So here it is, ladies and germs.
I'm going to try my very best to update daily the progress of the making of the new record. I have a title in mind that I'll reveal once I have a chance to talk with the Captains about it, but in the meantime I'll call it Doug.
Doug has been on my mind for about a year. I decided early this year that Summer 2007 was high time to make a new record since The Far Country was released way back in 2005. In the meantime I released Appendix A independently and Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies with Randall Goodgame, and while those projects were fun for me (especially Slugs), I was ready to enter the cave and find another collection of stories and songs that I'd consider a Real Album.
In my composition notebook I'd been scribbling notes and song titles and journal entries, my usual process of excavation, and was a little worried that I might not have the songs in time. This worry was gnawing at me even two weeks ago. But this past weekend I played a show with my buddy Randall Goodgame, and on the long drive home I got out a guitar and played him all the new songs. He was his usual encouraging self, and for the first time I felt really excited, like maybe I had the album after all.
The next day, last Monday, I drove to Ben Shive's house to begin preproduction.
John from my messageboard asked about what goes into this part of the process. I'll just tell you in a nutshell what Ben and I did that day. I broke out the list of songs, Ben got out his Mac, and I played through each of the potential songs on my guitar.
We would talk about what kind of instrumentation we heard on the song, like whether or not it would have a full drum kit or just percussion. We would reference songs by other artists (in the case I'm thinking of, we played some Police, Springsteen, and Patty Griffin) to make it easier to convey what each of us heard a song feeling like. (In the studio it's common to describe things as "springsteeny" or "beatlesy" or "jamestaylory".)
We'd decide whether or not a certain song should modulate to a different key, we'd decide whether or not the key I wrote the song in was the best key for my voice. Ben would tap out a tempo with a little widget on his computer and I'd try playing the song to the metronome to see if the tempo felt right.
We also discussed arrangements. Ben, Andy and I have been performing several of the songs for a while now, so the arrangements are already hashed out. With other songs, though, we needed to figure everything from background vocals to how many beats to hold a transitional chord before landing on the chorus.
The next day we met at Ben's house again and further fine-tuned the arrangements by recording the songs. I sang into Ben's computer mic and record it with GarageBand, a simple Mac program. It didn't need to be a fancy recording; we just needed to be able to listen to the song objectively, plus it helped to have the pressure of performance, even if the performance was for a computer.
The rest of our time was spent figuring out logistics. We scheduled our tracking days at Paul Eckberg's studio. We tracked down a guy named Andy Hunt to engineer. We found a bass player named Matt Pearson. Andy H. and Matt are both guys that Ben's worked with, and Paul has been on the road with us several times over the last few years. He's a good friend and a great drummer.
("Tracking" refers to the recording of the bass and drums. It's the biggest and probably most expensive part of recording, and if the tracking isn't tight and solid, the rest of the record will stink accordingly.)
Finally, we met Friday morning at Andy Gullahorn's studio to rehearse for a kind of a showcase for INO Records. It's a great label, according to Sara Groves, Derek Webb, the Caedmon's Call guys, and others I've talked to who have worked with them. I've been without a label for a few years now and felt compelled to at least pitch Doug to INO to see if it's something they'd like to carry. Recording these last few albums independently hasn't been without drama, but it's been really rewarding. In many ways I prefer it to the label world. Even so, having a label in your corner can be rewarding too, as long as the fit is right and the company is good.
So he came by the office and sat on the couch while the Captains and I played through most of the songs. He took the lyrics with him to mull it over. I hope it works out, but if not, the last few years of independence have shown me that things will be fine, one way or another. God has proven himself faithful.
I'm finishing up Appendix M over the next two days and we start tracking Wednesday. I'll write more tomorrow. I apologize for the tedium of this post. I won't have so much catching up to do next time, so it'll be shorter and (hopefully) more entertaining.