C’Mon C’Mon, Gather Round
I won’t front; I was nervous.
Thursday was a difficult enough right from the start. Rapper Lil Wayne pleaded guilty to gun possession less than an hour after I stepped into the office. For the bulk of the afternoon, then, the news team piled on the story and began crashing a half-hour show.
All day long, though, all I could think was that fifteen musicians would descending on Williamsburgh for our all-star “A Holiday Benefit Album, Vol. III” recording, and — as the guy who put out the call (email, really) — I had to be there.
Compilation albums are a dime a dozen. It doesn’t take much for an artist to donate a b-side or left-over track for some cause. That was impetus behind bringing a dozen singer/songwriters together to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” for our original “A Holiday Benefit” collaboration.
It takes commitment to show up, hang out, and blend your voice into the chorus. It builds community. And it takes some courage to record with an audience of one’s peers. But if you’re lucky, you have a good time, and end up with something pretty special.
Still, it’s a lot to juggle. There are the technical considerations of setting up instruments and mics, then the production considerations of arrangements and parts, to say nothing of making sure everyone’s comfortable and having a good time. Oh, plus shooting photos and video; if it’s not on Facebook and You Tube, it didn’t happen, right?
I managed to slip out of the office just before six o’clock, hop the NR to the L and race down Lorimer (with a stop for a few six packs at Broadway Deli) to Galuminum Foil Studios. I was just a few minutes late. Emily Easterly, Andy Mac, and Crystal Ponzio (aka Ruby Rivers) were already on hand. Chris Cubeta’s was setting up mics. Casey Shea showed up shortly thereafter.
In no time at all, the five of us were crowded around the piano, cracking wise, sipping beers, and learning the song. Before we knew it, it was time to track individual vocals. Now, “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You” is a tough vocal; Billy Squier’s got some pipes. Everyone was uncomfortable with the high news, even the ladies. And no one was eager to track forst. I volunteered, and knocked it out in two passes with only one quickly-remedied clunker note. (My embarrassment would come later in confusing Bimni, Bahamans with Bemidji, Minnesota, though I recovered). Crystal, Emily and Andy went next, each treating a verse (individual lines will be parsed out later) with their own special style.
The rest of the gang (except Bess Rogers, who was on tour, and Bryan Dunn, who was on his honeymoon) straggled in: first Amber Rubarth (just prior to her two CMJ shows), then Paula Valstein and Chris Abad, and finally Martin Rivas.
Everyone got a crack at a solo vocal, and everyone nailed it. Casey and I shot every second on a handful of cameras — some of which you can watch below, and the rest of which will be doled out in the coming weeks and edited into a music video once we wrap the mix.
We never got everyone in the same room at the same time, but did manage to track numerous group vocals, laughing, slurring and clapping our way through (the original track as a hugely-casual party-like performance). Everyone got along, pitched in, and had fun.
The real mayhem, though, broke out well after we’d wrapped “Christmas.” Andy, Casey, Chris, Martin, Paula and I were still standing around sharing beers and laughs when I remembered my bonus track idea. I cajoled engineer Gary into opening the mics and hitting record, then walked back into the big room. Andy grabbed a banjo, I grabbed a shaker (and a camera), Martin and Chris grabbed guitars, Casey and Paula grabbed drum sticks, Gary jumped on piano and we were off, tearing through the oddest, most-raucous, hilarious, long-jam version of “Old Lang Syne” ever committed to tape.
When we finally stumbled into Brooklyn night, we were hooping, hollering and hugging, free from worry, light from joy, and short on memories of anything but laughter, song, and the things we made together.