I just finished up two days of mixing with engineer Ken Schubert. We were two guys sitting at a console staring at a screen of ProTools information with two very good speakers on either side – and not talking much for 8 hours a day. That is some guys’ idea of a great day. I guess it is mine. It reminds me of a story about the famous pilot, Chuck Yeager, flying in tandem with another pilot across the entire country, speaking only a dozen words during the whole trip and feeling like they had a hell of time at the end of the day. I’m not sure if this is a particularly male trait or not. But I have only had these experiences with guys. We sit and listen…. and listen again. then one guy says:” Do you think the guitar is a little wet? ” or “Let’s lose the piano until the bridge.” The other guy answers with ” Hmmm… we could try it?” This would be followed by another half hour of sitting, listening and staring. In two days we mixed three songs and ended up thinking we were flying right along on this project.
At the same time I had to listen to the masters of the new Chaise Lounge Christmas album, “A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas”. Mastering is a completely different level, a much deeper level of listening that I am not capable of. Greg Lukens and Bill Wolf are the two “master”minds ( pun intended) involved here. They also sit in a dark room surrounded by audio gear and mumble about “shelves” and say things like ” Is that getting a little tubby ?” In the end they took an album of 10 songs that were mixed over the course of nine months, and had a variety of instrumentations, and made them sound like they all truly belonged on the same record.
This is not my favorite part of my job, but it is one that is odd and peculiar to this craft of recording music. In some ways I owe my career to the various engineers who have looked at me and said in all sincerity ” for the love of God, can we pull some of the big room back… please?”
My relationship with Hollywood is somewhat fraught. I lived there off and on for nine years. I had little bits of success. Enough to keep me coming back, but not enough to make me pull up stakes in my beloved Washington DC and fully commit to LA. I had a great place there that I shared with a director. It was up in the Hollywood Hills and we had a view of the entire Los Angeles Basin that was nothing short of fabulous. But if I was there for more than two weeks at a time that view used to haunt me. How could I look out at 7 million people and not have more than three people that I cared to talk to? I am making it sound more depressing than it was. Although I will share my favorite description of Hollywood with you. Standing above the scene inside Loews Santa Monica Hotel -looking down at the sprawling LA film festival crowd, my old friend Ray remarked: ” Behold, an ocean of C minus students” .
I finally gave it up about 10 years ago. What a wonderful, light freedom it was to give up on Hollywood. I can still remember walking over the “lion bridge ” here in Washington and wondering why I felt so good. And figuring out that I finally did not have to think about Los Angeles any more.
Hollywood is now like a bad, old girlfriend to me. You know, the one – when you see her at a party… you say to yourself ” Man, she looks good! – why did I ever leave her?” And as soon as you talk to her it all comes back to you. I’m heading to LA in an hour. Ready to face my old, bad girlfriend of a city. And I am sure that when I get there…. She will look so fine.
In these days of being able to produce complete and listenable musical tracks all on your own with just ProTools and some reasonable keyboard chops it is incredibly refreshing to be in a studio session with six guys who can read anything put in front of them, swing hard, and have 25 years of good taste built in to their playing. Over the last two days I produced 9 tracks for the singer Dick Kaufmann. We played almost entirely live… ie everyone playing at once. with only one( I think) overdub. Everyone was playing great. In tune. Accurately. And the attention to detail was wonderful. Playing all the dynamic markings, the length of notes was carefully considered. It was great to hear the question: Do you want us off on “1” or the ” and of 4?” . I wonder if everyone appreciates this sort of stylish competence nowadays. I must sound like a very old dude to be talking like this. But as all of you who follow this blog ( 3) know, my heart and my soul are locked in a time-warp landing me squarely ( or very hipply) in Capitol Recording Studios in 1962. Last night’s session sounded like a small group June Christy session. I have a record called “June’s got Rhythm that is beautiful collection of playing, singing and recording. Every one of the musicians from last night play just as well as the players on that date. Tommy Barrick on drums….. Shelley Mann has got nothing on him ( except for maybe a cooler name) Pete Ostle on bass did not scratch a note in two days of playing. Tom Williams on trumpet was just beautiful. Jeff Gray’s tenor sax and clarinet work was superb. And notably, their ensemble playing was right in tune. I played the piano parts and felt like I couldn’t miss with a rhythm section like Tommy and Pete swinging away . Jerry Lynn on guitar added the perfect Freddie Green chug to it all.
We are all going to be playing with Dick in the Fall. I’ll keep you posted.
What an amazing time that was. To be 9 years old. You are generally allowed, even encouraged , to occasionally be as enthusiastic and as loud as you can possibly be.
The North Chevy Chase Elementary 4th grade invited me back to listen to them sing ” 43 Good Excuses”. This time I came prepared. Sue and her trusty flip cam came along. The video is sooooooo cute. Their teacher, Jacqui, is incredibly cool. And they respond by being the hippest little people on the planet. My own memories of 4th grade revolve around Mrs. Blackburn at Maury Elementary, who referred to me only “Loudmouth” for the entire year. Happily, that singular trait of being VERY LOUD, has been part and parcel of my entire career. It has at times made a broken PA a non-event. It has made public speaking an easy thing for me to do. It has gotten the quick attention of three unruly children. And it made me unconditionally love the sound of a Marshall stack turned up to ‘pulverize’.