Month: July 2009

Chew on, Chewbacca.

"they needed to talk", by william eggleston

The above picture is of Lesa Aldridge (in the red dress) and Karen Chatham (in the blue robe). I like it. You can read a bit about it here.

Lesa and Alex Chilton were an on/off couple for a good few years, and there are some interesting stories about their troubled relationship during the time of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers album. If you don’t have that CD, you should probably stop reading this and buy it. And then you should probably buy the previous two Big Star albums, just to experience that glorious music, and to have a chance to hear on Third how commercial failure, bitterness, and self-destruction can profoundly change a songwriter in such a short period of time — and what wonderful music can come out of committing commercial suicide.

You should also probably read Robert Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis, which is like a collection of short films in book form. It not only contains some of those fascinating stories from the time of Third/Sister Lovers, but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read about music, culture, racial integration, people, and spiders. I’ll even lend it to you if you want. And then I will murder you if you either (a) don’t give it back or (b) desecrate it in any way. But I promise to speak eloquently at your funeral.

Moving on. Remember how I said I was on the fence about a few songs I recorded for this new album? Well, I’m not so on the fence anymore. After ignoring them for a while and working on other things, I decided to give them both another listen and was surprised to find they were both in better shape than I thought they were. Maybe I just needed some distance from them.

The electronic workout on bad drugs is definitely a keeper. It just needs a little more sonic wallpaper and then it’s finished.

The piano ballad is another story. It has to be one of the bitterest ballads I’ve ever written, and it had an odd time arriving at its final destination. It was first written on an old 1940s parlour guitar with a rather propulsive rhythm while watching the Grammy Awards in bed, hoping against hope that Mickey Rourke would get a taste of victory. It wasn’t written about anyone in particular, but the defeated atmosphere was very much in keeping with what I was feeling at the time thanks to the person who inspired a good chunk of IF I HAD A QUARTER.

I sat on it for a while, not sure if it was worth recording. It didn’t even get a look-in on the album I wrote it for. About halfway through the recording of this album I thought I’d take a stab at turning it into a piano song instead, more or less winging it while recording and changing some of the chords in the process.

The challenge then became taking what felt like a pretty uninteresting piano ballad and fucking it up to make it more interesting. I added some synth and vocoder, but it wasn’t doing it for me. So I left it alone.

Now I kind of like it. And I’m still not sure if it’s really album material. I think if I included it, there might be one downcast song too many. But I like the words. The vocal is a scratch track I eventually came around to liking enough not to replace with a better take. I kind of like that it’s a little uncertain and imperfect. You can hear me experiencing a moment of brain freeze after the line, “Stringent as we were that first night,” trying to remember the words without the lyrics in front of me.

The plan was to build up layer upon layer of synth, guitar, and vocals to create something sort of orchestral. I decided I was too lazy to do that. So the melody remains intact in spite of my best intentions to destroy and bury it. There was a lot more vocoder in there to begin with, but I decided it was a bit too much and cut out some parts. I also got rid of a silly vocoder-only coda.

I don’t know. You tell me if it’s CD material! My gut tells me maybe, but maybe not for this particular album. It would fit in if I got the sequencing just right, but it might come off as being filler. In any case, here it is, to give you an idea of what happens right now when I end up recording a piano ballad in spite of myself.

The Penultimate Kiss

There’s one song left to record, one that needs to be mixed, and then I think this thing is done. I’m going to try and get it all wrapped up tomorrow. I’m about as tempted as I usually am to just keep going and make it a double CD, but I mustn’t do that. After all, I just said it would be a shorter album in the last post. Must…resist…urge…to…ignore…promise to self.

UPDATE:

Okay, scratch that. After reading the comments down there and having a bit of time to get naked and personal with this song and the other one I was on the fence about, I’ve changed my mind. The vocoder-enhanced piano ballad gets to stay after all. The twitchy electronic track is now going into the recycling box instead. Once I mixed that second one, I realized it just isn’t up to par with the other songs, or at least it doesn’t feel like it is to me. It’s too bad, because it was going to be the most amusing song title on the album by far.

Oh well. What can you do? I guess you’ll have to wait a little while longer before you get to hear me sound like I’m really trying to ape Thom Yorke.

Auto-punch!

well, ain't that a punch in the face...

I just figured out how to do auto-punches, and it sort of saved my ass.

See, when you’re recording, there’s this thing you can do called a punch-in. It doesn’t involve punching anyone, though it would be kind of funny if it did. When there’s part of a performance you want to record over without having to redo the whole thing, you set a track to record only during a very specific portion of the song, you punch in, you fix whatever needs to be fixed, and then you punch out, leaving the rest of the track intact.

Instead of using punch-ins, a lot of people will comp things, especially when it comes to vocal tracks. You record several takes. Then you edit together your favourite pieces of each one to create a composite that becomes the final vocal track. What you’re left with is not a continuous performance, but many pieces of different performances stitched together. This is done all the time, by lots of people from all musical walks of life. Chances are most of the music you and I own and listen to is full of songs that feature little pieces of different vocal takes spliced together to make one smooth performance, unless it was recorded long ago, before the advent of things like digital recording and pitch correction software.

I can’t be bothered with comping anything. It’s too time-consuming, and while I understand why most people choose to do it and I can respect that way of working, it just doesn’t fit in with what I want to do. I’d rather record continuous performances, and if they don’t work out, I’d rather start from the beginning and try again. I want emotional continuity. I don’t want to sit for hours combing through takes, cutting and pasting and splitting hairs.

But sometimes there’s an ugly little flub or something I can’t live with, as much as I want things to stay human and imperfect. That’s where punch-ins come into play.

I record my vocals close enough to the mixer that any necessary punch-ins can be done pretty quick and easy. Punching in and out becomes more complicated when it comes to things like drums and piano. I have to walk a good ten feet or more from the mixer after hitting the record button to get to those instruments. So if I botch a drum fill or hit too many bad notes on the piano, it usually means having to rerecord the whole performance from the beginning.

I could probably rig something up with a foot pedal to operate as a start/stop button, but that still wouldn’t completely solve the problem. In most cases it isn’t a problem anyway. I walk over to the mixer, erase what I just did, and hope the next pass is better. If after a few tries it isn’t happening, the song is toast, and I eat it after spreading the appropriate amount of peanut butter.

Something I seem to be doing a lot lately is taking a song that doesn’t feature piano as the main instrument and improvising piano on top of it to see what happens, without bothering to figure out what I’m going to do beforehand — pretty much the same approach I’ve been taking behind the drums over the last little while. I blame having a real piano for this. I just want to throw that thing in every crevice I can.

For one song called “Molly, Go Home” (the eight-minute-long “feels like the centerpiece of the album” track I mentioned in the last post), everything was fine up until about the six minute mark. Then I hit some ugly notes. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get a better take than what I’d just done. But there was no way I could run over to the piano after hitting the record button and make it there in time to punch in from the moment of ugliness. I had about half a second of dead space to work with.

It wasn’t looking good.

Then I remembered something. The day I recorded my parts for Tara’s album at Eric’s place, for the few songs where we needed to fix a rough spot he would set up an automated punch-in. That way we could start the playback before the punch point, giving me a bit of time to prepare while still only recording over the specific segment we wanted to replace.

I figured this wasn’t something I could do, since I don’t work with any kind of recording software. But a quick manual consultation taught me otherwise. As hard as it is to believe, my obsolete digital mixer is also capable of executing the magical thing that is an auto-punch. It’s not just a pretty face. It does tricks!

I set the times I wanted recording to start and end at, specified the tracks I wanted to record on, gave myself a good twenty seconds of lead-in time, and went to town. I was able to keep the first six minutes intact and replace the ugliness after that, all while walking over to the piano instead of running like a man about to projectile vomit all over the place, trying to avert disaster.

This isn’t a feature I’ll use too often, because like I said, I prefer to capture warts-and-all continuous performances. But it’s good to know I can do this sort of thing when it’s necessary, saving myself some time and foul-mouthed ranting. So hooray for you, auto-punch. You’s my friend.

I have two songs I still need to record for this new album, two songs that need to be tweaked and mixed, and then if my sequencing ideas and the packaging side of things work out the album should be finished. I aim to get that done this week. So if all goes according to plan, you should be able to hold it in your hands and use it as a weapon sometime next week. Not that you could really do much damage with the CD, but you could at least inflict a scratch or two.

Be prepared — it’s going to be a shorter album. Looks like it’ll only have about twelve or thirteen songs on it, and the running time will only work out to about an hour. I guess that isn’t a very short album in the grand scheme of things, but by my recent standards it’s a little on the lean side. Oddly enough, I think it covers more ground (sound-wise, at least) than any of the last few albums that featured twice as many songs, and it kind of redefines and messes with the sonic landscape of my music to some extent — though not nearly with as much force as I plan on messing with it in the future.

I’m not sure it’s quite my Achtung Baby, and I haven’t suddenly turned into a proper/groundbreaking “producer” or anything crazy like that, but it’s got some moments on it that dip into new and uncharted territory for me. It’s a pretty weird summer album. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to it.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Everybody must eat snow.

the weirdest dinosaur costume ever?

Just for fun, I did an image search for “sexiest microphone ever” to see if I would find some interesting-looking mics. Google pulled up practically no recording or microphone-related images at all. It did, however, give me the above picture.

Good job, Google.

But anyway. Progress is my lady, and we’re gonna get it on. Like wombats do.

Today I finished a song that I think has kind of become the centerpiece of this whole in-progress album. It’s about eight and-a-half minutes long and sounds like the culmination of pretty much everything I was doing on the last few albums in one song, but then the ending takes it somewhere else, and it isn’t any place I’ve been before. I like it. It makes my cornrows dance. Or, you know, if I had cornrows they’d be dancing right now.

Thing is, it’s turning into a ridiculously dark album for a summer release. I’m not sure why that is, since none of the songs are about or inspired by anyone who actually exists. And there are some songs I’m not sure about right now.

One sounds like a lost Radiohead electronic workout written while high on really bad drugs, in a state of paranoid psychosis. If you don’t think that sounds like something I would normally do, imagine how surprising it was for me to realize I was doing it! I like it, but I’m not sure it’s quite album material. I guess it’ll become clear whether or not it’s going to make the cut over the next week or two as things speed toward the finish line. Another song I’m iffy about is a piano ballad that’s been savaged with huge slabs of synth and vocoder in an attempt to warp it into something less piano-ballad-ish.

I have a funny feeling one of these songs will end up redeeming itself in the days ahead while being messed with some more, and the other won’t quite make it. I should also probably try to throw in a few more uptempo songs so the album doesn’t come off as being too much of a downer. But it’s still in a state of flux, as every album is up until it’s finished, so we’ll see what happens. The way things are going, I think my hope to have it finished and release-ready within the next few weeks is looking good.

One song I know for sure won’t make the cut is a ten-minute monolithic workout that’s in unfinished form right now. I think it has potential — it’s got kind of a metronomic funk thing going on, and it’s a good vehicle for some pretty nasty electric guitar playing — but it would derail this album completely. So it’ll have to wait for something else. I’m sure it’ll see release eventually, like so many other things that spend a while in search of a home.

Also got the chance to mess around with that shiny new EQ a bit, and I’m starting to think there’s some truth to the idea of a bunch of magic elves living inside the casing. It’s a subtle thing, but it definitely does something pleasing to the sound. Even just passing acoustic guitar or piano through the unit with all the settings nulled seems to add a mysterious sheen to things. Maybe it’s some near-subliminal tube stuff happening. I normally don’t EQ electric guitars at all, but on a whim I thought I’d try boosting some high frequencies I would never go near for one part I wanted to add a little extra sparkle to in that eight-minute song. The sound was sweet without getting harsh at all. Sweeeeeeeetness.

A lot of people are ending up here lately after searching for Kate Beckinsale. I’m sure there’s a lot of confusion and disappointment when they realize there’s only a passing reference to her in one post and a single picture. Maybe I should turn this blog into something similar to Mr. Skin and capitalize on the sudden increase in traffic. We could call it Johnny’s Near-Nude Picture Symposium. Yes, my friends…we could call it that.

EQ madness.

avedis e27 eq

neve 8803

chandler germanium tone control

great river eq-2nv

a-designs hammer

Holy macaroni. They’re all so pretty. Which would you choose?

I couldn’t audition any of these EQs beforehand to make a truly informed decision, so I had to make an educated guess. Huge thanks to Dave Pearlman for letting me know I was on the right track with what I was leaning toward getting. Sometimes a little reassurance from someone who knows their stuff is all you need.

In the end I decided to pass up the most logical/obvious choice (the Great River EQ-2NV, which is designed to work with the Great River pres I have already and use on almost everything all the time because I’m still in love with them, shaddup in love with them, to paraphrase Al Green). Instead I went with the Hammer. Because hammers are fun to use when smashing things. And I’ve always been curious about A-Designs gear. The Pacifica mic preamp gets a lot of love from a lot of people — about as much love as the Great River gets. I might have ended up with one of those if I hadn’t gone so preamp-crazy in such a short period of time a few years back and already covered all the bases I felt I needed.

At this price point I figure it’s kind of like splitting hairs — though there’s obviously a pretty large difference between solid state and tube gear — and it’s all going to be pretty tasty no matter what you choose, so I thought I’d try something a little exotic. The Hammer got here today, with a free Mogami Gold cable (thanks to Vintage King).

Here is a picture of me rejoicing.

rejoicing in the hands of the limbless.

That’s right. I totally chopped my hair off and went religious on you.

The main appeal behind finally having some dedicated hardware EQ is to be able to give some “air” to the stereo ribbon microphone, and to have some musical sweetener around for those times when something could use a bit of a kick in the calves. I’m not much of a surgical EQ kind of guy, and I don’t tend to use much EQ in general, but I’ve been boosting about 7dB at 12K to get the drums to have some sheen in the higher frequencies and deal with the rolloff that’s typical of ribbon microphones. With digital EQ. In the box. Yikes. I think it’s a testament to how good the mic is in the first place that it can take that kind of boost from a low-rent digital EQ and not sound like garbage. The Hammer is supposed to do something magical at 10K, which is pretty close to 12K, so tomorrow we’ll put it to the test and see what happens.

Also, a big thank-you to Milan for letting me babysit some of his gear for a while. I threw up his AT 4047 (no, I didn’t eat it and then vomit it out) for fun, and that thing is a seriously nice microphone. It puts the much more expensive AKG 414 B ULS to shame. The shock mount that comes with the mic is pretty spiffy too. I ended up using that mic to record acoustic guitar and mandolin on a song that will probably show up on the new album.

Speaking of that thing — it’s taken a turn for something altogether different from what I originally intended. I went into it meaning to make something of an electronic album. Not a throwback to GROWING SIDEWAYS exactly, but something dominated by synth and mostly free of organic sounds. As usual, the music had other ideas. It’s still pretty synth-heavy, but there’s a ton of real piano, bass, guitar, and drums. I don’t know how I’d describe it at this point. It isn’t synth-pop, and I don’t think it’s sounding much like a sunny summer album either. I just can’t seem to write sunny pop songs no matter what I do. But I like where it’s going.

I’d say it’s about two-thirds of the way finished right now. I’m going to try and get it out there in the next few weeks. It definitely needs to see a proper release before my birthday renders me old and crusty. Here’s hoping for an early August release. I’m toying with the idea of maybe including the lyrics in booklet form for the first time ever. It’s not that these lyrics are necessarily my best work, but I think it would be fun to try that out.

Sometimes a little yogurt is all it takes.

I was on CJAM today. Not in the flesh, but on Not in My Backyard Adam was talking about how the show today was going feature two past segments repeated, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if the interview Adam did with me around the time of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN was one of the things to be aired again?” And then that very thing happened.

I think I’ve finally awakened my long-dormant psychic powers. Next up, winning the lottery. Six times.

Anyway, that was fun to hear again. Maybe someday I will master the art of getting my brain to work with me seamlessly when someone interviews me. Until then, random references to obscure former wrestlers will have to do instead.

Today I wrote and recorded a love song to an urn containing someone’s ashes. Really. I’m not sure where that sort of thing comes from. I wish I’d been recording video footage of it happening, because it was interesting how the song came together. Maybe next time I’ll think of it. I started out with a Wurlitzer idea, which I then moved over to the Micron instead of playing it on the actual Wurlitzer, just for something to do. I wasn’t sure where to go with it, and I didn’t bother to actually write a song around the idea before recording.

Improvising led to some ugly bits I chopped out after the fact. Then I added some deep organ bass, and the same thing happened. Then I wrote lyrics to go with the music. They didn’t feel like they were going anywhere, but after a slow start a bunch of lyrics suddenly just showed up without much prompting. Somewhere between recording the vocals and adding a bit more synthesizer it started to sound like a proper song. The melodica even got a featured spot, and that’s not an instrument that’s been showing up much in the stuff I’ve been working on lately.

The end result is like some sort of weird electronic ballad, though it isn’t entirely synth-based because there are real drums and some shakers in there, among other things. For something like the third time now I was somehow able to leave the lead vocal naked, just one track, instead of piling two more on top of it through the whole song. I think I’m starting to get used to letting my voice stand on its own again. Sometimes. It’s an interesting switch from what I’ve grown used to, though I think my old triple-tracking ways will win me back before long.

It should be an interesting album when it’s finished. It’s a bit of a change from what I’ve been doing over the past little while. So far every song seems to be pretty much a sonic entity unto itself, with not a whole lot of overlap (aside from my voice), though I’m sure that will change as more songs become involved. I don’t know what I’d call it. There’s a lot of synth stuff going on, but this isn’t like any of the synth-centric things I’ve done before.

Could it be my summer pop album? I shudder at the thought. There are at least a few songs so far that you could dance to, if you were so inclined. So that’s something.

We have video action.

I now have the ability to shoot video and immediately put it up here for all to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t downgrade this file to any sensible size, so it took about ten years for one minute of footage to upload.

This is just a piece of a song I still need to record, posted here for no particular reason. Things have a somewhat washed-out look because I forgot to remove the protective plastic cover from the lens before filming (d’oh!), but the sound quality is surprisingly tasty for such a small, inexpensive camera with an invisible built-in microphone.

I wish I had this thing for the FM lounge show. I was told it was being recorded for posterity, only to be met with blank stares and the old “there were never any plans to record it” bait-and-switch when I asked about it again after the fact. Of all the bait-and-switches out there, that’s my least favourite one.

More exciting video will follow at some point in the near future. Maybe I’ll even finally make good on my threat to record some fly-on-the-wall studio footage, just because.

Roger Ebert calls Michael Bay “pathetic”.

a chandler console that will never be available.

This is a prototype for a Chandler console that will almost definitely never be made commercially available. Drool.

the kate.

This is Kate Beckinsale. She will also never be available. Tears.

Now that we’ve secreted two different bodily fluids in one fell swoop, there’s a new song up at Spyspace. I don’t know how long it’ll be up there, but it’s there now. It should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect on the next album: very synth-heavy, but at the same time I think it’s heading in a more organic direction than something like GROWING SIDEWAYS. I mean, there’s acoustic piano and electric guitar in there, and it’s a lot less skeletal than most synth excursions of the past, though it’s still pretty stripped-down.

I like how when the rhythm drops out near the end, for a few seconds it sounds like sad “game over” music from an old Sega Genesis game. Ah, sweet youth. Maybe it’s time to pull the old Sega box out again for some nostalgic fun. Streets of Rage has some seriously catchy music to enrich the game-playing experience. But Strider will always take the cake for me. I’d play that game just to hear the soundtrack, even if I hated everything else about it.

I know Kate agrees. She can come over and play Strider anytime she wants.

Mic preamp madness.

In 2006 I went crazy.

It’s true.

In the interest of making a very long story somewhat digestible, I guess it all started to get heavy when I decided to buy a Manley VOXBOX sight unseen and sound unheard. This was just after I’d gone off on a rant in a hard-bound notebook I wrote for a girl I was stupidly in love with about how absurd I thought it was to spend a ridiculous amount of money on one microphone and/or a single mic preamp.

But, see, this was a channel STRIP, with compression and EQ thrown in to sweeten the deal. I felt like it was time to step up from the DBX Silver Series preamps I’d been using for the past few years. They’d served me well, but I felt a seismic shift in musical direction approaching, and I thought that was a good excuse to spend a painful amount of money on a Neumann U87 and the VOXBOX. Maybe I really would get what I paid for.

I think for just that one channel of pre/EQ/compression and the one mic, the total price came out to eight or nine grand. That’s insane. But I was convinced this would be my magic bullet and the VOXBOX would make my voice and Arp Omni-2 sound so gooey and magical I would soil myself with joy.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

I think it was Christmas Eve of 2005 when my VOXBOX was delivered. That seemed encouraging. As soon as I fired it up, there was this strange loud hissing/humming noise happening. I tried bypassing different stages, taking the EQ and compressor out of the signal path, messing with gain staging. Nothing got rid of it. I couldn’t record anything useful with that amount of noise.

I got on with recording THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET and putting the NOSTALGIA-TRIGGERING MECHANISM EP together with my existing equipment to bide my time until this was all taken care of, while stockpiling songs and ideas. I sent the VOXBOX back to have the tubes changed and was told no one at the factory could hear any ugly noise. When it came back to me the noise was still there.

The U87 came along and sounded downright boring through my DBX preamps. The cheap Rode NT1 I’d been using as a vocal mic since 2003 put it to shame. I was flabbergasted. The U87 got sent back and I got a refund, minus an absurdly steep restocking fee (thanks again, Long & McQuade). After a while I gave up on the VOXBOX and sent it on its merry way as well.

Here I have to commend Gerry at Sonotechnique in Toronto for making the experience a lot less frustrating than it might have been. Even though none of the people working there could find anything wrong with the VOXBOX and no one heard what I did, he took it back anyway because I wasn’t happy with it, and he let me use the money I’d spent toward something else. I got a Crane Song Flamingo. Months later, I was able to take the credit I still had leftover (that VOXBOX was one expensive hissing beast) and use it to buy a Chandler TG channel. We only ever communicated through emails, but the longest it ever took for Gerry to ship anything to me was a day or two. The treatment I got from him put most music-related businesses I dealt with in Windsor — and in person — to shame.

I continued my quest to retool the “studio” and accelerate my breath. Or revitalize my soul. Or something. In the summer of 2006 I discovered the Gearslutz site and read all about the Great River MP-2NV. I got weak in the knees thinking about what the “Neve sound” could do for me, though I’d never worked with anything near that quality/price point before (I didn’t count the VOXBOX, since the noise issues never allowed me to use it). I just knew it was sexy. You’ve got your Neve Campbell, you’ve got your Campbell’s soup, and then you’ve got your Neve preamps. Jeff Martin (Idaho guy, not Tea Party guy) swears by them, and that’s good enough for me.

I ordered two of the stereo Great River preamps from Mercenary Audio, hooked them up, and then said, “Holy fucking shitballs,” about twenty-three times. Maybe twenty-four. These weren’t like the DBX pres I’d grown accustomed to working with. These preamps let me know what was what and revealed the true sonic character of my microphones. The emperor truly had no clothes, and man, he looked pretty scary naked.

Most of the Rode mics I liked so much through the DBX pres went from “present” to “horrifyingly fizzy” in an instant. They would never be of any serious use to me again. Only the K2 survived with some amount of usefulness intact, and I still haven’t been moved to use it once in the past three years.

On the other hand, the Neumann KM184s that hadn’t done much to excite me before now opened up and I realized they were all I would ever want to record acoustic guitars with. An SM57 became a lot more interesting. My digital piano and synths grew balls I never knew their digital scrotums could handle. I went about building up a more respectable collection of microphones, the Rode mics went back into their pouches with their heads hung low, and the rest is RiceARoni.

I think it’s pretty obvious if you compare something like BRAND NEW SHINY LIE to the last few CDs I’ve made on a decent stereo that things have improved a bit on a sonic level, thanks to better outboard equipment and better ears. But then the sound of things has always been changing for those same reasons, almost album-to-album, and you can hear it happening even as far back as the Papa Ghostface days of old. The whole thing is a never-ending learning process, and I’ll continue to get better (or worse) at what I do as I make new mistakes, try new things, and get drunk with Bono in Dublin.

All of this is meant to lead up to something. Not a revelation exactly, but something that’s been festering in my brain for a little while now.

The way I went crazy three summers ago was in how I went about buying expensive mic preamps blindly, convinced they were my gateway to a better sound. They did turn out to be that, in some ways, with some help from good microphones. And the Great River pres have always made me happy no matter what I’ve thrown at them, while the Chandler Germanium has become my default bass DI choice and makes a single SM57 in front of a guitar amp sound better than I ever knew it could. I don’t know if the Great River preamps really do sound like a Neve 1073 without the “mush”. I just know they’ve made what I do a lot easier, and I don’t have to work anywhere near as hard to get things sounding the way I want them to as I did with other preamps.

The thing is, I could have taken some of the money I spent on mic pres and paused to grab some stereo EQ and a compressor or two. Granted, I don’t find myself feeling a need to EQ much when I’m recording. I learned the hard way that less is often more here, and with mic placement you can eliminate a lot of the need for EQ right off the bat. But I have a feeling adding a high boost with a good outboard piece would probably sound a bit better than the digital boost afforded by the roland 1680 when it comes to something like giving a ribbon mic a bit of air. Maybe I went a bit overboard when I discovered what a difference genuine high-end preamps could make. I mean, there are mic pres I have that I don’t even use.

Forget the cheap ART things that were my first sweaty steps into the magical land of mic preamps after not having any at all for a long time. Forget the Bellari piece of shit with a dead tube I got burned on via eBay. Forget the DBX pres that were a huge improvement but still genuflected once they heard what the an MP-2NV could do — they’ve depreciated so much in value since I got them, selling them now would be kind of stupid, and besides, they kind of look cool even if I’ll likely never use them again, and they work well as pedestals for other pres to sit on top of. I never could really get into the concept of rackmounting gear. I’m more a “stick stuff on top of other stuff” kind of guy.

I could say a lot about all of these preamps — the things I recorded with them, what I learned from them, where they were ticklish — but they’re not the point here.

There’s that Chandler TG channel. It’s just sitting around getting no play. It doesn’t have the quarter-inch line-level input the MKII version does, but that’s no excuse for letting it feel unloved for so long. It’s home to the only true outboard EQ I have, and it’s only one channel…which is part of the reason it gets no play. I need at least stereo EQ happening, preferably separate from a preamp altogether since I already have more than enough of those.

Then there’s the Crane Song Flamingo. A seriously cool-looking piece of gear with maybe the best metering I’ve ever seen on a preamp. I could track something at the other end of the room and as long as the Flamingo was facing me I’d still be able to see how much headroom I had to work with. There’s no quarter-inch input here either, but this is probably a pre you’d want to use more with mics instead of keyboards or direct bass anyway, given its cleaner, faster sound. The only time I could ever live with myself using the rode K2 as a vocal mic was when it was plugged into the Flamingo. It would probably sound pretty tasty with the stereo ribbon mic going into it, but I wouldn’t know, because I’ve been sucked into the Great River vortex.

I just don’t find myself moved to turn to the Chandler Channel or the Flamingo for anything when the Great River already gives me what I’m after with no argument or resistance.

It would make sense to sell at least one of these things, if not both of them. That would probably generate just about enough money to get two channels of some nice EQ without making me weep to think of how much money I’ve now spent on gear in total (I figured it out last night while updating my studio “inventory” for insurance purposes, and it’s pretty nuts…sometimes I forget just how much stuff there is here).

The problem is, these aren’t the cheap ART pres. I paid a lot of money for them. And I don’t think they’ve really depreciated in value much over the past few years. The Chandler piece is probably a little less desirable than its line-level-input-endowed successor, but it’s still easily worth somewhere in the region of two grand. The Flamingo costs more than that. These are serious pieces of equipment that have been well-cared-for, and I wouldn’t want to sell them for a whole lot less than what I paid for them.

But who would want to spend that amount of money on a used mic preamp? Professional studio owners either already have enough high quality pres or a console for whatever they need to do. They either don’t want to spend the money (because that game is all about making money), or they’re happy with their Mackie and ART stuff, a hundred dollar mic, and a bunch of plug-ins, and they would wonder why I’d want to sell something that would look pretty on my lawn.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I started with low-end gear and knew nothing about what I was supposed to do with it all once upon a time myself. I’m still proud of more than a bit of the music I made and the sounds i was able to get with that equipment. It’s what you do with what you have, and all that jazz.

But I digress. It’s not something I could put in the classified section of the newspaper expecting to get a serious response, and I doubt Kijiji would be the way to go here. Nor would most people with home studios have any interest in something so expensive. I guess I was the exception to the rule, but I’m nuts, and I had some extra money to burn at the time.

Then again, why would I want to sell them? Unlike the ART and DBX pres (which would net next to nothing because their resale value has gone to seed), there might come a day when I will get some serious use out of them. Maybe I’ll come to a point where I want a cleaner sound for something and the Flamingo will be there to show what it can do. Or maybe I’ll snap out of this minimal drum mic’ing mode I’ve been in for a while and the Chandler Channel will bring the kick drum to life when I put eighteen mics on the kit and Nickelback it up.

So maybe I should keep the tools around, even if I haven’t really found cause to use them yet, because someday they might save me from a fate worse than dinner with Tom Cruise. I’m not good at getting rid of things anyway. The first acoustic guitar I ever bought is a hunk of junk with the tone of a toothbrush, but I could never part with that shitbox. We’ve been through too much together.

I dunno. These are some things to think about if you’re between the ages of eight and eleven and you’ve decided to put together something of a home studio.

I think the time has probably come for me to look at finally getting some outboard EQ one way or another. The compression I have, while nothing to salivate over, has served me well, and I enjoy the way it never really imposes an aggressive sonic signature on anything. So I don’t feel a need to upgrade in that department. It’s just there, making sure I don’t overload anything while recording. I never really got into transient-shaping with compression, and I’d probably be lost with a four thousand dollar compressor and endless tweakability anyway.

With EQ, though…the digital stuff will only take you so far. And most of the time you won’t even want to go there in the first place. I think a good outboard piece would make a discernible difference, especially at this stage in the game. Some would say I should dump the VS-1680 while I’m at it and jump into the world of Pro Tools or something, but I’m too set in my ways for that. Outboard analog EQ wins instead.

Hey, my birthday’s not that far away. Anyone want to buy me a Neve 8803? Or a Great River EQ-2NV? Or two Avedis E27s with an R52 case? I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll sing you a song about the trials and tribulations of a fast food restaurant manager. That’s just how much I care.

On a random note, I just learned I lost a patch cord to the show on the weekend that made me never want to play live again. Fuck that shit.

Potty mouth is back in full force! yes!

Sometimes a pony gets the blues.

After the experience I had playing live last night, I’m not sure I ever want to do it again in any capacity unless (a) I’m the headlining act and therefore have some control over how things sound on-stage, and/or (b) it’s at Taloola or in someone’s living room where there’s no PA system or amplification to speak of.

I can’t keep doing this live sideman thing much longer. I feel like a lobotomized caged animal. And the absurd volume everyone seems to think everything has to live at in a live setting makes me want to kill things. Giving everyone hearing loss serves no purpose when you can’t even hear a note you’re playing onstage. Maybe I’m alone here, but I actually like my ears. I like being able to hear things.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but I don’t feel much like getting into the specifics. The bottom line is, this recent break from avoiding live performance has served to remind me of some of the things that made me decide to stop playing live in the first place. I’m not saying I’ll never play live again…maybe just once every year or three. There’s way too much bullshit involved in doing it on a regular basis, especially when you’re not the person calling the shots.

On a happier note, the next album is coming along now that I finally have some time and energy to devote to it. So far it’s very synth-heavy, but it doesn’t really feel like any of the synth-based things I’ve done in the past. I’m having an interesting time trying to force myself to break away from the vocal multi-tracking I’ve grown accustomed to, and realizing it just feels right to overdub myself on top of myself a lot of the time. I guess we’ll see what it turns into as it gets closer to the finish line. I’m not sure why whenever I play guitar on a synth-heavy song I tend to gravitate toward funk-influenced licks, but it’s fun to play that sort of stuff especially when it’s on a funky guitar like a Kay Thin Twin.

Here’s a picture of Jimmy Reed playing one.

Jimmy Reed plays a Thin Twin.

I thought about trying to recreate that picture with me in Jimmy’s place. I’ve got the dressy clothes and harmonica holder to pull it off. But in the end I decided not to traumatize you with my sexy smile.

The Thin Twin is an interesting guitar, not quite like any other axe I’ve played. About the only real fun I was able to have last night came out of the thing as it drove my tiny Paul tube amp into overdriven heaven. It has what look like lipstick pickups on the surface, but they’re actually specially designed “blade” pickups that are much hotter and more feedback-resistant. They’ve got some push to them, and there’s some nice variety in tone between the two pickups, but I’m kind of partial to the neck pup. It’s got this round, bluesy tone that makes me think a bit of a much beefier, darker Telecaster. I like it. Both pickups together make for a very different sound — thin but not twangy, and not the least bit like any other guitar/pickup configuration I’ve ever heard. It should be an interesting sound to play around with.

Here’s T Bone Burnett playing one.