Recording “Shiver”

I started the day at Food Emporium’s Coin Star. Being in financial dire straits, as I am, I finally dragged my bag of quarters, dimes, and such down there for redemption. I was hoping for enough cash to make it through Tuesday (pay day). Instead, I found myself with… $63.74.

In New York, that’ll get a guy through 48 hours, max.

I moved to New York in March, 1995, with $400 cash tucked away in an old oatmeal container. I survived on hotdogs and generic Tang. And, it should be noted, the good graces of my big brother (without whom none of this would be possible). Eight years later, I’ve aquired a taste for Happy Herbert’s Oat Bran Pretzels, Amy’s Organic Pizza, and Grey Goose martinis. I’ll make it stretch, in the name of art.

Meanwhile, in the studio tonight, Kevin was thrashed from another long day at the mean law firm. Still, we wrapped tracking (four more runs through the line “Never be the same!” and an aborted tamborine track), and began mixing. This after punishing days at our respective workplaces. We started simple on “New York” (two guitars, vocal), then moved on to “Stay” (guitar, vocal, cello), and then “Shiver.”

“Shiver” sounds huge and amazing. It opens with a simple drum loop, then guitar and vocals. The prechorus sneaks up with a tremelo-soaked guitar, and the introduction of Julia’s cello. When the bridge hits full force — three guitars, three cellos, the drum loop — it’s like the storm front finally passing overhead. Exactly as I’d hoped. And we strip everything away for the final verse, excepting a few electric artifacts that sound excellent. The final chorus is heartbreaking.

Sitting there in the studio, eyes closed, headphones on, I couldn’t help but think back to that September morning last year when I scratched out “Shiver.” I was in Nantucket, fresh from a run. It was cold, gray, and drizzling. I was thinking about my cousin who was in the midst of a divorce. I was remembering a song I wrote in college called “Black-Eyed Susan.” And I was picturing a storm rolling in over the slow rolling hills of Iowa. You see it coming, you know the Heaven’s are going to open up and wreck havoc, you know you should take cover and get safe, but you sit and watch instead. The sky grows blacker, there are flashes of approaching lightening, the rumble turns to a roar, and then it breaks. Nothing is the same afterwards. The house is gone, the fields are washed out, and you’re left there, broken.

I think we captured that.

So I climbed aboard the NR for the lonesome ride back home.

Tomorrow, Jason Gallagher will finally lay down his ‘California’ lead line. And Kevin and I will mix a few more more tracks. We have eight left. Mastering is scheduled for October 23d. He hates deadlines. I live by them. We’ll make it through.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: we may blow this record in the mix. Either way, though, you’ll have eleven new songs within eleven weeks of recording. Which is a production schedule I can live with. So clean the coins out of your couch, fluff you pillows, and get ready: the Benjamin Wagner ‘Almost Home’ Living Room Tour is coming your way AND SOON! Meanwhile, rock the fuck on.

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