’d work on that. He chose a song called “Orlando” (which I wrote in 2002 and then updated, lyrically, in 2006). We had a total blast trying some different things and re-tracking it. I think we made some decent progress with it.

Next, he chose “Bagley Avenue,” a song I wrote in the summer of 2007. One of the few “story” songs I’ve ever done, it remains one of my favourites. It is more or less just autobiographical verses mixed with a metaphorical chorus. But let me tell you, when Kevin got to putting the emotional touches into the song with his piano … it broke me up. Whether or not we ever actually finish the CD, it is a complete rush and total honour to hear the song brought to life, if only for us to share in those few moments while it’s alive and breathing.

Our schedules did not allow us to stay at it for long, but Kevin and I both left the encounter feeling the same way; it not only felt great to play and work on songs together again; it felt right. It’s hard to explain, so I won’t try. It’s just a feeling of connectedness I get only from music. I guess you could say I felt “connected” all week.

What a great week.

– Kevin

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