This is Ben writing. Let me just get this out in the open. I have a blogging problem. I want every entry to feel like my magnum opus (a big penguin?) so I never end up posting anything. So here's my plan: I'm going to post a series of blogs this week with short subjects so's I don't get to intimscidated. Incidentally, I changed into Popeye about halfway through that last sentence.
On Assembling The Team:
Believe you me, anyone can make a great record. Here's how. You hire the very best people. It's that simple. Well, it's almost that simple. First you need great songs, I suppose. If your songs are terrible (and there are sadly a great many well-meaning but terrible songs in this world) you cannot make a great record. But once you find yourself sitting on a pile of finely woven songs (the work of a skilled craftsman), you are ready to hire the very best people and make a great record. Ah, but who are the very best people? Well, that depends on what you think a great record is. If you really like Wilco (and I really like Wilco), then the very best players might not be the very best players. You might do better with good collaborators who don't always play in time. People whose playing has more personality than perfection. And if you really like Hem's first record (and I really like Hem's first record) then your best tracking engineer might not be the obsessive audiophile with the huge snare sound at his fingertips. What kind of record do you want to make? Who can help you make it? You'd better think good and hard about this.
We hired Paul Eckberg to play drums. I don't have any experience tracking kit with Paul, and I've really only ever heard him play someone else's parts live. So I didn't much about what he creates in the studio. Neither did the Andys. Here's why we hired him. We knew he was a hard-hitter. AP and I figured out that part of what we love about the Rich Mullins records is that even though much of the instrumentation is what we'd call "organic," the drums are huge and bright and clear. You need a hard-hitter to get those kind of sounds. Secondly, we knew Paul would crack us up for three days straight. That kind of thing incredibly valuable to a record. Happy, comfortable people are more able to make music from their hearts. Thirdly, we knew that Paul would prepare himself for the sessions if given the opportunity and would work obsessively to make things great. Paul is a detail person. We hired him one time to sub a christmas show and he made immaculate charts (sheet music) and read them perfectly during the show. Didn't miss a beat. So, Paul Eckberg, ladies and gentlemen.
Matt Pierson, our bassist, was my call. I met Matt on one of my first Ed Cash sessions years ago and have always loved him to death. AP didn't know him from Adam, but now he loves him about as much as I do. Once again, I hired him for who he is as much as for his playing. He's the kind of guy who remembers your name and says things like "you're a dear!" Actually, I'm pretty proud of an idea I had concerning him. I called him the day before tracking just to brag about AP's songwriting. I wanted to get him excited about what he was walking into. I knew however high his expectations were, AP's songs would deliver and Matt would respond with all kinds of encouragement. I was priming the pump I guess. And it worked. Matt made AP feel like a million bucks the whole time, bragging on his songwriting. And of course, Matt in turn worked a little voodoo of his own.
Andy Hunt, our engineer, worked on Derek Webb's last record, the Ringing Bell. I've also done a bit of keyboard stuff for some of his productions over the past year. The Ringing Bell wasn't the right engineering reference for this record since the sounds are super old-school and nothing like what we're going for, but I figured he could ace the modern sounding drums, especially since I know Chris Lord Alge (the hi-fi mixing champion of our age) is his hero and because he gave me a Fall Out Boy cd as a gift. He's a funny guy as well. And he did great.
I was hired mostly for my good looks and charm, as was Gullahorn.
I wont pretend the moral of the story is especially earth-shattering. In fact, I can't figure out how to sum it up without sounding cliche. So I'll just say it. When we were putting this team together, we cared deeply about the skill of the players, but we were just as concerned with insuring that the dynamic in the studio would be friendly. Go now and do likewise.