‘Round Trip’ is another entry in our ‘From The Vault’ series. ‘From The Vault’ is where we scour our old hard drives and CDs to find songs that we wrote and recorded preliminary versions of but for various reasons never made a full studio recording. ‘Round Trip’ was recorded live at ChurchHouse studios. This song was recorded a bit differently than some of our other live takes. The song was played straight through in a live fashion. For this song we were actually recording our parts in separate rooms with each of us hearing the mix in headphones. The vocals, guitar and drums were recorded live. The bass part was overdubbed later. This song, like many of our ‘From The Vault’ songs, didn’t receive any punch ins after the recording. We’ve done that a lot when we’re in the writing process. As with our other song ideas we’re trying to capture the essence of the song, let it age for a bit, then come back and decide if we want to do a full blown studio version of it. This is another song that has been around for a while. We’ll pull these songs out and listen to them once in a while to see if we want to revise parts and work on them. Song writing is an interesting process. I’ve found that you usually have more excitement and ideas for the newest piece you’re working on. Occasionally we’ll restart older projects, but the excitement tends to be higher on ideas that are brand new because you’re often working in a different style than older tunes. Doing our ‘From The Vault’ series gives some older ideas another look. This song may eventually be taken apart and totally reworked. Only time will tell.
In this post we’re presenting another ‘Live In The Studio’ performance by Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs. The video is a live take of the song ‘Mrs Jones’ which was originally on the album ‘Superior Olive’ with our previous band Conduit. The vocal and electric guitar parts are performed live for the video. We decided to record new backing tracks to work with. Each of those tracks were recorded the same way we do tracks for the ‘Messin’ With The Music’ videos – recorded straight through in the studio using one mic in the room. Along with the tracks you see us playing in the video we added a bass guitar and two tracks of twelve string acoustic guitar. You can hear the acoustic guitars panned harder to the left and right channels. One guitar is playing chords and the other guitar is playing a single note riff. This allowed us to give the song a little different flavor than the original version. Instead of a drum kit we used a cajon for the rhythm. We have the fun of doing a song live without having a full live band.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play ‘Mrs Jones’ live:
We’ve reached the middle of 2022 and the year is just rolling by. It’s the time of year when you can take stock of the first half to see what you’ve accomplished and set your goals for the second half. The first half of this year has felt very unsettled. I’m hoping to make a bigger push to get more accomplished in the second half. As you get older you find that the idea of time moving faster as you age becomes a truth. How did half the year pass by already? When I was younger and first listened to the song ‘Time’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ I understood what they were saying but the lyrics seemed much more abstract. Now they seem prophetic in relation to my real life. In the second verse we get “You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
and then one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”. The phrase “I’ll get to it later” is typical of how we feel when we’re young. Then, in what seems like no time at all, you’re older and you can see the limited time left – “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time, plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines, hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, the time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”. Years can drag when you’re young and speed by when you’re older. By now you might be saying, “boy, you’re sure a ray of sunshine”. But my point would be what I’ve probably opined before in a lot of blog posts. Listen to new things. Create without being afraid of what other people think. Throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Enjoy the act of creation instead of worrying if anyone else will accept it. Live your life as fully as you can. So let’s listen to our selections for this month and celebrate the creative force of others.
First Up: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – ‘Big Backyard’
It’s been a somewhat dark last couple of years. So I find it very enjoyable to listen to an upbeat song with a positive message. On this song we’ll start with the message. We come from different areas and different backgrounds but rather than fence ourselves in we should open up our different lives to each other. When you’re writing lyrics and want to get a message across, you have to make sure that the vocals are placed prominently in the mix and are easy to hear. The way this song is designed the music is the canvas and the vocals are the picture painted on it. After you take the song in as a whole, go back and listen to everything that’s going on instrumentally. It’s a very full arrangement. The fiddles are often running melody lines in the background. You can hear the same going on with mandolin, guitar and banjo. Mixing a song like this is pretty tricky. The instruments have to have enough clarity and presence that you can pick them out and listen to what they are doing. But they also have to be melded together to act as that canvas for the vocals. The instruments played here are very percussive so you wouldn’t always hear drums in a song like this. So having drums in this song also required a very good ear to have them placed correctly in the mix. They’re a little more in the background then you’d hear in a lot of songs, but for this song it’s definitely the proper placement. I think if you’ve ever spent time behind a mixing console (or even if you haven’t) you can really appreciate the work that goes in to getting all the instruments in the perfect place to make this song work.
As an addition I wanted to include another song ‘She’ll Change’ from the same album ‘Crooked Tree’. This is a live version where you get to see what everyone is playing. Very well recorded with nice separation considering they’re playing together in the same room. Great vocal harmonies. And there’s some really fun fast picking though out the song. Tuttle does some incredibly fast guitar picking while still keeping the guitar chords going and doing lead vocals. She’s won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s guitar Player Of The Year Award twice and you can see why. It’s always fun to see what everyone is playing and the fact that they can do this live without studio overlays or punch ins.
Next Up: The Hanging Stars – ‘Ava’
The Hanging Stars present a great combination of styles on their song ‘Ava’. For me, that’s what makes music interesting. A little country, a little shoegaze, a little space rock with a lot of well done instrumental passages. The song starts slowly with what sounds like pedal steel guitar and slide guitar. They bring in acoustic guitar slowly strumming arpeggio chords. This intro builds over the first minute of the song. Drums enter the mix and the the slide guitar plays a melody line for the next thirty seconds. It’s a great intro that pulls you in to the song structure before the vocals even come in. The vocals are awash in reverb to maintain the spacey feel of the song. The vocals go back and forth with the slide guitar taking turns carrying the melody. There is a bass guitar in the background along with the drums. By keeping the instruments a little deeper in the background of the song, the emphasis is kept on the melodic pieces – the top guitar and vocals. For the much of the song the vocals are multi tracked to add more depth. If you listen closely you can hear some of the vocals panned out to the left and right channels. As usual, I’d always suggest listening to the songs in headphones or ear buds to get the full effect of the mix. If you listen you can hear the bass line matching the vocal line in the chorus. There are wordless vocals that act more as an instrument when we get in to the later verses. The drums play very active lines through out the song, but they are mixed in a soft rather than crisp manner so they don’t step on the vocals and melodic guitar. This is a great example of adjusting your mixing technique to fit the mood you want to present in the song. The song ends with a little more emphatic and less breezy guitar part. A great example of structuring a song composition and mix to present a beautifully cohesive idea.
Finally: Field Works – ‘Station 5’
What I find most interesting about the song is the way it is created and composed. It is a interesting combination of science and art. The EarthScope project uses a number of measuring devices to track noise, movement and other geological functions in different areas. There is a lot of useful earth based data collected that is being reviewed for a wide variety of scientific ideas about continental structure and evolution as well as fault and earthquakes processes. Many of the tests record ambient seismic noise. The data from EarthScope projects is publicly accessible. Field Works combines this earth based ambient noise with music. In this song the music is also somewhat ambient. There are electronic pulses and synth based melodic pieces. All these pieces form a bed of sound that have vocals added. The vocals are in keeping with the sonics of the rest of the song. There are no lyrics added that would distract from the feeling that is being created with the instruments and ambient earth based noise. I imagine a lot of people would use this as background for meditation or just to sit back in the dark and relax. It’s always great to see people stretching the boundaries of music and songs. The ideas could also be used to add flavor to more conventional song structures. It’s cool to sit back and listen to this and realize that part of what you’re hearing is the earth ‘talking’.
Retro: Joni Mitchell – ‘Coyote’
Joni Mitchell is an artist who’s pretty hard to pin down. A lot of people have heard her name, but I would guess that not as many of them are familiar with her music. People are familiar with the song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – although a lot of people who recognize the song probably don’t know the title (check it out and see if it’s familiar to you). She also wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. There are a few things that draw me to this song. It’s extremely interesting for how it’s written lyrically. It tells a story with great imagery. Not many lyric writers put this kind of depth in to their songs. Vocally the lyrics flow on top of the music – not a standard cadence or traditional verse chorus structure. The guitar chording is unique. Mitchell experimented with lots of different guitar tunings that give a unique sound to her playing. I became more familiar with Mitchell’s work when I started playing fretless bass and became a huge Jaco Pastorius fan. Actually, it’s more that I became a huge Jaco fan and wanted to learn how to play fretless bass. You can recognize his style through out the song, the harmonics you hear being plucked are on the bass, not the guitar parts. The song combines so many styles: jazz, pop, rock. If you take the time to take the song apart and analyze the structure, it’s a masters class in song writing. It’s the kind of song that really deserves an attentive listen. But it’s also a song I’d have playing on a southwest trip driving down a empty highway through the desert.
It’s been a while since we worked on a cover for our Messin’ With The Music series. We’ve come back with the song ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ by Pixies. It was on their 1989 album ‘Doolittle’. One style that Pixies are known for is the ‘loud versus quiet’ dynamics included in a lot of their songs. You will definitely hear that if you listen to the original version of ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’. Pixies as a band are usually included in the ‘alternative rock’ classification – to which people usually ask “alternative to what?”. We’ve discussed before the difficulty in labelling music. Is it ‘alternative rock’, ‘indie rock’, ‘college rock’? Some music does fit in to definable categories. Some bands make their music sound a certain way to fit in to a category of music they are fond of. But labelling is often limiting. When we post music on sites they often ask for the category of music you think your band fits in to. And usually you have to pick from a list. We usually take this task on with a heavy sigh. I understand the need – they want people to find the style of music they are interested in. I also understand the lists. Imagine if everyone came up with their own style name – you’d get things like ‘Mutant Tuna Hillbilly Sea Chanties’. Anyway….. As usual we made the song as acoustic as possible. The bass is still electric as I haven’t bought a stand up double bass (and probably won’t in the near future). The main riff is on acoustic guitar, doubled to put in the left and right channels. There’s bass and a banjo part. The lead guitar is covered by two different mandolins playing harmony parts. We actually ended up cutting parts down as we recorded to make a starker change in dynamics since we don’t use a drum kit or electric guitars. One thing that has always drawn me to this song is the environmental message it sends. Nature is finite and pretty easy to destroy. In the small list of things I’m very passionate about – my friends and family, music, photography – the outdoors and saving our environment is on the list. Yup, I’m a tree hugger. I’m getting to spend more time in amazingly beautiful places like our national parks. If you time things right (hike EARLY) you can be in these places by yourself or with a few like minded people (and remember the outdoor rule – leave no trace). Life doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve included some photos from our trips in the video for the song.
When I was younger seeing live music was a constant in my life. Before and during my high school years there was always a flow of bands stopping in the area. We had a venue (Ag Hall) that held around 2000 people and during that era a lot of bands that became more popular later on came through town. Bands like ZZ Top, Aerosmith and AC/DC played in halls this size across the country. You had to be a pretty big band to play somewhere like The Spectrum in Philadelphia and only the largest bands like The Rolling Stones played stadium shows. The sound in Ag Hall wasn’t great – metal walls and ceiling and a concrete floor – but tickets were cheap and there was a constant flow of bands there and at other smaller venues. Today we have a couple of mid sized venues in the area, but I think that being as close as we are to New York and Philadelphia puts us at a disadvantage as most bands will stop in those cities and not book another show to an area this close. Live music is finally making a comeback after the last two years of insanity. I’m looking forward to seeing more live music and sharing the experience on the blog. This show was at The Fillmore in Philadelphia. It’s a nice venue with some cool visual features. We would definitely go back there to see other shows.
The Dead South is a band I’ve really wanted to see live over the last couple of years. As you can tell with our ‘Messin’ With The Music’ series I’ve really gravitated to the idea of using acoustic instruments in recordings. The Dead South is a prime example of a band that uses instruments that were typically considered ‘bluegrass’ or ‘folk’ in a less traditional manner. Their instrumental line up consists of acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and cello (played more like you would use an electric bass). All four members of the band contribute vocals which really fills out the sound. In concert they add a small miced kick drum that adds a booming rhythm to some of the songs. The show was non stop energy from start to finish. The band has their own distinctive look with white shirts, black trousers and flat brimmed hats. The playing and singing is fun and ‘aggressive’, definitely veering closer to rock or punk than folk. Their stage set up mirrored the music with each player having his own mic and all four members lined up across the front of the stage. They each had their own ‘icon’ pictured in a stained glass window prop behind their mic area. A lot of country and bluegrass songs carry lyrical themes of ‘death, cheatin’, drinkin’ and hard living’. The Dead South take some of these themes to an intentionally hilarious extreme. It was fun hearing the crowd singing along to the songs. The set list was put together real well so there never was a dead spot where the show lost energy. I’ll definitely go see them again if I get the opportunity.
When I’m at a show I’ll take some pictures but I don’t do video (at least not yet). I only have my phone with me and I’d rather enjoy the show than think about getting a good video. If you want to get a feel for what a live Dead South show is like, I’ve attached a video below of a full set they did at House Of Blues. Watch a little or a lot. Enjoy.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band opened the show. I’ve seen them do a headline show before and it was awesome. They didn’t disappoint as the opening band for this show. The band is made up of Rev Peyton on guitar and vocals, his wife Breezy on washboard and Max Senteney on drums (he uses a five gallon plastic bucket for a floor tom – interesting sound). The band specializes in delta or ‘hill country’ blues. It’s a finger picking style linked to players like Charlie Patton. You play the bass line with your thumb and fingerpick the upper notes and chords. As usual the Rev was blazing on the slide guitar parts. In an opening set he used four different guitars, switching quickly between songs. The show was full throttle fun and they entertained with a ton of personality. They play about 250 shows a year and you can tell by how tight their playing and showmanship is. They got the audience fully participating on ‘Clap Your Hands’ and raised the energy level through the roof. I don’t know how you could see the Big Damn Band and not have a great time and a big smile. As a guitar player it’s always impressive to hear how full the band sounds with one melodic instrument. Seeing them live I watch his hands as he’s playing just to pick up some ideas on technique. It takes a lot of work to sound so loose and still fill up so much space. If they’re ever in your area, the band is a ‘must see’. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s some live video to give you a taste of a Big Damn Band Show.