13 June 2006

session log, volume six

song: "conquering the world"
artist: charlie heffley

instrument(s) played: chandler lap steel, goldtop les paul w/p-90 pickups

studio: philadelphia international records, 309 s. broad street

engineer: craig white

producer: simon illa

sometimes, as a session musician, you get to be present for a little piece of magic. maybe it'll be something that the world will sit up and take notice of, and maybe it'll be something that'll end up being a shared little secret that only you and a few folks will ever be privvy to. the thing is, in this business there's no way of knowing at the point that you're working on it where it'll end up on that scale. people who have been doing this for a long time will tell you that they've worked on things that they didn't give a second thought to that took off and became huge, and other things that they believed with all their heart and soul would be a hit record never even registered a blip on the radar.

you know, though, in the moment that you're hearing a song become a record, that there's something great about it. that was definitely the case with this song.

while we were working on the song, craig said, "this is gonna end up in a movie, i'm tellin' ya...this is some 'breakfast club' shit, right here." we all got a chuckle out of it, but it's true...it's that kind of song.

this is the first thing that simon contracted me to play on since we made each others' acquaintance working on skip denenbergs' "lucky man". let me say first, before i go on, what it is that makes simon and craig so much fun to work with. they're both consummate professionals, but they're also a good hang - when i started working with the two of them on skips' project, i immediately felt comfortable with both of them. they're inspiring, non-judgemental, and supportive...and they know how to get your best work out of you.

they're both also funny as hell, and that don't hurt.

anyway, simon sent me an mp3 of charlies' song a few days before we were to go in, and i was able to import the track into adobe audition on my laptop and actually record a couple of rough passes to send back to him, so that he could get an idea of what i heard for the song. (in fact, it might be worth mentioning that the roughs for this song were the first thing actually recorded in the new studio space. i took the laptop over there along with the steel and an amp because i didn't want to make the noise at home.) i knew that he had some specific ideas about melodic parts that he wanted in certain spots, and i gave him the option of putting those down on the track before he sent it, but he seemed relatively confident that we'd be able to nail those down once we got into the studio.

when i got there, craig had the track up and was cleaning up a couple of things, and simon had his guitar strapped on...he had a couple of fills that he wanted to put down before we started recording the lap steel parts. simon had a blue ibanez guitar that he was using that was immediately dubbed "the sibanez" by craig, and the name stuck. once his parts were down, craig mic'ed up my princeton reverb with an AKG 414 and we dialed in a tone that worked. simon had a specific melody line that he wanted for the intro, but that was the only specific guidance that he gave me (after a couple of passes, i actually managed to nail it - it came in on the "three" but i kept hearing it on the "one", and i had to break myself from the habit of following my instinct on this one...which should've taken less time than it did. thankfully, we got a really good pass of it after only a couple of miscues.).

we did several passes, just so they'd have a lot of "comp" ammunition. as is usually the case with me, the second pass seemed to be the best single-take track that we got. the first one was a little tentative, and the third one was rather apparently looking for different things that i hadn't done on either of the first two passes...that seems to be a common thing for me. anyway, after we wrapped that up, i brought out the electric and we did a couple of passes with that - one a "strictly rhythm" track that was for the outro only, and the other a slowly building arpeggiated picking pattern. for reasons that i'm not quite sure of, the lap steel worked its usual magic through the princeton, but when i switched to the electric, i started hearing this weird clipping sound from the amp on the lower notes. i'm thinking that maybe it's time for a re-tube. we switched to the in-house early seventies' vintage fender twin for the guitar tracks, and that seemed to cure the clipping issue...i made a couple of minor adjustments to the voodoo labs sparkle drive pedal that i had between the two of them, and we were back in business.

there was one particular line that simon played at the tag on electric that i put a harmony on top of with the lap steel - i'm anxious to hear how that plays out when the song is ready for the final mix...it was actually one of the cooler moments of the session.

after the parts were finished, craig did a rough mix for simon to take with him - he was flying out to cleveland the next morning, and one of the things on his itinerary was charlies' show that night at house of blues, and he wanted to have a rough to play for him when he met with him. i had gone through the live room and did a general cleanup (put the mic away, cords and such) so craig wouldn't have so much to do when we were done...he stood in the lobby with us for another half hour or so discussing our progress on the studio build, and we were outta there around 2am or so.

i got a call from simon the next afternoon while he was waiting for charlie to pick him up at the cleveland airport, and he was happy with what we'd managed to get done the night before. he was also marvelling at how the flight to cleveland from philadelphia takes roughly 20 minutes, but the preparation at the airport takes 4 to 5 times that amount of time.

there are a few things that remain to be done on the track, including some vocal things that i might be contributing to, so this particular track may be unfinished business at this point.


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