Making Dinner Music: Studio Diaries #1

Chapter #1 – Re: Grouping

*Author’s Note – The recording of this album took place during July 16th – 30th. As a result of that, my tense during these missives will be all over the place. Sorry.

If you’ve ever been in a band or partaken in a creative endeavour (doesn’t have to be making a record) with a group of people, you will understand the bond that is formed during the process. For better or worse, you are tied to those people on a special level. My band mates and producers are the best. I feel so fortunate to be able to include myself in the conversation with them in regards to the construction of this (and past) records.

I started writing the music for Dinner Music about a week after Allen had sent me the final mixes for Little Creatures. I have an unfounded superstition about quickly writing a new song immediately after recording a record. I have gotten it into my head, that the last record might represent the last of the ideas (I never said this was a good superstition), and if I don’t get the ball rolling on a new thing I might stall out.

So, upon receiving the mixes for Little Creatures, I sat down with, of all things, my ukulele. I wanted to move out of my comfort zone and try to build something off an instrument I had very little familiarity with. It was an interesting process. Much easier than I thought. The thing about the uke’ is you must adjust your thinking, and be ok with the baseline simple nature of the instrument. It allows me to find the true point of the song/riff. So after about half an hour I had what would end up becoming ‘Cruel Elephant’.

Once that song was demoed, I spent the next 8 months writing 18 songs (that I whittled down to 15). I would randomly send them to John and Joe, awaiting their approval. If I didn’t hear back in 3 days, I’d assume they hated it. Turns out this was the case. Sometime in the winter of 2016 (yep, jumped ahead here), I sent on mass the 15 strongest demos. I wanted John and Joe to have more input into these songs, I also wanted an equal division of vocals between John and I.

 

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I grew up loving bands where during the course of the record the lead singer would switch up. As the year turned in 2016, John and Joe began to take the reigns on the demos. There were some music changes. Arrangement adjustments, etc. After we sorted (debated) out the structures of everything (‘Spider & The Fly’ was the forever decision), John, Joe and I cut the 15 down to 12. John took 6 to write vocals for and I took 6. It was at this point the energy and excitement jumped up many notches. We spent from March thru to June finalizing the vocals. Sending ideas and demos back and forth from Toronto to Kansas City (MO). During this period we locked in 10 days of recording with Allen, Eric and Chris.

While the vocal demoing was unfolding, I had also sent Chris the demos so he could begin to craft drums that didn’t suck.

We had arranged July 16-30 for recording. The first couple days would be travel and settle in Chicago at the Air BnB and the next 2  would be they only band rehearsals we’d get. I flew out, on the morning of the 16th, while Joe and John drove from KCMO. The beauty of travelling to Chicago from Toronto are the cheap, fast flights that Porter offers. I left Toronto at 11am and arrived in Chicago at 1:30.

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It had been almost 2 years since we’d al seen each other. So the excitement and anticipation of regrouping were high. John had an itinerary of the bars that we would visit. John being a bartender in Kansas had done his research. Leading up to our arrival day, I was sent regular updates of the locations we would be checking out. Both parties of the band arrived in the city at the exact same time, so it became a literal race to the Air BnB to declare rooms and beds. The Air BnB had 2 bedrooms and 1 pull out couch. As I was in the cab, I was firing off text updates of my location and distance and the car party from KCMO did the same. Again, we arrived at the front door of the Air BnB at the same time. Hugs ensued. It was a very genuine moment of happiness and excitement of seeing each other for the first time in almost 24 months. That feeling of “I can’t believe we are doing this again!” was etched over all our faces.

We quickly scanned the Air BnB and decided it would suffice. We dragged in all our instruments and gear and proceed to walk right back out the door. Our first stop would be Longman & Eagle. Eric was working that night, and Chris planned on meeting up with us there.

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It was 4pm and place was rammed. Eric was so swamped behind the bar it took him 20 minutes to realize it was us. Chris showed up and we all began to discuss rehearsals in the upcoming days. It was around that moment that it began to get real and sink in for me. Sometimes it takes time for me to realize what I took so much time planning is actually happening.

John and Joe were in their element. I let them do the ordering. I wish I could a better job of remembering the whiskies and craft beer we drank that night, but the by the the fourth bar had hit, it all became the same drink for me.

Our next stop was a place called Lost Lake, just up the street from Longman & Eagle. It is a tiki lounge. We all loved it. Giant drinks with bigger straws.

 

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The travel boost (that boost of energy you’re surprised you get after a morning/afternoon of travelling) was in full swing. I had begun to anticipate the severity of my morning hangover. We then made our way to another bar called the Drunken Bird (or Drinking Bird.)

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It was there John introduced me to the 1 dollar maraschino cherries in the drinks they served. He flashed a look of horror as I said “Oh ya. Cool…” and reached into the bartender’s cup and fired a couple back sans drink.

It was a great night. We all staggered our way back home. We planned to stroll the city the next day, get brunch and  meet up with Allen that night.

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As I predicted I awoke at 7am with a blistering hangover. I had the pullout couch (that would not last the duration of the trip) so I awoke to the sounds of random people getting up, going to the fridge (which was in the same room as my bed) filling cups with ice and water.

After mulling my options at 7:30am, I decided to get up and wander down the street and see if I could find a drug store, or somewhere that had some Aleve, Advil, anything.

As I stepped into the blinding light of morning, I immediately remembered I needed to buy some sunglasses. I made a mental note. Luckily I only had to walk a block until I found a corner store, I saw that behind the clerk there was a myriad of travel pain remedies. I bought enough to fill two pockets. I made my way back to the Condo, and as I stepped in, Joe was at the fridge getting his water looking like he was running at 65%.

I poured a glass of water filled the palm of my hand with Advil gel caps, threw them back, and actually broke through the caps to have the liquid enter my system faster and washed it back with water. I picked up an acoustic guitar kinda fell on the couch and said half aloud “ok. day 1. Done.”

Words & Photos: Jason Thomson.

Vast Robot Armies Bandcamp. Facebook. Twitter. Soundcloud.

 

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