The Making of an EP (The Trials and tribulations of a wannabe musician, his fiancee and their Merry Band of Miscreants… The Typical Johnsons)
What you are about to read is a kind of a diary. It is a studio diary that will be kept during the making of “The Sailor & The Siren” the new EP by Jeremy & Lynne , or if you prefer them as a whole band “JL & The Typical Johnsons” Enjoy! (Honestly I’ll be surprised if anyone reads this!!! )
DAY 3: Hats, Scratches and More of all of it (Wednesday Feb 24th)
(Right In the Middle of Things)
When I was in the Navy we often referred to people who had multiple responsibilities as “wearing many hats” I don’t think (although I don’t really know) that the expression is exclusive to the military. Ultimately I found out that the more responsibility and rank I gained while in the service, the more “hats” or jobs I was forced to wear (do). As we went into the third day of studio time this past Wednesday I got to see this in real time live action.
Our manager Aj Shoffner is a dude who wears a complete cornucopia of hats and everyone associated with JL&TTJ knows it. Aj and I were in a lot of the same classes at ICB (The International College of Broadcasting) and we became friends in short order. Aj watched us record and release Drawing Blood and looking back I sincerely wish he would have been part of the process the first time around.
For reference: Part of the really crappy thing about being an unknown group of musicians (I still smile a little when I refer to our group of hopefuls as musicians) is that theres a lot to this game that people don’t see. Before I started trying to do this I looked at my friends who were in “the scene” here in Ohio and I’l admit it looked truly cool. Late nights in bars and singing in front of people, them digging on what you are doing (sometimes), smiles and happy feelings abounding, with a little bit of (hopefully) pay at the end of the night. Everyone should know, it sometimes is JUST like this, but theres some other stuff that goes along with it.
Even as I started on this journey (about 3.5 years ago) … I had several friends tell me about the rough parts of trying to play in any local scene. Whether it was bar owners under-paying or drunk hecklers, everyone had advice for Lynne and I as we started out. Mostly everything I heard fell on deaf ears, and what NO ONE mentioned was that this shit is WORK! Even as I type out this weeks blog entry I’m kind of stunned as I look at how much time is just devoted to THINKING about band/music stuff. From scrambling to find a piece of paper to write down the phone number of the guy who just told you about a bar you could probably book, or deciding whether or not you can afford to spend a couple hundred on T-shirts to sell as “merch” at our shows and on our website.
(Jeremy & Aj)
The daily process all feels like a high stakes game of poker that you play using your hopes and dreams instead of chips. It’s all risk and reward and calculated risk banking on the HOPE that just one of the songs are good enough. From managing websites to making sure you send a tweet out most days, theres a million little minute things that are involved with generating a successful flow to the next show!
So it became very apparent early on, that to be on this path…you can easily make the choice to stay right where your at. You can get a couple of rotating gigs and fall into a groove playing covers. Maybe you will write the occasional original song and make a decent cut every so often playing on the weekends.
For the record, once we started playing music, I don’t think Lynne or myself ever seriously entertained the thought of being a covers only band playing in local beer joints and coffee shops. The idea that there was something bigger and better out there was always just too alluring and too right there in front of us. Besides, we’re old, and it was now or never, and for myself at least I don’t think that feeling of urgency has ever went away. In fact I think the feeling of expectation grows everyday.
Now whether or not a dream is achievable is another story for another blog, but as far as the narrative in our heads, we were always and will always be aiming for something BIG. Luckily we were able to eventually find some other like minded individuals who wanted to play music with us. With Andy, Jeff and Justin it seems we all have the same goal in mind. Still t owork toward a constant show schedule you have the problem of daily lives and responsibilities. Regular life always threatens to swamp everything and pull you in a thousand different directions than the one you want to be moving in, and this is where a lot of people it seems come to a stall point.
It occurred to me Wednesday as I took note of all the stuff Aj was doing, that we truly have something that not everyone has, which is someone truly in their corner helping move this ship out of port so to speak. Not everyone at our lowly level is lucky enough to have someone believe in what your doing enough to dedicate themselves to successful completion and promotion of the project. Aj essentially is the one helping us push past this stall points that trap so many people. In addition to functioning as a point of contact to the various venues and coffee shop owners Aj has taken on the responsibility of getting our shirts made, and scheduling studio time (between two different studios) as well as being at the studio ACTUALLY functioning as the producer for the “SATS” EP AND helping to mix it as well in an effort to keep costs down… and take all of that process off myself and Lynne’s shoulders. I think it’s worth noting as well to anyone reading this, Aj is doing all of this this while working at Bob Evans and going to school full time… No small feat.
As we get farther and farther from the shore so to speak, and we recognize that there isn’t any going, back Aj has begun to play a bigger and bigger role. On Wednesday as an example he had coordinated who was going to be at the studio, locked in the engineer and was helping prep the studio for lead guitar scratch tracking as well as vocal work. As we settled in for Andy’s portion of the evening Aj was right there with Todd Huffman the main Engineer at ICB studios making sure everything was ok and taken care of. While in the session he was making calls for merch and talking to Jeff (Our bass player) about what we can do to get the right tone for his upcoming day. I think I left the studio at around 8pm to get ahead of the snow already falling up north by Minster Ohio. Aj called me after I was allready home, he had just left the studio after making sure the fader mixed bounces were sent to the right people for prep. Again it occurred to me that if Aj wasn’t taking care of all of this it would have fallen squarely on either my shoulders or Lynne’s.
(Mic'ing Andy's Rig)
I’m not totally sure, thinking about it right now how Aj and I started talking about him actually being our manager. Seriously though without putting to fine of a point on it, the guy is coming through in spades. As we get through the recording process it’s very safe and appropriate to call Aj a member of JL&TTJ and this EP will be as much of a testament to his skill as a producer / manager as it is our ability to create some songs and play/record them.
So with Aj overseeing things and me making mental notes about song changes and taking photographs to document everything Andy went into ICB studio B for his second day of scratch tracking lead guitar parts.
(One more chord)
By exploring re-amping options and different effects pedals on the overall sound using 4 separate microphones we are creeping towards a final version of what Andy’s solo work is going to sound like. It’s always easy to work with someone like Andy, and his little brother Jeff for that Both the brothers enjoy making music and are good at it, they really just kind of let the bullshit slide right off their backs. I think this feeling comes out in the play styles of both of the them.
(All this just for scratch leads...)
Earlier in the day I tracked the acoustic guitar parts for the songs “Lo-Fi Type” , “Ohio Gone, and “The Sailor and The Siren” which is the titular song for the EP. (Hey once a Sailor always a Sailor I like my nautical references,) The acoustic guitar sound that Todd was able to get was frankly quite incredible and even just fader mixed sounded full and big. Todd has been able this time around to squeeze every bit of tone from my Martin D-35 and it’ll show in the final mixes.
Although each of the songs on this EP has been released in some way shape or form whether in our last album or on you-tube, it's crazy how each one of them is taking on a different direction entirely from the original concept. As we gel as a group and both Todd and Aj influence the studio production of the songs, different nuances that weren't there before are standing out and making them more complete, better songs.
(Todd in his element)
(One more take)
The vocals Lynne and I were able to put down were rough to say the least, but scratch is scratch and our final vocals and phrasing will take shape over the next few weeks. Being inside the vocal booth is both an exercise in Freudian psychology as well as an exhilerating ride through the land of humility. I never knew how sensitive a mic can be until I started to really try tracking serious vocals. In addition I also never realised how mentally draining being recorded can be. I have a friend who regularly performs in front of large audiences say to me that he hated being in the studio, and a good producer can put him at ease inside that space. I never REALLY got that until I stepped into a vocal booth.
(Scratch Vox Day 3)
(Then she kicked me out of the vocal booth)
I learned during the recording of "Drawing Blood" that everything either comes together in the studio or flatly falls apart. With the people involved in this project this time around we are aiming pretty far into the sky. It’s starting to feel less like a jumbled group of random people and a lot more like a team pulling on the same rope at the same time. Mountains are moved this way…