Skylines and the Horizon 2018: “One and Three”

I’m going to try a slightly different format for these posts. This is my guinea pig post.

In another life, “One and Three”, or “OAT” as it’s often labeled in my hard drive, is a song with a wide open sound built on a foundation of a strong acoustic guitar that just keeps trucking through the entire song to the eventual fade out at the end. It would have featured numerous guitars, all played through different overdrive pedals with various modulation effects at different times in the song that changed as the dynamics in the song called for it. The bass would have filled in the back end and moved as necessary. What I originally envisioned would have turned out a bit different than the song you hear now did.

Maybe all of that is why I never finished working on OAT in 2011. You can hear an early version of it tucked away on this site, hidden from view until now. Interestingly, I cannot find the session or track files for this version of the song. Obviously, at some point in time, it existed or the mixdown you might be listening to as you read this wouldn’t exist. The drums remain unchanged, one of the benefits of Superior Drummer 2 (and now SD3). The bass is also very similar to what you hear in the version I recorded and put up on Soundcloud in 2018. The basic song is there and mostly intact.

When August 2017 came around, I tasked myself with sitting down and coming up with a second guitar part. I have always been quite happy with the bass part I came up, and it was the first time I felt like I wrote an actual bass part instead of just utilizing the bass as a third guitar part. I wanted that to occupy the normal melody space my second guitar parts tend to live in, and if that were to be the case, then I was going to have to come up with something that was different than the normal second guitar parts I write. That’s part of the challenge in doing “everything” or most everything yourself. You have to write the part, practice the part, get it down well enough to record the part, and hope you don’t mess the part up, which I tend to do even on songs I’ve been playing for ages. I just wasn’t comfortable with the part yet and it felt rushed to me. Needless to say, the 2017 recording  left a lot to be desired.

I was really looking forward to finally getting to redo the song.

Guitar
Using my trusty setup of the MXL r144 and Sennheiser e609, on the left and right sides of the speaker, respectively speaking, I recorded my PRS SC245 Ted McCarty in the middle position and into the JHS Sweet Tea’s Moonshine side, which is effectively a Tubescreamer style overdrive, and for the lead parts, I used my Fender Telecaster in the neck position.

Although I owned a Zvex Distortron at the time, for whatever reason, I didn’t use it on SatH, so the Sweet Tea was used on the majority of it, with the Moonshine being my main rhythm sound and the Angry Charlie side being my lead sound. However, on OAT, I apparently used the Moonshine for both rhythm and lead.

Why do I say “apparently”, you might ask? I labeled most of my tracks as “OAT Lead Tele r144 MG” or something along those lines. For a long time, I thought the Moonshine side was actually the Morning Glory pedal, hence the MG in my track listing.

When I first recorded OAT, I had the part that plays under the vocals during the bridge/end play for the entirety of that section of the song. During one of my revisions of the second (and now final) solo, there were a couple of notes that just didn’t go and the rhythm guitar and rhythm of the lead part just didn’t mesh, so I went back to the drawing board and came up with some higher register versions of the chords. You can hear that particular part better under the first few “ahhhs” because the first four cycles through where JD and I are the ones singing used to have a third solo. I cut that solo out and moved the vocals up.

I decided not to record an acoustic guitar for this track because a) I wanted to be done and move on to the next song and b) I have the beginning stages of carpal tunnel and playing an acoustic guitar for almost 6 minutes (the fade out used to be much longer) hurts after invariably missing 4 or 5 takes.

There is a high pass filter on each of the rhythm and second guitar tracks. I panned the rhythm guitar at the 50 mark on each side with the e609 on right and R144 on the left. For the second guitar, I put it at the 25 mark on each side but flipped which side the mics were on. The solos at the end are in the dead center and the track with the e609 has a single band compressor native to the DAW on it.

Vocals
I asked my friend JD to sing vocals on this song. While his brother, Matt, pretty much stuck to the cadence I’d written for “So Far”, JD made more changes to “OAT” that took me a while to come around on. He and I talked through what I liked and didn’t like, and over the course of a week or so, he sent me different takes until we kind of settled on what you get in the song.

For the bridge/end, I’d written multiple vocal variations so that each solo would be followed up by a slightly different take on the same vocal part. JD ended up singing what would have been the middle vocal take, so I sang two of the others as a harmony (I’m the vocals in the right channel). He came up with the “Ahhh” part and Matt and I added harmonies to it. When you solo the vocals, we all agreed that it sounded pretty damned good for three guys who aren’t great vocalists (even though I think they discredit themselves a bit too much).

All of the vocal tracks were recorded using a Shure SM7b microphone. There’s some reverb and compression in there courtesy of the native effects within the DAW I use, a small amount of general pitch correction via a free plugin from Melda Productions called MAutoPitch, and some good, old-fashioned double tracking on JD’s vocals.

Bass
The bass was a straightforward recording using my Fender Rumble 40 Studio. I setup a profile using the Fender Bassman model and recorded direct in via XLR. I used a Waves H-Compressor plugin that was free back on Black Friday 2018. If you do pick that up, be sure to use the Stereo version from your VST library as the Mono version just sets the bass up in the left channel.

Arrangement
After posting a version of the song up on the /r/Songwriters subreddit, someone gave me feedback saying that the song was a bit long and they felt the third solo that used to exist was redundant, even though I happened to really like it. For the latest, and likely final version of the song, I took their advice and cut the solo out. I also moved the “ahhhs” up in its place. I like how this worked out because I played a more subdued take on the rhythm guitar during the four cycles of that solo. This provided a more subdued backdrop for JD’s initial two cycles through and the final two cycles where I added my higher harmony. The drums then come crashing in and bringing it back up to add Matt’s four cycles of a third harmony part.

Overall, I’m really happy with how OAT turned out. When it comes to my music, I can be a bit of an unconscious control freak. I’m hesitant to change, especially when a song has been established in my catalog for quite some time. It was especially hard to give up control over the vocal line, but, in the end, the changes made are part of the tapestry of the song and it would be incomplete without it. Hearing my own vocal take (yes, one exists…no, I won’t post it) sounds foreign to me.

When the first solo kicks in, I feel like it’s a legitimate solo, with the exception of a note or two. Although the second solo is a bit sloppier (I took more risks with it), I’m happy enough with how it turned out to not give into the devil on my shoulder that even as I type this tells me it needs to be redone and tightened up.

I hope you enjoy “One and Three”.

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