Edit 2/23/22; I just went back after the fact and relistened to these. Now, what I released onto Soundcloud in 2019, and is available to hear in the widget on the right side of this site is not professional, but, man, it’s worlds better than this garbage. No wonder I wanted to redo everything.
After the Watauga sessions, I spent the intervening six years playing along with the recordings I was able to finish. I practiced the songs, gained confidence in the parts, and knew I’d be ready when the time came. The real challenge would be vocals, but that’s always going to be and will continue to be a challenge for me.
JD, his brother Matt, and I planned to take a week’s vacation in August of 2017 to work on six of their songs along with five of mine (I was on the fence about keeping “Goodbye” from the 2010/2011 recordings) and we’d finish up whatever we needed to at my house afterwards. After all, singing, even when pushing, isn’t nearly as loud as a 15 watt tube amp cranked to the edge of breakup. Amps get loud, but voices…well, not so much.
I figured we’d work on my songs in between recording theirs or as they needed time to work the remaining parts out that still needed writing. After all, I’d spent so much time practicing my songs, I’d be able to get things done quickly. You know what they say about the road to hell, right?
I don’t remember the specific order that we worked on the songs. There was a lot of rum and whiskey involved in the recording process.
I asked my father if we could use their house since he and his wife worked and had to drive over from Dallas. The setup of the primary living space of their house isn’t ideal to recording. It’s wide open without too much to act as diffusion of sound waves. The floor of the living room area is carpeted and contained an L-shaped sectional, but the rest of dining area and den is hard tile. We were going to be fighting the room. Looking back, it was, in my opinion, a fight we lost.
Over the course of the weekend leading up to recording, I moved stuff into my dad’s house and took over their den and dining table. Fortunately, I have a separate computer for recording, so moving my recording setup over didn’t leave me high and dry during the evening. I set up the tower, interface, studio monitors, and put my 24″ LED monitor on the interface. Ideally, a two monitor setup would have been fantastic, but when you don’t have your own space to record, beggars can’t be choosers.
My Egnater Tweaker head and cab went in the living room. I decided to try and work with the room and set the amp cab up on an amp stand. It projected out and, coupled with the vaulted ceilings, I hoped it would cut down on some of the natural reverb we were going to be getting. When we were done, the amp would get moved over to the fireplace mantle, so there wasn’t as much consistency about where the amp was positioned as I’d have preferred.
Mic wise, I’d read that some people had good luck with using the Shure SM7b as both a vocal and guitar mic, so we used that. I set up my trusty Sterling Audio ST55 about two feet away to pick up another sound. We ran a mic cable into the living room and plugged it up into a Cloudlifter CL-1 for when we had to record vocals.
For guitars, we had my Fender Telecaster, PRS SC245 Ted McCarty, and a PRS SE Custom 24 (2017 model with the script logo). That PRS SE CU24 ended up leaving my possession and led me down a journey of five more guitars before I’d end up settling on the Gibson Midtown Standard I had for a while and the PRS SC245 that I sorely miss.
For basses, we had the heavily modified Squier P/J bass I’d used in 2011 and a Peavey Focus P-bass copy.
My pedal board has changed significantly since, but we used the following chain: Zvex Distortron > OCD v4 > Danelectro Cool Cat Fuzz v1 (a Frantone Peach Fuzz copy) > a pair of Eventide H9s
The plan was to work on one song at a time, do all of the instruments, write parts as needed, and record vocals before moving on.
Plans are wonderful things. We stuck to the one song at a time plan, but everything else was played by ear. I’ll get more into that next time.
Sometimes, I regret not documenting what we used on the different songs when we recorded in 2017. As a musician and wannabe gear-head, I love learning what stuff was used to capture a particular sound, especially as I was getting a grasp of what certain guitars sound like. For example, the opening guitar for Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” is a Fender Strat. It has such a distinct sound…a sound I love out of a guitar I do not enjoy playing. Every time I hear that song, I want to buy a cheap Fender Strat and put some nice pickups in it just to have that sound. I eventually did pick up a nice ’95 USA Fender Strat that now sits in a case and rarely gets used.
During this particular entry, I will be mentioning the Low-Fi, Nice Try (LFNT from here on out) project that the Laird brothers and I worked on. Although my own songs didn’t change to as much as theirs did, the updates to some of my songs happened because of the experience I had in writing guitar parts for songs I didn’t write. That’s a wholly different experience than crafting a song from start to end. It allowed me to think about building the parts different and venturing slightly away from the comfort zone I’d sat in for years.
Looking back at the external hard drive I keep our music on, we started with a LFNT song called “Doing it Right”. During the August 2017 session, I didn’t play on the song,. I have always enjoyed the music the Lairds write and it was a great experience to sit back and watch a song come to life, get tweaked, and to sit back and both listen to and watch them listen to the fruits of their labor.
If you aren’t aware, and most of you probably won’t care, but the SM7b microphone we used to record vocals and guitar (not the best idea) is very “gain hungry”. This means that the mic requires a lot of volume to get to where its usable. In most studio environments, it’s not an issue because of the all the different preamps, mixing board, and God knows what else in there. We home recorders, however, generally don’t have the same solutions. That is what led me to pickup a Cloudlifter CL-1 microphone activator. It adds 25 dB of gain and makes getting a nice, crisp vocal take easy as pie.
Once “Doing it Right” was over, we set the mic up on the amp to record “One and Three” (thank God for timestamps). It was my first song, one that I hadn’t put online for audio consumption before, and I was itching to get to it.
“Hey, uh, we can’t get the volume to not clip (meaning it’s too loud).”
“Did you turn the volume down? I had to put it up higher to record vocals”
“Yeah. It’s all the way down.”
This prompted us to temporarily shut down for what we thought was the first technical issue. After doing some troubleshooting, I realized what the issue was…we left the Cloudlifter plugged in. The guitar amp, which was already turn up to get a nice, warm tube-driven sound was being boosted by 25 dB of gain. That’s a lot. No wonder it kept clipping.
It was right then that I wondered how well using the Cloudlifter to boost the volume of a mic’d guitar amp would work. If my theory was correct, it would allow me to record guitar at “bedroom level” which meant that I wouldn’t need to borrow someone else’s house to record, and that would allow me to record music whenever I wanted instead of planning vacation around it. Gone would be the deadlines of pushing and rushing to get things done.
Spoilers: My theory was correct. I ended up redoing every one of the guitar parts I recorded for LFNT using this method and every track for Skylines and the Horizon is recorded using this method. Is it ideal? Nah…the tubes never get cooking, but it sounds good to my ears.
In a lot of ways, I’m too much of a perfectionist who can’t play perfectly and I’d often rely on the Lairds to tell me that a take was good because I’d hear SOMETHING I did wrong. Sometimes, the mistake was jarring enough to stand out, but in the mix, a number of mistakes get covered up and hidden by the other tracks. Being left to my own devices is part of what caused such a long delay in actually getting something released. Having their outside voices tell me to leave something be, while not always something I heeded, was comforting to have.
After “One and Three” the rest of my songs went as expected. When I checked the create date of the folders, it appears that we started two of my songs on August 8th and wrapped up the final one on the 10th. I’ve played the rhythm guitar so many times on those songs and I don’t recall having too many issues with those parts, but the 2nd guitar parts, solos, and bass parts would take multiple takes.
For this entry, I went back and resurrected the versions of “Spin“, “ALTG“, “One and Three“, and “So Far“, did a very quick and dirty mixdown.
One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in listening back to these songs is that I did the second guitar and solos in the same take/track, with the exception of “So Far”. I’ve since moved to recording solos as separate tracks and centering them. Here’s some quick commentary
The old bassline is still intact here, but I ended up rewriting it in 2018. The 2017 version is the first time that added a 2nd guitar line to the pre-chorus. For years, I played different things there but dropped it because it conflicted with the vocals. After playing along and listening to the 2011 versions so much, I found it a little jarring that the 2nd guitar line is only present during the chorus. I’ve also rewritten the chorus and dropped the vocal part that I used to sing there, so the 2nd guitar worked its way back in.
When I listen to the 2011 version, which has served as the outro on two different podcasts I’ve been a part of, and compare it to this, there’s a roughness to the song that took this particular version in a direction that feels like two steps back and far less polished. I was quite unhappy with it, especially since it’s a song that I’ve been playing for a LONG time. Maybe the pressure of time and overconfidence played a part in the way it turned out. I need to keep that in mind since “Spin” is the final song I have left to record.
The Albatross. As I mentioned in the previous entry, we mic’d the guitar cab with a Shure SM7b and a Sterling Audio ST55. Now, I know the ST55 is a solid guitar mic because I used it for the 2011 Watauga sessions and really liked the tones I got back then, but there’s something about the way it melded with the SM7B that made the guitar sound “hollow” to me. Everything was in phase (at least when I checked last), but it just lacked something.
In this version, I played the old second guitar line during the bridge (before the harmonizing guitars) and I can’t quite tell you why I moved away from that. There’s a laugh somewhere in there that I didn’t edit out and I end the song with “cherry lime-aids are delicious” which comes from an old version from back in 2008. I was in the middle of recording when my wife came home with cherry lime-aids from Sonic. Before I was diagnosed with diabetes, cherry lime-aids had become my soda of choice. She came and put it down on my desk as the final chord rang out and said “Cherry lime-aids are DELICIOUS”. She’s always been fond of that so I always find a way to include it now.
I digress. Once again, “ALTG” proved to frustrate me with the way it turned out and that, coupled with my dissatisfaction with “Spin” prompted me to start rerecording parts using my Cloudlifter CL-1 recording method in early 2018.
Like “So Far”, I recorded the rhythm guitar you hear with the idea that I’d go back and record an acoustic guitar at a later date and played a rather sparse part. The second guitar, meanwhile, is just driving away. I’d just recently written the guitar part I played during the verses and wasn’t quite as accomplished at playing it. If you listen to this version vs. what I’ve recorded for the 2018, you’ll notice that I tamed the 2nd guitar a bit. It’s even overpowering a compressed and beefed up bass part.
I missed notes during the three solos, but most of it was still new. Generally speaking, bands practice songs for months before going into a studio to record. Everyone writes their own parts and is responsible for recording those parts. When you do everything yourself, you have to write, practice, and record all of the parts yourself. If you go in slightly unprepared, like I did in both 2011 and 2017, you’ll run into flubbed parts, something will get rushed, and/or you’ll change something to better fit the song and the process starts over.
I’d like to think that I’ve greatly improved on the solos in “One and Three” and, in fact, the I’m actually quite happy with the first solo section I recorded for the version currently up on my Soundcloud. It’s amazing what actually practicing a part before you record it will do
Once again, the space that’s left for the acoustic guitar that was never recorded is deafening. The rhythm guitar sounds pretty weak without it, but it wasn’t intended to carry the song. The old second guitar line lives on here, but has since been replaced with something that I like quite a bit more. I did something vocally during the bridge that I REALLY like but I haven’t been able to recreate when I sing along in the car. I hope to be able to do so.
In the end, I absolutely hated most of what I recorded for Cold the Winter during these sessions. Truth be told, I’m not happy with the tones on the LFNT stuff, but if the Laird bros. are good with it, then I’m good with it.
I could NOT wait to redo these songs in 2018, and I feel there was a significant improvement.