Category: Recording

Messin With The Music Part 17 – ‘Song 2’

‘Song 2’ was originally released in 1997 on Blur’s fifth album, titled ‘Blur’. There’s lots of interesting stories that go along with the song. At first it was just a slower acoustic piece Damon Albarn was messing around with and the now famous ‘woo-hoo’ was whistled. Their guitarist Graham Coxon suggested speeding it up and crushing the volume really loud. They then asked their record company to release it as a single, more or less just to mess with the record company executives as the song was pretty much a total departure from all the songs they had been successful with previously. The band was surprised by the fact that the record company released it and the amount of success the song had. I think one reason it was successful was by that time many people had become accustomed to the ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’ style. Numerous bands like Pixies had used this style before and Nirvana took it to a whole new level of public recognition. The name ‘Song 2’ was just a place holder name as it was the second track on the album. The band decided it would be fun to just keep that as the title.

We decided to cover this because, first, we’ve always loved the song (pretty much a requirement if we’re going to mess with it). Second, it presented a challenge to record it acoustically. How do you do the loud part to make it different than the verses? Blur crushes the chorus guitar part, but even more so the bass part, with huge mounds of distortion. This gives the original song a massive change in volume and dynamics. And another challenge is the chords in the verses and choruses are pretty much the same, so the dynamic change has to done using different instruments. For the verses we went with mandolins – the left and right channels are separate mandolin parts. The chords are the same, but the fingering is a bit different. There’s also a single string played on twelve string guitar in the verse. The mandolin parts go throughout the entire song, but when the chorus starts we added chords on twelve string guitar, six string guitar and a bass part (no distortion of course). Throughout the song percussion is simply a Indian hand drum for the bass and a wood block for the snare. We multi tracked all the vocals and put a lot of reverb and delay on them – the vocals on the original song are pretty straight forward.

Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs covering Blur’s ‘Song 2’:

August 2021 Grapevine

It’s time for some summer listening. I like to listen to a lot of music while I’m driving, especially new albums I’ve bought (I still love albums on CD). And even in the summer when I’m listening I like to go ‘windows up’ – wind noise takes away from me hearing everything I want to, especially if it’s something I’m hearing for the first time. Yeah, it’s a bit odd but I’ve never felt the need to worry about my odd behavior. So the theme for this month’s music can be headed under the idea of ‘critical listening’. The idea for this month’s selections and discussion is try to listen to all the different parts of the song. Usually if you’re listening to a song you take in the overall sound. Most people will pick up on the main parts of a song – the vocal, a lead instrument break. Maybe it has a great drum beat. But often it’s the little pieces that you don’t consciously listen to that make a song stick with you. That’s why the arrangement and the mix are so important. And it’s why the arrangement writing and the recording process are such an art. The best sounding songs treat all their parts as equally important as the main parts. You can listen to some songs and hear that the little things were considered ‘throw away’. Those songs may hit you because of a great vocal, but I don’t think they’ll stay with you as long. At least they don’t for me. So here we go……..

First Up: John Hiatt With The Jerry Douglas Band – ‘Long Black Electric Cadillac’

Here’s a great way to start. John Hiatt has been around for a while. His songs have been recorded by countless musicians and he’s known as one of the best song writers around. He teams on this song with Jerry Douglas, another musician in great demand, best known for his dobro resonator and lap steel playing. First, let your ears cruise through the overall song. Great vocal sitting on top and the lyrics are a lot of fun. The song is arranged to highlight the vocal. Now let’s pick apart the rest of the song. Hone in on the double bass. You can hear it keep a steady bottom end, sitting on the bass roots of each chord. This sound stays in the center of the mix. – (I should probably add here that you might miss a lot of this if you’re just listening on your phone or tablet without headphones. Things get lost – especially bass tones). Hiatt is keeping the main strum going on six string acoustic. There’s an electric guitar and violin that hold down regular rhythm parts and come in occasionally with sweet little lead riffs. In the recording arrangement these are panned pretty hard to the left and right side of the mix. Jerry Douglas’s amazing slide work on the resonator often acts as a call and response to the vocal, so it tends to sit relatively in the center of the mix. With everyone doing their part, the rhythm of the entire song just chugs along. And that’s the important and difficult part in putting an arrangement together – everyone has to do their part. All the players have to keep the rhythm going. Even the vocal has a rhythm to it. Catch the nice little break at the 2:12 mark. If the musicians do it right, what do you have? Awesome.

Next Up: Mdou Moctor – ‘Ya Habibti’

I’ve included a Mdou Moctor tune in a Grapevine before. I just bought this album and got to listen to it front to back on a drive. Tuareg guitar music, sometimes called desert blues, presents a whole different type of rhythm. If you haven’t heard it before, the feel is bit more exotic than most music you’ll hear on American radio. Even though Moctor is known for his amazing guitar work, the musical arrangement is more drum based. The instrumental lineup would be familiar – kit drums, bass, rhythm guitar and lead guitar. The rhythms and scales played give the music it’s different feel. The drums and rhythm guitar stay on a pattern that drives the song along. The bass is not as prominent, but listen closely and you can pick it out. The bass and the guitar sounds usually keep to higher end frequencies, so you don’t have as deep a bottom end. Another sound that drives this song is traditional rhythm instruments as well as handclaps that are added in. You can hear them panned to left and right along with multiple layers of vocals that give the recording width and fills in the stereo sound. Take some time and listen carefully. See if you pick out the string sound on the rhythm guitar and some of the tom fills on the kit drums (hear some nice tom fills at the 3:07 mark). On this song Moctor keeps his guitar playing to quick, repeating passes. If you look online you can find some live performances where the guitar work absolutely shreds. I’d love to have this album on a long drive on an empty two lane road out in the desert.

Finally: Black Midi – ‘Dethroned’

We’re moving on to something with a very different feel. How would you describe the music of ‘Dethroned’ by Black Midi? I’m not sure there’s a perfect description and my take on descriptions is ‘why bother’. In the beginning of the song the drums have a very prominent presence in the mix. They set the tone for what is to come. The beat is not really straight forward, but if you listen you can hear how they work around a count. A guitar comes in when the vocals do and that guitar in the beginning keeps a very straight count. It’s placed slightly to one side of the mix. Vocals have a big presence, but they mute that slightly by drowning them in reverb. By the minute and a half mark the bass is in adding a deep background and the guitar sound is starting to expand. Listen to the repeating riff the bass is playing. It’s probably the most straight forward line in the first half of the song and really keeps the guitar and drums grounded. At the 2:30 mark the drums and guitar turn to more simplistic lines. By three minutes a second guitar line is added and the guitars spread out in the stereo mix to left and right side. By the 4:00 minute mark things get a bit chaotic. The guitars have now taken over prominence in the mix with the drums dropping back a bit. The song rolls to the end in this fashion. I put this song in because it’s a great example of how a band can chart out a song arrangement from beginning to end and how the prominence and stereo placement of each instrument in the mix determines the song’s journey. If they had kept one sound and placement of instruments throughout the song it would not be nearly as interesting and engaging.

Retro: Alice Cooper Band – ‘School’s Out’

There can be a lot of reasons a song remains memorable. In rock songs one reason can be an unforgettable guitar riff. (That’s one reason I still love listening to Led Zeppelin – riff rock at it’s finest.) The guitar riff in ‘School’s Out’ has to be one of the most memorable of all time. Just play the first 20 seconds of this song and most people will immediately name the song, before a single vocal line. But like a lot of music from that era the other part of the recording that pulls me in is the clarity and placement of each instrument. Listen to the prominence of the bass line in this recording. It’s really another great riff that weaves around and enhances the guitar line. The main guitar is placed in right side stereo and the rhythm guitar, playing lower fuzz tone chords is on the left side. The drums are really crisp. And the vocal sits on top, nice and clear so you can take in the lyrics. In the lead guitar part of the song, they put a guitar playing the original riff in the right side stereo and the rhythm guitar in the left channel while the lead takes a vocal space in the middle of the track. It’s a fine line keeping the instruments in a higher crisp frequency without pushing them too far up where the sound just becomes annoying. Recorded and mixed correctly, this song becomes a classic. Without the correct mix and arrangement the song could end up in the bargain bin. Another point to remember is that in 1972 when this came out, most people heard songs for the first time on the radio. The frequencies and clarity were really important to cut through on radio. Sit back and enjoy this classic summer song.

Messin’ With The Music Part 16 – ‘Hash Pipe’

‘Hash Pipe’ was released in 2001 on Weezer’s third album titled ‘Weezer’ but usually referred to as ‘The Green Album’ (since they’ve used ‘Weezer’ as the title of several albums). I’ve always liked the straight forward, hit you on the head with a hammer nature of the main riff. When it came out I was also fascinated that it was a radio single considering the title and the nature of the lyrics. It’s interesting that when I went to the the official video to relearn the song the video now says ‘revised’ and they’ve totally cut out the lyric line in the song with the words ‘hash pipe’. Not bleeped out words – the musical line is totally removed! Ummmm- OK.

Part of the reason we do the cover songs is to work on the recording process and song arrangement so we can apply what we learn to our own songs. Song arrangement is a process people don’t usually consciously think about when they listen to music, but it’s a very important part of making any song have a distinct sound and feel. For instance in ‘Hash Pipe’ even though we used acoustic instruments and don’t have a drum kit to drive the beat, the acoustic version we did sounds a bit denser to me. That’s a result of using a variety of instruments playing more arpeggiated parts. So while the original may have more straight forward power drive, an acoustic version may sound softer but still a bit ‘thicker’. That’s all part of the learning process. This version has two six string acoustic guitars, a twelve string acoustic, banjo, bass, wood block, shaker and tambourine and several tracks of vocals. The lead riff is done with mandolin and a six string banjo.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Weezer’s ‘Hash Pipe’:

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Countdown’ – Live In The Studio

There’s a lot of good things about having your own studio to record in. You can work on anything you want, anytime you want. You can take your time recording your own music and not have to worry about how much money you’re spending, giving you the ability to experiment. We’ve been having a lot of fun working on cover songs and have been able to create them at our own pace. We’ve also been able to create videos of us playing our own music live. Since the band consists of the two of us, playing in the studio gives us the ability to record some tracks ahead of time then play the other parts live along with the recording for the video. The song in this video, ‘Countdown’ was recorded for our EP ‘Celebrity Prostitution’ (it’s available to buy as a digital download on CD Baby and other places – you can check it out on the Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds label website). Because the original recording was made in ChurchHouse Studio, we’re able to use parts of it for a live video rendition. The original EP version had multiple tracks of vocals and guitar. For this video we stripped all of that off and just kept the bass and drum tracks. So what you see in the video is literally what you would hear from us playing out live. There’s no overdubs or punch ins on the vocal and guitar tracks. Just turn on the video and let it rip. We did the video on a simple GoPro recorder which gives you that ‘fish eye’ wide view along the edges. We had a lot of fun recording this way.

Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs playing ‘Countdown’, live in ChurchHouse Studio:

In The Studio Ep 15 – Be Professional, Be Prepared

When you have a musician coming in to the studio to work, you want them to have the best experience they can. Your job is to make the recording process as transparent or invisible as possible for them. This allows them to totally concentrate on their playing and creativity without having to worry about the technical aspects of the recording process. I recently had a friend come in to start working on a new song. Time is a precious commodity so we wanted to complete as many tracks as possible in one session. He wanted to see if we could complete the guitar, bass and vocal tracks in one session. We’ve worked together before and he’s an amazing musician, so I knew he’d hold up his end and have his track ideas ready to go. My job is to have the studio prepared to move seamlessly from one track to another. Here’s some basic preparation steps that will allow you to do that in the studio.

1) Decide what equipment you’re going to use. One of my goals is to give the musician multiple sonic options whenever possible. In this case that applies mostly to the guitar sound. If the musician has a particular amp or effect pedal of their own that they want to use, I try to get it in to the studio before they get there so I can have it miced and pathed. In this case we were using all in house studio equipment and decided to use stomp box FX pedals instead of rack mounted FX units. This photo shows the overall floor pedal setup.

2) Set up the effect path. The guitar signal is split at the stereo chorus pedal (the pink pedal). One line goes to a delay pedal, a flanger and a distortion pedal to an amplifier. The other line goes to a phase shift pedal and then in to a POD direct in amp emulator. This allows for a variety of guitar sounds to be recorded in one pass, both amped and direct in. The order of the pedals does make a difference in the overall sound. You can try several configurations to get what you want.

The output from the distortion pedal goes to an amplifier set up in another room. Although this large room is great for natural reverb, in this case the amp is just close miced with an SM57.

The bass guitar goes to a ten band EQ pedal. You can see it in the upper right picture of all the floor pedals. I love this pedal for bass, whether recording or live. It allows you to really dial in a specific EQ as well as boosting the signal if necessary. Two other items will go in to the patch bay. One is the drum machine seen in the upper left of the pedal picture to use for a click track. For vocals we have a Neumann mic going in to the patch bay.

3) Set up the signal path through your patch bay. This is where you run your incoming signals in to the rack mounted units then in to your mixing boards. I have paper diagrams of all the patch bays connections – when you have a lot of connections you don’t want to make any mistakes.

For this session all the inputs except the drum machine will run in to rack mount pre-amps and compressors/noise gates. Although the mixing boards have pre-amps and compression for each channel, I like using the higher quality outboard units. For me they’re also easier to fine tune.

4) Set up the signal path through the mixing boards. Decide what channels in the mixing board each signal is going to. I’d advise coming up with a logical system that works for you. I tend to set up multiple recording tracks by instrument the same way for most sessions. This makes my life a lot easier as ‘muscle memory’ will kick in if you’re trying to move quickly to make an adjustment during a recording take.

This is also where you select where each track will go in to your recording software. On a digital mixing board you should have a page that defines where the signal will be sent to. Again, try to maintain a consistent logic as you do this setup.

You can now set up the tracks in your recording software. You’ll want to keep the same order whenever possible. I usually have tracks that go left to right on the mixing board go top to bottom in the recording software.

5) OK, here’s where the organization part really needs to kick in. I like to create a chart for everything in the recording path. With this many transitions and connections, there’s a pretty good chance you could have some type of failure in one of the pathways during the session. The last thing you want to do is have to start guessing where a problem is while you’re trying to record. I don’t want to have the musicians standing around waiting while I’m trying to make a fix. It just feels less professional to me. And it could put a stall on the musician who was on a roll. Inspiration is like lightning in a bottle. When you catch it you want to keep it.

6) Test every pathway. I go one path at a time and test all the connections from the instrument all the way in to the recording software. I work to get a good strong signal level at each stop. Make sure the effects pedals work. Get a good strong signal in the pre-amps, compressors, mixing boards and software. Get basic settings ready in the pre-amps and compressors. That way when you’re recording the changes will be tweaks rather than ‘where the hells the signal?’. This is when you can change out a cable if it’s causing a problem.

All of this does take time. And nothing is perfect. You’ll probably hit some small glitch in any session you do. But when you get to run a smooth recording session it will all be worth it. In the session I was referencing in the beginning we completed the click track, four guitar tracks, the bass and three vocal tracks in a three hour period. And the session was a lot of fun. You can’t ask for much more than that. Now – go out there and create!

Messin With The Music – Part 15 – ‘Lawyers, Guns And Money’

For Part 15 of our Messin’ With The Music’ series we decided to tackle ‘Lawyers’ Guns And Money’ by Warren Zevon. The song comes from Zevon’s 1978 album ‘Excitable Boy’. This was a huge album for Zevon and contained many of the songs people know from him – ‘Excitable Boy’, ‘Werewolves Of London’, ‘Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner’ as well as ‘Lawyers, Guns And Money’. There’s a lot of ways you can describe Zevon’s songwriting, but one part of his music that I always enjoy is the entertainment value of the lyrics. First, his vocal style makes the lyrics pretty easy to hear and understand. Many of the song lyrics are built as stories: some humor, some fun, some just out and out strange. He may be an acquired taste for some people, but you’ll absolutely recognize who it is when you hear them on the radio. Another cool thing about this album is the amazing amount of well known musicians who participated in the recording besides the ‘main band’: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Jeff Porcaro, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Waddy Wachtel, Jennifer Warnes, Danny Kortchmar to name a few. Some of those names might not be as familiar, but if you look them up you’ll see how many well known songs and albums they’ve played on. Zevon was definitely a well respected musician among his peers.

For our version the main instrument holding down the song is a twelve string guitar. We recorded it twice and panned the tracks hard left and right. For these acoustic versions this is a common way we start the songs as it builds a good stereo field and makes the song sound full. If you had drums and electric guitars, they would usually handle that part of the recording. There is a six string guitar and a six string banjo. Besides the chords during the vocals, they play riffs in between the vocal parts, sort of mirroring the guitar that plays on the original song after the second verse. We also added mandolin and bass parts. There are duo vocals on this song – we actually sang both live in the same room at the same time. That was a lot of fun. We’d usually add some percussion, but with the banjo and guitar playing riffs, it seemed pretty full and more percussion wasn’t necessary.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Warren Zevon’s ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’:

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – Live In The Studio – ‘The Wish’

We have another Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs ‘Live In The Studio’ performance for you. This time we recorded a live version of our song ‘The Wish’. This song was originally created with our previous band Conduit for the CD ‘Superior Olive’. You can find out more about the band and the CD version by visiting the website for our record label Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds. The version in this video is performed with just vocals and acoustic guitar. That’s how we write most of our songs, so this gives you an idea of how we start out with a tune before we add all the other parts for the full studio version. This version is recorded with just two room microphones. We want our blog reading friends to have the feeling of sitting with us in the room as we play, so the video is live start to finish from turning on the camera to the end, comments, silly faces and all.

And….the story of the t-shirt. For anyone who’s not from the northeast US, ‘Live Free Or Die’ is the state motto of New Hampshire – it’s also on their license plates. New Hampshire is an awesomely beautiful state, so I wanted to give a ‘shout out’ in the video like when I wear national park t-shirts (please support and cherish your national parks). I always thought it was such a cool motto to have on a license plate. If you want great hiking, head to the White Mountain National Forest. Some wonderful, rock strewn trails to challenge you. I’ve included a photo from the last trip my wife and I took below .

Anyway, here’s the video – Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs performing ‘The Wish’ live in ChurchHouse Studio.

Messin With The Music – Part 14 – Instant Karma!

We’re back with another tune from our Messin’ With The Music series. Instant Karma! (the exclamation point is officially part of the title) was released by John Lennon in 1970. This song came out at the same time The Beatles were working on Let It Be. One interesting fact about the song is that it was written, recorded and released within a period of ten days. That’s an incredibly quick turnaround, especially for an artist at that level of success. It’s always been my favorite Lennon solo single. The idea that karma, ‘you reap what you sow’, could happen instantaneously rather play out over the remaining course of your life is a very appealing idea. The power in Lennon’s vocal always felt like a big middle finger to every self centered person who screwed other people over. Karma, of course, works in both directions. I also find the idea that people who do good will receive good in return appealing. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing instant karma doled out for much of what happened in 2020 (and continues to happen in 2021).

We kept with our usual Messin’ recording protocol using single mic straight through tracking. We did put in a pretty full roster of tracks for this song. The original was Phil Spector produced and used multiple piano takes for it’s basic feel. Spector was famous for his ‘wall of sound’ methodology and it shows in this recording. The original was also swimming in reverb to make it sound even bigger. For our base tracks we used finger picked acoustic guitars and recorded two separate tracks, panned hard left and right. There are two separate mandolin tracks, one using mostly chords and the other generally picking single notes. A third mandolin part plays a little riff in the instrumental break. We added a bass guitar track and a sparse single note oriented banjo track. Percussion tracks include tambourine, shaker, washboard and wood block. There’s a main vocal track with a harmony vocal floating underneath in the verses. We wanted a bigger sound in the chorus in keeping with the feel of the original so we have a main vocal and four other vocal tracks that are panned in hard stereo to give that bigger feel.

I really enjoyed finally being able to do a cover of this song. We hope you enjoy it too.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma!’:

New Track And Video By Steaming Mulch – ‘Whisper Beneath Me After Proto Essential’

Last time we released a new song by Steaming Mulch they said they were going to come back in to the studio soon. It usually takes them a while to get together and bring a new idea in for recording, so I was very pleasantly surprised when they said they had a new tune ready. The entire song was finished pretty quickly. The band usually has a basic song idea and comes up with the parts and riffs as they work on it. The new song already had the basic structure and instruments decided before we started recording. This made the recording process a bit different than usual, but just as much fun. After we finished recording they said they wanted to have a video for the song. Another great surprise as we usually use a static photo for their videos. As with their static photos they said we could do whatever we want. Ah, carte blanche to create! So we put together some footage for the song. They, of course, came up with the song title – pretty much keeps with the style of title they usually come up with. Hope you all enjoy listening to the song and watching the video as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Here’s Steaming Mulch and their new single ‘Whisper Beneath Me After Proto Essential’:

Messin With The Music Part 13 – Mule Skinner Blues

We’re finally back with another episode of Messin’ With The Music. It’s been quite a while since we were able to get together to start working on tunes again due to the pandemic. It feels great to be recording again and Mule Skinner Blues was a song we’ve been looking forward to finishing. The song has a long history. It was written and first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers in 1930. His version was a pretty straight forward blues tune. He originally titled it ‘Blue Yodel #8’ but it became commonly known as Mule Skinner Blues (or some variation of that) as time went by. Many artists have covered this classic song. The next well known version was by Bill Monroe in 1940. He picked up the tempo a bit and turned it in to a classic bluegrass style tune. The version we used as a template is Dolly Parton’s amazing 1970 version. We pretty much followed her lyrical take and song structure.

Instrumentally we have two different acoustic guitar parts, one hand played and the other picked. To add some flavor we added an electric guitar with some effects and a bass part that has a few effects too. There is a mandolin backing these parts and a banjo riffing throughout the song. There’s also a snare drum and floor tom holding down a beat in the deep background. All of the instruments are a platform for the vocals which are really the heart of the song. As always with Messin songs we recorded ‘straight through’ tracks for a live, loose feel using the same mic and sound path for all the instruments. We want to get the feel of everyone standing around a single mic playing the song.

Here’s Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs playing ‘Mule Skinner Blues’: