All the demos and scratch guitars were recorded in my bedroom on Lurline Avenue in Winnetka, California, using the same set-up as my previous three CDs: Pro Tools LE running on a Mac Pro. Since this was the last house (until recently) where I could set up a drum kit, all the drum tracks were recorded in my bedroom, as well as the direct-in bass.
After selling the house and moving to a temporary apartment, I reconstructed a small version of my bedroom studio to record the Stratocaster guitar parts through a Pignose amp on my bed. I tried a lot of different mic placements with the SM57 and also explored the tonal settings on the guitar, giving me a sound with variety as well as consistency.
Our next move was to a rental home on Lovelane Avenue near Culver City, and once again I set up in my bedroom, recording the Les Paul through my Carvin tube amp, isolated in a narrow hallway closet.
At this point my Mac crashed, though I was able to salvage the album from backup drives. I got a new Mac Pro, the latest Pro Tools LE, and a new Samson mic for vocals, but there were compatibility problems between Pro Tools and the Snow Leopard OS, so I struggled with workarounds while trying to get the vocal tracks finished. There was also a daily leaf blower next door: I found myself ducking behind walls during vocal takes, trying to avoid his diesel roar. On some tracks I had to notch the low end EQ to clean him out.
The Lovelane bedroom was very small, and though playing electric guitar was possible, holding my Sigma acoustic was an absolute bitch. In the solo acoustic HOWLING COYOTE NIGHTS you can hear how cramped I was, trying play between our king-sized bed and my desk: the resulting performance is a bit "pinched."
At this point all recording was complete, so after our next move a few blocks east, I mastered the album and prepared the cover artwork and photography.
1. Finally, after years of trying, I wanted to succeed at releasing a double album
2. I wanted to record every part myself, including drums. I started to miss the do-it-all-yourself aspect of home taping. This is where the MCCARTNEY reference came from, since that's one of the earliest and most famous DIY albums. However, most people think I was referring to Paul's love songs, which is fine.
.3. I wanted to pay tribute to TROUT MASK REPLICA in sound and spirit, if not in style. I stuck to a two guitars-bass-drums-vocal format, and kept the same instruments on the same channels. I also purposely mimicked the TROUT MASK cover photography.
4. I forbade myself to use ANY guitar outboard FX or stomp boxes, getting all my sounds from mic placement, amp settings, tone controls, and finger placement on the guitar itself (near the bridge, up the neck, muted, etc.) This was another nod to TROUT MASK. I did wind up using a fuzz box in a couple places, and snuck in a Casio keyboard twice.
5. I intended to stick as close to my original demos as possible, even if they contained no choruses, repeated phrases, or endings. While working on PLAYDATE, Don Campau and I each gathered up about 30 demo tracks and strung them together, then both chose the songs we wanted from each others' CDs. However, just for fun I would sometimes play the disc I'd sent to Don, and really began to enjoy hearing all these short, rough demos strung together.
Don Campau is always telling me to "flesh out" my songs, but I often find that I prefer the simplicity of my early demos to the more worked-over versions that get released. I changed my demos only when absolutely necessary. I think I succeeded with this plan, with both good and bad results!
6. Thematically, this was my chance to document the period after the death of my first wife and meeting Sharon. I had dated quite a bit and gathered a lot of song material, and Sharon has been a very good sport about my airing all this dirty laundry. It was a bit of a return to the themes of A REAL PRETTY ROSE and SHE'S A CLIMBER, and most of my other tapes.
I am not a drummer, though I played bongos before guitar, and have fiddled with many kits owned by my drummers over the years. Since drummers are so hard to find, it has always been my dream to buy my own set and play it myself. The way I thought about it was: I'll have a really mediocre drummer, but he's available 24/7 and will do whatever I ask!
I bought my Groove Percussion drum kit in 2005 for about $350 - it's an absolute no frills entry-level set from Sam Ash. The cymbals sounded like Chinese gongs, so I added a set of Sabians and a large Zyldjian ride - the cymbals cost more than the drum kit! I also borrowed a vintage Ludwig snare from my stepson Nick, and used the original snare as another tom.
Part of the Art Project aspect of my self-drummed CDs was that I would just dive in and play, come what may. My first drum recordings were for an album called ELMWOOD that is still unfinished (50 DRUMS from DINO'S 50 is actually an ELMWOOD recording.) Then I switched over and played a few drum tracks on my Don Campau collaboration PLAYDATE. By the time I started DINO'S 50 I was a bit more comfortable in the drummer's seat.
My plan, which sounds nuts in retrospect, was to record live drum scratch tracks for every song on 50, and then overdub each and every part of the kit with a close mic, since my Pro Tools LE only has two inputs. I created one massive session with about 55 demos, set up two Radio Shack PZMs on the walls, and just started wailing away, one song after the other. It was exhausting, but I seemed to get better and more fired up the longer I played. Then I imported each demo and drum track into its own session.
Here is where I took a page from Bryan Baker and his Blind Mime double CD: I'd take that original drum demo and find the parts with the best rhythm, using those sections to construct the song and editing out mistakes (and there were MANY.) At this point I realized that re-recording every single drum and cymbal was madness, especially since the PZM-recorded tracks sounded surprisingly good. Instead, I simply recorded two more stereo drum passes, adding rolls or cymbals where needed. For the rolls, I used one PZM and one SM57 closer to the drum heads. Though I experimented with spacial placement, for the most part I mixed these tracks on a straight left-right axis.
In mixing, I found that on many of my favorite commercial CDs, the drums are further back than I would have expected, so I didn't feel bad in turning my own drums down in the mix, which also helps mask my lack of ability.
Overall I'm pretty happy with how the drums turned out, though while mixing I was often terrified they sounded awful and everybody would laugh at my chutzpah. Instead, most listeners comment on the guitars, so at the very least the drum tracks did not detract from their listening experience.
The idea for the song is pretty much the reality: I was attending weight loss hypnosis once a week, and the receptionist there was young, beautiful, and very sweet. I couldn't help imagining how nervous I would have been in my 20's, trying to think of the perfect thing to say to her "as I'm walking out the door." But it also made me realize that I am so old now that attractive young girls are not afraid to be friendly to me, since "there isn't a chance they could want me."
The stuff about Sharon just points up the absurdity of the fantasy: "Sorry, Honey, I'm leaving you for a 20-year-old!" It could just never happen.
Sharon likes having love songs written about her, but other songs that are based on arguments we had or other incidents are probably not her favorites. Sharon understands that I sing and write about my life experiences, but she has asked that the really personal stuff STAYS personal. Obviously my songs are secondary to the way we interact in real life, and we both know what's real and what's made up or exaggerated. And I made sure to play the album for her all the way through before mastering in case she wanted changes, but she didn't ask for any.
In regards to other people, they are usually flattered, amused, or excited to be mentioned in my songs, not counting the many who are unaware they've been sung about or sampled.
The most surprising responses I've gotten from people who are mentioned in my songs is when there's NO response! There are two or three songs where I made sure those people knew they were written about and gave them a copy of the CD, and STILL got no reaction whatsoever! If somebody wrote a song about me (Ken Clinger did, actually) I would be flattered enough to at least acknowledge the effort!
I've had a few comments about the lightweight lyrics, which is a byproduct of my quest to Stick To The Demos. In the future I will probably spend more time on that aspect, but at the same time I'm not Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan so that's never gonna change a whole lot!
Sharon was thrilled with how the CD turned out, and though she and I went through a rough phase with all our moving, she was never anything but totally supportive of the project, which is why I'm so thrilled to have her picture on the back cover with me. In fact, that photo has become one of our favorites and we had it printed on a canvas frame for our home.