We seldom listen to our own CD’s. We get our fill of the music playing it live night after night, and quite enjoy it. However, every now and then a song pops up on the iTunes shuffle, or we pop in a CD and we get the chance to listen to the songs as we originally recorded them. A lot of the time, we wince when we hear the giant chasm between what we intended and what we were left with, but from time to time, the shoulders relax a bit, we recline, and happily enjoy a job well done. Sometimes it’s just pieces; occasionally, it’s a whole song – recording, production, and all. Well, mostly. Even with our proudest moments, we still find things to nit-pick about.
Here are a few of our favorites:
3 Letters (Make It Mine) – This song was done by Jessi in two takes: one for the guitar and one for the vocal. No click track, no redos. Just a pure and simple song done purely and simply. Since then, the only thing that we’ve ever done differently was add faint harmonies when we perform it live. It’s so moving. On an album where we were all so scattered and divided, that one song bared itself and got right to the core of what we spent the whole album trying to be.
No Motivation (North) – We never even intended it to go on the album. I think we played it once, just goofing around, while our producer for that album, Marc Doten, was sitting in on one of our rehearsals. In the studio, we had set up to record “Fall of Gabriel” and “Dark River” (a wonderful tune which didn’t make the cut) with all of us in the same room just playing together without being in separate isolation booths. We were just about to tear everything down when Marc said “Hey, really quick, do that funny song that you did in rehearsal. If it sucks, we don’t have to keep it, but I just want to try it.” We did one take to get the drums, vocals, bass, and guitars, all at the same time and that was it. After listening back, we thought “Hey, that sounds pretty good”, and it suddenly became one of the highlights of the album. We added the trombone and squeezebox the next day, then Marc took it back to his studio and added random piano and percussion with drummer John Lacques. What we were proud of was that one take that we never expected.
No More (Heaven Knows) – This was another late and unanticipated addition to an otherwise almost finished album. Jessi had written this even before we recorded Make It Mine, and rediscovered it sometime in 2009. Since then, she and I would play around with it at home, but we never played it live. One Spring night, in the midst of the Heaven Knows sessions, she asked me to put together a drum loop for it, then tracked the guitar and vocals. Her performance was incredible. She sank so deeply into the song, that you can hear her break down and start crying toward the end. After listening to her work, I immediately took the laptop and microphone out to the creek by the house where we were living, and recorded the sound of the crickets and the water. (You can hear Jessi calling me in for dinner during a pause toward the end of the song.) I laid down bass and lead guitar tracks, and trumpet player Evan Rohar used a conch shell to make that creepy howling sound to round it out. It was one of those songs that we never recorded because we never thought we could do it justice, but because we had total control over the process, we were able to make it sound exactly like we wanted it to sound.
You’ll Never Learn (Heaven Knows) – Originally, we wrote this as a hard-driving rock song and often performed it live as such with bassist Tony Shibumi and drummer Matt Gay. Once we started to perform heavily as a duo, we tried it out as a swanky nightclub jazz piece, and it happened to work. When we brought Evan in on it, he just seemed to get what we were after. Everything worked together to get the angsty spirit of the rock version, but in a laid back, jazzy way. Some day, we might record it as we had originally envisioned it, but I think we’ll always like this version better.
Blue Skies (Random Acts of Blindness) – Jessi’s vocal for this track was particularly moving. Here we were, only a few weeks away from abandoning our lives as we knew them to embark on a tour from which we never planned on returning . . . and we didn’t have a single show booked. You can hear the desperate optimism that has kept us alive over the years as she declares with characteristically defiant assurance that “blue skies are gonna come”. I remember being in the recording booth with drummer Matt Gay and bassist Anthony Kafka, watching her belt it out, and we all got chills. She had only written the song a few weeks prior, so the emotion was quite possibly as close to “fresh from the tap” as we’ve ever come.