Bear in Boots

We took a lot of boots out of her apartment this week.  She liked boots.

I don’t remember if I cast her as Mae in …Boots (the album) before or after her diagnosis.  It was around that time, either way.  In the story Mae has died, offscreen, before the story really starts.  So it was a little weird to have Mary singing the part in the context of such sickening news.

Together at Depeche Mode in Chicago, August 2013

But it would have been weirder to change her part just because she had cancer.  It was the right part for her voice, we both knew it, and damn it we were going to make this record the way it wanted to be made.

That’s kind of how it’s been with the whole thing, near five years of watch and wait and drugs and doctors and travel and work and friends and family.  The odds were always long; long enough I knew she didn’t want me to look them up, and I never did.  They caught up with her last Thursday.

It would have been weirder, and worse, to change our relationship around the cancer than it was to mostly carry on.  She built a life she loved and needed to continue, and I embraced my role in making that happen.  We kept up the relationship we would have had without it, just keeping tabs on it occasionally.

When I hear her sing Mae as I am now I’ll think of her bravery, but without making a monument of it.  She, quite consciously, did not battle cancer; to fight would have been to fall to its level.  She brazenly asserted the reality of her experience – hardworking, fancy, full of friends, loving, rooted in Nebraska, transplanted and thriving in Chicago, maybe somewhat calculating or brusque to some (she had no patience for those who would waste her time),* sparkly, ethereal – over the terrible fact of some small gene gone rogue.

* As her brother, I can’t let you think she was perfect or anything,** and it’s certainly a pot / kettle / black situation

** But she was close

One of her medical staff told me that she’d had someone dear to her diagnosed with cancer, and she never saw them again, though they had lived for two more years.  They became their disease.  She said Bear had pulled off the reverse, in a way she’d never seen before; in her love, her friends, her work, she became more and more herself.

I’d have given her Mae on …Boots in any case.  But I might have mixed her voice a little higher than I otherwise would, knowing that one day – a day I hoped was farther in the future than today, but feel lucky didn’t come a year ago, or two, or three, as it could have – I’d be listening to it as I am.  With gratitude and heartbreak.  Loss, and good memories.

She’d hate that I’m writing anything about this.

I hate that I know that, and I’m writing anyway.  That she’s not here to not return my calls for a few weeks, while she deals with the embarrassment I’m causing.  To hear Ventura and the Mars Lights LP and tell me about Sarah and Al and Ben and projects in Africa and what she’s listening to and where she’s going next.  Words fail.

“Into the Fire” has come on.  I’m not ready to hear it.

I will always love you, kid.  -h

We Finished Recording Ventura Yesterday

Thanks to Cari Ann, Drew, Kate, Charlie, Matt, Jess, Jill, and Tim, who provided a combination of gang vocals and logistical support, we finished the final tracking for Ventura last night.  (And had a pretty good party, to boot.)

Mixing is well underway and sounding great, and it will be easy to slide these parts into the mixes along with the singing the Lincoln crew did a couple months ago.

Get ready!

Get Off My Lawn!

When you listen to as much music as I do, you acquire your preferences.  Preferences that, in turn, can become annoyances when they’re not met.

Here are two of mine.


1. Double albums that aren’t long enough to need the second disc

Example offenders:

Baroness, Yellow and Green (runtime: 74:59)

Arcade Fire, Reflektor (runtime: 75:12)

Hammers of Misfortune, Fields/Church of Broken Glass (runtime: 70:53)

HammersOfMisfortune-FieldsChurchI like all three of these albums.  But, why?  Why are these double-disc releases, when all of the music would obviously fit on one 80-minute CD?

Art, schmart; vinyl LPs were sequenced to sound good around the break required to flip the record over, and we do just fine when they’re on one disc.  (Hell, my copy of Exile on Main St. is a single disc for a double-LP! Four whole sides!!)  Your sequencing is not too good or too special or too important or a damn CD.

Baroness, you’re the worst of this bunch.  Not only is the second half of your project on a separate disc, it has a four-and-a-half minute introduction to boot!  If you’re going to do this, at least do us right, like Foo Fighters, who put more than 80 minutes of music on In Your Honor I & II.

DownloadedFileThere must be some industry rules or accounting that explain this.  I hope so; otherwise, the level of artistic pretentiousness required to put a completely unnecessary second disc in everyone’s copy of the record is just too irksome.

2. Songs that fade out

I know some of you love fade-outs.  One person told me that when a song fades out at the end, they feel like it “goes on forever.”

Not for me; it goes on my list of bands who were too unimaginative to come up with an ending that added something to the song.  There are so many options: have a tight ending, an outro with a new part, a solo, everybody back off playing and fade naturally, or fade just some instruments (the drums, or everything but lead guitar) and let that instrument end it.  Those are just off the top of my head.  Do something, don’t just give up 90% of the way through your song!

You want something that goes on forever?  Put a locking groove at the end of your side of vinyl.  (Expo 70’s done a great job on this.)  That is cool, and it does something interesting in that it makes you, the listener, actively stop the record instead of it coming to a stop on its own (cassette, digital, vinyl) or starting over at the beginning (CD).

What gets your goat musically?

If You Had Just Three Mics

The three I’ll talk about would be great for all kinds of recording.  I have plenty of experience getting the most out of a few affordable mics, and if I were starting over building a home recording rig, these would be my first three.  Let my experience save you some time, money, and headaches.

re320 Electro-Voice RE-320 – This go-to dynamic mic sets a solid baseline sound for almost any sound source – vocals, amps, acoustic instruments – and is my favorite kick drum mic (with the EQ switch engaged) to boot.




DV019_Jpg_Regular_276668_web_compSennheiser e 609 silver – Drew and I love this dynamic mic on guitar cabinets and snare drum.




DV016_Jpg_Large_583081_shockmountedMXL R144 – I confess; my experience with ribbon mics is limited.  However, it’s the bang-for-your-buck on the R144 that vaults it onto this list.  It provides a detailed, live, balanced sound, and the figure-8 pattern is handy in the studio.  There have been some concerns about quality control regarding the affordable, mostly Chinese-manufactured ribbon mics that have come onto the scene, so while my experience has been really good, be aware of that.

Here’s how I’d typically use these mics for all kinds of sounds:

Vocals – Set up the RE-320 and R144 side-by-side at the singer’s mouth level (standard positioning) with the diaphragm and ribbon in line (i.e. the mics in phase), with a pop filter and the singer 12-18 inches away.  In the mix I’d start with the levels about equal, though I’d experiment with bringing one or the other forward to see if that worked better.

Drums – RE-320 on the kick opposite where the beater strikes the batter head, 6-18 inches from the resonant head.  e 609 on the snare, however you like your snare close-mic’d.  R144 in a drummer’s shoulder, overhead, or front-of-kit position, whatever sounds best and gives you the level of ambience you want (shouder = least ambience, front-of-kit = most ambience).  You’ll be amazed at the full, detailed drum sound you can get with just these three mics; much better, I think, to spend your money on the EV and MXL mics than get one of those sets of six or more cheaper drum mics that let you close-mic everything, but with lower quality.

Electric guitars – e 609 close up on the speaker cabinet in your favorite position, R144 three to six feet back, centered on the speaker configuration.  This combination will give you a great guitar sound, and you can mix the R144 up or down to affect the presence and space of the guitar in the mix.

Acoustic guitars – Play with a combination of the RE-320 and R144 in different positions (watch phase!), though either one on its own will do a good job, too.  Emphasize one or the other in the mix.

Bass guitar – Put the RE-320 on the speaker cabinet, and also take a direct line in from the bass.  I use the 320 as my main sound in the mix, and bring in just enough of the direct line to support the mic sound.

“Wait, what about the Shure SM57?!!”

It’s a workhorse, I agree, but both Drew and I prefer the e 609 for the classic ’57 applications; snare and guitar cabinet.

“Not a single condenser mic?!?”

I love condensers.  My go-to is a Rode NT-1 that I’ve had for a long time and am happy with, so I’m not super up-to-speed on what’s out there now, and I might make a different choice today if I were buying a first condenser mic.  But for a small, affordable mic locker to do the best job possible on all the applications above, I’ve found the RE-320 + R144 combination to be superior to anything we can do similarly with our condenser mics from the same price range.