The gig a couple of weeks ago is now but a fuzzy memory and now we've gotten down to work. Make no mistake about it, recording stuff is work. When you play live mistakes are gone instantly. Every beat is a new beginning, provided you don't make too many mistakes, the audience won't really notice. But recording, well, it's for keeps.
A live performance is about getting the band working together as a single unstoppable unit whose goal is to make the maximum impact on the audience. A hammer. When it's working right those listening will get what you're on about whether they want to or not. They might not go home knowing the chorus or humming that pretty little turnaround from the last bridge, but they should have felt the emotions you intended to convey. Of course on a bad night all they go home with is the emotional equivalent of a smashed thumb, but hey, that's why bars serve booze.
Recording is a whole 'nuther kettle of metaphor. Because any mistake you make is permanent, it's less about drive and unity of momentum and more about getting the details right. It's like building watches: little tiny pieces slotted into their places just so. Everything has to fit 'cause there's no place to hide when it can be played back over and over.
The process of getting the details right often sucks the life out of a great song. It's a common experience were the band was great in performance but the CD bought at the merch table sucks. There's a thing called "Red Light Fever" where performers who know the material inside and out still tense up when the recording light is lit. When you're trying not to make mistakes it's inevitable that you're going to play cautiously and caution isn't exciting.
So how the hell do you build a watch that's also be a hammer?
We're recording the band as a whole, where everyone plays at the same time rather than overdubbing each part separately. This help keep the energy up but it means that if any one of use has a bad take the whole track is lost.
We've also been employing tricks like playing two takes in a row without stopping in the hopes that the second will be a little less stressful. Segmenting the songs as much as possible so that a mistake in the last section won't ruin the whole take helps too.
All in all everyone seems to be enjoying this session a lot more than the last one. I'm not sure why. Maybe we're getting better at it. I know for myself I'm really enjoying the process of watchmaking.
We've isolated the instruments as much as possible and everyone is using headphones to hear each other. I love this. I can tailor who's in my ears and make it whisper quiet if I want. Sweet indeed. I've found all I really need is the drums to be clear and present with just enough bass and lead guitar to know where I am in the song.
Now that I can hear myself and the drums clearly I'm finding that it's getting easier and easier to fit my rhythm into what E's doing. Our parts are beginning to dovetail together in a way that they never did before. This is immensely satisfying. I'm getting a kick out of it that rivals what I get from hearing an audience respond.
There's satisfaction in swinging a hammer, it's primal and visceral. But there's satisfaction in an intricate job done right as well. In some ways it even goes deeper. Hammers are all about the moment and immediacy and because of that the feeling they create fades quickly. (Insert drug reference here.) But watchmaking speaks to grander things. Putting it all together correctly is a reflection of the intricacy of our world and perhaps even the universe as a whole. Each part has its role and the sum can't be achieved unless everything is working properly. This is as true for songs as it is for ecosystems and I think on some level we can feel that. Maybe it's hubris, treading on ground that is meant for the gods alone, or maybe we're just inseparable from our baroque clockwork universe. We are in it, and of it to such an extent that creating our own little universes is what we're meant to do.
If so, it doesn't matter if we can get the watch to be a hammer; the attempt is enough.