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Ventura Outtakes

8 November 2014 in [blog]

As promised, here is the gag reel from the Ventura background vocal recording session in Kansas City.

Mostly, it’s Drew being belligerent (AKA it’s fantastic).

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mr|ten Originals and Covers, Part 3

2 November 2014 in [blog]

mr|ten has inspired some of you to go back and check out the original versions of the songs we covered for our 10th birthday.  In this series I’ll put the originals and covers side-by-side with commentary.  (Part 1Part 2 – Part 3)

Things We Know Now

howie&scott’s original, from the 2xCD signs.comets:

  • I thought of this as a very poppy song on signs.comets… you know, with a time signature change and verses/choruses of varying lengths.  Super-poppy!
  • It wasn’t until Cari Ann and I were searching for candidate songs for her to sing that I realized the arpeggiated verse riff really outlined some straightforward chords that might translate to autoharp
  • Scott adds a lot to this with the unorthodox drum part, solo (of course), and harmony vocal that I love.  That really creative harmony takes the chorus to another level
  • That “I know your heart is in my teeth” lyric is pretty strange, when I stop to think about it.  I don’t remember where it came from – maybe a dream – but it’s always meant for me a warm, intimate, but frighteningly vulnerable feeling

Cari Ann’s cover:

  • Gorgeous vocal, of course.  The totally stripped-down arrangement puts the spotlight directly on her voice for the whole song, and she carries it beautifully
  • I pushed her a bit during the recording session – she may have been a little frustrated with me by the end of it – but I think the result sings for itself
  • Some nice changes to the bridge melody
  • Mic’ing the autoharp was a bear; the muted strings make weird, dissonant noise as the pick rakes over them, and it was hard to find a mic position that minimized that.  I ended up using a dynamic mic on it for that reason

Just Observing

Original from It’s A Trap by Sally Ride:

  • This song is about my real emotions regarding a real thing that happened in my life.  That may sound unremarkable, but it actually makes “Just Observing” a very unusual song for me; I almost never do that.  Just scanning the track list for It’s A Trap, there is only one other song on that record that’s simply about me and something that happened.  Of course, in both cases the lyrics aren’t literal.  This song is really honest but not nice, like fluorescent light.
  • The lack of drums (or even a steady pulse), backwards-Cory vocal, and structure (verse/verse/bridge/verse, no chorus!) are other weird things about this tune
  • I don’t imagine this is anyone’s favorite jam, but I love it because it nails the emotion I wanted it to capture harder than most

Scott Morris’ cover:

  • Scott asked for suggestions for his cover.  At first I thought it would be hard, but as I thought about his skills and started listening, I came up with a ton of songs I was excited to hear his versions of.
  • He adds an entire theme that isn’t in the original (the first two chords and their subsequent recurrences and variations), and uses the bass to create complex chords that go far beyond the source material to great effect.  The theme suggests the original’s bridge, but is distinct.  The original bridge doesn’t appear; the theme and verse alternate with various textures to create Scott’s dynamics
  • Such a cool pitter-patter beat.  Makes me think Scott could have a second career as some sort of downtempo electronic artist
  • This gets stuck in my head constantly; that’s a big accomplishment for an instrumental track!

Bust My Teeth

Continuing on with White Air’s version:

  • The shifting textures and production are what makes this song work for me.  There are so many different sounds (going far beyond the obvious, and awesome, possessed children’s choir).
  • The lyrics of the final verse get obscured by the “Liar, liar…” theme; I eventually had to ask Greg for them

Sally Ride’s cover:

  • This is my second cover of a song from White Air’s self-titled record on mr|ten.  As I was collecting ideas and trying things to see what worked, both this and “Am I Getting Thru To You?” were working for different reasons.  I went ahead and recorded both, not knowing if the compilation as a whole might need the second one to reach my goal of 10 covers.  We got there without it, but both tunes seemed to work in the track list, so I left this in
  • I tried to recreate the feel of the original’s production with different echo settings, octaves, and chord shapes on the guitar.  It’s not as dense and interesting as Greg’s, but the changes give it some movement…
  • …especially on the last verse, where the guitar drops out.  The original faded out from there, but I brought back the “chorus” and lyrics from different parts of the song, including the “Liar, liar” phrase which I thought was too important to omit
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mr|ten Originals and Covers, Part 2

25 October 2014 in [blog]

mr|ten has inspired some of you to go back and check out the original versions of the songs we covered for our 10th birthday.  In this series I’ll put the originals and covers side-by-side with commentary.  (Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3)

In Circles

The Sleepover 2.0’s original:

  • Professionally recorded at ARC in Omaha by AJ; that was a pretty fun weekend.  The ribbon mic he used on Cory’s guitar was amazing.  I can hear so much detail in that tone
  • Constantly shifting texture due to Scott’s keys
  • We gave Scott the assignment of writing a lead part for the chorus, since the vocals were so sparse, and he wrestled with it for a while and came up with the killer part you hear
  • Cool weirdo non-linear reverb on the guitar solo
  • The verse/chorus tempo change is pretty unusual.  We demo’d exactly how the click track needed to change on those parts, how many bars long each part was, etc., so that we knew exactly what we needed AJ to set up when we started to record
  • Another point for Scott for writing the chorus vocal harmonies.  I believe the parts are Cory on lead, me on harmony, Scott on high harmony

Here’s Panda Face’s (Brandon McKenzie) cover:

  • While changing plenty of sounds, Brandon aces the feel of the original, which I love
  • Lots of cool details in the drum programming; the knocking 16th notes, the noisy open hat sound
  • Nice choice to maintain tempo throughout, instead of mimicking the original’s changes
  • More great synth/guitar textures.  Watch out of Scott and Brandon ever get in a band together
  • First part of second verse, drums drop out, vocals go up an octave…  !
  • Aaaand it ends with that same 7th as the original.  Good final touch

The Biggest Choice You Make (Every Day)

Original by Sally Ride:

  • This is one of my favorites, in terms of both songwriting and production
  • Matt’s on drums on this whole record
  • The wah-wah bass riff was done in ProTools with an EQ sweep, which helped me nail the depth of wah I wanted vs. doing it live
  • Only one backing vocal in the whole song, but I make it count!
  • And the bridge just flies off the cliff…  that’s the emotional peak for me, though the outro jams for a while

Cover by Jerry Chapman:

  • Jerry’s a long-time friend of MFR, though this is his first release on the site.  I met him in the early-’00s at Doane College, where his band Life In General would tour a couple of times each year.  Scott and I even opened for them, and I’ve followed his solo career and kept in touch
  • The first time I heard this, I wasn’t sure about it.  Something seemed ‘off.’  It wasn’t until my second listen that I realized he’d changed the time signature from 4/4/ to 6/8!  It sounded so natural, I didn’t realize what the change was on that first pass.  Once I wrapped my brain around it, I loved it
  • Jerry recorded this in a month when he also moved and got married.  That’s dedication to the scene
  • The way he transformed the bass riff into a guitar lead that has some of the same flavor, but is quite different… and then harmonized that lead at the end… so cool

Nature vs. Nurture

Beach-Puppy’s (Cory Kibler) original:

  • Possibly my favorite song of Cory’s…  One of my top five MFR songs ever, for sure.  I just love this.
  • Unusual for Cory to throw that odd meter hiccup in the instrumental version of the verse riff.  It sounds very natural; if you’re not counting or playing along, I don’t know if you even notice that a beat disappears
  • Also unusual, but less so, for Cory, this song as three main parts: verse, chorus, and bridge (or 2nd chorus, if you prefer).  He goes bridgeless pretty often
  • I loved doing the little harmonies and piano bits on this EP.  If we had time to burn and lived close, I’d love to perform this stuff (and Cory’s other material) as a duo

Mars Lights’ cover:

  • I’d wanted to cover this song with Mars Lights for years, long before we hatched the idea for mr|ten.  You could think of mr|ten as an excuse for me to get this cover to happen!
  • Obvious changes: slower tempo, deeesstortionnnnn, echo, extra guitars and drums, blowing out the end of the arrangement
  • Non-obvious change: I throw some Gs into the 2nd chorus/bridge riff.  I always heard them in my imagination
  • Non-obvious change #2: Drop-D tuning, tuned down to a reference pitch of A=432
  • Matt’s approach to the odd-tempo riff is perfect.  I couldn’t hear how it would work with drums until he did it, and then it clicked immediately
  • I loved having my guitar right on the edge of feedback.  I could control it a bit just by turning side to side
  • Matt and I tracked the drums and rhythm guitar together, live.  Drew dubbed his stuff in later
  • Drew’s atmospheric lead loops and layers!  Very cool.  As we finished his parts, he said he’d like to do more of this type of stuff in Mars Lights
  • I used the old Jimmy Page reverse a part / run it through an echo / reverse the echo for the vocal effects at the end.  We used that back on Cold Burn, too.
  • The vocals sound pretty clean, but they’re actually all run through the overdrive side of my GT500 pedal for a bit of grit, to put them in the same sonic space as the rest of the tune

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