Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Anticipation

Well, folks. It's been a while. I'll update more later, but for now I'll post a clip from the Behold the Lamb Live DVD. I'll be putting up the rest of the songs as I have time. If you're so inclined, send the links to the friends I hope you're roping into coming to see the show this year (coming to a town near you).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The String Session

Here's a quick look at the string session. The song they're working on here is "Hosanna", and I have to say that I believe that Ben Shive has outdone himself. You should've heard these string players going on about how great the arrangements were, all the more amazed because Ben isn't a string player.

Hope you like it.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Murder! On Flight 4593

I'm almost finished editing together a little video. In the meantime, please enjoy this three-page comic strip composed on an airplane earlier this year.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Hey, folks.

The kids are in bed, Jamie's baking some amazing pumpkiny cake, and I'm just finishing up packing for the trip tomorrow. We're heading to Virginia then Louisiana with a more or less completed Resurrection Letters, Vol. II. The Captains and I spent the day at Todd Robbins's mixing studio tweaking the songs until they're just right, and as of tonight I feel confident that we've done the very best job we could do. It feels so, so good to have this record wrapped up. It'll feel even better when it's packaged and ready for public consumption. I sure hope it's a blessing to folks.

So in the process of packing I was thinking about our set list, wondering if we were in fact playing the songs that you guys want to hear. So let me have it. Which songs have we not been playing that you want to hear, which songs have we been playing too often, which songs should we work up new arrangements of?

We aim to please.

Have a great weekend.


P.S. Slowly but surely, I'm going to start posting these things on my Rabbit Room blog, linked from my website. If there's no update here, check there for videos. Thanks for reading, folks!


Ben thinks that next week I'm going to enter a kind of postpartum depression.

I will have finished a book and an album within a week of each other, and this ridiculously busy, stressful year--the ridiculously stressful part, anyway--will be over, just in time for a trip to the pumpkin patch with Jamie and the kids.

I'll have a week or two to soak up as much time with my four favorite people before we head to Florida to visit family for Thanksgiving. Bloated with turkey and dressing, I'll head back to Nashville to rehearse for the Christmas tour. We have 19 shows in 20 days, and believe it or not that sounds relaxing. The Christmas tours are work, sure, but I feel renewed every night on the stage telling the old story, and I'm surrounded with such good friends that the days are spent in rare fellowship.

I can't tell you how excited I am about this album. Tonight I downloaded the newest mixes of the 12 songs, put them in order, burned them to a disc and hopped in my car. It was midnight, and the roads that wound through the Tennessee hills were deserted. I prayed while I drove that these songs would make it to the ears that need to hear them, and it hit me today that I need to hear these songs as much as anyone.

Somebody said that you have to preach the gospel to yourself daily. I hope this album will help people to do just that: to remind themselves of the gravity of their sin and the glory of God's mercy, of the promise that Death is nothing to fear, that resurrection is a worthy hope.


I am tangled up in contradiction
I am strangled by my own two hands
I am hunted by the hounds of addiction

I have lied to everyone who trusts me
I have tried to fall when I could stand
I have only loved the ones who love me

Oh, Hosanna
See the long awaited king
Come to set his people free
Oh, Hosanna

Come and tear the temple down
Raise it up on holy ground

I have struggled to remove this raiment
Tried to hide every shimmering strand
I contend with these ghosts and these hosts of bright angels
I have cursed the man that you have made me
I have nursed the beast that bays for my blood
I have run from the one who would save me

Oh, Hosanna
See the long awaited king
Come to set his people free
Oh, Hosanna
Come and tear the temple down
Raise it up on holy ground

We cry for blood
We take your life
We cry for blood
We take your life
It is blood and it is life that you have given

You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent
You have carried to the grave the black stain
You have torn apart the temple's holy curtain
You have beaten death at death's own game

Hail the long awaited king
Come to set his people free
(We cry) Oh, Hosanna
Come and tear this temple down
Raise it up on holy ground
Oh, Hosanna
I will lift my voice and sing
You have come and washed me clean

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

4 Non Blondes

They sang a really catchy, irritating (to me) song that said "Heyeyeyeah heyeyeah. I said hey. What's going on?"

Here's what's going on.

  • Todd Robbins has sent us six--no, eight mixes.
  • He's done a great job.
  • Fall has arrived, which puts my wife in a giddy mood, and me in a mellow (but happy) one.
  • I have about 75 more pages to edit in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and it's due tomorrow. Awesome. It's like college, only I love it.
  • The Rabbit Room website has been up and running for a week or two, and it's going really well. Lots of good discussion, and tonight as I said to Eric Peters in an email, we just sold a Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies CD along with Eric's Scarce to someone--where else in the world can you buy those two CDs together? That's right. Nowhere but the Rabbit Room.
  • Tomorrow we're meeting with my manager Christie and someone from an undisclosed record label. If they like the songs they just might distribute the album.
  • I'm fine whether or not they like the songs.
  • But I really hope they like them.
  • But I'm fine if they don't.
  • Really.
  • Bullet points are fun.
  • The Captains and I, on our last trip to the Tallahassee area, pulled into a Goodwill and had a contest to see who could find the funniest/strangest t-shirt. Here's the winner, partly because of the absurdity of its claim, and partly because the collar (which you can't see) is gargantuan:


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stuart Duncan the Great

(andy g)
I have tons of videos sitting on my hard drive but have had no time to edit them. We are in the last real week of working on AP's record - and I am in the last week of working on mine as well. I have to turn my record in by the first week of November to have them ready for the Christmas tour. Needless to say, video editing has not been on the top plate for me.
However, on the way back from Florida this weekend with Ben and AP, I threw this footage together for your viewing enjoyment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mixing and Messy Cars

Reasons why messy cars are good:

  • There's always scrap paper handy
  • Who likes to clean their car?
  • There's always, always enough change to pay the meter if you look long enough
  • Rediscovering lost CDs
  • It's a good excuse for someone else to drive to lunch
  • Easier to keep track of which fast food places you've visited so that you can diversify
  • Nobody breaks in to a junky car
  • When your kid spills their Big Gulp? No cleanup.
  • You're always reminded of the fallen-ness of man
  • When you finally clean it, it's like you have a new car

Someone asked about mixing.

There's a pretty big difference between the kind of mixing we're doing during the recording process and the kind of mixing Todd Robbins is doing. We're actually not mixing anything, really. We're pushing the faders up and down so that we can hear what we need to hear in order to record the next track, but there's very little messing with the EQ and very little reverb or other effects added. Sure, we're mixing in the most basic sense.

But here's what makes guys like Todd so amazing to me. (And there's a fair bit of assumption going on here, because I'm not around for the nuts and bolts of the mixing.) We deliver the songs to the engineer in an edited but completely unmixed form. He then has to listen to every single instrument all the way through. He compresses, equalizes, gives it reverb and makes it sound just right. He does it with the drum tracks (and maybe each of the ten or so mics on the drums), then he does it with the bass, the four or five different guitar tracks, and so on. Once he has everything sounding as good as possible, he starts the actual programming of the volume. The faders "remember" where they were at different parts of the song, so that when he pushes STOP, the faders all slap down to zero volume. When he pushes PLAY at whatever part of the song he wants, the faders snap into position like soldiers. As the song goes by, he can push the volume up or down on, say, my lead vocal, so that if I sang something too quietly he can adjust it. The next time the song plays, the program remembers the volume adjustment. (I'm writing this with the assumption that you're unfamiliar with all manner of sound stuff.)

He'll listen to it about a zillion times and make minute adjustments to the volume levels, reverb levels, etc., until he's ready for us to listen. We come in and listen, take notes as the song goes by, and make suggestions. The fact that he's coming into it without having heard anything of the recording process (and in this case without having heard any of my music) has advantages and disadvantages. The good thing is, his ears are fresh. He's going to hear things we can't anymore. The bad thing is, he might not immediately sense the direction we were going for with the song. See, he can make the song sound warm or modern or crisp or low-fi or vocal heavy or electric guitar heavy or a thousand other things.

That's why I get excited about the mixing process; it's as close as I'll come to hearing these songs as if for the first time.

So he's mixed "Invisible God" and most of "Rocket". I haven't heard any of it yet, but Ben says it sounds great.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Loose Ends

Friday was a sort of celebration for being finished with the record. Today we finished the record all over again.

I burned rough mixes of the songs and listened to them several times over the weekend, and for the most part I was pleased. I did, however hear some holes that needed to be filled, changes that needed to be made. You hear a song differently when you're jogging, or when you're stuck in traffic. You notice the feel of it, your mind wanders in and out of attention and you listen with a detachment that allows you to hear things you wouldn't ordinarily hear.

That's the way my ear works, anyway.

So I jogged this morning to the new record, then I drove to the studio today with it blaring from my van speakers. I grabbed an old receipt and wrote notes on it as the songs went by (one of the many advantages of having a messy car: there's always paper handy). When I got to the studio we set to work tweaking "All You'll Ever Need". I wasn't sure what was missing from the song, but I felt like something was. Ben added some extra percussion stuff (shakers, tamborine, a baby turtle shell with a deer antler for a handle--whatever Gully had laying around), Gully played some mandolin, and that pretty much buttered the bread.

We then tackled a few editing things on "Hosanna" and "All Things New", which were relatively easy cut-and-paste jobs. Finally we added some keyboards and an acoustic guitar lick to "Don't Give Up On Me". I know this is tedious stuff, but that's what we did.

Now we enter the stage of the record called Mix Prep and Editing, which pretty much makes me obsolete. I'm listening, like I said, for last minute changes, but at this point the songs feel as finished as they're ever going to feel. I spent a lot of time today pacing behind Ben and Andy while they edited or played. My work is pretty much done. My opinions are all that is left.

Todd Robbins, the mix engineer, is starting the mix on a few songs tomorrow, and Ben will deliver the prepped songs as he finishes them. A friend of mine told me the other day, upon hearing that Todd Robbins was mixing this record, that Todd is the best at what he does. I've only met him once, and I liked him, and I hope my buddy is right. Ben's worked with Todd in the past and says that he's the man.

Choosing the mix engineer for this album was strangely difficult. I've been honored to have worked with some of the very best over the years, and each time it was clear who should mix the album long before we finished recording. With Love and Thunder it needed to be Gary Paczosa (of Alison Krauss fame). The record was organic and warm, and he was the man to amplify that vibe. With The Far Country, we were looking for something with color and big-ness, so Ben Wisch (of Marc Cohn fame) was the guy to do it. Ben and Gary are at the top of my list of favorite record-makers ever, and I geeked out at the chance to work with them. (Gary mixed Behold the Lamb and Carried Along as well.)

This time around those names were seriously considered, as were folks like Shane Wilson, but for some reason it wasn't obvious who we should try to rope in. I thought of Todd Robbins because Jason Gray had raved about him, and Ben had some history there. Until last week, though, Todd was one of the other several names of extremely talented guys that were tossed around. For some reason we emailed him, he said yes, and tomorrow he starts. Perfect.

So that's about it.

I know I keep promising more videos. They're coming, I promise.


Listening to: Marc Cohn - Listening to Levon
via FoxyTunes

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Next Stage

This crisp fall morning we once again converged on The Night Owl's Nest (Gully's studio, says me) to finish recording this album.

All that was left this morning was for me to sing vocal doubles on "Hosanna" and "All Things New", then we edited a few things and went out for a lunch, the somberness of which accented by the fact that we listened to Nanci Griffith's Other Voices, Other Rooms in transit. It's a sweet, sad record that perfectly fit the Tennessee fall and the ending of two months of good work.

When we got back to the studio, Ben started editing while I drove Gully to the airport for a few shows in Washington this weekend, then I picked up a copy of my first book: The Ballad of Matthew's Begats. I just finished flipping through it, marveling at Cory Godbey's talents, and at God's story. I got a little emotional reading it, though I've sung the song a thousand times.

What a gift it is to tell the old, old story. Listening to these resurrection letters, seeing the pictures in the book, traveling the country to sing these songs--these are reminders to me that our God is a good king, and that I am most unworthy to be in his kingdom. My sonship is a gift of the highest order, and it is a fine thing to live in light of it.

Next week begins the next stage in the process: editing and mixing. We'll write another post to try and make that sound exciting. Truth be told, the editing is tedious but the mixing (for me) is my favorite part. More on that later.

We'll do our best to edit together the videos we took this week and last and have them ready for you early next week.

Have a grand weekend. Oh, and be sure to check out the Rabbit Room, a new website I'm helping with. Loads of fun.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007


We have dulcified the record.

As a connoisseur of Rich Mullins's music, my appreciation for a hammered dulcimer in a song goes without saying. Each of my records has a dulcimer on it somewhere, mainly to satisfy my personal jones for that bright rhythmic sound, but also because it reminds me of the music that changed me so many years ago.

If I had been wrecked into a spiritual awakening by Bob Dylan's music, chances are you'd hear a harmonica on every album; if it had been Zeppelin, you'd probably hear several songs with electric riffs in 5/8 time. But the music that pulled me out of whatever bland complacency I was slogging through in the early nineties was the intensely personal, musically dramatic songwriting of Rich Mullins.

I remember with embarrassment that when we were recording "Rise and Shine" on my first label record, everyone in the studio knew that we were copping Mullins. It was the elephant in the room. I didn't really care, to be honest. Rich had died about a year prior, I was still grieving (or whatever you call it when you never knew someone but you wish you had) and I wanted the song to remind me of him. It worked.

Years earlier, when I first started playing with my old buddy Gabe Scott (now known to the public ironically as "the guy who plays all those instruments with Bebo"), he played the hammered dulcimer on a few songs. (I tried to play it, but being deficient in the ways of time-keeping, I left it to people more capable than I.)

My second record just needed some dulcimer on "No More Faith", and Gabe was the man to deliver it. The third required it on "High Noon", and Gabe brought it again, as well as on "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" from the Christmas album.

Then Ben stepped out from behind the piano and played dulcimer on "Mystery of Mercy" from The Far Country--it was a really difficult part, and I was plumb amazed that he did it so well.

Tonight we had the blessing of working with a third dulcimer player: Marcus Myers. I find it remarkable that I know not one but three excellent players of such a relatively obscure (and difficult) instrument. With all these guys around, why not put dulcimer on every record?

Marcus spent the last three hours working on dulcimer parts for "Hosanna", "The Good Confession", and "All Things New", and he knocked it out of the park. He's a really great fiddle player (he's the guy playing on the instrumentals on Behold the Lamb), can hold his own on the bass guitar, and whacks his hammered dulcimer so hard he used to break strings all the time in his old band (Silers Bald). Because of the profusion of dulcimer-ists in my life, we haven't recorded Marcus playing it before, so I didn't know what to expect. He learned the parts quickly, had lots of his own ideas, and played in time.

It was a fun evening.

So tomorrow we're bringing back good ol' Matt Pierson, the bass player. One of the songs was sped up several clicks, and another needed a key change, which rendered Matt's tracks on those songs obsolete. We were able to use all the drums, but everything else had to be re-recorded. Matt's fine playing is nearly all that remains on these two songs ("Hosanna" and "All Things New").

Folks, we're getting close to being finished with the recording of this album.

That's the news from Lake Wobegon. In case you're feeling movie-deprived, hang in there. As soon as things slow down a bit we have quite a lot of footage to edit into some disposable entertainment, like our string quartet session, Stuart Duncan, and tonight's foray with Marcus.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ben's Vision And His Thorn

Ben posting here. A little NIV section headings humor there in the title. Trust me, there's more where that came from.

Yesterday morning I awoke after only two hours of sleep and I felt better than I had all week. Was it that I had put something terrible behind me? Or was there something wonderful in store for me? The answer, my friends, is yes. Strings, my friends. Strings.

Arranging strings, let me tell you, is lonely, tedious work. I do it every few months, usually for records I'm producing, though sometimes other folks will hire me. This time around, I was arranging three songs for AP's record and two more for another band. I would call that about four days worth of work. I had only a day and a half to devote to it, which meant that the bulk of the work would have to be done at night. Yay.

When you set about writing arrangements for a number of songs, the first arrangement is, without fail, the most difficult. I'm not sure why. I guess it's like starting your mower for the first time in May. It just takes a minute. I can expect not only to spend about a full day coming up with the parts (this is what I would call "writing," as opposed to the creation of the sheet music, which I would call "torture") for the first song, but also to have to rewrite or at least revise it the next morning and probably revise AGAIN when I come back to it after I've written the other arrangements. So I started arranging "All Things New" on Monday night, finished it Tuesday night, and rewrote it Wednesday morning. I credit the amazing headache I had on Wednesday night to the fact that I had four arrangements left to go and only a day to write them.

The good thing, the weird thing, is how fast the other ones go. It's almost embarassing how fast they go. It's like how you take a thousand pictures of your firstborn and twenty of your second, and you feel bad but somehow your second-born turns out just fine in the end. I wrote one of the songs for the other band in about an hour and a half. And it's a fine arrangement. "The Good Confession" didn't take long either, come to think of it.

"Hosanna" was sort of an exception. It was the second one I wrote and I suppose it took me a while, but it was a pretty demanding song. In fact, each of these three AP songs is the kind of song you're supposed to hit out of the ballpark. They want something spectacular, not just something that fits. I didn't have to swing as hard on The Good Confession, since it already had the choir, which sounds amazing. But the other two, and especially All Things New, wanted the full 21 gun salute.

And who better to perform the 21 gun salute than David Davidson and friends (David Angell-2nd Violin; Monisa Angell-Viola; John Catchings-Cello)? Are they still called the Love Sponge Strings? I'm not sure. But they are the DEAL. Look, I've hired other string players and we've gotten through it all right, but David (and whenever I refer to David, let it be known that I am referring to the other three players by extension) is a whole different animal.

First of all, the facility of these players on their instruments is ridiculous. There's nothing they can't do. Many times now, David has stopped in the middle of a take to inform me that I've written something that worked fine on my keyboard, but that would be impossible to play on the violin. And every time, not two minutes later, he's PLAYING IT. Blisteringly fast.

The sound of this group is amazing. The tone is so vibrant and the intonation so accurate. And that's not something to take for granted. But maybe more than anything is that these guys really interperet music. I remember my band director in high school telling us that 90 percent of the music is in the dynamics and articulations. He would drool pure valve-oil if he heard these guys (okay, that got weird; lack of sleep, remember). Stringed instruments are capable of so much nuance, and I'm not fluent enough to communicate that kind of nuance on paper. At least not every time. But David and the guys are so intuitive about these things and so very patient about working through the exact phrasing of a line. In fact, most of it they don't have to ask me about. I can hear them reinterpereting, sometimes even disregarding, my phrasing marks as we record and it makes me grateful that I'm in such good hands.

But the coup de grace for me is that I still associate the Love Sponge with a signature sound, most recognizable in their playing on the Fleming & John records, which I hope you've heard. I was really influenced by those records (as well as a few others that John Painter arranged for the Love Sponge, including the self-titled Sixpence album) and I frequently write with that sound in mind. So imagine what a thrill it is for me to hear that sound coming back at me in the booth. Suffice it to say it's worth a little sleep-deprivation.

But I digress. I finished writing the fifth arrangement at about ten on Thursday night. Beth ran and got Starbucks. Good thing, because I still had to prep the ProTools sessions we'd be working in and, horror of horrors, create the sheet music. The long and short of it is that I didn't put my laptop in the bag until about five in the morning. But that's just par for the course. I am always up stupid-late the night before a string session. And it's worth it to wake up feeling like the morning sun is a big, yellow Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card and to know that the pain is behind me and the joy is before me. Which is, I think, what this record is all about.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Getting Out of the Way

It's a strange stage in the making of Resurrection Letters.

I've been focusing on the two new websites that are imminent, Gully's been mainly working on his new record, and Ben has been working diligently on string parts.

Progress is being made on the record, but right now there's not much to share.

Redneck in Europe (I think that's his name) asked about how we approach recording a guest musician like Stuart Duncan.

Stuart, for those of you who aren't familiar with him, is one of the most tasteful, right-on, goose-bump-inducing fiddle players around. He's highly regarded in the bluegrass world, but he's also capable (as you can hear on songs like Pierce Pettis's "Little River Canyon") of improvising beautiful melodies. He also played on Nanci Griffith's Other Voices, Other Rooms, which remains one of my favorite Americana albums. There's a heartbreaking story-song on that album called "Tecumseh Valley", and Stuart's lonesome sound pretty much makes the song for me.

So how do we approach recording someone like Stuart? Basically, you push record and get out of the way. The reason you pay a guy like that to play on your song is because you like the way he hears. We have in mind what we'd like, but the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut and let his sensibilities inform what he plays. Most of the time what he brings to the table is better than you might've imagined, so before you start telling him what you hear, let him have a shot at it. After two or three takes, if he hasn't gotten exactly what you want in a certain part of the song, you can stop and make suggestions.

For me, the thrill of songwriting and recording comes when, like I said last week, the final product exceeds your expectations and even your capabilities. Letting the musicians (Andy and Ben, for example) breathe and stretch (perhaps) beyond what you had originally envisioned for the song is creativity at its finest. I know my gifts (which is another way of saying I know my limitations), which is why I'm pleased to share the recording of these songs with people whose talents pick up where mine leave off.

That allows me to view the end-product objectively, to take pleasure and pride in it, and helps me to remember that it is God's work. I'm invited to commune with him in his work, but in the end, everything beautiful comes from him.

For example, I just finished listening to Ben's string parts on the three songs we're recording tomorrow. He writes the parts in Finale and records the program playing a cheezy sounding synthesized version of the strings over the track. You can hear the parts and make edits to them before you spend a zillion bucks with the string players.

Not only is Ben great at writing parts, I can hear his care and concern for the songs, and more importantly what he hopes the songs do in people's hearts. Writing a string score is something I could never do. For that matter, Ben can't play a lick on the violin. But tomorrow we'll listen the songs that I wrote with the strings that he composed being played by David Davidson and his friends, and I'm almost guaranteed to cry at the beauty of it.

Heck, I cried today listening to the hokey synth-strings.

The Kingdom is a beautiful thing.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Eat Your Vegetables

Completely unrelated to the new record, I thought I'd share something fun. Randall Goodgame and I had the pleasure of writing the silly song for the upcoming VeggieTales video The Wizard of Ha's.

They also included the song "You Can Always Come Home", from Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies in the video. It's one of the best-looking of the videos they've produced yet, and is based on the parable of the prodigal son, so have some Kleenex handy.

We were honored to be a part of it.

Here's the silly song, to whet your appetite. So to speak.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Ron Block: Part Deux

(Andy G writing)

Hello world. I am taking a few days this week to try to finish up my record.

One aspect of making a record we haven't really talked about yet is procrastination. One of the best ways to procrastinate making a record is to edit some old video footage. This has been sitting around for a while now and I just had the inspiration to put it together this morning.

Hope you enjoy it.

p.s. - after learning to love Donovan McNabb last week, I think I hate him again. Time to start the Favre.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Final Frontier

This is a picture taken by Pat Forrester, mission specialist on shuttle mission STS-117 to the International Space Station. I can now retire.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Mission Accomplished

I'm here to report that our spanking mission was successful.

But first we got a lot of work done.

  • We met Stuart Duncan at the studio at 10 am. Like most of the other folks I've met in the bluegrass/country world of great players, he is humble, humorous, and cares about the music that he's making. It would be easy for guys like that to breeze in, wow us with some licks, and collect their money. He only played on one song, but he indulged our pickiness and was concerned about getting it right. Then he acted in another soon-to-be Oscar-nominated short film.

  • We ate lunch at a place called Stroud's Barbecue. The Friday special at Stroud's is barbecue nachos: pulled pork, white cheese sauce, baked beans, and tortilla chips. I needed a nap at about three this afternoon.

  • After lunch we set to work on the guitars for "All Things New". The astute reader of this blog will remember that we recorded guitars for this song weeks ago. Why would we need to repeat the process? It's because the song wasn't right. We were nearly finished with it and something about it was falling flat. I kept thinking, while listening to it, that there was no musical hook--there was nothing for me to hang my hat on. Jeff Taylor, Irishy player extraordinaire, played some Irish whistle on the old version of the song, and that gave us the idea to try and give the song a sort of jig. Ben worked something up, I took it home over the weekend and learned it on the guitar, and realized that the song needed it and that the song needed to be in the key of D instead of C. That put the chorus out of my vocal range, which meant rewriting the melody of the chorus. Basically, we had to start the song from scratch, something we didn't do lightly as far along as we were in the process. We were able to keep Eckberg's drums, but we'll have to re-record the bass. Today Gully got a workout, learning the jig in two different guitar tunings and on the mandolin. After he played his parts Ben added some tambourine, then I sang a new lead vocal in the new key. At the end of the day we basically had a brand new song.
  • Gully set up the camera while Ben packed his bag. He pushed record, I grabbed Ben and pulled him down, and we gave him roughly 28 violent smacks.
It was a good day. Those of you waiting patiently for videos will be rewarded soon. Have a great weekend.


Random Creepiness

So tonight I was writing on another blog about Matt Rollings, Lyle Lovett's piano player, who is amazing. I remembered that I always thought Matt looked a lot like Gary Oldman, the actor. I submit these two photos as proof.

In other news, I'm sleepy.

In other-other news, yesterday was Ben's birthday. I called and left a message with his wife yesterday because I wanted to make sure it was his birthday before I called him. She called me back today to tell me that yes, it was yesterday. Argh.

Tomorrow I vow that Andy and I will spank him and video at least a portion of it for your viewing pleasure.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sincerest Apologies

Folks, it's been busy around these parts. I'm in the process of putting the finishing touches on not one but TWO new websites. One is a revamp of my main site, and the other is top secret. It's not really top secret. It's, like, middle secret. The point is, we haven't had much time to work on the record lately.

Ben's been working on a worship album for his church, and tonight he's out on the road with Dave Barnes, who is way cooler than me.

Gully's been touring a bit and working on his own record.

I've been working on these websites and writing till my fingers ache, literally.

But Friday. Oh, FRIDAY. I'm excited about Friday.

One of the finest fiddle players alive is once again going to add his talents to one of my songs. Stuart Duncan, whose resume is far too long to mention here, is coming over to play fiddle on "Love is a Good Thing", and for that I am glad. He's the guy playing on "Serve Hymn," "Let There Be Light," "More," Pierce Pettis's album State of Grace, which has hair-raising fiddle on songs like "Little River Canyon." I could go on and on about Stuart Duncan, like how his solo on Chris Thile's "Raining at Sunset" gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

Anyway, you get the point. He's a great player and we're honored to have him.

Hopefully we'll get some video of Stuart replacing all my parts or something.

I've seen all the talk around here about fantasy football, and I wanted to assure those of you who aren't familiar with it that you're not missing much. It's basically a jock version of a role-playing game. They don't use twelve-sided dice, they don't wear capes or carry fake swords they bought at the knife shop at the mall, but it amounts to the same thing. Boys playing pretend with numbers.

(For the record, I'm only saying all that to give Gully a hard time. It actually seems like it would be fun. Did you hear that Frank Gore broke his hand?)

Thanks for reading, folks.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Many Matters of Business

(From the brain, fingers and computer of Andy G)

If I was a smart mans, I would do something like, such as, split this post up into many postings. However, I decided that I could just address many matters of business (hence the title) in this one post. So here goes it ...

I saw a comment from my good friend Drew who was wondering what a songwriting appointment looked like. I am now going to pretend that Drew was not feigning interest and that the rest of you care as well. The good news is that if you really don't care, you can easily scroll to the next "matter of business".
When I was a staff writer for a publishing company, the songwriting appointments basically consisted of meeting someone at around 10AM, chatting for a bit, then throwing out ideas for songs. If there was a particular artist looking for songs at that time, we might try to write in that direction. Many folks would have a notebook with basic song ideas or song titles that you just throw out until you find something that you can both agree to work on. Sometimes something would click and we would be done with a song in an hour or so. Other times we would work all day and only end up with part of a verse or a chorus. In that case we would just schedule another appointment to finish the song. (If you didn't really "click" with the co-writer this was a great opportunity to just say "Let's touch base later and figure out another time to write" while silently agreeing never to call or e-mail each other ever again.)
This particular songwriting appointment last week was for a girl named Jaime Jamgochian. I got a call the week before asking if I would help her and my friend Matt Stanfield (who is producing some of the songs on her record) finish a song that they wanted to track for her new record. These are my favorite kinds of writing appointments because they already had a chorus to the song and there was a good chance of it actually getting recorded. Matt sent me an mp3 of the basic chord structure to the song - leaving the verses blank and singing the chorus so I headed to Matt's studio space in Franklin with a couple of ideas. When I got there we first figured out the melody to the verses and then wrote the lyrics for a couple of them. We left that day with everything but the lyrics for the last line of the 2nd verse and the bridge. I just e-mailed some ideas for those missing lyrics to Jaime this morning. Hopefully the song works for the record.
Writing appointments take a little while to get used to. You have to learn how to be confident enough to throw out ideas - and tough enough to not get your feelings hurt when they don't like some of those ideas. It is also a good idea to write with people that you wouldn't mind just hanging out with. That way - when four hours go by and you still have nothing, you can just look at it like you scheduled four hours to hang out with a friend.

Once again, I realize that I am probably writing to less than 5% of the people who read this thing. But I (unlike two other writers on this blog who shall remain nameless) am interested in reporting the whole truth and not just the information that is popular or pertinent.
After Week 2 in the Fantasy Football season, I am sitting 2-0 and 0-2 in my two leagues.
In my church league (where I am the commissioner) I am sitting in 2nd place behind my pastor. I can thank Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer for my undefeated record. Those guys have been awesome.
In my "Men's Club League" that I have been in for many years with mainly college friends, I am sitting squarely in last place. I can thank Donovan McNabb, Laurence Maroney and Larry Fitzgerald for that. This week I am starting Hines Ward instead of Fitzgerald and considered starting Favre instead of McNabb - but I think I will give Donovan one more week to be awful. I am having flashbacks from 3 years ago with Daunte Culpepper.

Things have been a little slow in the video department lately. This next video might explain why.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Remembering Rich Mullins

Hey, folks. We're gearing up for the concert tonight, and I read through this piece I wrote for CCM. I'm pretty sure all they used was a sentence of it, so I don't feel bad posting the whole thing here.
Beaten Up and Carried Home

Today I drove across the flat, wide prairie at the foot of the Grand Tetons. My wife of twelve years and our three children were with me on the journey, and as is our custom on long trips, we let the kids take turns choosing the music. We listened to Riders in the Sky (the best cowboy music around), the soundtrack to Silverado (the best Western film score ever), and some Sara Groves (who doesn't have much at all to do with the Wild West, but who was a welcome salve after ten hours of the kids choosing the aforementioned music).

Then we rounded the bend at sunset and there before us stood those craggy Tetons, all gray stone with white snow tucked into the fissures. The clouds were gold with sunlight and long, misty fingers of rain were dangling from them, caressing the peaks and down to the aspen- and fir-covered shoulders of the range.

Who else but Rich Mullins could write music that would adequately compliment a scene like that? I asked for the iPod, selected A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, and we drove the next forty five minutes without speaking. We weren't speaking because we were being spoken to.

Rich's music has a finely tuned resonance. Some people I know could listen to his music and miss the vibration completely, while others, like myself, hear the songs and feel rattled to the bone. Driving today in the shadow of the mountains, my bones were rattling with the gospel, and it was the gospel according to Rich. He sang about a God who bares his holy arm in the sight of the nations, who roars and smites and laughs from heaven at his enemies; but the God Rich knew--the God he knows--is also one of tenderness and deep mystery and patient love. He's a God who thought to make the color green, whose mercy rains down from heaven and trickles even to the brown brick spines of our dirty blind alleys. I remember Rich saying in a live recording from years ago that God is like the kid who beats you up and then gives you a ride home on his bike. I've learned a lot about God from Rich, mainly because he put to words the things I already knew were true: I have been beaten up, and I have been carried home.

I could write all day about the ways God has blessed me and changed me by way of Rich's music; I could write all day about the ways I have missed his wry, odd wisdom in the midst of the industry I find myself so often befuddled by; I could also write about the way Rich's writing craft leaves me awestruck and humbled; or about the countless stories I've been told by those he either knew or was known by; or about the uncanny number of artists I know of who point to Rich as one of their chief influences, both spiritual and musical.

But today, after that glorious drive through the West while listening to him sing about America and Jesus and the very truth of God, I can only here express my gratitude to God for Rich's ability to remind me that it is to God alone that I am to be grateful. There's nothing else an artist could better aspire to than to leave that legacy. I have sung his songs and read his writings and visited his grave and am convinced that in his barefoot, quirky, grace-filled wake he left a pair of shoes that no one will ever fill.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nearly Perfect Pitch

Not to be confused with Nearly Headless Nick.

I didn't work today because my sweet wife is out of town. That left me here at the Warren with my three kids--alone. The women of the world who are reading this are probably rolling their eyes. Here I am, acting like it's newsworthy that a dad would watch his own children. But you must understand. I'm married to Superwoman. I leave town all the time and she somehow keeps the house and the children in spit-spot shape, but not once in our twelve years of marriage has she ever left me with them overnight, let alone for four nights.

(You can stop rolling your eyes, moms.)

The thing is, I've had a great time. I realized the secret to child care: if you plan on getting anything done other than watching the kids, forget it. Make the mental shift that they're your main job, and the other piddly things that you do with your time will just have to wait until they're in bed or in college. Or, of course, you involve them in whatever it is you're doing, which they may or may not appreciate.

Today, for example, I had to chainsaw a giant tree limb into a manageable size, then transport it in pieces to the fire pit. (It was a huge tree limb, and twice I almost got really hurt by the chainsaw and the tree. It's this giant white oak tree that's probably been standing since the Cherokees roamed the area. One of the uppermost primary limbs had snapped off but didn't completely fall. The heaviest part of the broken limb (about as thick as my uncle's waist) was leaning against the tree about twenty five feet up, the whole thing supported by its leafy smaller branches. To make a long story short, when I chainsawed what I thought was a minor branch at the bottom it turned out to be the one holding the whole beast up. The giant limb fell, pulling the still-running saw about fifteen feet into the air, and as I scrambled out of the way I tripped on a branch and landed hard. Where's Gully's camera when you need it? That limb could've crushed me, and the saw could've boogered me up bad. I'll spare you the other equally scary incident.)

Anyway, I recruited the kids to help me lug the branches to the firepit. It took about two sweaty hours--that's how big this limb was. It was a tree unto itself.

So that's the secret to getting things done while caring for children: manual labor. I rewarded us all with Blue Bell ice cream. This is also a secret to child care.

I told you all that so I could tell you this: I found some video from the choir recording day of my four-year-old daughter singing her favorite song. She's obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, and is having an Oz-themed birthday party next weekend. She'll be wearing the Dorothy costume my mom just made her. (Now the moms are saying "awwww" and looking for someone to snuggle with.)

So I present to you, ladies and germs, my daughter in all her cuteness. Be sure and watch the video till the end. Oh, and when I put the soundtrack music into the video, I noticed that Skye was singing it in the right key. How amazing is that?


Listening to: The Wizard Of Oz - Judy Garland - Over the Rainbow
via FoxyTunes

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Loving Punch in the Face

I have to brag about the Captains Courageous for a minute.

I know that they're going to read this, which makes it a little awkward. Guys are weird about complimenting one another. It's much easier for us to tell other folks about how cool we think our friends are, but looking them in the eye and telling them "Well done" means you first have to take a deep breath and clear your throat.

Backstage after our concerts there's usually a meaningful minute of encouragement that passes between us that means a lot to me. The audience's appreciation and that of your bandmates come at you very differently and mean very different things. But in the studio, though we're not at all stingy with our encouragement, there's never any gushing. That would be sissy. Men usually reserve the gushing for when they think the other fellers aren't listening.

I've just about talked myself out of writing anything, knowing that Ben and Andy will read this.

Aw, heck.

It struck me today how vastly different our roles are. Ben plugs away at the computer with an ear for perfection in timing and tone and performance. He doesn't hesitate to stop the recording to get a better take. Today he was recording his piano on "Hosanna" and I saw him stop and re-record the same lick probably twenty five times, and only two of those twenty five sounded off to me. But he heard something in his own performance that wasn't right and he kept hacking away until the tree fell, whereas I would've been thrilled with a decent performance (which on the piano is all I would've been capable of) and moved on. (If I wanted to continue the analogy with the tree, I would say that I'd have been satisfied with lopping off a limb and the tree would've mocked me as I dragged my branch away. But I wouldn't have minded. See, the tree would represent the perfect performance, and the limb would have stood for--)

Thank you, self-editor, for putting a stop to that.

The days Andy and I worked without Ben were good days, but neither of us felt at the end like we trusted ourselves to have gotten it right. Sure enough, when Ben showed up the next day, he kindly set to work fixing what we'd attempted, like a good producer does. It's humbling for me. Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2 is my seventh studio album in ten or so years, and I've learned a thing or two in the process. Back when Ben started playing music with me I asked him to be around in the studio for Love and Thunder, and he took copious mental notes while he watched the great Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty fashion my songs into a record. He was but a babe in the woods, freshly graduated from college, married without kids, and I had been around the block once, if not a few times.

That was almost six years ago, and Ben has three kids and a fine reputation in Nashville as producer, songwriter, and session player. I used to have something to teach him about making records; now I defer to his judgment more often than not. It hit me a few weeks ago that though I'm several years older than he is (and much, much better at ping-pong), he's made more records than I have. Somehow, in-between the shows he was playing with me, Ben found time to make record after record, either playing or producing.

What I'm getting at is that it's good to have him around. Left to my own devices, you'd hear a far inferior version of these songs.

Now. About Andy.

I don't mean to imply that because when Ben isn't around we work with some degree of uncertainty Andy isn't capable. Have you heard his two CDs, Old Hat and Room to Breathe? The guitar/vocal production couldn't be much simpler, but you can't miss that he's a great guitar player and a fine producer. His sense of time is scores better than mine, not to mention his ear for beautiful melodies. There were days in the studio when Ben was at the helm and Andy sat on the futon working on Ringo movies because there wasn't much he needed to do. Occasionally when there was a question of preference he'd chime in, but much of the time he served by setting up his studio for us before we arrived, arranging the microphones, sometimes engineering to give Ben a break from staring at the computer screen for hours.

But when it was his time to play guitar, he found the perfect parts to compliment the basic tracks of the song and played them musically and in time. He has a gift for helping the song sound better than it is. He heard things that neither Ben nor I would've thought of, and the songs are better for it.

And that's just the guitar playing. He's a great background singer. I remember noticing that about him when I first saw him play with Jill years and years ago. The best background singers (James Taylor's are at the top of my list) know how to take the edges from the character of their voices, to make their voices seem round and unobtrusive, so that they add to the lead vocal without drawing attention away from it. It's a tricky thing. Today we recorded Andy's background vocals on "Invisible God" and "Windows in the World", and he did exactly what I just described.

But that's just the sound of his voice. He has a great ear for harmonies that I would never come up with. Both times I had the honor of singing on Jill's songs ("Square Peg" and "Wisdom") Andy had the harmony part in mind and taught it to me. If I had had to come up with my own harmony for her stuff it wouldn't have been nearly as inventive or beautiful.

Once again, what I'm getting at is that it's good to have him around.

Today we were putting the finishing touches on "Invisible God", and I couldn't believe it turned out as pretty as it did. I told the Captains that I love it when I hear a song toward the end of the recording process and think, "Who did this? How did this happen? There's no way that we boneheads made this song sound this nice." I imagine little elves sneaking in at night and embellishing our performances. Elves with sideburns and rockabilly hairdos. If it's not elves, then it's a classic case of something being greater than the sum of its parts. That sounds a lot like what Christ's kingdom on earth is supposed to be. We use our gifts to serve, and Christ living in us makes the servant, the serving, and the thing served more beautiful and meaningful than we could've hoped.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. (That's in Ephesians.)

Amen? Amen.

That's all the gushing I or they can stand. Next time I see these guys I'll have to give 'em a loving punch in the face.


Listening to: The Nobility - Halleluiah Chorus
via FoxyTunes

Pappy and George

Yesterday we had the pleasure of seeing our friend Hitoshi "George" Yamaguchi at the studio. He brought along his upright bass and did a fine job on "Have Your Way". After he left Gullahorn sang some background vocals on "Don't Give Up On Me" and right around lunch time our pal Eric Peters showed up. After lunch Eric lent his tenor voice to "Rocket" and made us all happy. Finally, I sang the lead vocal for "Hosanna".

It was a busy, good day of work.

I got home just in time to help my boys set up a tent, break out the jigsaw and cut a piece of scrap wood into legs for a cardboard table they plan to use this weekend to sell drawings and lemonade in the neighborhood. I know that has nothing to do with Resurrection Letters, but I thought it was funny.

The transmission died in our car this week, so I'm at my house waiting for ol' Ben Kenobi to pick me up. I have a few more videos waiting to be put together into their Oscar-contending forms, so check back soon.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Getting Irishy

Today was a great day in the studio, only partly because the weather in Nashville was splendid.

We listened to "Rocket" first thing and were pleased that other than background vocals the track is finished. A rollicking good time, that song. I've never once typed the word "rollicking" before, and have only seen it used in movie and book reviews. Why is that?

We listened to "Have Your Way", a confessional song I wrote one night when I was feeling particularly weary of my sin. Thanks to Jeff Taylor's fine musicianship and gentle spirit, the song also sounds complete, except for an upright bass line. I called our friend Hitoshi "George" Yamaguchi and he's meeting us at the studio tomorrow to play said bass part.

Finally we opened up "Hosanna" again and set to work on the guitars. You may remember that this was an eleventh hour song that the Captains and I wrote a few weeks ago, and we called the tracking musicians back to Eckberg's studio to play it. (Ringo and his friends also came over and re-did our parts; we pretended not to be keen on their wily scheme then came back after they left and recorded the song correctly. Ringo and his friends are delicate.)

Anyway, Gullahorn played a few acoustic guitar parts, a mandolin, a bouzouki, and a lap dulcimer on the song before we called it quits for the day. The song feels really good and just might be the opener for the record. We'll have to see.

We're sadly getting close to the end of this part of the process. Once the thing is recorded, Ben will set to work writing string parts, then we'll record the strings, mix it, master it, print it, sell it, and start the process over again in a year or so.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first: Hitoshi on bass.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

By the Power of Nashville

We were unable to record today.

Ben and I carpooled to Gully's, we set up the room and broke out the mandolin, the bouzouki, and the various guitars in order to work on "Hosanna", and about ten seconds after Ben pushed Play, the power died. Soon we found out that Andy's was the only house on the street with the power down, thanks to a fallen limb nearby.

He called the electric service and left a message, and I was faced with the depressing truth that without electricity, I'm out of a job. While we were waiting for power I went and stood on the little bridge in Andy's backyard and watched the minnows in the creek, and I thought about ol' Wendell Berry and his distrust of technology and progress.

He's more or less a Kentucky hobbit. I love his writing, his philosophy, his wise tone, but I just don't think that I'm a better farmer than I am singer/songwriter. We can't all heave our jobs into the river and drag our wives and children to a shack on the banks, after all. Like it or not, I depend on the Nashville Electric Service, the interweb, email, guitar tuners, strings, computer programs--in short, things that Wendell would be appalled by (I think). He tills his field in Kentucky while the Captains and I fashion songs and tether them to digital media in order to shed light in the world. Different lights, but light nonetheless.

We took an early lunch break, ran some errands, came back and found that the power was still off. That was it for the day. There was nothing we could do. I came home and went and sat in the woods with my guitar and practiced my Rich Mullins cover for the tribute show next week, played through a few new songs, and wrote a bit for Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1. Sitting in the woods is good, right, Wendell?

Today was the first day of Fall, at least in spirit, so after dinner we lit a fire outside. We let the kids stay up way past bedtime, sang songs, I read a bit of Watership Down, and we put them to bed, but not before opening the windows in their rooms so the cricket sounds and cool air could float in.

I was bummed to have missed a whole day's work on the record, but enjoying a few things that didn't have to be plugged in was a nice substitute.

A Long Weekend

(Andy G reporting)

Last Friday the three of us flew out to St. Louis for a show in the St. Charles area. It was a great show. The folks there made for a great audience. Here are some other highlights ...

- The spicy chicken things at dinner
- The sauce that accompanied the spicy chicken
- The corn fritters
- The rolls
- The apple pie

After the show, we stayed at the Shive house. It was awesome. We got to hang out with the good old Shive family. Ben's brother and sister-in-law came in town to make it a full on party. Here are some other highlights from that visit ...

- The homemade cherry pie
- The vegetable soup
- The chocolate chip cookies
- The watching of Hot Fuzz
- The sleeping in
- The cinnamon crunch bagels
- The eggs and sausage

The only bad thing about the trip was the fact that Ben and Andrew missed their flight back to Nashville on Saturday. I was sticking around an extra day for a show of my own in Illinois. Ben and Andrew ended up arriving in Nashville around 6 PM and then had to drive over 2 hours to get to another show a couple of hours late. I was glad that I wasn't part of that craziness.

Anyways, yesterday (Monday) Ben did some editing here at my place while I went to the dentist and then to a writing appointment. I have no clue what Andrew did. Here are some other highlights from yesterday when Ben and I went to lunch at the Copper Kettle.

- The green bean casserole
- The fried okra
- The strawberry spinach salad
- The macaroni and cheese
- The roll
- The butter
- The cherry limeade slush float from Sonic

Do you see a theme here? For some reason I have gained 6 pounds since the making of this record.

On another note, this will come as a surprise to Andrew and Ben, but the football season officially started this weekend. Thanks to Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer, I won my game in my church fantasy football league. Thanks to Larry Fitzgerald, I lost in my other league by one point. Just thought you would like to know.

To prove that I am still useful for things other than eating and fantasy football, I give you this video.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Things Got Irishy

You may remember Jeff Taylor from one of the YouTube videos a while back. He was the friend of Michael Card's who played the jig on the accordion. Well, he did us the huge favor of coming to the studio today and playing on a new song called "Have Your Way".

I'm a huge Kate Rusby fan. Rusby and her band are some of the finestd musicians you'll hear, and I liken her to a British Isles version of Alison Krauss--she plays mostly traditional (or very traditional sounding) songs, sings like an angel, and has a remarkable band. (In case you're interested, start with her record Little Lights. They're all good, but it's the first one I heard so I'm partial.)

Anyway, I bought her live DVD for Mr. Card, having been amazed by it myself, and Mike shared it with Jeff, accordion player extraordinaire. So when I sent Jeff the new song, all I had to do was ask him to give it the Kate Rusby treatment and he knew exactly what I meant. "Rusbification" is the word, and Jeff Taylor is the man to do it. He came over today and played accordion then Irish whistle and a little bouzouki, and his sensibilities and skill were more than adequate. I sat and watched while he and Ben worked out different melodies, and in most cases all Ben had to do was sing it and Jeff was right there with the melody, played tasty as carrot cake.

I took some video, but I haven't had time to put it together yet. In lieu I present an interview that just went up on YouTube today, courtesy of I sat down with author Matthew Paul Turner and talked about my new book, my writing process, and this record. I prayed before the interview that I wouldn't say anything I'd later regret, and I only noticed two things, which is way fewer than usual. I don't interview well, and in this interview I look pudgier than normal, which is why I'm going jogging first thing in the morning.

Hope to see some of you in St. Charles, MO and Spring City, TN this weekend.


Listening to: Shawn Colvin - You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Blocks and Cards

Here's a little clip of the great Ron Block's work the other day. Be sure and check out his website (in the sidebar) and his new record DoorWay. Justin Gerard from Portland Studios is responsible for the cover art (he's the same guy who did The Far Country). Ron's taught me a lot over the years about Christ, music, humility, and my identity in God's Kingdom. Oh, and he's a great banjist. And bouzoukist.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Come Together

(This is Andy G writing)
Thanks to everyone who came out last night for the choir vocals. They sound great. In my tired stupor last night while I was trying to pick up, I started rolling up a long power cable. It just happened to be the one power cable that was attached to the one power strip that was attached to the one computer, the one hard drive and the one pre-amp. I was promptly scolded by Biggs, realized my mistake and immediately started taking a nap on the chairs. Luckily we did not lose any of your beautiful vocal gems.
As a celebration, I thought it was finally time to post this video from our tracking session for the extra song, Hosanna.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Setting Up

It's Monday night.

I just got back to the Warren from setting up our gear at Ben's church for the choir session tomorrow night. Mr. Biggs met us there at the church and we loaded in armfuls (arms full?) of wiry things, a computer, Osenga's Digi 002, more wiry things, microphones, and one digital camera.

I was prepared for a long, arduous night of technical difficulties, but it was easy enough. We're ready for the invasion of 20 singers of varying skill and talent, who when singing all together will sound something like the Harlem Boys' Choir. I'm thinking of the Glory soundtrack, which still makes me cry. Am I dreaming too big? I think not.

Anyway, tomorrow's the big day. I'm so glad you guys responded so well to the invitation, and I hope everything works tomorrow night, or else your trip will have been for a free dinner. Of course, those of you who didn't make the 20 will be treated to a video as soon as we have time to put it together. There are two videos on the verge of completion, so check back soon.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Overdubbing at Mole End

Here's another quick video of some of our work this Wednesday after Ron Block left. We have footage of Ron, but I have to put it all together, hopefully on the drive to Little Rock, where we're playing tomorrow at a great church.

It was fun being at Michael Card's studio with a pile of his fine stringed instruments at our disposal. We decided at the beginning of the day that our assignment was to try and use every instrument in the room on at least one song. We didn't get to the harpsichord or the banjola, but we just might at a later date. I love recording out there, and it's always nice to see Mike, whose mind amazes me.

He's an excellent writer and is working on a book on slavery in the New Testament, and crawled out of his writing cave long enough to help us tune the harp and to tell me a bit about the exegetical work he's doing on Philemon. I was fairly amazed and couldn't think of much to say in response except, "Wow. That's amazing." And it is.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video.

Today we recorded percussion with Paul Eckberg, and managed to knock out five songs out of eleven. It looks like we'll be booking another day with Paulie. Time to get the kids to bed. I hope to see some of you guys in Little Rock.


Guitars with Gary

Guitar with Gary

This week has been a treat.

Yesterday we worked with Gary Burnette, a well-known, well-respected, well-digging electric guitar player. You guys who are like me and read liner notes may remember him from Clear to Venus, which we figured out was recorded about seven years ago. I hadn't seen him since.

We got a lot of nice electric stuff that you'll see in a video as soon as I can get it posted. Sometime today, I promise.

Today we headed back to Mole End. There's something so nice about driving through the Tennessee hills for forty minutes to get there, and once you're there it's so secluded and peaceful I think it's easier to get things done. Part of this is probably also because there wasn't a wireless internet connection; we couldn't check email and take care of other business.

We recorded a couple of piano parts that we realized needed fixing, then we had lunch with Sam Judd, a singer songwriter I know through Mr. Card, and the great Ron Block. Just the other night Ron treated Jamie and I to an Alison Krauss and Union Station concert at the Nashville arena. I was so proud to see my friend on stage with one of the finest bands in the world, and it was quite an honor to have him in the studio with us just a few days later.

He played banjo on "Rocket" and it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The song had been worrying me a little. Something didn't quite feel right about it and I so badly wanted the banjo to pull it all together. It was so exciting when it did. After that song Ron played bouzouki (which is basically an octave mandolin) on "Hosea", once again providing the meld it needed. Ben also added a bit of Wurlitzer, and the two new layers suddenly made the song sound like John Leventhal (Shawn Colvin), which is about as good a thing as you can hope for on a record.

After that we put hurdy gurdy on "All Things New", mandola on "Rocket", and Ben played harp on "Windows in the World". (You read right: Ben played harp.) It was a good day's work, and tomorrow's going to be at least as fun: percussion with Paul Eckberg.

Check back later for some video.


P.S. Sorry about not yet responding to some of the questions in the comments. We'll get to 'em ASAP. Sorry also about the bad link with the mailing list--just sign up on my website, on the right side of the main page. By the way, we have our 20 lucky winners. Here's hoping they can carry a tune...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sing. Sing a song.

Hey, folks.

We just sent out our monthly newsletter (what? You're not on the list?
Please be on the list) announcing that we're looking for 20 folks who can carry a tune to sing in a choir for the song "The Good Confession". If you can come to Nashville for a dinner (on me) and an evening of recording, I'd love to show you my appreciation for all your support. When we realized that we wanted a choir to sing on one of the songs, we thought it would be a fun way to include you guys in the making of this album.

The first 20 people to email me at are invited to Nashville on the evening of September 4th. We'll send details to the 20.

Tomorrow's electric guitar day with Gary Burnette. Ben's getting to the studio bright and early while Gully and I head over to Eric Peters's house to help him move to his new house, which is, literally, across the street. I'm not sure if that means moving will be easier or harder. It'll be farther to walk across the street than it would've been to carry the items into the truck. But then, we won't have to unload the truck so maybe it evens out.

Either way, by midmorning we'll be nice and smelly, driving over to Gary's.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Comping Vocals

Hey, folks.

I wanted to have something up for Monday morning, and this is all I could find. We should have some fun footage this week that'll make up for hearing me sing the same two lines over and over in this clip.

We had a fun show tonight in Omaha. We got right to the heart of matters. The audience was great, and we had a chance to play through a few of the new songs during soundcheck and the show.

More later.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Lousy Day

A day full of lice?

Ben's producing a record by this duo called Connersvine and had to make a last-minute trip to Indianapolis today to help with some things. That left Gully and I in the studio with a bunch of background vocals to either record or at least flesh out so the guests will know what we want them to sing.

But there were problems. Oh, there were problems.

Yesterday we finally reached the limit of our patience with the computer/DIGI 001 slowness. The more tracks and plug-ins you're using the more demand is placed on the computer, the drive, and the audio device. At this point in the process that means that every time we press record there's a two or three second pause before it catches up. When you're starting and stopping a zillion times a minute that can tax your happiness. There are other issues too, but you get the idea. Gullahorn's older computer and older DIGI 001 have both been troopers thus far, but their time has now come.

At our first pre-production meeting I talked about rolling a new computer into the budget--one that I'll later be able to use at home for demos and web stuff (Appendix X, perhaps?), that Jamie can use while home-schooling the kids, and which will keep up better than my six-year-old G4. So we decided yesterday that it was time to upgrade the computer and borrow Osenga's DIGI 002

This made me giddy. Buying a new computer is rare for me. This morning I picked up a brand-spanking new iMac (not one of the recently unveiled new ones), swung by Osenga's house and read a book to his daughters while he disconnected his 002 downstairs, then sped to Gully's studio to unwrap the new gadget. I know all that stuff about materialism, about things not making you happy and all that, and I really believe it's true. But when you need a tool (and that's all this is) for your job (and that's partly what this is), it might as well be a finely tuned, fine-looking machine (and that's exactly what this is).

One of the best things about Mac stuff is the way they package it. When you open the box you're greeted not with styrofoam peanuts and their unearthly squeaking but with a sleek silver-grey box greeting you with a welcome message from Apple, written in the most pleasing font. You slide the machine out of its cradle and it feels like you're an archaeologist pulling treasure from Tut's sarcophagus. Knowing that the thrill will wear off in a matter of minutes only makes me enjoy it more while it lasts.

It lasted for about 16 minutes. Then we ran into all kinds of Protools compatibility problems which are too tedious to mention here. I was on hold for 34 minutes before I gave up. Gully and I spent a long time searching their support site before finding what we needed, which cost more money. Then the hardware wasn't working. And Ben, who knows way more than either of us about this stuff, was out of commission in Indy. So we finally got it working in time for a quick, late lunch. Then we pulled up "Hosanna", the song we tracked a few days ago, and realized with a sinking feeling that we tracked it too slow. Sometimes this happens, and when it does, it happens to me. It's a new song so the energy in the studio the other day was high, the guys played it great, and I was so wowed by hearing a band play the song that we misjudged the tempo. At least that's how Gully and I felt today.

We both tried playing guitar passes but they plodded along like zombies. We tried new ideas, new ways to play the song to try and raise the energy level, but all was futile. We tinkered with moving the drum parts around and it helped, until finally we tried a tempo shift. Neither of us had ever tried this before, and I'm a baffled that such a thing is possible without changing the pitch of the bass part. (These new-fangled machines!) But it is. We raised the tempo and found the energy we were looking for.

Then we realized that it was 6:00. A whole day more or less shot working on a computer that we bought in order to speed things up. That movie from a few weeks ago called "When a Captain is Away" was a pretty good picture of our day, and we closed up shop feeling frustrated.

Dumb ol' computer.


P.S. We have a show in Omaha, somewhere in middle America, on Sunday. I hope you Nebraskans can make it out--if you do, you might end up on the blog. Then on Tuesday we're recording electric guitars with Gary Burnette (who's GREAT, and who played on Clear to Venus back in 2001). Wednesday we're back at Mole End (Mr. Card's burrow) to record banjo with the great Ron Block, as well as putting to use a hurdy gurdy and maybe some of Mike's other stringed goodies. Then Thursday we're doing nothing but percussion with our pal Paul Eckberg. Next week should be a good and gratifying one, especially after today's liceyness.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tracking "Hosanna"

Well, folks. This isn't a funny one, but it's a look at another day of tracking. Thanks for the kind words about the harebrained scheme. I'm excited about it. Gully's cooking up a fine video starring Ringo and some other special guests, so stay tuned.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Volumes Two and One

Andy Hunt and Paul Eckberg are in the control room discussing where to plug in the wiry things, Andy G. is on his way with the hard drives, and Ben and I sit here at the table in the kitchen, plucking away at our computers. Matt Pierson, player of bass, is also on his way. Ringo is safely tucked away in a backpack, awaiting his reanimation among our ranks.

Now's as good a time as any to tell you about my harebrained scheme (by the way, I looked it up and it's definitely harebrained) regarding Resurrection Letters.

This April I wrote a series of devotional thoughts during Holy Week and someone on the messageboard (Tim Bourne, a.k.a. Sevenmiles) said that they'd been enjoying reading my "resurrection letters." My brain perked up at that phrase, and I immediately thought that it sounded like a good title for an album.* Knowing that I was preparing for another foray into the studio, I made a list of the potential new album songs and was pretty bummed at first that I couldn't see why an album containing those particular songs would be called Resurrection Letters. They didn't seem to have that much to do with Holy Week.

I put the title aside while the Captains and I started playing the new songs at shows, working them out in soundcheck. I started looking for the common thread in the new songs (there's almost always a common thread, however tenuous), and in doing so I realized that RL was a fitting title after all. So many of these songs spoke of rebirth, redemption, new life, the shine of goodness emerging from the rubble of our lives. The title made perfect sense and tied together most of the songs, not to mention the emerging feel of the album.

Then a funny thing happened.

I realized that there was more to say. More than one album could contain. Over the years people have suggested that I record an Easter concept album that would complement Behold the Lamb, something that could be performed during the lenten season to help prepare the heart for Easter worship. My stock response has always been that Behold the Lamb IS an Easter album, if you think about it. Christmas and Easter are celebrating the same thing. Another cycle of songs would be redundant, not to mention possibly seeming opportunistic in light of the success of the Christmas album and tour. Nothing in me wanted to record an album like that. If nothing else, I balked at the challenge of writing a piece of that scope again. Behold the Lamb took years to write, and so many wonderful things aligned to make the record what it is, I doubted it could be repeated.

But doubt is a silly excuse not to do something.

I feel compelled to create an eight song (from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday) meditation on Holy Week. The two albums will fit together, one being about Christ's passion and resurrection, the other being about what that resurrection means for me and for us two thousand years later. The problem is, I'm recording volume two first. So the tentative title of this album is Resurrection Letters, Volume Two, and the next album will be volume one. I've already started one of the songs and have ideas for a few more, and we're thinking ahead about how to musically tie this record to that one.

With the Christmas album, there already existed a canon of carols and a long tradition of Advent concerts so there was a paradigm to challenge, a clear uniqueness of approach to the old story, which was to remind people of the breadth of the historic tale God's telling. In this case, finding a new way to sing about Easter isn't the point--just singing about it is. For some reason Easter week gets overlooked. Sure, there are cantatas, but that's not what I'm talking about. There's no grand holiday break from work and school to herald the event; there's no shopping craze; there's even more potential for the wonder of the celebration to be forgotten, but not because of the Easter Bunny (he's a much less formidable foe than Santa). Maybe it's because Christmas is so G rated, while the Passion forces us to consider the grisly outcome of our sin. Christmas reads like a fairy tale; Holy Week reads like an epic tragedy, bloody and heartbreaking till you reach the last glorious page. I don't know.

What I do know is that without the resurrection of Christ, we would have nothing to celebrate. If the son of God couldn't conquer Death, then Death would have the last word and we would tumble into the darkness of grave without a whisper of hope, virgin birth or no. It thrills me to have the opportunity to add to the body of songs about Christ's resurrection, songs for the church that might provide an avenue for worship.

When my wife and I were moving into our new house, we pulled up the 17 year-old linoleum flooring and the cat-hair imbued carpet because we knew that it would force us to replace the floors as soon as possible. We didn't have any idea how we'd manage to get new floors, but walking around on plywood and carpet tacks was a great motivation to figure it out. This is me pulling up the linoleum. I've said it, and now either I'll be made a liar or I'll hunker down and find these songs in due time. At first I thought I'd try to write the songs by early next year and record them in time to release the album around Easter, but then I remembered that I have a book to edit and another one to write. It'll probably take a bit longer than that.

So there you have it. These new songs, (volume two) deal with the present. They are songs about living in light of Christ's triumph, and about our struggle to do so. Volume one will tell the beginning of the story. The new covenant. The first notes of the New Song.

This is music, so as always, things can change. But as of August 22, that's my plan.


P.S. I brought Andy G. a pacifier to the studio today, and he finally stopped whining.

*Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century, wrote extensively about the celebration of Easter, and these writings together were called The Resurrection Letters. I don't think ol' 'Nasius will mind.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Act Of Will: In Which I Rat On Andrew

This is Ben posting.

That January day in 2002 when I reported to Andrew's old house on Harbor Lights drive for my first AP rehearsal was the beginning of my proper education as a songwriter. I'd spent all my high school and college years longing for whatever quality it was that made a person write. Now here I was, suddenly thrown in a silver van with Andrew, Eric Peters, and Laura Story--three people who know how to write a song.

During that first tour, I read a few books by Annie Dillard, one of them titled "The Writing Life." This amazing manual turned out to be the perfect companion to the paradigm shift I was experiencing in the company of Andrew and his little band of merry men and women ("Footsteps To Glory," if you remember.) Until then, I had always envisioned the act of writing a song as a sort of esoteric experience, never an act of will. Now I was assigned topics to write about and given deadlines to meet. Meanwhile, I pictured Annie Dillard in the little, windowless room where she goes to work each day. I watched as my friends examined and reworked their own work with a certain detachment. There was no line too dear to be cut from a song if it didn't contribute to the whole work. Concurrently, I read that wonderful first chapter of "The Writing Life," in which I was instructed to go at my work as a builder, but with all the tools needed for demolition close at hand, just in case.

Needless to say, I continue to attend the Andrew Peterson school of writing jaw-dropping songs. And Andrew is still, in my mind, a writer's writer. Here's an example from this record.

Take "The Good Confession," for example. It's a story song that sets the ancient profession of faith (Christ is Lord) against the changing backdrop of Andrew's childhood. I think he's had the chorus for quite a while ("I believe/he is the Christ/son of the living God"). Every writer I know has bits of songs lying around, little scraps of fabric waiting for a quilt. Maybe he formulated the whole concept for the rest of the song when he wrote the chorus or maybe it came came later. Regardless, one of the first things I learned watching Andrew and the other Footsteps is that a good song either begins with a solid concept or it finds one along the way. The fact that I can sum up this song in one sentence is a good sign. Have you ever listened to a novice preacher go on and on for a good forty-five minutes and at the end you had no Earthly idea what he was talking about? It's the same deal. Write all you want, but let there be some strong connecting force that binds it together or nobody is going to follow you. To further illustrate my point, note that each verse of this particular song has its own concept: the first verse being about a boyhood conversion and the second being about an awakening to the gospel after the typical strayings of adolescence.

From the day Andrew had fleshed out the lyric of "Good Confession," I think he had the sinking feeling that there was something loose about the song, some ballast to jettison. So we worked the song over in soundchecks and in pre-production, dropping bars out of little instrumental turnarounds to make the next lyric arrive right on time, writing little melodies to make the spaces mean something. "The Good Confession" transformed from a potentially self-indulgent trip down memory lane (that sounds harsher than I mean it) into a pretty streamlined song that I think will resonate with people. And it didn't lose its heart and soul. It's not lightweight, candy pop. It just pops.

This is a typical story. I can think of five others like it on this record. I already told you the story of how "All You'll Ever Need" was delivered by cesarean in the eleventh hour. AP cut a whole verse, a good one, out of Don't Give Up On Me so that we can all get to the second chorus a little sooner. On the Slugs & Bugs record, Andrew thought Skye's lullabye just wasn't feeling right, and the remedy turned out to be CUTTING THE CHORUS.

This is how it goes. It's work and it's a thrill. And AP's durn good at it, if you hadn't noticed.