Updated: Apr 5
So it's been about two weeks since the latest Dramedy album "And The Light Goes White" dropped. I figured it would be nice to give you some "behind the scenes" notes on the recording process for the album. I can't get super granular with all of the nuances, as doing that would require something longer than a blog (haha). This first entry will focus more on the music side of things. There were quite a few things that were done different, obviously because of the pandemic (as mentioned during my interview with All Access Music. You can read the full interview here). First, the recording had to be done separately, with each of us doing our own parts on our own time. Second, all three of us never came together to rehearse the assortment which appears on the album. Drummer Michael Collins and I came together to get the arrangements down and locked in the groove for each of the songs. Bassist Africa Swenson meanwhile was rehearsing on her own and riffing off of the rehearsal tapes. And third, the songwriting process was very "loose" compared to previous Dramedy releases. The timeline for recording went like this:
May/June 2020 was reserved for songwriting and rehearsals, recording continued from July to December 2020, and mixing happened between January & March 2021.
Four recording studios were used:
Drums recorded by Michael at Gotebo Studios.
Bass by Africa at The Stray Cat Studio.
Guitars/bass/drums/"metal" at Minor Chord studios with engineer/mixer Robert Frank.
Vocals and even more bass by me and Africa at One Man Garage Recording Facility. That's basically a summarized version of how the recording went down, but I assure you there's plenty more. I have to commend both Michael and Africa for their hard work which really shines through in their performances. Michael really nails it on "The Clock Strikes Heaven," "Waiting On You" and especially on "Circle The Road." Africa created some really amazing bass parts throughout. It was quite an adventure for us all. What follows are some track by track notes to get a deeper look at "And The Light Goes White."
VOW This song was the first time I used the "cut & paste" method. Basically I played each chord progression for a few measures, recorded them and then just "cut/paste" in whatever arrangement I wanted them to go in. If you're seasoned in this kind of thing then it would be no problem, but neither myself or Robert Frank were so it was a bit of a tricky process. We figured this method was the best for this song because all I had were the lyrics, the title, and the chord ideas. After we finalized the arrangement, Robert and I would take turns on the drums to see what kind of beat would work best. Of course, to get the right mood/feeling for the song, the drum pattern we came up with was a bit tough to play (XP). Listening to the playback of the "Vow" was... tough, and I couldn't help but think "Is this even going to work?" because it was sounding pretty damn wonky. Thankfully, after adding in the bass, "metal" noises, samples, vocals, and whatnot, the song began to take shape. Overall, I wanted the album to be less in your face and more melodic than "StrAngr(S)tiL," but I also wanted to start it out with something that was very loud and "ugly." If anything, to create a bridge to the first record. "Vow" fit the bill perfectly. This song is one of my favorite songs on the record, mainly because of the process of putting it together.
PARASITE Michael came up with the riff for the verse and pre-chorus of the song, and originally the song was played in D major. For awhile I worked with it, but something wasn't connecting for me. On a whim, I switched from D major to D minor and it was like magic, and all seemed to fit together. The strum pattern and chords for the bridge all fell into place shortly after. As far as the chorus goes, I had had this vocal melody floating around in my head for years, and now seemed the perfect time to use it. After some small modifications to the chord progression, I was able to fancy something that fit the vocal. I then quickly sampled a drum beat to make a demo and sent it to both Michael and Africa.
Between the demo and the final version there isn't really any difference in the arrangement. The galloping drums during the bridge and the vocal break between the third verse and final chorus were some of the things that came up during rehearsals. Other than that it's pretty faithful to the demo. This was also one song that I requested to play the bass on because I had something in my head that as perfect for it. Lesson for the day: sometimes switching from a major key to a minor can really make a difference.
THE CLOCK STRIKES HEAVEN My initial idea for "Clock" was a lot different than the final version. I never made a demo of it but in my head it was more along the lines of Depeche Mode a la Music For The Masses. It's also worth mentioning that the only thing I had for "Clock" was the chorus vocal melody, so everything was pretty much based around that. Being a fan of music, there's something really special about the art rock bands that came out of New York during the early 70's. Stuff like Patti Smith, Television, even stretching far back as The Velvet Underground in the 60's. You can really feel the somber and fury within the music. That's something I wanted to achieve with this song (or any of my songs for that matter) but with my own spin on it. Will the my initial idea for "Clock" ever get made? Well.....there's always a remix! But, I still love how the final turned out!
POPSICLE This is probably the oldest song on the album, having been conceived somewhere around 2011. I pretty much kept it on the back burner, but around 2013 I took it out and considered recording it. There was a really cool three-piece band in Los Angeles that I liked called Shegun that I thought would be really cool to have record it with me. Obviously that didn't happen, Shegun ceased to exist and "Popsicle" was put on the back burner to simmer once again. When the idea for this album came about, I thought now was the perfect the time to finally record it. Judging by the response I've been getting for this song, I think it turned out really great. I really like the bass playing done by Africa on this song, it really gives this indie grunge dance number a post punk/U2 feel.
Fun fact: The drums are slightly sped up. While Michael and I were rehearsing the song we were trying various bpm's to get the tempo right. The first bpm speed was too fast, so we slowed it down a bit (and that ended up being the speed that Michael recorded his drums at). It sounded fine, that was until we started to layer the guitar in the recording process... Rather than rerecord the drums, Robert and I just sped it up in post. If you listen closely to some of the snare rolls you'll hear some choppiness. Although it could have been fixed I left it in because overall I think it adds to the song giving it a frantic feel.
DAYS Days was yet another song where the initial idea was much different than the final product! Originally I wanted to do something pretty wild, like something the lines of the song "Yu Gung" by Einsturzende Neubauten. Not sure why I abandoned that idea but I think it had something to do with time (or maybe laziness. Oops...) So to keep things simple, I decided to keep it as an acoustic track, which posed a few problems, like the verse riff didn't have a lot to work with. Musically this was the last song completed because I kept pushing it back. I was really at a loss for how to structure it. To pull inspiration I listened to everything: metal, world music, industrial, soul, goth, indie, country, etc. Nothing gave that spark. I tried it fast, I tried it slow. I tried doing something clever with the vocals, the picking style, still nothing. What ultimately inspired me was the Tom Petty record "Long After Dark." After listening to it I came up with a pre-chorus riff, which prompted me to pull out an old riff I had for the chorus and the whole thing came together. (Whew!) The lesson here is if you're ever in a bind writing music, just pull out a Tom Petty record. ;)
WAITING ON YOU As you know there are two versions of "Waiting On You," the album version and the "ballroom mix" version. (I guess three if you count the "stripped" version that came out in 2019.) The "ballroom mix" came about because I had planned to release this song in Dec 2020 as kind of an "end of the year" sort of thing. But I quickly changed the date to January because it made more sense with the album coming out in March. Why not start 2021 off with something new! Because it was originally planned for Dec 2020, it ended up being the first song mixed. During the mixing process, we found that it was going in a much different direction than what was done with the "ballroom mix." If you listen to both mixes of the song, the differences are slight but noticeable. The "ballroom mix" has a much more polished feel, especially on the drums. While the album version has a more "shoegaze noise" feel during the second half. Personally, I prefer the album version, but I also think the "ballroom mix" is pretty cool and great variation of the song.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY? Yet another song that started out sounding very different! (See a pattern here?!) Believe it or not, this final version came about while I was watching the movie "Paddington" (yes, the bear movie, you caught me). Originally the song was very similar to the Tom Petty (there he is again) song "You're Gonna Get it." I really liked the way it was sounding but the arrangement made the song longer than it should be. When I was watching "Paddington," the song playing during the end credits had a shuffle. After hearing that, I tried putting that same feel to "What's Left To Say?." It ended up working really well and the song became what it is today.
LIFE BITES ME This started out as one of three pieces of music that Africa sent me. What's interesting is that if you listen to the final version and her demo version you would never know they were the same song. The notes are the same but the strumming is completely different. What's funny is that when I showed her what I had done she didn't even know it was her song! During rehearsal, Michael and I felt like there was something missing. At the time there was no "chorus" section for the song and I was running out of ideas. So, I handed Michael the guitar to see if he could come up with something (he's a guitarist too!). After a couple passes he played a few notes that ultimately ended up becoming the vocal melody for the chorus. From there, I quickly came up with the guitar chords to pair with that melody and the rest is history. What I like about this song is that there is a bit of 80's new wave flavor to it, especially in the chorus and the galloping bass line. I had to handle the bass for this song as Africa was out of town (which kind of sucks considering she wrote the initial demo! Blah!). I had also asked Zo Guthrie from The Razor Skyline to handle the keyboard parts, but to time wasn't on our side, so I became a keyboardist for the day! (I'm hoping Zo and I can collaborate on another song in the future. And who know? Maybe a remix??)
CIRCLE THE ROAD "Circle The Road" has taken on many forms throughout the years. It was initially written around 2015 (and it even may even have been performed once in one of those early forms). The first version was more a spaghetti western affair a la Ennio Morricone, and even shared the signature lick from the song "Salvation." Then there was a full on punk version, and then a more post-punk gothy version. They all sounded good in their own way but there was still something missing. So in preparation for the album, it was time to go back to the drawing board. I didn't really hit my stride until I played the chords in the style of the XTC song "Dear God." Playing it that way seemed to be a good thing, but it still didn't feel right, it felt a little rushed. But once I slowed it down a bit, it really took shape. Michael really settles the song in a good groove with the drums while Africa elevates it with the bass. "Circle" is a good song as is, but both Michael and Africa's performances really make the song shine.
Fun fact: While recording, we decided to extend the end section an extra minute or two. There was no purpose for that extension other than to give us the freedom to fade out wherever. Africa took it upon herself to write a bass piece during that section. For time purposes it had to be cut out, but it's in the vault waiting to see the light of day...
ALL OUR YESTERDAYS I wrote this song in about 30 minutes right after I listened to the Rilo Kiley song "Small Figures In A Vast Expense." The two songs sound nothing alike, but it served as inspiration. The guitar solo I played is pretty much the same one that I wrote in my head while I was writing it. Since the drums and bass are very minimal on this song, Robert Frank and I took the liberty respectably.
There's not really anything else I can say musically about this song other than I really like the way it turned out. I'm really happy that even in its elementary and straightforward form it's still pretty epic.
Stay tuned for part two, where the focus will be on the lyrical and vocal recording process!