Tag Archives: recording

Marshalling a Rehearsal

IMG_6228

Marshalling a Rehearsal

(See what I did there?)

The first rehearsal for new material.  I was nervous as it’s my material, stuff I’ve written, and for the most part the most personal music I’ve ever written.

I wasn’t nervous about doing arrangements and playing the material, that’s not my big concern.  The musicians I’m playing with, affectionately dubbed the “Ain’t Got No Time Band” which is shorter than “Ain’t Got No Time Rock and Blues Review” and any other number of names we’ve come up with.  They are consummate musicians and I’m quite proud to be playing with them.

We sat down to go over the first tune, a rocker called How Much More that was one of the first tunes I wrote after the passing of my wife.  How Much More is literally the angriest song I’ve ever written.  It came after losing my wife, my house, and having my salary drastically cut.  The first line of the song is, literally, “How much more can I take?”

As is typical when you get really good musicians together, the demo I recorded is simply a road map.  With the others in the band we spent four hours, first playing the verse section over and over to get a groove.  Then came the chorus, which is different the first time from the last two.  Then we weaved the opening interlude into each section between verses.

By the end, the entire ending of the song had changed – for the better.  What started as one thing became far better, the keyboard player, Rob Sabino, conducting and moving as I soloed at the end of the song.

Debate rattles around my head…the offer was put up to make this a band album, gigging to pay for it, taking our time, writing other material too.  The collaboration is so very attractive.  The other side is that this is kind of a finality to one part of my life.  Shutting the door, closing the cover on the first story.  It transitions to the next, with songs that speak of love, loss, and finding love again.  It’s almost a story in itself, nearly a concept album.  I still waffle which would be better . . .

Regardless, to get the tone I want as well I broke down and pulled the trigger on a 50 watt Marshall amplifier.  That’s the one you see up there.  I picked it up today, knowing full well it needed work.

IMG_6229

The evening was spent swapping out tubes.  Yes…the amplifier uses vacuum tubes, an old-school technology.  But I am kind of old school anyway and they just sound better.  Marshall amplifiers are a staple of rock and roll.  Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, with Cream, and even solo used them.  It is a quintessential tone and one I wanted in my musical toolbox for years.  I just didn’t want a 100 watt version that could cause my ears to bleed when only turned to 3 on the volume.

Thus the 50 watt combo, same amplifier, smaller and I don’t have to spring for a separate cabinet.

So after testing tubes and swapping out I got it working . . . one speaker is a piece of junk but it works.  The other is a high quality Celestion.  The bigger issue – the desirable high output jack seems to not work.  I consulted a great amp tech (read my brother the wunderkind and uber talented amp builder and musician) and the two jacks are actually connected.

So this week will be cleaning, repairing and working.

Decisions have to be made, repairs have to be made . . . and I have to make up my mind.  But still . . . it’s a great week.

Advertisements

A Change in the Plot…

IMG_6139 (1)

A Change in the Plot…

Every story has its twists and turns.  Our story certainly began with a major twist at the beginning with the passing of my wife.

The plot here, in my musings, writings and thoughts will take a shift as well.

A couple years ago – something I detailed at one point both here and on the parenting site Good Enough Mother – I had a long and detailed discussion with my oldest child.  In that conversation I told her a simple piece of advice, something I had been given more than once:

Do something you love.  It may not be your dream job, it may not be the job you expected, but do something you love, something you want to do, something that doesn’t feel like work.

Be passionate.

I had no idea at the time that my daughter would then turn those words around on me.

“When are you going to do that, Dad?”
“What?!”
“You have had a slew of material sitting there, songs written, demos started . . . when are you going to record that stuff?”

I, of course, was stricken dumb; totally inarticulate.  Before I could give excuses – the common ones:

“Don’t use us as an excuse, Dad.  And don’t try to say it’s too expensive.  If you are truly passionate about the music you write and play then you will find a way!”

I was a finite and definitive statement that ended with punctuation that said, without words: “there’s no argument here, you’ve lost this battle!”

So this, after two years of honing and writing and second guessing, is the next step.

IMG_5652

Since that conversation, I’ve joined up with one of the most talented group of musicians – on par with my younger brother Adam Manoucheri (see his new record Aquadog)  – and we play when we can.  We call ourselves the “Ain’t Got No Time Rock and Blues Band” because, frankly, none of us have any time.

These musicians became the core of what will become my first ever solo LP.  Rehearsal begins this week.  We hit the studio at the end of March.  This isn’t a quick process, we have to learn the songs and then I’ll book the next session.  I have nearly a dozen songs and it may turn into more.

It is simultaneously the greatest and scariest thing I have ever undertaken.  Not because I worry about the band, they are the least of my worries.  This is my material.  Much of it came after the passing of my wife and has a dark edge to it.  There’s a lot of acoustic material.  Then there’s the stuff that shows the shift in my life, the happier tones, the melancholy of a trying to find love again and the happiness and joy when it comes.

There are ballads and straight rockers and it’s all me . . . no producer, no brother to tell me I can do better, it’s me.

It’s practicing what I preached.  Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

So over the next many months, most of my posts will be chronicling the trials, tribulations, joys and successes as well as failures in trying to record my first record alone.

As Upworthy would probably put it: “A single dad told his daughter to follow her dreams. Look what happened when she told him to do the same!”

Be careful what you dream . . . you might just actually be chasing them.

Our Typical Evening is NOT a Typical Evening

Me, Recording in the House
Me, Recording in the House

Our typical evenings aren’t too different from most families.  On any given night we’re usually eating at the kitchen table, not the dining room one.  It’s too far removed from the kitchen, feels too fancy, and quite frankly it’s a carpeted room and I don’t want to clean up food off the floor at the end of the meal.  I get home each night, make our dinner, which I try to plan out at the beginning of the week, and then the kids clean up after.  Since they’ve gotten home from their grandparents’ house I’ve done a better job of continuing what they did in Nebraska and I’ve also done a better job of keeping on them so they do it.

To give you some context . . . every summer at the end of the school year, my kids go to visit their grandparents.  It’s like summer camp except they work harder and get to sleep in a bed instead of on the ground.  After their mother, my wife, Andrea, passed away in 2011, it’s become the tradition that has to happen so that I can continue to work.  Otherwise I have nobody to watch the kids.  My oldest, Abbi, is 18 now, sure, and the kids came back a lot earlier and she watches them for that very reason, but I didn’t want Abbi, at 16, to have to act like Mom to her brothers and sister.  So for 2 summers she went to her Grandparents’ house, too.

But I digress . . .

Our typical evening centers around the meal, the kids will watch a little TV – with it being summer, Abbi turns on Hulu and they watch a bunch of British comedies because there’s nothing on American TV right now they want to watch.  Sometimes we’ll have a fire outside and roast marshmallows.  More often than not I’ll make a dessert and we’ll eat it after dinner at some point.

But when inspiration strikes, I record.  It’s really that simple.  I have a ProTools setup that allows me to record in my home.  I use a “click” track that keeps beat and I have mics that I use that are specially suited for guitar/vocals and high-impact/high-volume, like a guitar amplifier.

Friday night I was in that mode.  I’ve been working on a song that is, I’ll just say it, is a bit personal.  As a result I wanted to get it right and hadn’t gotten it right in over a week’s time.  I’d re-recorded it twice.  I was on what felt like take 64 when I was recording an electric guitar line with my green Fender Stratocaster, “Dot”.  In the middle of the rhythm/lead I was recording I noticed the lights turn on, bright and a bit disconcerting, but I wasn’t going to change what I was doing.

After the take Abbi came up and said “did you know Instagram lets you do video now?!”
I did, they’re battling with Twitter’s “Vine” app and this is how.

Her inaugural video was me up there, bobbing back and forth to the rhythm and saying “recording night in our house.”

I hadn’t thought about it until tonight . . . this is normal for my kids.  Two to three years ago this would never have happened.  Oh, sure, I had the ProTools setup, but I would never have done it, not in the evening.  My wife barely tolerated my being a musician.  My kids . . . well they tolerate it because they have to, I suppose.  I’m the Dad, after all.

But for them, this is normal.  On any given night they might hear Dad belting out a vocal line and hear no music.  They might hear a cranked-up “Adamamp” amplifier with a Clapton Stratocaster plugged in and turned to “11”.  But for them it doesn’t phase them.

These are the things that have changed.  My daughter’s friends have visited our home and found it “eclectic” because of the records, turntable, guitars and amps sitting out, like decorator items, in the home.  But they all get used.
“This is just our home, our family,” is the response my kids give.  Their Dad records.  I send the demos to my brother.  I put together the songs that will likely be the next LP.  I have dreams of cutting some of this stuff as vinyl.  It may seem a pipe dream, but in today’s world, that’s not so much of a dream any more.  Beside that, my kids see me creating and enjoying and I have even had them be a part of it.  This is how our lives has turned out and I do the things that help me, the kids, all of us survive.  Guitars sitting around and an evening recording session may seem odd to some people, but for us it’s normal.  It happens a lot.

And who’s to say what’s normal?

When Creativity Falters

Recording this week
Recording this week

Not that you didn’t know it from the postings, pictures, and other miscellaneous things I’ve posted here, but I’m a musician.

As the 26th of March approaches, there’s been a heavy weight on my shoulders trying to do something different, not necessarily better, than the anniversary of the massive change in our lives.  March 26th, you see, is the day my wife – the kids’ Mom – Andrea passed away.  Last year was the 1st anniversary, and it would have been our 19th wedding anniversary.

I don’t say these things to give you pause or to gain sympathy.  I’ve come to terms with the loss.  I didn’t get over it, I’ve learned to live with it and live is the key word.  Yesterday I used the Dr. Seuss quote “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  It took me awhile, but I came to understand the meaning of that and smile a lot now, thinking back to the amazing things I’ve done in the last 20 years . . . nearly (but not quite) half my life so far.

So this year I wanted to do something different . . . this year it’s not about the loss or a tribute to who was here before.  It’s truly telling the story and sending a message.

So I picked up my guitar.  Well . . . I should say I picked up multiple guitars.  You can see the stacks of stuff there in the background.  I have a Stratocaster in my hands.  The Dobro in the background.  A Clapton Strat is behind me, and there are something like four amplifiers all wired up and in use for this one freaking session.

I know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to slap people in the face with what I was recording.  I had a song, an arrangement, all of it picked out.

Then creativity faltered.

I’ve had writer’s block . . . both as an actual, wordsmith style writer and as a musician.  In the weeks after our loss I wrote one song and couldn’t write another thing for more than a year.  By the time I’d finally come to terms with things and started recording again the clock on the next CD with my brother had run out.  He’d far surpassed me as both a writer and musician and had filled an entire CD except for the one track I was able to write.  I’m not bitter, I’m enamored with his talent and a little jealous of his abilities, if I’m being honest.

But then came this last 7 days.  I started with one arrangement of a track . . . and the key was wrong.  My vocals . . . well, my vocals sucked!  I can tell the truth.  I pulled out the guitars between chores all weekend and tried tons of stuff.  Monday came and when the arrangement still wasn’t working I ended up screwing around and recording an Elmore James song instead.  Not what I wanted, intended, or needed.  I knew I was in trouble when my daughter told me the one-take James tune was awesome and the others weren’t passing muster.

Last night I totally broke down and went full-bore, Black Crowes meet Gov’t Mule on it.  Five guitar tracks.  Dual vocals.  Harmonies.  Percussion (without drums, which is part of the problem) even mocked up a bass line.

Nope.

The kids had gone to bed, I tried unsuccessfully to mix the mess of tracks together and that’s what it was . . . a mess.  I threw my tuner across the room, watching the batteries fly out of the back, and sighed knowing I’d likely made more of a mess of things than I should…needing the tuner if I’m going to continue with the open tunings and different arrangements.

I put the batteries back in the tuner, tested to make sure it worked (it did) and wound up all the cables, shut down the amplifiers that I’d put on “standby” mode, and walked unceremoniously to the living room.

I went into the back yard, started a fire – though it was now almost 10pm, and grabbed a book and my Dobro.  I wanted to play the Dobro and reverted to the book, reading the latest from James Rollins and hoping it might clear my head.

I got through about a chapter and in frustration picked up my Dobro.  I mindlessly started noodling around, or at least I thought I had.  Suddenly I realized I’d inadvertently found what I was looking for.

One guitar.  That was it.  A dobro, a slide, tuned to a “G” chord without thinking, I’d found the right key, the right arrangement, and the percussive tone of my fingers on the wood of the guitar all piqued my interest.

I walked into the office and launched the Pro Tools software and hooked up a single microphone.

A shot of me with my dobro
A shot of me with my dobro

And I recorded it.

It’s the song I wanted.  The slap in the face I was looking for . . . just didn’t think was the one getting slapped in the face.
In my head was my horribly creative brother’s voice saying “if you’re putting something down, think about if it’s driving the song, or if you’re just doing it because you can.”

My creativity had faltered and I tried to compensate by over-producing it.

Abbi came home from play rehearsal to find me, content, at the fire and reading.  I still have to polish the track . . . but I learned a lesson in the middle of it all.

I didn’t really need to try that hard.  That applies to so many things in life, doesn’t it?