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In the Recording Studio at the Point Éphémère

July 17, 2010

I had been going step by step towards a musical epiphany since I returned to writing and performing music after a several decades long hiatus, and the next natural step was to get into a recording studio and record with a band. And I wanted to do it live. I did not want to piece together every morsel bit by bit, or I could do that almost by myself at home in my living room.

But the idea was not entirely mine. It was Earle Holmes who first suggested to me that I meet up with Hervé Bouétard, of the band Control Club, that Earle’s BPM company manages. Hervé had worked with another one of Earle’s musicians to do some good recordings in his studio at the Point Éphémère, and Earle thought there could be a good vibe for me to try working with Hervé too. Earle was right.

It was a dream come true my sessions on Wednesday and Thursday in the studio with four other musicians – three per day – and all of us recording live four of the songs I have written since my musical adventure really began in November 2008.

It took months for me to move on it, and it took another couple of months for Hervé to move on it – i.e., get the time – and then it took me a while to get together my dream group of musicians – including Hervé on drums – to record the four songs I decided to do. But it all came together on Wednesday and Thursday, and thanks entirely to Hervé and the generosity and professionalism and talent of the musicians that accepted to play with me.

Hervé was very cool in not only playing drums on all the songs, but also working the sound in the small studio in the back of the art/concert/cafe/restaurant space on the Quai de Valmy in Paris. Hervé used to be drummer for a very cool and successful French band called A.S. Dragon, that was formed as a back-up band for the iconoclastic French novelist, Michel Houellebecq. The band decided it wanted more than just to be that writer’s backup band when he went on tour with some songs, and they added a gorgeous woman singer and did very well after that….

I had a real conundrum to solve with the lead guitarist, though. I had two guys I knew I wanted, both for different reasons. So in the end I decided to do two days of recording and do two songs with each guitarist, if they accepted. Thank goodness they did. One was Félix Beguin, with whom I had played many times at Earle’s open mics since the beginning. Félix also plays in a band called The Wasters and another called The Burnin’ Jacks, and he is in his early twenties, and a bloody natural born genius guitar player. He is also studying sound engineering now and music will be his career, one way or the other. So Félix played with me on the first day, and we did “Memories” and “Except Her Heart.” The latter, remember, is the song that Félix so kindly arranged for me a few months ago with a midi system and added guitar lead, piano, bass, etc.

The second day my guitarist was the neighbor I’ve been working with for the last year and a half intermittently, who goes by the stage name of Zarby. He wrote the chords for “Let Me Know,” and asked me to do a melody and lyrics, and we were both happy with the result. So there was no question but to have him play on that, and I enjoy working with him anyway, so there was just no question of NOT doing it. We also did “Since You Left Me,” both of these songs on the second day, the Thursday. What was very cool too is that Zarby started his musical career as a jazz drummer, and so with “Let Me Know” he not only had an idea of what kind of drumming would sound good with it, but he was able to show on the drums to Hervé what he meant. The song, written about a Turkish woman I know, has a very Middle Eastern music sound to it, and indeed, Hervé’s drumming just gives this hypnotic, trance-like, mantra-like feel to it.

The big problem from the beginning was to find a bass player, and I had all sorts of ideas, but nothing was panning out. Until my son, Paul, said, “Why not the guy from Natas Loves You?” In fact, I had thought of him myself, but I had only ever heard this fabulous young band from Luxemburg live doing acoustic performances. Paul had heard them electric, however, and said the bass player was good. So I wrote Virgile on Facebook, and he immediately responded that he would do it. And am I glad he did. I had met the band during their first week in Paris almost a year ago when they performed at their first open mic here, at the Truskel, in Earle’s open mic. I immediately thought they were great and I spoke to them. Only 20 years old, Virgile is not only a very cool guy to work with, but his bass playing was really good for what I needed and wanted, and I got the added bit of icing on the cake when this master of harmony – all of Natas Loves You are great at singing and harmonies – accepted to add some harmonies on “Since You Left Me,” which gives it a sudden completely different life in spots, and even, dare I say it, a little addition of youthful something.

What can I say about these two days in the studio? I think ultimately the statement will be in the sound of the music that resulted from it. And I will make that available as soon as Hervé has finished tweaking it. But the idea behind it was to do four recordings of four musicians playing live in the studio. This was not an overdubbing exercise, and it was very important for me to recapture the essence of my musical and emotional journey of the last year and a half and more as I have travelled around the world and played in open mics and jam sessions. It was essential to capture these four songs – at least – that speak my heart at this period in my life (even if much has changed since I wrote some of them), and to do that best, I wanted a live performance.

It was NOT easy, but it was smooth, and in the end, I was happy with the result. I don’t know if I will say the same thing next week when I hear the recordings after a while away from the studio, and a while away from listening to them – with a new perspective – but whatever may be the summation, it is clear that I spent two excellent days in the studio. Even if it was exhausting and I did not even sleep the night between them!

I’ve put up a couple of short videos of some quiet moments of taking a break in the studio on the first day with Félix playing my acoustic guitar with a couple of soft melodies, and then Félix on bass and Virgile on my guitar and Hervé on drums, just jamming away, the three of them. I had gone off to take a leak, what with all the water I had to drink in the heat of the studio and to protect my voice from breaking. And when I returned, there they were jamming away this funky tune, as if they desperately wanted to get away from my sad songs!!!! But the key point is, even when we weren’t working, all these music lovers were playing music for fun and amusement, which was for me also one of the biggest points of the whole exercise. And in that, it was a success.

The two days in the studio last week were the musical epiphany I had been working toward. But I’m now fired up for having many more….

Musical Bits and Pieces from Paris

May 21, 2010

I’ve had a scattered few days of a bit of this and a bit of that, with leads that did not materialize and plans that will.

On Wednesday Vanessa and I found a new open mic not far from her place. Freshly inspired by our success at the Baroc on Tuesday we were all ready to go an play in this new one and showed up only to find that slots are booked weeks in advance. So we booked a slot for 7 July!

This new open mic is called “Les Guduleries,” and it’s really much more of a kind of café théatre than an open mic. But the principle of the open mic is the same in that anyone can sign up for two five minutes slots – or two songs if you are musician – and there is no audition. It takes place in a room on the upper floor of the Gudule brasserie on Boulevard de la Villette. Unlike a regular open mic, however, this one involves voting by the audience for the best act of the night. There will be only one musical act, a comic, actor, poet, etc. All in all it had a nice feel to it, and we are looking forward to trying it out.

Aside from that, yesterday my friend Laurent, who calls himself Zarby, sent me a link to a new video he put up on YouTube and that he put together entirely by himself, playing all instruments, singing and also making and editing the video clip. I’ve been working with Laurent for more than a year on my own songs and we have performed once or twice and plan to do more. In fact, we were just discussing today the idea of recording some of my songs next month.

For today, I went to practice with him at his place, around the corner from mine. We worked on some of the songs that we have been working on for a year, and we feel we’re ready to try recording now. Our very first efforts on the song are what you hear on my myspace from more than a year ago, and where I’ve credited him.

By the way, when I first heard his video on YouTube I was expecting to hear something different, as I had worked with him on the lyrics of this nonsense song. But I find it difficult to write nonsense lyrics, and in the end, I saw that he used maximum one or two sentences from what we worked on together in the lyrics:

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