As some of you may know, I’m making a record right now. Well, that’s actually not entirely accurate. I am finished with my record. This weekend my friend Eric came to town and, as he is the person that’s gonna be mixing the record, he took all the files with him back to Colorado where the lab is. It’s crazy how different the experience of making this record has been from any record I’ve made before, and not just because it’s a different project and it’s involving different players. The entire world has changed so much just since the recording of the last EP I did with the Lawrence Arms, which was itself way different from the last Lawrence Arms full length, Oh! Calcutta!
Oh! Calcutta! Was recorded to 2 inch tape over the span of about 3 months for a successful, cool label with offices around the world and a bunch of employees. Before going into the studio, we took about a month to pre-produce the record which is essentially a fancy way of saying we practiced the shit out of the songs, tweaked the arrangements and generally spent every single day, all day in a practice space (which had no windows and was above a pet groomer and next to the el tracks….the stench/heat was unbearable). Lots of you (eh, some of you) have seen the pictures from this preproduction in the liner notes of Oh! Calcutta! It’s a brick/drywall room covered in butcher paper on which we had written the lyrics really big so we could play the songs and sing them without fumbling as to better fine tune the way Chris and I were gonna sing everything.
What you can’t see in those pictures is that I’d snapped my left patella (kneecap) a few weeks earlier and was wearing a humongous plaster cast that extended from my foot right below the ankle all the way up on my thigh past my nutsack. In that hot, wet dog air, I was up there every day in a 20 pound thing that trapped sweat and smells and made it impossible for me to shower. It was not fun and contributed greatly to how angry I ended up sounding on that record. In fact, we were ready to go into record when I broke my knee, and it was during the month of complete immobility leading up to and immediately following the surgery (where I just COULDN’T move at all) that I wrote what ended up being some of the more definitive tracks, rage wise, on that record, including Devil’s Takin’ Names, Recovering, Key To The City, and Cut It Up. That’s neither here nor there, but it’s interesting how that shitty situation ended up completely changing the record and subjugating four other now long forgotten songs to obscurity (well, all of this is obscure. Those songs are just even MORE obscure, if not downright gone forever).
The point here is that we had to practice and fine tune everything as much as we could back then. We had to know the songs back and forth and we had to know our amps and our voices and instruments because we were putting that shit on expensive tape and we were planning something that was already gonna take a long time and we COULD NOT afford to fuck around. In the studio, everything had to be played and sung as perfectly as possible and that was because we were making something that would be purchased if people liked it enough and that was the only way to do it.
By the time we made the next ep, things were being recorded differently for two reasons: the first is the advent of pro-tools, which had made a lot of strides in terms of sonic reproduction in the years since we tracked Oh! Calcutta! To tape. The other thing was that the music industry had taken such a dump that our formerly international, multi HQ’d label was now run out of one small office and had only three employees. This made for a totally different experience. We were kind of in and out, things were less planned and more spontaneous, but we were still well practiced and we still brought the best gear we could find and aside from the speed and relative recklessness of things, we were still operating somewhat the same. The main difference was that we were free to take as many stabs at a performance as we wanted. The tape was gone and the freedom to try everything had arrived.
For this record, shit’s completely out the window. Protools and other digital platforms are now so good at what they do, and offer such extensive and specific plug ins that it’s literally not worth it to try and do it analog anymore. What was once a process involving a carefully selected instrument with the right components installed, pairing it with the right re-tubed amp and appropriate speaker has become just plugging into a fucking mac and making those selections digitally. If something is slightly out of time, you just move it. It’s insane. It’s not insane because I pine for the old days of honest to god gear (though part of me totally does) and it’s not insane because we’ve cheapened recording and now we’re settling for such a lesser final product, it’s insane because we’re really NOT settling for a lesser product. This shit sounds amazing and it blows my mind how easy it is.
We used to consider rooms, baffling that we’d hang on the walls, alternate reflective surfaces to put near the amps and some of that stuff still happens, but so much of it is just straight into some sort of interface where it’s manipulated for a second and then ready to go onto a computer as an MP3. I mean, I’ve got rough mixes of this record from every step of the way, something that would have been time consuming and irritating to demand or produce just 5 years ago. I have final mixes that sound amazing that were literally recorded in a pantry of my friend’s parents’ house onto a PC. THE ENTIRE SONG. It’s crazy to me how far this technology has come and how I’ve sort of missed it just by taking a break from recording for a few short years.
It’s a good thing too, because this record has a lot of crazy instrumentation and wacky tries on it and I don’t think that I would have been able to do it with the limited time and resources I have if it wasn’t for the nerds out there making everything so easy.
Well, easy for them. I have no fucking idea how to do any of it.