I’m not sure how to announce this one. Maybe here’s this week and a half’s “song of the week.” It took a little longer because life got busy, I got exhausted, and then my ears started doing weird things again, but, without further ado, here’s “November Moon,” a re-record of a b-side from my 2005 full length 4-track record called the long silence <the home recordings>. You can hear the original recording here.
The guiding ethic behind the long silence was to keep things stripped down and rough and let the strength of the songs and performances do the talking. The production was modeled after Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 Nebraska album. The songs and conditions of recording on that record really inspired me. It was quite a unique situation, and I tried to recreate it (go here for more description of the recording process for Nebraska). The truth is no one can replicate Nebraska because of its unique circumstances (ex. it was mixed down to a fishing boombox that was thought to be non-operational after falling to the bottom of a pond, then magically came back to life after months of sitting on his front porch). However, I did follow the method as best as I could. I used only a Tascam 4-track tape recorder for tracking through a Shure 545SD (vintage SM57) microphone. Where I ventured was on the back end. I used an ART TubeMP mic preamp during the tracking, and then I dumped each individual track into n-Track (the first recording software I ever used…you can still get it here). Then, as the first step of editing, I manually synced every track of every song to the rest of the song. You see, tape never plays the same speed twice. Therefore, in order to sync between different pieces of equipment to bounce down in the way I did, you have to have one piece of equipment thats only job is to create and communicate the time code to all the other machines. This has been done by MIDI for years. Well, i didn’t have one of those machines (nor did I even know they existed, or how necessary they were, at the time), so I did what I did. I even learned how to splice in and crossfade tape hiss where necessary to bridge the gaps. All in all, it’s not as choppy as it could have been considering that this wasn’t the only ghetto-ass method I used when it came to achieving time consistency on that record. I dialed in some decent sounds, threw on copious amounts of reverb, and the record was done. I’m not sure that I achieved the ethic I set out for. I can’t say that the performances were all that strong. However, the songs are some of the best I’ve written in my life, so it wasn’t a complete failure.
“November Moon” didn’t make it onto the album. It just never seemed to fit with the rest of the songs. the long silence is a description of a complicated and troubled dating relationship. It fits thematically, but it’s told in story form (something I mentioned last week that I have difficulty with and rarely do at all, much less well) from the perspective of a rambler who leaves a girl in the blue collar town where he grew up. It’s both nostalgic and longing. It’s kind of a countrified waltz. I was working with a lot of random images in this song. The title comes from an evening in November 2002 when I looked up at the moon and thought it was saying something to me (figuratively speaking). At the time, my ex-wife and I were dating. Things were always rocky between us, and we may or may not have been broken up at that time (I can’t remember). I was trying to navigate that while also being unemployed with no car as I had just wrecked it. Not good times! I was reading John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, so that’s where that reference comes in. The blue collar, pastoral, mill town references are from that book as well as Springsteen’s record that I was falling in love with during that period. The driving motif is directly from Springsteen’s record as it’s a theme throughout his songs on there.
I talked about the ethic concerning the original recording. Let’s now talk about the approach to the re-recording. My goals with the songs on this blog are to keep it simple and not obsess while still producing something enjoyable and listenable. With that in mind, this should have been an easy project. Heck, the final track count for the re-record was seven tracks, the exact number of tracks possible if you used a 4-track tape recorder’s bouncing, or “ping-ponging,” capabilities to its fullest. However, there is another guiding ethic at play when I record simple recordings. I like to experiment with new recording techniques and new gear. I actually double mic-ed all of the vocals and the acoustic guitar using that same vintage 57 from the original recording and a ribbon mic that I own called a Cascade FATHEAD that I hadn’t gotten to work with until now. I did some interesting things with the figure eight pattern of the ribbon mic on the guitar. However, in the end, I used the ribbon mic for the lead vocal and guitar and the 57 for the background vocals. All of the ambient guitar swells were created through Logic amp and pedal plug-ins. I pretty much took my standard approach to editing and mixing. I always try to serve the vibe of the song, pick the most appropriate performances therein, and make things sound really good (without obsessing, of course :). However, after dialing things in, I went a step further on this one. One thing I used to do way back in the day was actually master with this plug-in called iZotope Vinyl. I still have it to this day in my Logic software. It’s really silly, but it actually boosts the signal and gives tracks character better than some basic mastering software I’ve used. So, I dialed in some subtle turntable noise with a ’70s 78 rpm sound and then boosted the output to bring it up to a very listenable -3dB (don’t get me started on the loudness wars of the ’90s). It’s not going to be competing with anything for radio airplay, but, then again, it’s not supposed to.
I think this recording turned out really well. It’s almost exactly what I was imagining in my mind. Barring drums and a full band, there’s a good chance that this is what the long silence <the home recordings> would sound like if I were to re-record the whole record in 2013 with this gear. The fun part was the ambience. I’ve never tried to construct that sound before. I’m not sure it’s perfect, but not bad for the first time. it gets the point across which, again, is what I’m trying to accomplish here. To me, it’s a critical part of the vibe of the song. I’ve always imagined lines like, “Somewhere on the horizon my baby starts to dream,” and, “I sit and stare at the stars tonight, and, Abby, she’s moved on,” to take place around a traveler’s campfire somewhere in the American Southwest. The driving scenes I always picture at night on a long dark highway in the headlights of a car somewhere in the middle of nowhere (kind of like the front cover of Nebraska). When I recorded the original back in 2004/5, Ron Freeman heard the nearly complete song and handed me that chorus idea that he’d had kicking around for a while. I already had a driving motif in mind, so I tweaked it a little and ran with it. I think it was a good call and I’m glad he let me use it.
Alright, then, it’s come to that time in the post where it’s time to say goodbye. I’m heading to the Toledo/Bowling Green area this weekend for Coal Fired Bicycle’s first mini-tour. Four performances in two days, and then the clocks get moved forward and we all lose an hour of sleep. After I recover I plan to quickly pull something off of the old “pretty much already finished” pile to share with you next week. It’s less work for me and will help me regroup. If I can pull it together, maybe I’ll have something else by the end of the week and be all caught up. Probably not, but it’s worth thinking about anyways. Goodnight!