r&r diary – “WWSP @ Electrical Audio – Studio A” – 01.08.23

“It’s all about the process.”Jeff Tweedy

Carla & James at EA

WWSP spent the first week of 2023 in Studio A at Electrical Audio recording our next record “Seeds of Light”. It was exciting and fun, challenging and intense. Everyone brought the magic.
James and I do not have enough words to express the immense gratitude and love we have for the musicians who play with us: Randy Farr, Chuck Wasserburg, Nura A., Tim O’ Brien, Michael Hovnanian, Doug Johnson, Steve Rutstein, along with all the wonderful people who support our creative work.

Jeff Tweedy came to me in a dream a few days before we went into the studio and reminded me “It’s all about the process,” and that morning when I awoke I tuned into NPR and they were re-running an interview with Jeff talking about Wilco getting together to record live in the studio. In the interview with Scott Simon, Jeff said the hope is that all the players “get there at the same time”. Very affirming of what we were about to do, and what we did. James and I feel really good about the captures, next step is mixing.

Thank you Taylor Hales for engineering the project, and Isabelle Dean for assisting in the madness – big love to all.- Carla

Soyuz 017 Microphone

See below for a day by day account of our stay at Electrical Audio

DAY ONE AT THE STUDIO

January 2, 2023 – A really mild morning. A good omen. Most of the morning was taken up with schlepping, logistics, & motoring across the city to the studio. Once we got to Electrical Audio, it was a long (4.5 hrs) set-up. A custom-built studio, raised floor, unique adobe bricks, high ceiling, incredible natural, room-sound. Lots of special, expertly-placed microphones. Long cables snaking across the floor back to the star-ship sized control room. Classic Noetek Elite (custom-built), recording console. A pretty famous, well-known, well-regarded studio. Some of our favorite records have been recorded here. The band: 8 musicians: 2 double-basses, 1 violin, 1 drum kit, 1 percussionist, 1 electric bass, 1 electric guitar, 1 acoustic guitar, 1 vocalist/percussionist. By late afternoon we started tracking. The goal was to track 3 songs the first day. We did it. We started with two of the most complex and difficult songs, thinking that would be a good way to start, do the hard ones first. We nailed the first song on the second take, we did a third take just for posterity. It was the second song where we kind of sputtered. A very delicate beginning, and then a wild-ass ending. We had a few scatter-shot takes. False starts, wrong moves. We moved to the third song, nailed it on take two, and then rallied the troops to once again tackle the second song. It was blazing, really good. 3 tracks, 8 hours in studio. We called it a day, feeling a bit tired but pretty good. A decent start. Still on schedule. Today we will be able to start fresh, and start recording right off the bat. Hoping to get in a bit of a groove. Shooting to record 5 songs today. We shall see.- Jammer

Carla at the mic

DAY TWO AT THE STUDIO

January 3, 2023 –  The first thing we did on day two was listen to what we tracked on day one. While our band drank coffee and chatted in Studio A, the Lovely Carla and I sat in the control room and listened to what we thought were the best takes of the three songs we recorded day one. The question hovering over us in the room: Did we catch it? Not only getting a clean, well-played take, but did we catch the energy of the band in the heat and fire of inspiration and creative joy? We were happy with what we heard. Yes, 3 songs captured. We emerged from the control room feeling really good. We took our places in the studio. What happened next was quite exciting. The first two songs of the day we all played like we were on fire. One take wonders, both. We just nailed the songs in all their strange glory. The band was totally clicking. Smiles all around. The third song took two takes, we did a bit of arranging on the spot. The fourth song was a looming beast. A song we’ve never really gotten right. Rehearsals of the song were always chaos and mayhem. We played it live once in public and it just kind of thudded on the ears. It has been sort of joke, what’s gonna happen with this one? We blasted thru the song in one blazing take. The best we’ve all ever played it. We took a break and went in to listen to a rough mix. One superb take. Done. The last song of the day, another song we have always struggled with, and again we did struggle. Countless aborted takes. Turns out the quietest, most delicate songs are the most difficult to play. And it’s not just the playing, how to make the performance easy and effortless, shimmering with life? We got thru it. Went to the control room and listened to the last best take. One part still wasn’t right. We had to do a punch-in, something I am super-resistant to doing. What is a punch-in? Basically you play a part of the song and edit it into the track. Taylor Hales our recording engineer can hide the stitches and make it all sound seamless. Taylor could tell I was really uncomfortable with the idea. He said to me: “It’s not cheating.” I thought to myself: “You know, it kind of is,” but really, the main thing, will it work, will it sound organic & real? I was skeptical. We went back took our places in the studio, played the part a few times. The butterfly was floating around, couldn’t quite catch it, couldn’t really put a finger on why we were failing. Finally we seemed to drift into it, and it all kind of clicked. I played much more delicately, just fingers barely plucking strings. We got a take that felt right. Taylor did a bit of surgery back in the control room. He played us the results. Yep. Amazing. It really did work. We all felt pretty satisfied. Day 2 = 5 songs tracked, and truly definitive takes. Kind of magnificent. It was a good day in the studio. And fun too. The good work. Onto to day three. – Jammer

Doug with Lakeland Bass in Centerfield

DAY THREE AT THE STUDIO

January 4, 2023 – Yesterday morning, walking into Electrical Audio’s Studio A, all of us were happy, confident and loose. The first two days had been totally intense, but also incredibly rewarding. 8 songs already tracked. 8 keepers. Today’s plan was an intense, full day of recording. We were going to track the last three of the planned 11 songs that we think will be our next whitewolfsonicprincess album. Also doing a few overdubs: conga, harmonica, tambourine, floor tom, cowbell (yes, that’s right cowbell), and shakers. The songs left to track were all the high-energy rockers. The recording engineer wondered why we had saved them for 3rd day, he said that most bands start with the rockers. I said it was because of something the great horror film director Wes Craven once said in an interview. Talking about making movies he said he “always did the hard scenes first, when everyone was fresh and full of energy.” That totally makes sense to me. So yes, it turns out some of the tracks we did day one and two were the slow, quiet, delicately-played songs, the ones where you can hear a pin drop between notes. They are fabulous songs, shooting for a stark, hushed, beauty. But they do pose the greatest challenge. How do you describe “feel.” How do explain to other musicians that yes everyone is playing the right notes, and in correct time, but the song still doesn’t feel right? There are no words that can accurately convey that info. Anyway,  yesterday, we ripped thru the rockers with total abandon. There were a few hitches, we did multiple takes of two of them. We ended up doing another “punch-in” on the last measure of one song. I did it reluctantly, with gritted teeth. It really goes against my r&r ethic. I was all for doing one more take, but the recording engineer, and the band, all thought 99% of the performance was fabulous, it was just that one last measure that needed a bit of tightening. We have been a bit democratic in our approach, when we do a take, everyone in the band marches into the control room to listen. All the of the musicians in the band are experienced, talented, incredibly soulful, and musically-intelligent beings. So yes, all opinions are welcomed. There is a bit of the “hive mind” at work in the control room. The recording engineer spoke up a few times too with some really smart ideas. Anyway, the punch-in worked. The edit was seamless, the stitches were erased, the track sounded organic, lively, real.  One of our band members told me that this whole process was a “peak experience” as a musician. To be in a room, listening attentively, playing with other fabulous musicians, all creating in the moment. The good work. Can’t say enough about Electrical Audio. A music mecca built specifically to capturing great frequencies. What you hear in the recording rooms, what you hear in your headphones, and what you hear on playback in the control room all sounds great. There is a science and alchemy at work. Just so inspiring. Today, two of us will be tracking final vocals on all 11 tracks. Pretty important day today. It’s all about capturing an inspired performance. – Jammer

Randy playing harmonica in Centerfield

DAY FOUR AT THE STUDIO

January 5, 2023We wanted to get to the studio a bit earlier than usual, but our Lyft ride was a total cluster-fuck. A driver who didn’t really know how to use the app, a car that could only seat three passengers with a fourth, pissed off, passenger left waiting on the curb. We got to the studio about 10 minutes late, hoping the ride wasn’t a bad omen for the day. It wasn’t. We rolled up our sleeves, and plunged right in. The goal for the day was to record all the vocals for our 11 definitive takes of songs. We fell two short. By the end of the day we had 9 tracks with full instrumentation and final vocals. It was a blur, it was a kick, it was a gas. One thing we had going for us, we are a working band. We have worked on these songs in intense rehearsals, we have recorded our rehearsals, we have tweaked and refined arrangements, we have performed many of these songs in front of an audience, we know these songs. When we are singing, we are singing our own heartfelt words. We are speaking our “truth.” Carla was singing thru a Josephson C715 microphone“rich sound with a very unique “head-basket,” and I sang thru a Soyuz 017, “cardioid condenser with handmade KU67-style capsule.” We were set up out in Centerfield, a big, beautiful recording room with high ceiling, hard-wood floor, adobe brick walls. Fabulous natural room ambience. We ran thru the rockers, and the quiet ones too. Many of the songs we nailed on the first take. I love those one take wonders. There were no “problem” songs. On some songs we did a few alternate takes: easier, edgier, more grit, more personality, more delicate; we tried a few modes. It was a totally consuming & inspiring session. These songs, this music, is just so us, you know, us to the maximum. We feel these songs embody the best of us. Heart-songs, head-songs, vision-songs. I sat on the floor, lotus position, eyes closed, meditating in Centerfield, and listened to Carla sing a song called “Child of the Revolution.” She wore headphones, singing along with the track. I could only hear her unaccompanied voice in the room. A voice, transparent, stripped bare. It was a heavenly, gorgeous, ethereal performance. Two wonderful, soulful takes. Smiles all around. We called it a day. We were two songs short of our goal, but that was absolutely the perfect moment to end the session. Today is our last day of tracking. Two more vocals, and our guitar player is coming back to run thru another take or two on one of the songs. Then, hopefully, we start mixing tracks. That is whole adventure in itself. Don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. One step at a time. As Jeff Tweedy reminded Carla in a dream: “It’s all about the process.”Jammer

Nura on violin in Centerfield

DAY FIVE AT THE STUDIO

January 6, 2023 – Our last day in Studio A at Electrical Audio.  We arrived at the studio early, we rented a car instead of taking a Lyft, which meant we got to the studio in record time. We thought we’d be mixing all day, but our plan was blown to smithereens. Instead of a long day of mixing, Friday was “over-dub city.” What is an overdub? Overdub – “a technique used in audio recording in which audio tracks that have been pre-recorded are then played back and monitored, while simultaneously recording new, doubled, or augmented tracks…”  What the heck were we over-dubbing? First, the last two final vocals. We completed those quickly, Carla singing with passion and love, and then we made the final selects on takes. We were so happy, vocals for all 11 songs complete & sounding great. Then we did a long series of miscellaneous overdubs on a handful of songs: crash cymbal accents, tambourine, a new acoustic guitar track replacing the original, which had an annoying pick-tapping, or was that buttons from my jean jacket hitting my acoustic guitar (might be ok for Bob Dylan, but not me), our percussionist came back to do another cajon part (we need more cajon), one of our bass players came back and recorded a new powerful and melodic bass track on one song, our guitar player came back to record an exciting new electric part on another. I also brought out my Telecaster to add a bit of texture to two songs. That Telecaster has been on every album we’ve ever made, I just thought it needed to find a place on the record. I played thru a 50 year old Fender amp. I played Telecaster on two tracks,  one a light & delicate finger-picking part, the other, a rocker,  which I blasted thru in one hot take. How did it sound? Agreeably grungy. Time flew by in a blur as we focused on every last detail. This was it. The clock was ticking down. We realized there would be no mixing today. A bit of a let-down, but we also realized this had been a week of fabulous energy, and if we wanted to capture a sound on the album, we had to put it down now. All the musicians played with total commitment; heart and soul. It was a fantastic week of recording. Definitely a peak experience for all of us. Mixing? That was gonna have to happen sometime in the near future. We finished up, said our goodbyes, packed up our gear, and loaded it all in the rental car. Driving home, total exhaustion rolled in like a massive black cloud. Neil Young’s great collaborator and Producer, David Briggs would always tell Neil before he went in to record a song: “Be great, or be gone.” Those words danced in my head above and around that black cloud. Oh, well, yes, David, we gave it our best, no doubt, damn the torpedoes!Jammer

Tim on 5-String Bass in Centerield
Doug & Steve
Michael with Double-Bass, Doug & Steve
James & Chuck

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