Thursday, January 29, 2015

Producers Notes: Building The GROOVALOTTOS Album Pt. 4

Bob Yen engineering as Redbone thumps the groove
Albums always take me a long time to produce. That is to say, I take my time producing them. I'm big on letting tracks season before I go back and adjust or overdub. Once I had the basic tracks on a CD, the CD lives in my car and I'll listen to it throughout the production process. First, I like to get a great take and build from there. As the production evolves the sound and feel might shift slightly, but the basic tracks are always the foundation.

Eddie Ray's drum tracks are about as funky as you can get. After redoing my keyboards from the original scratch track, it was time to bring in Redbone and do the bass lines. Redbone and Eddie Ray have been playing together for years, having been in the legendary band, West Side Soul together in the 1990's, they are a bass an drum unit. Listening to the basic tracks and then listening to other records with great, funky bass and drums I began to get ideas that would lift our sound into a new paradigm rhythmically.

Producers notes on playback. As usual, Redbone nailed it.
My sensibilities had been colored with the work of great jazz musicians playing on soul and funk records as well as the 1990's era of hip-hop where producers like Pete Rock, Ali Shahid Muhammad, DJ Mark the 45 King, and DJ Premiere created some remarkable sounds from their sampling and looping work, juxtaposing swing beats against straight time beats. Ironically, virtuoso jazz players and untrained DJs turned producers have similar ears and concepts that escape conventional concepts of how music should be performed.

Listening, for example, to the bass and drum work of James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin of the Funk Brothers/ Motown studio band of the 1960's. On several records, like "Hitch-Hike" "This Old Heart of Mine" and "Baby I Need Your Loving", you can hear the bass and drums are rocking two different time signatures against each other; giving the songs their edge. In the movie "Get On Up" we see a depiction of James Brown brow beating his musicians when they question his mixing of time signatures on the song "Cold Sweat". In this scene, we see Brown encouraging his musicians to the ink of their instruments as drums, similar to the philosophy that Eddie Ray brings to The Groovalottos, grooving is a counting game.

Redbone is a natural born talent and genius of the bass; being self taught on the instrument and growing up singing doo-wop on the street corner as a kid. From the first time that he came to a band rehearsal, it was clear that he understood and felt the groove and could make us feel it too. You see, a soul-funk record is about feeling, and the ability to convey that feeling to the listener. I would put him up against most conservatory trained jazz or rock bass players any day, as he comes with the kind of soul in his playing that they aspire towards. As a band, one thing that we often do in rehearsal and at gigs is play around with time signatures on tunes. One night, while playing a tune in 4/4, Eddie Ray decided to go into 6/8 while I went into 2/4 and Redbone stayed in 4/4. It's a math problem along the lines of solving equations and looking for the common denominator.

With the use of technology and 'industry standards' the differential between a band's live show and their record has grown wider and wider. The standard for recording is that the music is turned into a matrix of time corrected loops sewn together. Steely Dan used to do a version of this pre-looping. For the studio version of the album, they'd record in California, with California studio musicians who are in the pocket and predictable. For the tour, they'd put together a band of east coast guys who are wild and unpredictable. James Brown had bands that could do both. The same can be said for Sly and the Family Stone.

Also taking a page from Motown's studio band, they were all active jazz players who would record in the studio all day and play out at the clubs at night. The jazz clubs provided them with an opportunity to experiment with grooves, feels, and chord voicing. Elements of these experiments would often find their way into the arrangements of the songs they'd record the next day. In gathering footage for our documentary, "The Song Keepers" we ended up collecting hours of footage of our live performances and audience reactions. Pin-pointing elements that made particular performances stand out and translating them to the studio was how we created our basic tracks.

For any organic player, the studio can be a very restrictive environment. Most of my work as a producer has been trying to find ways to be organic in the studio, even when dealing with the electronica approaches of my last couple of albums. The production challenge here was getting Redbone to play like Redbone at a gig who can play in, out, next to, under, over, in front and behind the pocket naturally. Today, he was making the mistake of trying to lock himself to Eddie's kick drum. What I needed him to do was respond to it.

Since we were recording the bass DI, Redbone was able to sit in the control booth and record to the playback on the monitors instead of through headphones. I was able to sit behind him and be the annoying voice in his ear, coaching him through the bass parts. The end result: 12 of the best bass track recordings that I've heard in quite some time. "Ask Yo' Mama" is on it's way to being an instant classic album.

Missed any of the parts? Follow the Whole Producer Notes series here
PRODUCER's NOTES


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