The making of Dare, part three: Sometimes it’s about the skippy-skip

Recording this new album has been beyond exciting. There are times when I’m sitting on that couch in the studio and I’m so damn happy about the musician and their part that I feel like I’m levitating. With Kara Barnard and Troy Trujillo, there were several levitating moments.

Day five started with more of that strange musician’s language mentioned in earlier posts. Kara settled in behind the mikes with her acoustic guitar and commented that she had a lead part in mind for the skippy-skip notes I was playing on the mandolin for “The Dream.” That’s musician-speak for “harmony line on the mandolin solo.” After completing the instrumental break in “Carla Williams Kissed Me,” she asked if her guitar part should be ballsier. I asked for ovaryer. On “For Love,” a song about moving to Canada, Chris asked her for Canadian riffs. (Parts of “Oh Canada”? Neil Young riffs?)

I sent her a few instructions ahead of time and for “Yoga Teacher,” I said simply, “Make me sound like Nirvana.” So in the studio, she dutifully replicated part of “Come as You Are” and also borrowed a riff from “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Not everyone will get the musical jokes. Sometimes it’s just about amusing us.

In this clip, you can hear the rest of the band because she’s playing an electric that goes directly into the computer – no sensitive mikes to worry about.

 

She played guitar on a bunch of songs, and also added mandolin to a couple of tunes. I love working with Kara. She’s been on my last several albums. I promised her that she could play her saw on the next one. Musical saw and yep, it’s the kind you get at a hardware store. It sounds like something from a bad science fiction movie. I’ve just gotta write the perfect song for it.

I wish Kara could’ve stayed longer – she’s a friend and we don’t get to see each other very much – but she needed to get on the road and besides, I had more work to do. Even though I’d been battling a cold, it was time to finish my vocals. I’d done most of them the week before, but still had four songs to go. Fortunately, my cold had almost run its course and I was only hacking up a few hairballs by this time. If I collapsed in a coughing fit, Chris could take out that part and I could record just that portion again – the beauty of the digital world.

At one point, I heard a weird humming in my headphones. I took them off and asked Chris about it. We discovered that a neighbor had decided to weed whack his yard. We stopped for a couple of minutes, and thankfully, he wasn’t at it too long. We’re working in a small home studio and sometimes stuff like that happens. (For Drive All Night, I recorded in a home studio, too. We had to quit every afternoon at a certain time because a school bus would rumble by.)

I sang the end of “Menopause Mambo” many times. It ends on a high note that’s hard to sing when I’m healthy. I sing in a faux operatic way – it’s a funny song, obviously – and while I don’t have to be Maria Callas, I do need to hit the note. After a few takes, I finally got it. Where’s my medal?

Chris is not just the engineer and co-producer, he’s also a wonderful musician. His keyboard is conveniently hooked up to the computer where we’ve recorded everything. He played a beautiful part on the jazz-flavored “Black and White.” “Too Norah Jones?” he asked. I assured him it wasn’t but then, I like Norah Jones. Here he is, recording it:

 

That night, Tory Trujillo arrived in town. We’ve performed together a few times and I love how our voices blend. She’s had little studio experience, though, so we were both a little apprehensive when we started out the next day. I prioritized the songs so if we didn’t have time for some, I could let them go. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do that. She was a champ – singing well and offering some great arrangement ideas. Here she is on “Hold Me.” You can’t hear the rest of the band, but she can, in her headphones.

That high note I sing on “Menopause Mambo?” She sang a note above that. I swear it’s a note only dogs can hear. Afterwards, we joked that everything Chris knew about menopause, he learned from this song. That’s me, the great educator.

 

We took a few breaks and had some great conversations. Tory and Chris know some of the same musicians, which is remarkable, considering that Tory lives in Michigan and Chris, North Carolina. Sometimes, it’s a small musical world.

As usual, there was a running joke and for the last few sessions, Chris had been planning his scat singing solos which, of course, would be on every song. Darn, I don’t think we’re going to have time for that. Next album, Chris – the same one with Kara’s saw. And nose harp. With castanets. I’ll stop now.

There are a couple of songs on this album that I feel especially close to. One, “Mamaw’s Roses,” is for my maternal grandmother. She passed away about 30 years ago and it took me almost that long to write the song. Hearing Tory sing her lovely backing vocals, I felt the tears come to my eyes. I wish Mamaw could’ve heard this song. Likewise for my father and “The Boy Who Wanted to Fly,” a song about him. I lost him just a few months ago. When Tory sang, I thought about Dad and how much he would’ve liked this song. (I have another one about him, “My Dad Loves to Sing,” that I put on an earlier album. He used to put it on for friends and cry the whole time it played.)

To prepare Tory for “For Love,” Chris ran what we’d recorded earlier, but forgot to use the final vocal, and instead, playing one where I end in a coughing spasm. Funny, since I started hacking on, “I moved to Canada for love … and a health card.” For a half second I thought we should keep that version.

Tory recorded backing vocals for 12 songs, then had to dash back to Wilmington, a six hour drive away, to catch a flight out. She had a gig in New York to do.

Chris laid down a few more keyboard parts, then pulled out one last instrument, a cumbus-oud for “Bellydancer.” It’s an instrument sometimes heard in bellydance music so we thought it’d be perfect. Even though the song is in a sharp key, the instrument has no frets AND it uses different scales, Chris figured out a part for the song and recorded it, all in 30 or 40 minutes. I’m still not sure how he did that.

All of the instruments and vocals are now recorded. I’m still pinching myself because it went so fast. Next, we mix. That’s the process where volumes are adjusted, reverb is added and the mistakes are fixed. Oops, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that part.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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4 Responses to The making of Dare, part three: Sometimes it’s about the skippy-skip

  1. Michelle says:

    Congrats on the recording! Please tell Kara to contact http://www.MusicalSawFestival.org for an invite to play @ NYC Musical Saw Festival. Thank you! (If you don’t know of the NYC Musical Saw Festival, ‘Time’ magazine reported on it http://youtu.be/eON-p4afeTkF ).

  2. Julie Nicolay says:

    I can so relate to the weed whacker and school bus thing! When I was recording trumpet on the first of the three CDs of Namoli Brennet’s that I played brass on, we did it in her home studio in Tucson and her street was being re-paved that summer. So not only did we have to shut off the air conditioner and sweat to death (hello, Tucson in the summer, jeez), but we kept having to stop for the damn paving project! I think I lost 10 pounds that day…but it sure was fun! I very much appreciated the next two CD sessions in her central-air, quiet suburban home studio. : )

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