Let the Imperfections Live
The process of taking the raw takes of music out of the studio and turning them into a coherent sound is one of the most important and tricky aspects of making an album. In my mind, there is a balance between striving for absolute perfection vs. allowing the idiosyncrasies of the recording to create something unique. With this album, although we did a lot of the standard editing and in depth mixing that we had to, I'm proud that we let a lot of the little perfect imperfections live.
Unexpectedly, one of the most satisfying parts of the album was the mastering process. I had always had a view of mastering as sort of sending off the mixes to some guy with good ears and getting them back a little louder and a little more even. With David Glasser at Airshow, that was far from the process. He invited us up to his studio just to listen to the tracks and give us notes. We came back a month later with updated mixes and told him what overall sound we were going for. We were fully involved in the process the entire time. To give the tracks the overall quality we were looking for, we decided to run all the mixes through the tape machine. The difference was amazing. In Glasser's words, the tape "glued everything together nicely." The Fremonts always wanted a natural, live sounding album. Up until that exact moment running the tracks through tape, I was never absolutely sure we were going to achieve that quality. But we did.
I'm incredibly proud of The Fremonts. They have come a long way as songwriters, musicians, and performers, and I'm glad I can be part of their career. I'm also incredibly happy I was able to work with Cameron Mannix as our engineer. He joined the team and put his all into this process just like the rest of us. Thank you to everyone involved in this project. The album comes out in June!
And then you let it go.
As I write this, it is about four or five days until we get a few boxes with 1,000 copies of our first full-length album. It’s been a weird few weeks since we put all the finishing touches on it up in the mountains at Airshow. I’ve gone in and out of a heavy depression. It’s been a little manic to say the very least. Some days I’ll sit down, listen to the album and go into a litany of critique: could’ve played that better, sang that stronger, written a better lyric for that line. Other days, the litany is replaced with a physical sensation: my eyes are suddenly closed, head bent down almost as if my chin will break through my breastbone and every hair down my arms bristles as what I’m hearing hits just the right tone. A self-congratulatory biological reaction as if to say, “We got it.”
It seems to me the reality is that the statement, “We got it,” couldn’t be further from the truth. As I continue to push forward with this band, with these songs (shit, if you want to get all existential about it, with life) it becomes glaringly apparent that I’ll never really “get it”. There will always be further to go. More space to explore. Yes, the album is recorded, mixed, mastered, cover art designed and sent off to the printer for replication. Yes, I am incredibly proud of this piece of work that we are about to throw up into the wind for anyone to catch. Yes, this album is a wonderful representation of the hard work and love put into it by all those involved. Is it finished though? I’m not so sure about that.
I don’t think it ever will be finished. Perhaps that’s where my deep-blue brain space of late originates. Historically I’ve always thought that at the end of the rainbow lies a pot of gold. You give blood, you get a cookie. I’m now thinking that the product may not be the point. Perhaps the greater lesson to be learned from this process has nothing to do with playing the right chord, writing the perfect line or singing in tune. Instead, it could be that the work is NEVER done… and that’s okay. It can’t be done. If the work ever gets to a point where it is “done” then maybe that’s where death awaits. I don’t mean to be morbid about it, I really don’t, but maybe that’s a positive thought. When the outlook is for growth as opposed to accomplishment, then maybe that’s where purpose lies. I really don’t know, but it’s a pretty exciting thought.
As I finish writing this, it’s about four or five days until we get a few boxes with 1,000 copies of our first full-length album. It is an awesome step in the right direction.
With any luck, this blog post will read like a low-rent version of the Song Exploder podcast.
The album is currently at the printer, which means that it is fully mixed and mastered and the artwork is complete. It's been a long road since we recorded this music over Thanksgiving with many re-records, long mixing/drinking/popcorn eating sessions with Chris and Cam and two especially lovely trips up the mountain to Airshow where the album was mastered.
I'd like to tell you the story of the most difficult track, in my opinion, Back to the Mountain. We started out with the idea of creating an extremely clean "pop country" sound. I struggled a lot in the studio with this track, but Cam (our engineer) assured me that he could make my vocal recordings work. And he did. Most of my work on this album could really be co-credited to Cam. He straightened up my piano licks, tuned my accordion and pulled my best vocal takes together to get a polished and relaxed sound.
Over the last few months, I've been obsessed with this album by the Austin band, The Deer, called Tempest & Rapture. The first and last tracks on that album contain these beautiful vocal bird sounds that remind me of the story of Back to the Mountain. Our protagonist is leaving a bustling urban setting and driving a long distance by herself to her rural home in the Rocky Mountains. I wanted the moment she turns up the mountain road to include the sounds of birds and the epic Colorado winds. Justin and I recorded a demo of the idea in our trusty apartment closet studio that really captured that essence, but as much as we tried, we never made it happen at KMG. So, Chris and Cam ended up weaving our original closet recording into the final mix. It was such a team effort and the result is really transporting.
During mixing sessions, I listened to Chris and Cam work through tracks from the back of the room, usually with a glass of wine. The writing is where I can help. The fine tuning, I leave to the experts. Watching them shine as they polished up and brought out the essence of these songs was just astounding. We're incredibly lucky to have such a great team in Boulder. I guess Justin and I will have to stick around here a while longer to make another album with these guys.
Finally at Airshow, we watched David Glasser run these tracks through an old school tape machine. To give it dust, according to Justin. It felt so satisfying to hand these long-loved tracks to a master for the final touches. And now we wait. And soon we will celebrate this album and the collaboration it took to create it.