What's a producer?
Last night after work, I drove out to Thousand Oaks for another pre-production meeting with Shane Alexander, who will be producing the record.
If you don't work in music, the roles can sound mysterious. Using film as analogy: as songwriter, I'm like the writer of the screenplay. I craft a story in exactly the way I want to tell it, creating structure through the placement of every word and melodic motif.
Since I'm also the artist -- the vocalist who performs and embodies the songs -- I'm like the lead actress, evoking emotion through my enunciation of the words and the timbre, volume, and expression of my voice. The rhythm of my guitar, whether it's strummed or finger-picked, with chords or individual notes, supports my voice and the story.
The producer in a music project -- in this case, Shane -- is analogous to the director of a film. Listening to my vision and my particularness as an artist, Shane's role is to build the sonic world that will support and best showcase each song, my artistry, and the complete album as a whole.
Last night, up at Buddhaland Studios, Shane and I more or less finalized the 7 songs for the album, plus discussed 1 or 2 other songs that might be released as separate bonus "single" tracks. Playing to a metronome, we ballparked the tempos and jotted down notes about Hammond organ, pedal or lap steel, shaker and tambourine, French horn or clarinet. As he said, I have a "rock bone," which is true, but a few of our favorites are definite ballads.
It's a funny thing to stand on the edge of a future with someone who you know will be important in your life. Songwriting, at least the way that I do it, is very personal. It's not just the lyrics of the song or the expression of the melody, but the backstory of what went into the song, the process of carving it into a shape, and the scraps left on the work table when it's done. It's also a lifetime of music rooted in the folk revival of the '60s, with long years of orchestral and renaissance ensemble playing, kirtan music, and puzzling out songs on my guitar.
Shane and I have never before worked together. In our hours together these past two weeks we've been studying each other's artistry and work philosophy. To get to the final product, he and I will be engaged together in every step of the process. We need to know that we can trust each other, that we can communicate, and that aesthetically we're on the same page. I noticed last night that we're beginning to understand each other's language. Eventually, we'll know the shorthand, probably talk in music as much as words.
Like a schoolgirl off to the prom, Los Angeles spring is flaunting all its blossomed beauty. The mockingbirds are yodeling every tune they've ever heard, starting first thing in the morning. They make for a sweeter alarm clock than a rooster or iPhone, for sure. And I don't mind at all, because after a WHIRLWIND of a first campaign week, we're 109% funded from 108 backers - I am STUNNED.
Yesterday after work, I took the rolling green-hilled drive out to Thousand Oaks, to spend the evening at Buddhaland Studios playing through songs for the record with producer Shane Alexander. The studio decor is all the colors and textures I love -- guitar wood and strings, blue velvet, earthy woven rugs, Buddha candles, a old upright player piano without the scrolls, a Wurlitzer, deep couches. (Of course, I took zero photos, but here's some I found on Facebook. Shane's the proud looking guy in the blue sweater.)
Shane and I met through engineer Brian Yaskulka, who will be mixing the album and whose work I have admired since The Rescues EP came out in 2010. My sweetheart / bad*ss bassman, Darby Orr, whose playing I love not just because of my love for him, will lay down the low end. Denny Weston, Jr., whose gorgeous playing I first admired a few years ago when he was on tour with K.T. Tunstall, will play drums and percussion. More players to come...
This was the first time Shane and I sat down one-on-one. We're planning on a 6-song album, but have 10 songs in the quiver, whittled down from much more. I played him all 10 as we talked arrangements -- "Chop that chorus in half... go right to the verse 2... add the tag..." and "French horn here... rim shots on the snare... pedal steel right there..." and got the feel for working together.
If you watched the Kickstarter video, you saw a little clip from a recent solo gig. Yesterday I uploaded 3 full songs from that night to YouTube -- click here to watch/listen! These songs will be changing over the next few months. I'm already hearing them like the way you watch kids when they graduate from elementary and head off to middle school. Still gangly, still kids, but less so every day. By the end of 2019, they be all growed up.
By early 2020, they'll go out into the world to heal, entertain, and make their mark in whatever way they can.
I'm so grateful for every bit of support that has come through for this project. I can't wait to inscribe every single supporter's name on the walls of my little she-shed, so that I can remember, on those inevitable days when I'm feeling like this boulder is too heavy to push, that I am not alone.
To re-phase E.L. Doctorow: Life is like driving home at night in the fog. You can't always see the road, but lit by a thousand tiny torches, you can make it all the way home.
I am grateful for the tiny torches who are illuminating the campaign.