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.