© 2012 Johanna Austin

ryan tennis – the making of an album

A Ryan Tennis/AustinArt collaboration.

Commentary by Ryan Tennis, photography by Johanna Austin of AustinArt.

February 23, 2012 – Preproduction Session:

Here it is, the album photo blog/blog collaboration (with AustinArt) for the big new album.  And when I say big, I mean big in a bunch of ways – big in terms of creating songs that kick big amounts of ass, big in terms of my hopes for sparking big things in my career, big in terms of my investment (of time, money, organization, energy, creativity), and big in terms of the amount of space in my mind/life it has occupied for the last couple months.  As you can see in this photo, I’ve grown a beard, my first ever, to commemorate the event.  I guess I’m kind of hoping it inspires greatness, in some biblical sort of way.

This is Pete Donnelly (who’s producing the album) and I hashing out an arrangement for my song, “I Can’t Wait,” or the song formerly known as “I Can’t Wait,” since Pete was saying (and I agree) that the title’s a little too obvious/played.

From all I know, good music producers are some of the most multi-talented people alive.  They’re almost always phenomenal multi-instrumentalists.  They know their recording program inside and out, understand the mystical world of sound equipment, work extremely hard (and quickly), and are good at getting the best out of musicians/artists in high pressure, often dry situations, which is not usually the best place for music to come from.  And on top of all that, good producers have an emotional sensitivity to music that brings them to the next level.  In these preproduction sessions it’s been so cool to see the way Pete can dial in on what I’m going for with the song, and intuitively understand what tweaks, notes, or grooves will express that feeling best.

Case in point.  Sensitivity expressed in posture.

Just a couple guitars is sometimes all you need to arrange a song.

It’s oh-so-handy to have YouTube available to provide examples to illustrate a point.

“Now I’m not saying you want the song to sound like [insert name of somewhat stomach turning teen acoustic pop idol, not Bieber, someone else who I don’t remember], but there needs to be a tiny element of this.”  As long as there are not-so-tiny elements of Motown, I’m happy.

Look for a bit more of this guy on the new album.

February 24, 2012:

These are some shots from a preproduction session with one of the bands I’m having on the record (I’ll have the Clubhouse Band play on about half the songs and these studio guys on the others).  Pete, Jaron and Freddie have worked together a lot, and the chemistry is immediately apparent.  Everyone’s creatively involved.

Jaron’s on bass here, but he does some great work on the piano and organ later.

Pete directing traffic. He’s rarely gonna tell anyone exactly what to play, just nudge them in the right direction.

These guys have played a LOT.

Here we’re working on “Walk On.”  I’ve been playing that song for almost 5 years, and it was starting to feel pretty tired, but man, it’s amazing what a new groove  can do.

Freddie Berman, king of the cross-stick.

March 6, 2012 – Recording Session at Kawari Sound:

Built in the carriage house of an old Wyncote mansion, Kawari Studios is a beautiful, laidback setting for recording.

I had a brutal cough during the entire week before the studio, and despite unholy amounts of ginger tea, vitamin C, Umcka and other random remedies, my voice was still pretty ragged (although the sickness was long gone at that point).  This meant that we had to retrack a lot of the vocals from our band sessions…or so we thought.  As it turns out, some of those ragged, “I don’t give a fuck” scratch vocals turned out to be gold, and you’ll definitely hear some of them on the final take.

You may notice a different guitar than my normal Taylor.  It’s been a little out of whack of late (too many sweaty four our gigs and bumpy car rides perhaps), and we found that Nate’s Martin (can’t remember the make) was sounding great through the mic.  I play a lot of that one on a lot of songs, a 1940’s Gibson that Kawari had on “Huddle Up and Hold On,” and Tom Spiker’s 1990 Alvarez for overdubs.  I’m not totally sure, but I think my guitar doesn’t even get a second of airtime.  I did play my Epiphone Sheraton (semi-hollow body electric) on one song though.

Classic Andy face.  I can’t think of a single quality drummer who doesn’t make goofy ass drummer faces when they’re really rocking.  Probably similar to their fucking face, but of course I’m not sure.  Andy, care to comment?

Chris Farrell loves his toys.  His knowledge of guitar pedals is greater than the sum of all of my functional technical knowledge of anything, combined.  His friend actually invents those boutique Pigtronix pedals, and Chris gets to test them out.

Nate gets excited when there’s a Steinway, a Tack Piano, a Rhodes, and a Clav all in the same room.  Sadly, we couldn’t find a way to get the clav on the album.

Sweet Lu.

March 7, 2012 – Recording Session at Kawari Sound:

Workin’ ’em to the bone.

Organ used as bass (in this case on “Waking Dream”) can be dark and foreboding as hell, which is pretty much exactly what we’re going for with that tune.

Way more selection than we would ever want to use.

I finally inherited one of these (a guitar string changing tool) at the last Clubhouse Concert (think it might have belonged to Zach duPont).  Changing my strings will never be the same. If you’re gonna change your guitar strings at least 10 more times in your life, I’d say it’s a good purchase).

One of these things is not like the other.  That said, without a little bit of the dark side, we might as well be playing christian rock.

Jaron’s lent a subtle touch on the bass and piano.

Freddie’s got no ego on the drums, he just wants to understand what you’re going for and get it right (which he did).

Old Straight-Arms

Okay, so I’m gonna let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.  My fly was originally down in this picture, but thanks to the wonders of modern computer editing, we made a tiny fix and it’s completely unnoticeable.  You know, much like we’ll do from time to time on these recordings.

If we were real rockers, this coffee would be a big pile of coke.  And the album would sound a lot different.

After running through the tunes for a bit, we’d come upstairs to listen back, talk it over, and head down for another few takes. Or just high five, affirm each other’s awesomeness, and move on.

This album brought to you by Trader Joe’s.  In particular by Trader Joe’s pot stickers.  Tasty as HELL.

The isolation booth feels, well, isolated.  You just don’t notice how much background noise is constantly engulfing you until the door shuts in a sound-proof room.

While we were downstairs in the studio room, Pete would often join us on live takes from in the producers chair.

March 22, 2012 Recording Session at Undercarriage Studios:

(photo credit:  Ryan Tennis)

(photo credit:  Pete Donnelly)

(photo credit:  Pete Donnelly)

(photo credit:  Pete Donnelly)

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  1. […] from our Preproduction session.  For the full blog, go to Johanna’s site – here, and stay tuned for more photos and commentary to […]

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