Give Me Your Head

“Give me your head. No no no. Let me move it. Give me your head.” Why is this so hard, I wondered, lying on the floor in a spare room at Creativ Studios. My head was in Hilary’s lap. We were warming up for the first of two studio sessions to re-do all my lead vocals for the EP. I had now become one of those people who could tell a crazy story about vocalizing (Once I had this teacher who had me lie on the floor while she moved my head around…)

I really wasn’t supposed to be thinking about anything, except completely relaxing my head and allowing Hilary to gently turn it right to left, up and down, around in circles. And I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t let my head fall into her hands. This made no sense. I trust Hilary totally – it’s not like she was going to quickly break my neck and leave me dead on the floor – (I was pretty sure) so what exactly was the problem here?

My brain added its two cents to the situation. Oh great, it snarled. I can’t even relax. I won’t be able to warm up, I won’t be able to sing any better than I did last time and we’re just all going to waste our studio time ALL BECAUSE I CAN’T RELAX JUST RELAX RIGHT NOW MAIRA DO IT NOW! Ah, yes. So helpful. So soothing. Sometimes I would give anything to have a different brain. Mine tends to freak out regularly and needs to be kept on a tight leash.

“Give it. Give it to me. Give me your head”, Hilary kept murmuring calmly as she reminded me to breathe deeply, and practice some vowel sounds. I told my brain to shut up and listen to her. And it worked. With every breath tension flowed out and calmness flooded in. I sank into the floor and began to hope we could just do warm-ups all night.

“And this is the room where we do make-up” said Jim cheerfully as he led the makeup artist for the next popstar video birthday party into the darkened room where Hilary and I were sprawled out. Jim owns Creativ. Hilary and I scrambled to our feet. “Just doing some vocal warmups” Hilary said brightly as I stood mutely, feeling utterly disoriented. “We’ll find another room”. No need to feel sheepish, I reassured myself as we staggered out the door. They probably didn’t expect to see head twisting and lap sitting and dolphin sounds, but no matter. I’m a singer now! We can get away with doing eccentric singer things.

After a few more rounds of “Give me your head”, some visualizing about a deep mysterious swamp of emotion, and a bit of lip flapping Hilary deemed me ready to sing. I felt fantastic. I suspected it was going to be a great session.

We started with Every Single One. “You’re in charge of the talkbalk mic”, I told Hil. “Mike will engineer and push the buttons – you tell us how you want to approach this”.

“One complete pass first”, she said. “Then I’ll know what sections to work on next”. Ok. You tell it, lady. I sang all the way through and it felt way better than my last vocal session. Then we broke it down to Hilary’s specifications. After singing the first half of the song a few times, I timidly said “Hey, is this way better? I think it might be quite good”. “It’s much, much better””, said Mike in the control room. All right then. I wasn’t imagining it.

We did the two hardest songs, Every Single One and Sometimes that night. Hilary was calm and decisive. Mike and I did what she said. I’ve never sounded so good. I was thrilled. “Hilary, I love you”, I blurted out when we were taking a water break between songs. She laughed. “You’re doing great”, she said. ” No, this is because of you”, I gushed. “I could never have had a performance like this on my own”. She laughed again. I knew I was being uncool, but I was so happy with the takes we had done I didn’t care.

Three weeks later we went in and finished the other three songs in about four hours. We got performances that were above my wildest expectations. At Mike’s suggestion I tried a little improvising at the end of Go Away. It turned out excellently. I was dumbfounded. Hilary said I should do a before and after snapshot – actually line up the same clips from the first vocal session against the results from our re-dos, because the difference was so dramatic. I will do exactly that, as soon as we’re done editing, I thought. How cool will that be?

In the meantime here’s a couple of video clips Mike filmed during the recording of Blackbirds. Believe me, it sounds a lot better than our first recording.

Last part of the bridge

Verse and chorus

Express Yourself

We find ourselves once more in the dark cave of Mike Southworth’s studio at Creativ, this time to record guitar solos. I’ve really been looking forward to this session. I always enjoy listening to Rees play. Unless it’s overpowering my piano solo, in which case I wish his volume knob was closer to me than to him. But that’s pretty typical of every guitar player I’ve ever worked with. I know, it’s wrong to stereotype. I will say that Rees is a very sensitive guitar player, who rarely tramples on others (musically, at least). Sometimes the music sweeps him away though, and he expresses his joy and excitement by playing more and louder. Hell, I do the same thing. That’s why people play rock and roll. Because you get to play very, very loudly all together and it’s so much fun that you don’t care if it’s dynamically sensitive or fits the song or whatever other bullshit detail you’re supposed to be aware of.
There were three big solos to record, and it took all day to do so. As usual there was a ton of good material and as usual Rees was willing to do hundreds of takes to keep making it better. I made sure Mike and Rees both were well caffeinated, which led to a lot of loud excited talking, and a river of swift-flowing ideas.

Oh Loverboy…

Blackbirds
Every Single One

Got some surprise studio time! Somebody’s cancellation is our delightful gain. We recorded and edited all the piano tracks in 8 hours. The piano at Creativ Studios once belonged to the keyboard player from Loverboy, an excellent omen. I loves me some Loverboy. Especially the keyboard parts.
It was really lovely to play an acoustic piano all day. There’s something so satisfying about playing precisely and firmly, feeling the hammer strike the string. I can feel the impact from each hammer travel through my fingers and hand, up my arm, into my elbow and shoulder. It’s jarring, but in a familiar reassuring way. I’ve been playing piano since I was 7 years old and I’ve always loved to feel the notes go twang! into my joints.
So I played for 5 hours and was deeply, deeply calm and mellow afterwards. But also totally refreshed, like waking up after a satisfying sleep. I wish I could do that every day. Play piano until I fall into a waking dream.
We knocked out those songs one by one, very quickly. Sometimes on the first or second take. Well, I’ve been playing those songs on piano for months now. I would have been kind of horrified if it had been super difficult to play the parts well. The piano at Creativ sounds just gorgeous, which helps a lot. The only thing I was remotely concerned about was the one solo I allowed myself (all the other solos will be guitar). But we ended up with a really good one, something I’ll be happy to share with the world.
All in all it was one of the best days I’ve ever had in the studio. Although I can’t help but notice, each day in the studio is a best day. It’s like going on a fantastic weekend vacation, every time. No matter what other horrible tragedies are going on in my life, it’s amazing that being creative and having access to a mode of personal expression affords me some breathing space, some relief from the awfulness of real life.
I think it really comes down to the ability to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Something as challenging as performing and composing music requires every brain cell I’ve got. There’s just no room to spare for anything else. This doesn’t solve problems, but it does make them disappear temporarily. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.