Roger pleaded with us to avoid watching the screen of his Mac as we listened. He had a few surprises for us, including some guest musicians we didn’t know about, and he didn’t want the screen to give anything away. Matt and I raised our eyebrows, wondering if we were going to hear toy pianos, or orchestras of accordions. Roger’s let a few things slip to me over the last few months, and I know that he puts a lot of himself into whatever he’s working on. I’d have been surprised if he didn’t have something fun and new for us.
Last year, we realized that it was time to record something new, maybe a full album to follow up our EP from the previous winter. We decided to compromise between our kick-you-in-the-pants live sound and the richness we could achieve in the studio, trying to get the best of both. Our little celtic trio is far from the first to try and achieve this elusive goal. Trying to find a balance between the energy of a live performance and the professionalism of studio polish is the holy grail of small bands since the days of wax cylinders.
Recording an album is an exhausting, time-consuming project. It’s easy to forget what your original goals were. A good producer will step back from the work and steer you towards what you wanted the album to be in the first place. And Roger, our percussionist and vocal coach, would be that producer, doing what he did for the EP. Half a year later, we had that meeting in Roger’s living room and the songs sounded great! Even un-mixed, we sounded energetic, clear, and vibrant. Roger spent many, many hours on those tracks, working behind the scenes, and he didn’t just make us sound good on tape, he made us sound somehow the same but new and fresh.
I’ll keep quiet about the details of each song; you can hear the album when it comes out later this summer. But maybe you could imagine our live show: a celtic fusion trio pounding away on stage, playing traditional folk songs with a snappy beat. But this time we have a few guest musicians here and there, and maybe we swap to a more rock-oriented sound for a few songs–just for fun, you understand, still remembering that these songs are stories and they all have a cultural purpose.
The album sounds like that. (And there are better background harmonies. Image how we sound vocally on our best night. Yeah, let’s go with that: How we sound on our best night.)
A lot of folks passed up buying our EP because it doesn’t have that many songs on it. The new album has ten tracks, a good number that will stand up to the stares of would-be buyers comparing CD tracklists. More importantly, it clocks in at about 34 minutes long. I’d been worried it would be too short–particularly after we axed three tracks that were causing trouble–but 34 minutes is a respectable length, and I’m happy with it.
But I wasn’t happy until this meeting in Roger’s living room. Working in the studio is exhausting: There are arguments about scheduling, resentments at parts cut out of the project. And recording is a fuckton of work. You perform take after take that’s just not good enough, and you realize how much of what you play is riddled with mistakes. Matt once said that recording is “a humbling experience”. It’s a bit like job searching: No no no no no no no no yes.
How do you know when you’ve gotten to that “yes” take? The producer tells you, that’s how. I didn’t always agree with Roger on this; I always wanted to do more takes, to get it sounding better. And I’ve been wondering all along if these compromises are gonna show in the final product.
Except that they’re not problems; hearign all this in context, these “imperfect” takes are nothing but, because of the magic synthesis of editing and placement. All the tension and worry I’d been holding in melted away while we listened to the final tracks. Sure, I’d been outvoted on a few things, but that’s part of being in a band. We’ve done good work, and this is an album we can be proud of. Somehow, we sound the same, hitting all those magic moments of synchronicity I remember hitting on stage, it’s just that it’s all in one “show”.
To the part of me remembering all the compromises we’ve made, all the arguments, all the times I’ve stressed out about this project: After this experience, I’ll remember that I’m in a band with fellows who are not only good friends but excellent musicians. This band has made me into a better musician. Every band makes you better, or at least changes you in some way, but this band is always going to be a little special to me because of this album.
And to my musician friends: If you’re looking for a producer, look no further. On this album, we sound like Baroque & Hungry, not like some imaginary studio construction. Roger has been a great, innovative producer, making us sound fresh while keeping the core of our sound.
We’re planning to take the cover photo soon, and then we’ll decide which album title to use. This summer, Roger and I will mix the album, then we’ll see about getting it mastered. But right now, I feel like we’ve achieved something great.
In my life, I’ve released one live album, one studio EP, and played on the tracks of two more albums. I imagine there will be more to come. But this, the first album I’ve worked on from start to finish, will always be a significant moment in my life as a musician. I feel like a proud parent, waiting for my child to take its first steps. I can only imagine how Roger must feel.