Vast Robot Armies’ Studio Diary – Day Eleven

vra00

“Songs really are like a form of time travel because they really have moved forward in a bubble. Everyone who’s connected with it, the studio’s gone, the musicians are gone, and the only thing that’s left is this recording which was only about a three-minute period maybe 70 years ago.” – Tom Waits

vra113

I knew when I woke up that morning on Day 11 that it had been a fitful sleep. My jaw hurt (I grind my teeth sometimes in my sleep), shoulders were tense, and a low grade headache greeted me. I woke right up into a shitty mood. The previous evenings unfolding of vocal takes had successfully gotten under my skin. My annoyance at myself was further exacerbated by the fact an evening of sleep didn’t reset my perspective.

Thankfully, my bandmates are the best. As soon as I walked out into the common area of the condo, I saw John and Joe already up, slaying zombies on the PS3. Without missing a beat or even looking at me, John asked in a completely nonplussed manner “Hey Jason. You alright? You seem mad. Are you mad?Joe didn’t miss a beat, he immediately piggy-backed John’s query and tone with his own: “Why are you mad Jason? You seem upset…” Their tone of voice fully embraced the “We don’t give a shit either way. Get over it buddy.” It worked wonders. I made a coffee and thought: “They are right. I need to shake this shit off, and now…

I took my coffee out to the balcony and watched the construction across the street unfold. I thought about my high essential role for the upcoming day (it wasn’t), and realized if worst came to worst, we had a ringer. John. John could (and did in some case) sing the shit out of my parts. So we were covered. I needed to get over myself.

I completed my “coffee and get baked” ritual on the balcony and walked back into the condo. I began to look around and realized that tomorrow would be the last night. We were almost done. That thought cut through the haze immediately. I often remind myself and others to truly embrace and live the good moments we are in. Half the time, I find (myself) and others can tend to get caught up in the bullshit going on around all of us on any given day, and as a result miss the really cool things going on just beyond that personal noise. The realization we were on the 48 hr. home stretch worked like a charm. I could feel myself surfacing from feeling sorry for myself and being embarrassed for no good reason.

It was yet another sunny day as we made our way to the studio. We all joked in the car about the usual things (dumbass intersections in Chicago and the weird lingering smell the city generated). When we arrived, Allen and Eric were already there making coffee and ready to go.

vra112

We all sat around the control room and looked at the white board deciding what to jump into. I felt a little gun shy and wanted to ease my way back in. So I suggested we do one of John’s vocal songs first. We went with ‘Moving The Needle’.

It’s one of two departure songs. Very roomy, with lots of vocal movements. John went into the recording room, took the metaphorical wheel and blazed his way through it. I sat back and watched Allen and him work together. There was an obvious ease Allen had working with him. He recognized he didn’t need to coax takes out of John, or coach him (unlike me).

Again, I was blown away how effortless John made singing seem. Even his very few, slightly pitchy moments or flubs, were minor, and half the time, better than most people’s real takes. He was in full control of what he heard and knew exactly what he wanted to do. I was super impressed and admittedly envious.

There is a part in ‘Moving The Needle’ during the second verse, where John had harmonized with himself in the demo in a “rounds” type fashion. He mentioned to me early on, he saw that spot as a good place for me to replace his voice with mine. When we got to that part he called me into the recording room, showed me the part and told me to have at it. Allen rolled the tape, I felt my entire being clench up. I knew I was about to blow it (again). My mind wasn’t right. As predicted, I sang a half-hearted pass and did the song no favours with it. This time I recognized early I was about to go down the previous night’s road. I stopped, called John back in the room, and in (admittedly) bitchy manner said “You do it. This isn’t happening. Sorry.” I raced into the control room. It happened so fast Allen didn’t even realize we switched rooms. He looked at me, confused and asked “What’s going on?” I grabbed my water and cigarettes and called out as I was leaving the room “He’s gonna do it…” My voice trailing off as I went down the hall.

vra116

I stood outside muttering: “this is fucking bullshit. If don’t get my shit together I’m not going to end up singing on this record.” I stomped around on that sidewalk like a petulant child for about 15 minutes and stopped suddenly and thought to myself: “Fuck it. It really can’t get any worse than this.

When I walked back into the room, John was done with ‘Moving The Needle’. It sounded fantastic. I said I wanted to do ‘Everything New Is Old Again’. That was the song I was putting off, and secretly dreading. It is at the upper point of my range and can strain my voice at points. But I just didn’t care anymore. Allen was on board with this. He also mentioned he wanted to adjust my headphone levels, as he had a feeling I might not have been hearing things correctly, but me being a tool didn’t even realize it.

I walked into the recording room, put on the cans. Allen walked into the room with me. He knew where I was at. He took this moment to pull me aside and in a reassuming tone reminded me: “Just be sure to breathe. Take a breath as much as you can. Think of it like a horn player, between notes grab air…

It was again, the perfect thing to say, in the shortest amount of time. With the right tone of voice. I relaxed immediately and thought about what he said. As soon as the intro of the song blasted into my headphones I could hear it all. I stepped back from the mic, took a super deep breath, closed my eyes leaned forward and sang. I’d like to say it was this great epiphany moment for me and the world narrowed for me. But it wasn’t. What I do recall thinking was when I had finished the entire pass was a feeling of: “Well, that seemed less shitty…” and: “It was over real quick too...” Before I could even finish that last thought the control room erupted. “Holy fuck, YA That’s it!Allen called out. I could hear John and Joe simultaneously also yelling “Yes! That’s what you want to do. Sing just like that!

As I was peeling off the cans, so I could hear him better, Allen walked into the room, with a big smile on his face: “That’s it!! That’s YOUR voice! You found it! Sing exactly like that. Night and day my man!

vra111

I do recall feeling a warm wave of confidence rising. I felt differently about the take. He was right; there was a familiar pocket I was in. I said “Ya, that did feel different…Allen cut me off: “No, that was way better; you can hear yourself and understand where to sing. Your hearing your internal voice and working in your register. You’re a tenor, and you’ve been working below that for the last day. Sing exactly where you are now. Remember to breathe.

Let’s do another…” he said as he went back into the control room.

They queued up the song again from the beginning and I began. It was at this moment, I too realized it. I was back, from whatever bullshit insecure trip I’d been on for the last 12 hours. It was night and day. I felt like I was in control and working the song over vs. the other way around. Which had been happening during most of my takes. The songs were bossing me around. The shoe was on the other foot now. We blew through ‘Everything New is Old Again” in 3 takes. We were off to the races.

Next up was ‘Foxtrot’. This was another song that ended up being a Jay and John vocal song. When we hit the chorus, Allen suggested that John take the lower register part and I do the harmony. Because I was on top of the confidence wave. I was all for it and didn’t internally take that to mean I was sucking and we needed to save the part. it was just a great idea, plain and simple.

John and I made short work of ‘Foxtrot’. It ended up being arguably one of the catchiest choruses on the record.

Feeling strong, I went for another. We decided ‘In Shreds’. Again, riding the wave, I got through it in no time and was excited about the personality and character we managed to capture. I recall Joe talking to me after about it. Saying I nailed it, and he was somewhat concerned as that song had become his favorite during this recording process and he felt it needed a great vocal performance to put the final touches on it. He just looked at me and said “…and you did it. Nice.

vra115

After ‘In Shreds’, we broke for dinner and discussed the importance of that evenings Royals game. We decided we had enough time to tackle one more song that evening, so we went with ‘Mousetrap’, which was a John vocal song start to finish. I sat back in the control room with Allen, Eric and Joe as John worked his way through the song. During the demoing phase this was the first song that had vocals attached to it, so John knew his way around it well. Once we got through all of John’s parts on the song, Joe noticed a vocal note on one of the tracks John had sung carried over into the bridge. It was a flub, but Joe pointed out there was something there. He suggested that we explore putting something in the bridge, a haunting sequence of “Oooos” that could move the intro of the bridge into the next dynamic of it. We all thought it was a good idea. He and John began to plot out the part. Once they had it, Joe half jokingly said he’d like to try and do it. John and I both told him to give it a whirl. Allen set Joe up for a pass, and he went into the control room to try it out. Before we could roll, Joe ran through the part did a pass. He wasn’t entirely sold on it and John and I just said John should do it. John laid down the part and we packed it in for the evening.

In the end we should have let Joe have a couple more shots at it. I remember Joe on more than one occasion on our trip to Chicago and during the recording mentioning to me he’d never sang on a song before, and would like to give it a shot. I regret not allowing him to see it through. John did a great job with it (but we knew that was going to be the case from The Ringer), but in hindsight, I bet Joe could have nailed it and would have had a “first”. I feel bad about that Joe, sorry buddy!

vra114

 

Words & Photos: Jason Thomson

Vast Robot Armies Bandcamp. Facebook. Twitter.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s