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


Curtis said...

And then there's the supporters (fans, not the athletic kind) who buy the music and wonder where the forest went! We can't see the forest because there are no trees!

Seriously, it's great to hear about the admiration and respect you have for your musical comrades. It warms the cockles of my heart. (And what is a cockle anyway?)

I think I might be one of a rare breed, a male gusher. Now I'm going to have to wonder if my gushing goes over the line between sissy and no sissy. On second thought, I'm secure in my manhood, so I guess I'll just go on gushing when it seems appropriate. I don't know that I could stop myself anyway. And I'm getting too old to try.

Gush, gush. Oops. Over the line.

When I spent some extended time with Ben awhile back, I told him that if I were interviewing him for a job--he'd have been hired. The guy is a musical stud, smart, yet humble and nice ... he doesn't flaunt it ... doesn't have to ... it's obvious.

Andy Gullahorn cracks me up (period). I look forward to meeting him someday. I wonder if that sense of humor shows itself in real life or if it's just a stage thing. Ha! I wouldn't be without his two masterpiece of simplicity and songwriting brilliant CDs. My mother--who has some musical chops of her own--thinks Andy's harmony is among the best she has ever heard.

This made me laugh out loud computer side: 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.

How about them Packers?

eiszoe said...

I was just with my a few buddies I've made over the years at school and found that we tend to bond mostly through good-natured insults. I remembered how we all have different ways of showing affection, especially men. My dad usually just speaks about the weather and other "facts" with his brothers. While many of us call this a superficial type of communication, I really see them connecting in the only way they know how. Good to hear you gush, but I bet you give each other kudos in lots of other ways too.

Joy from the Prison said...

Re: your last paragraph on hearing the completed songs and the astounded sense of "something being greater than the sum of its parts... like Christ's kingdom on earth..." That's why I love you guys and your music. The Lord comes through and I feel Him. So gush away as you brag on the guys, 'cause somehow through your hearts the Lord uses you. Thank you thank you thank you.

MIKE P said...

Just so your not hangin' out there on your own in sissy land, I'll second that Gully has a top-notch sense of harmony and dynamics. He is one of the best guitar players out there. Not in the Ninja sense, but more in the Confucius sense. Ben is just a musical wizard.

Rebekah said...

Andy G and Ben: DUCK!!! Andy P is gonna punch y'all in the face! ;)

Curt: this woman's perspective is that it's not sissy at all to gush about our brothers and sisters who are genuinely gifted. Actually, it's kinda sexy when a guy open up like that. ;)

I have to say that the verse from Ephesians is one of my favorites. It's so true - how God is able to do so much more than we could ask or imagine. I love it when I collide with moments like that - when I just realize that God has been at work this whole time and whatever the situation is, he's done more and better than I could have dreamed of asking. Praise God!