Bryan Ferry has a new album out called Avonmore. The album sounds like somewhere in between Roxy Music’s Avalon and his 80’s output, however it does feature enough modern touches to no be stuck in the past. I have always liked Bryan Ferry, from his early Roxy Music days until now. Although I don’t think anyone thinks Bryan Ferry sings as well as Bryan Ferry does, which is actually part of his charm, his voice has always been distinctive enough to be interesting to me as a listener.
I know that there are some of you who probably view his music as too slick, but if you think of music as being visual it has the ability to create it’s own world. I can’t help but think of some kind of futuristic film noir when I put one of his records on. His music would fit perfectly in the Alan Rudolph film Trouble in Mind. Even his lesser songs have interesting textures and atmosphere. He has consistently done his own thing outside of the trends of the day. Even during the glam era, Roxy Music were much stranger than most of the competition. Their album For Your Pleasure is a beautifully unique oddity.
If you are someone that likes latter period Roxy Music, or his early solo career, then this album will please you. He is still out there painting his own universe, for which I am grateful.
You will find yourself going down some strange rabbit holes when time allows. French singer Francoise Hardy in 1965. I don’t understand a word of it, but it is beautiful.
The Importance of Panning
The above article is about how bands are mixed on record. I think it is simple enough to follow that even someone that doesn’t understand recording could get something out of it.
I have mentioned that I am obsessed with AC/DC lately. One of the things that I love about their records is the simplicity. I especially love the sound of their guitars and the way that they are mixed. All of AC/DC’s records feature the brothers Malcolm and Angus Young. (Malcolm Young just retired, but he is on all of the band’s records except their soon to be released new record.) On AC/DC records there are very few recorded tracks that the band can’t play live. When you listen to their records you hear a band mixed like you were seeing them live. When you see AC/DC live Malcolm’s amps are on stage left and Angus Young’s amps are on stage right. When you listen to their music on a stereo or headphones you therefor hear Malcolm’s guitar on the left ear or speaker, and Angus’s guitar on the right. Angus later adds his solos and they are mixed mostly in the middle or only slightly off to one side.
When something is only on one side or the other, or more on one side than the other, this is called panning. When things were recorded in mono everything was equal in both speakers. Stereo allows you split what instrument is on what speaker or side of your headphones. This helps with clarity as everything is not fighting for the same space.
However, like with AC/DC, it can actually make a record more interesting as well. You can listen to one of their records and tell what each brother is playing and how their guitars compliment each other. I used AC/DC as an example not only because they are featured in the above article, nor because I am really enjoying them right now, but their mixes are really a simple and clear way to understand panning. Listen to one of their songs sometime on headphones, and notice how each headphone features a different guitar that is complimenting the other one. You will realize how well constructed the guitar parts.
If you have even the slightest interest in how a group of musicians can create something that is more than the sum of its parts, these kinds of records are a great place to start.
I was in the studio all day cutting a track for the upcoming tribute album to the late great Ted Hawkins. There is no place I would rather be then the studio. Today it was a crack commando unit backing up the singer of the Turnpike Troubadours, Evan Felker. We knew the song we were going to do, and the key, but aside from that the arrangement was born in the studio. It was pretty old school in that for basic tracks we just jammed until something sounded right, with Kevin Russell, who is producing, guiding our ship when we would get too far out. It also never hurts to have an engineer like Stuart Sullivan running the technical side of things. It was a good mix of thought and feeling today. Never allowing the conscious mind to get in the way, but just enough thought so that the song ebbed and flowed in just the right way.
I like to do my homework before recording. I like to know the chord changes so I’m not learning the song on the spot and wasting other people’s time. I like to have a couple ideas stockpiled in my back pocket in case things hit a rut. However, I am always happy to go another direction and land somewhere unexpected. A song is like a frame. There are certain boundaries that it dictates. However, in that frame there are a lot of different ways that you can color it. It is good to have a place to start from, but to not be afraid to throw everything out the window as new ideas present themselves.
When I am doing a session where I am just the bass player, I try to listen to the other musicians and be complimentary to what is going on. I try to find that balance between giving someone what they want and making sure what I do is unique and interesting in some way. I never want to take the focus off what is most important in the song, yet I don’t want to just deliver meat and potatoes, unless that is what is called for. Sometimes you will find that the stock thing is what works, but I usually feel that arrangements are helped when everyone is adding a little bit of their personality to them. The way that session players in places like Nashville play is just atrocious to me. They may be technically amazing, but there is no soul. I’d literally rather hear an electronic dance record by someone that knows how to make them than that shit.
So that’s what I did today, and what I’m thinking about. I’m about to dive back into Ken Burns’s Civil War series. Now for something completely different…
Weezer have a new album out. (It actually came out last month, but I’m only just getting around to listening to it.) It is called Everything Will Be Alright in the End and it is the first produced by Rick Ocasek, of Cars fame, since The Green Album. This actually may be their best record since The Green Album, and actually since Pinkerton. I actually like most of their records, though I agree with most people that their first two records are their best. Weezer are one of those bands that does things that I normally wouldn’t like, like making pop culture references in the lyrics, but are so good at what they do that I don’t care. Rivers Cuomo is a melodic genius and this new album is front to back great melodies. The production by Ocasek is also top notch. The guitars have that same quality to them that they do on their first and third albums. They are heavy, but they have so much texture to them that they are actually beautiful a good deal of the time. Each guitar is like a little painting you can get lost in. If you are a fan of Weezer you will definitely like this album. If you are not, but like rock n roll with astounding pop melodies, then you should check them out as well.
Today the weather in Austin is less than ideal. There is a “slate grey Victorian sky” as Morrissey sang. Certain music fits different weather patterns better than others. A place as grey and rainy as Manchester seems to produce a lot of music that works well with dismal weather. I wonder if there has ever been a study on how weather affects music? I need to burn off to rehearsal, but in the meantime I thought I would leave you with some Joy Division.
I usually don’t like the way YouTube videos of shows turn out. The lighting is usually bad, the sound worse, the way it’s filmed makes you want to crawl into a cave and die. However, this one turned out pretty good. This is my former band, No Show Ponies, playing at Strange Brew in Austin, Texas. We played the small listening room in Austin earlier this year. It is one of the best sounding rooms in Austin. My brother Ben is on guitar and vocals. Alex Moralez, who is also playing with me in my current solo project, is on drums. The set is a mix of original songs and covers, but it is only part of the set. On that day we covered Joe Strummer, Lou Reed, John Hiatt, and Jackson Browne. The rest of the songs are ours. Some of them our from our album A Manual for Defeat, and some are newer. If you are bored at work today, plug in your headphones, pretend to look busy, and have a listen…