Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Nashville Mix

Hey guys -

Man, am I ever lazy. I can't believe this is my first blog post! I also can't believe that it's already been almost a week since I got back from mixing our new record... It was hard work, and I was sick the whole time (complain, complain), but it was a total blast! And most importantly, after 5 days in the most technologically advanced studio ever seen by man or beast (blackbird studio - check it out!), our record is mixed, and it sounds GREAT.

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to these three fellows -

First and foremost to Chris Funk, who is doing a bang-up job producing this album. Keeps us on task, gets our lazy asses out of bed, and has focused this recording into a razor sharp, superhot laser of rock music. It was his loony idea to fly all the way to Nashville to mix.

Next, to our mixing engineer, Vance Powell, who won a Grammy last year, but didn't let that stop him from keeping an open mind about working with some grubby dudes from Portland (ok, Funk isn't too grubby, but my stank more than makes up for his cleanliness).

Finally, to Mike Rooney, assistant engineer, who, among other things, was responsible for keeping track of that massive pile of grey, unappetizing spaghetti you can see right above his foot.

So, now that the gushy stuff is out of the way, where do I begin? The whole week was a major mental overload. I guess I'll start where most lazy, awkward conversations start - the weather. It was colder than a wizard's balls out there, and as the week progressed, it just kept getting colder. There were all kinds of doomsday warnings about 3-6 inches of snow falling and shutting down the whole town. I took a photo of the drifts piled outside my hotel door.

If you look really hard, you can just make out some trees above the giant piles of snow. Pretty scary, huh? Ok, not really. But we learned something interesting about Nashville in time of crisis - when times are tough, make sure you stock up on bread and milk; it's like the local version of duct tape and bottled water. By Thursday, every store was sold out.

The Studio

I think the Strat that Funk was jamming on in the above photo was a '59, the Tele on the wall behind him was also from the '50s. There are guitars like that literally lining the walls - any one could be considered a guitar of a lifetime, but there are so many at blackbird, they use them for furniture (not really).

Blackbird is not just 1 studio, it's a complex of 8 different studios in 3 different buildings. They have pretty much any guitar, amp, speaker, etc. you could ever want to play through. There are original Astrid Kirchherr photos of The Beatles everywhere you look. There are about 5,000 of the most badass microphones you can imagine. Check out Funk salivating over a tiny sample of the "extra" mics.

The digs were 1st class. Fully stocked kitchen, cokes in glass bottles, fancy automatic espresso maker, huge flat panel HD TVs both in the kitchen and in our private lounge (that's right, our own private lounge - what?), beer on demand (on our dime), and maybe the finest piece of equipment in the entire studio - a Sonic burger rabbit pellet ice maker. You see, the owner/operator of blackbird studios, John McBride (yes, he's married to Martina), is obsessed with that ice. At first, Funk and I were all like, "um, really?" But once we tried it, we were sold. Not having a photo of the thing is a total rookie maneuver on my part - that's why Coyle gets paid the big bucks and I'm just a scrub.

Oh, and the last day we were in studio, John and Martina were producing and engineering a song for the winners of an online charity auction. Pretty awesome. But I have a feeling they didn't let them use this compressor.

Although John did let Chris and I play through his Dumble amplifier. If you don't know what this is, it's like the most awesome amp in the world, with a price tag to match.

Anyway, John had lunch brought in from Nashville's most famous barbecue joint, Jack's, and I could see why people call it the best. Their sweet hot sauce is incredible. Here's my plate before I decimated it.

If I hadn't been sick, I probably could have polished off 3 plates like Funk did. After eating, I spent some time getting to know the real housewives of the OC. I don't remember this lady's name, but things got kind of intense for a minute before I used my charms to get her to smile.

uh oh

phew, she's smiling!

The Work

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - in addition to watching satellite TV and pigging out on barbecue, we were actually working our asses off all week. Vance was amazing. He came in Tuesday morning with the tracks all prepped before we even got to the studio. I knew things were going to work out within the first 2 hours when he was getting sounds on my vocals and without me even saying a word, had got them sounding exactly the way I wanted. Plus, he used this crazy thing called the Cooper Time Cube. I probably won't do it justice, but basically it's a box with a couple SM 57's inside being used as speakers to send signal down 2 different lengths of garden hose, which are then received by another pair of 57s at the other end. Yes, I said garden hose. Here's a photo of the controller thingy, and one I pulled from the internet of the inside of one of these things.

Actually, the mixing went so smoothly that there's barely anything to report about it. We would dial up a song, email it to the dudes back home in Portland, go to lunch, come back after hearing comments, fix whatever needed fixing, and move on. It was surprisingly easy and fast. And I'm totally happy with the results. But you all should be the judge of that once the record comes out for real.

One final thought - on our 2nd to last night, Vance hosted a listening party in Studio C, which was designed by George Massenburg, who is an audio GENIUS. It is quite possibly the best sounding room in the entire world, and I am actually not exaggerating. It's set up for 5.1 surround mixing. The speakers cost $12,000 EACH. Here's a short video.

We listened to a bunch of stuff, but the best is what we heard first - "Love," which is a remix of Beatles music for a Cirque du Soleil show. What? Yeah, it sounds lame, doesn't it? I sort of knew what it was, but not really. Funk had been purposely avoiding it. Well, it was kind of a life-changing experience. As we listened to "Because," Vance yelled to us (the music was CRANKED), that the most surreal moment of his life was sitting right where we were, listening to the same track we were listening to, but with Geoff Emerick. Geoff Emerick engineered that track, and told Vance (obviously having similar misgivings as Funk) that Studio C at Blackbird was the only place in the world he would listen to "Love." Does that tell you anything?

Keep an eye out for the new record! Should be coming soon!!