Warts and All (2012)
A blend of driving rock and roll tunes and a few Ben Folds-type ballads. Songs about murder, disillusionment and not taking no for an answer.
Immediately after finishing Maddy Meyer's album, I began recording demos for my next project, Warts and All, which I anticipated completing by the fall. It took another six months to make good, and a full 4 1/2 years after my last solo effort, Pause, and though the process was a bit grueling, it was worth it.
On March 13, 2011, I wrote to myself in a notebook, "Time to get serious about compiling songs for another CD. Been too long. Have great ideas that I'm not completing. So first things first: narrow down ideas to focus on. If some don't work, move on to second tier of ideas. Could be that a theme or style develops over time that might better focus the project."
A theme did sort of develop: the idea was to make a rough and raw recording, warts and all (get it?). Ultimately, I ended up giving in to the perfectionist tendencies that the computer age has helped fuel, and the end result sounds as good as my last few efforts. So while you may still find some warts on the album, it isn't due to a lack of heart-wrenching decisions and mixing tweaks.
Underneath my note from March 13, I wrote down twenty "songs" - ideas, really - that showed some promise, most of which I'd recorded briefly on my hand-held recorder over the previous couple of years. After a few months, I narrowed the list down and completed the gaps. Some songs needed more lyrics ("The Part of You"), some needed a new section ("There is no Reason"), others only had an opening chord progression and needed lyrics and melody ("Daisy Chain"). It was kind of a mess, yet somehow the songs took form, especially after laying down basic tracks.
I knew I would need to recruit a drummer, and I asked my old friend from high school and college, Jim Johnston. During a stifling-hot weekend in August we completed all the necessary drum tracks, Jim's first recording ever and first extensive drum playing in many a year. This was okay, because it was the first time I'd attempted to record drums on my own, so we were both kind of winging it. Even though I added synthetic drums to help rectify certain problem areas, the finished product sounds much more "urgent" or "alive" than could have been achieved with synthetic drums alone. The live drums really make the tunes jump. Many thanks to Jim and to Anthony Calderisi, who lent me drums and mics.
Once the drums were completed, I added bass, guitar, keys and vocals, with my daughter Jessica helping out on "Daisy Chain" and Sarah playing baritone horn on "Man on a Wire." Bruce Hook - a constant contributor for me and always willing and affable - plays saxophone on two tunes. I finished recording in October and took my first stab at mixing a few tunes. Lackluster results led me to wonder just what in hell I was doing.
After a few months of procrastinating, I finally asked Tim Marin, musical director and bass player for The Chi-Town Showstoppers, a band I play keyboards for, if he would consider helping out with mixing and mastering. His ears helped guide me to fix various problems with the mixes, and after two months of mixing and remixing, he applied his mastering tricks to complete the process, but not before imploring me to record a real trumpet for "Man on a Wire." Enter Dave Jelinek, who only a week before mastering the CD, laid down a nice part to compliment the sax and baritone horn.
In the meantime, my daughter Sarah, after two false starts, came up with a new idea for the cover art, and it couldn't have captured the theme better. Great cover.
By the end of the project, it had become apparent that I'd taken my 2004 computer about as far as it can go. I need to retool my recording studio before the next project or risk losing the rest of my hair.