Used to be, I thought that rock bands solely made records like The Rolling Stones, Warren Zevon or Guns ‘N Roses: late at night, loaded with gin, and stuffed with amphetamines. And maybe some still do.
What’s more, I held some sort of anxious romance for the studio, like the magic there is intangible, elusive and fleeting. And sometimes it is.
These days, though, I approach recording with workman-like rigor. It’s a task, one made real by rehearsal, repetition, and the right teammates. At least, that’s how I approached it Saturday morning.
That’s right, “morning.” In an effort to kill numerous birds with a minimum of stones (actually, no animals were injured on this project), Chris, Tony, Jamie and I booked at Travis Harrison’s Serious Business Studio from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The task at hand was our cover of The Nadas “Feel Like Home,” my contribution to the band’s forthcoming tribute album. My secret agenda (don’t tell Abbi), though, was to begin bagging basic tracks to a few songs for my next album, a loosely-affiliated collection of songs I’ve started thinking of as “Random Notes.”
Jamie was already a few bites into his ham, egg and cheese when I arrived Travis’ Spring Street studio. Chris and Tony were running late. So the three of us fell into a conversation I have frequently these days, the one I’m thinking of calling “The Revolutionary Road Conundrum” (so named for the novel and film of the same name in which a young couple’s self-assured exterior masks a creeping frustration at their inability to feel fulfilled). It’s a conversation I tend to start with Jason Walsmith and Chris Abad in particular (of course, Abbi gets it all the time) debating (as I’ve done here for pushing ten years) the relative merits of an independent, entrepreneurial life spent chasing ones passion with little promise of return versus the safe, corporate executive route (or, as I often describe it “Becoming one of those soulless dudes riding Metro North every morning).
All of which is potentially relevant to a song (“Feel Like Home”) whose lyrics ask (rhetorically, I presume), “What is a skyline / Chilled to the bone alone and dirty?” I haven’t asked Mike Butterworth about it, but I imagine inspiration for the lyrics hay have come in some small part from the few night he’s spent in New York. I know he doesn’t love it here. And I don’t blame him. It’s an often hostile, always challenging place to call home. It’s a place people come to be Masters Of The Universe, whatever universe that may be. Of course, it’s a hollow pursuit (now more than ever), one that leaves many successful in business, perhaps, but bankrupt in life. That’s always been the “home” to me in “Feels Like Home,” the home you feel wherever you are when you’re with someone you love.
All of which occupied my thoughts still as I stood in the vocal booth hour later singing the song over, and over and over again. Artists often like to boast about capturing the magic on their first take. Heck, I’ve probably done it myself. But “Feels Like Home” isn’t out song. It comes with responsibility, one I felt weighing heavily on me as the band explored a final arrangement in the main room. I trust the guys implicitly. They always push my more-traditionally arranged songs into new, interesting places. Still, when their explorations traipsed too far into esoterica, I had to gently speak up.
I know Jason, Mike and Jon pretty well. They love a good, simple, richly-layered pop song as well as well as I do. It’s the primary reason I’m on Authentic. “Feel Like Home” is emblematic of that. It’s a classic verse/chorus/verse structure but with a simple twist: the chorus repeats unevenly in its second and third incarnation. And it’s loaded with ear candy: and tasty, little guitar licks; keyboard bleeps, and seemlesly layered vocals.
Somewhere around 1:45, we nailed our take. It’s classic Chris, Tony, and Jamie: arpeggiated, slightly-dark open chords and picked bass notes with toms in the verses and a driving snare in the choruses. Chris overdubbed the song’s signature hook, and we were done.
In the coming days, I’ll lay in acoustic guitars, tambourine, and as many vocals as I can stomach.
Our workmen-like approach notwithstanding, “Random Notes” didn’t make a ton of additional progress. We bagged a clean take of “Waited Up” before packing up and heading out. The sun was still shining as we walked further downtown for our Rockwood Music Hall double bill. Magic had been captured, sure. But there wasn’t an amphetamine in sight.