Listen Through the Static II

In fifteen years of making records, I don’t think I’ve ever really had a plan.

I’ve made more than a dozen records with a handful of great producers, but I don’t think we ever possessed a clear vision of the process or the outcome when we started recording. Sometimes it works (“Love & Other Indoor Games,” “Almost Home,” “Crash Site”). Sometimes, it makes for a bit of a fiasco (“The Jackie Chan EP,” “Out of Your Head”). My forthcoming LP, “Heartland,” has been no exception. All I really knew was that I was flying to Des Moines to work with The Nadas. That’s about it.

When you’re operating on budgets my size — zero dollars — it’s difficult to put a record together the old fashioned way. Legendary Studios like The Hit Factory (New York) and Ocean Way (L.A.) can cost upwards of $2k a day. Not surprisingly, they’ve both closed their doors in recent years, primarily because everyone — from Metallica to Moby — is using digital technology (aka ProTools and a Mac) to make their albums. Sure, a little something is lost. Every musician loves the warmth of tape. But I got five bucks that says most of us couldn’t pick tape vs. digital out of a lineup. So what the heck? A couple hundred bucks and a laptop, and you’re good to go.

A few days before I landed in Des Moines, Jon said, “Why don’t we work with some of your home recordings?” It was kind of a shock to me. I wasn’t sure they sounded good enough. But Jason and Mike backed him up. ‘Heck, they know what they’re doing,’ I though, ‘Why not?’

Well, there’s at least one why not. All of my home recordings are made available to you as soon as their even partly done in the form of The Morning Mix. Bad business? Probably. But I get excited when I write a new song. I’m always surprised when another one pops out. Especially one I like. So business be damned; it’s good creativity. And nowadays, I’m all about that (clearly).

So the challenge has been to create something new for you: something richer, deeper, sweeter. The challenge has been to (corporate speak here) give the songs added value. Not just for me, or for you, but for the songs. Some songs want to be just a vocal and a guitar. Other’s say to me, “I want Mike Butterworth wailing in the background.” And so we’ve used some of The Morning Mix recordings as building blocks, plus recorded a bunch of new ones. Justin’s already dropped in drums. I re-tracked some vocals and guitars. And Jon, Mike, and Jason are working on guitars, bass, and vocals as we speak (er, type).

The most recent — and exciting — development is that Kevin Anthony has agreed to come onboard to mix. Kevin is, of course, my beloved Smith Family bandmate and the producer of “Almost Home” and “Love & Other Indoor Games.” He’ll be mixing it in his home studio in Minneapolis. This allows Jon to focus on recording all of his tracks, before wrapping up the Josh Davis Band record he was working on before mine, before going on tour in support of The Nadas forthcoming CD (due September 20th on Authentic Records).

What’s extra cool about the technology is that I’ve set up a file transfer drop box for Jon, Kevin and I to deposit recordings as they progress. Today, for example, Jon’s recording Josh’s guest vocals on “Do It Again.” Then he’ll drop it onto a server, where I’ll retrieve it, record new vocals, and drop it on Kevin to mix.

As a result of all this, I’m able to get all of my favorite musicians involved: Casey Shea is gonna’ play some harmonica, Chris Abad is going to record some guitars, and Amy Hills and gonna’ sing some. Plus, out in Iowa, I’ve got all of The Nadas on board, plus Josh Davis. Even Jason’s wife Stephanie laid down some tracks. And it’ll all come together with Kevin’s even hand and unbiased ear.

It’s really kind of amazing, if you think about it. And at least one piece of evidence in support of the notion that no plan is the best plan.

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