Monthly Archives: April 2012

Ready to Mix…

I’m excited to announce that the new songs are ready to be mixed. After this phase they’ll only need to be mastered, then they are just a few steps shy of getting to your ears. I thought I’d bring you up to speed on the process of making this record up to now and talk a little bit about the talented folks who’ve taken part in making it all possible.

We began recording in Nashville back in December. I drove up from Texas to work with producer/arranger/keyboardist extraordinaire Rob Arthur who has been rock icon Peter Frampton’s keys player the last seven years. Rob and I played together a few years back and we reconnected the previous October about recording a some of my new songs together. I had a mixed bag of new material but wasn’t  exactly sure what direction I was heading musically. On the last Five Times August tour I had experimented with writing country, americana, folk, soul, blues… you name it. Eventually I had to sit down and list out the songs  that were most compatible with each other. I sent Rob seven rough demos with the intention of picking only 2 or 3 to fully record.  Ultimately, once I got to  Nashville we found ourselves liking all of the songs enough that we decided to just try and cut as many of them as we could while I was there. We only had a day in the studio to do basic tracking so the session was very fast paced but so much fun. We assembled keys, bass, drums, guitar, and vocals in the studio and came out with a whopping six of the seven songs tracked, an amazing accomplishment for a session that only lasted about 9 hours. We played live in the studio together with no click track. Not many bands record that way anymore. With technology what it is today you can record piece by piece, tracking drums, THEN tracking bass, THEN tracking guitar, THEN tracking vocals, and so on. There isn’t anything wrong with that,  that was the process on most the FTA albums. For this project, however, we harkened back to the lost days when band members played together in a room, not just to record a song, but to perform it take after take until they got it right. The difference on this album though, being the independent artist I am, we didn’t have time/budget to do more than three takes per song which certainly kept me on my toes. Fortunately we did get it right! But it’s no wonder considering the caliber of musicians I had at my disposal. It was truly a nice, easy, and super enjoyable session… positive vibes all around!

On drums we had Charlie Morgan who spent 13 years touring with Elton John. On bass, Saul Zonana, who in addition to his own solo career has worked with Ace Frehley of KISS and Crash Test Dummies. Naturally on keys, the previously mentioned multi-talented Rob Arthur, who has been so great in helping my concepts come to fruition. I’ve joked that the album should be “Bradley James with the Rob Arthur Orchestra” considering his role in helping arrange the additional components to these songs. All told I had a great band play on this record and I couldn’t be happier with what we accomplished in Nashville.

So two days of pre-production between Rob and myself, one day in the studio with the band, one day post production and I was back home in Texas for the holidays. Rob was heading down South as well, moving to Miami, Florida where we would reconvene in January for additional studio tracking. We booked another full day session to record live strings arrangements and vocal ensemble parts for each of the songs. Since then Rob and I have been sending files back and forth via internet. I tracked additional guitars, vocals, and other instrumentation at home while Rob, on tour with Frampton the last two months, has been putting the peaces together in hotel rooms and on bus rides across the United States. Really the album is a nice hybrid of professional studio and home recording techniques sprawled out over several months. So, having finished recording the tracks, Thursday I mailed out a hard drive with the session files on it to get mixed by 8 time Grammy Award winner Jay Newland who mixed for Norah Jones’ first two albums, Missy Higgins’ Sound of White, and Esperanza Spaulding’s critically acclaimed Chamber Music Society. I can’t wait to see what he does with the songs.

So, that’s what’s happened in a nut shell, everything couldn’t have come together better. I’m really proud of this project and I’m excited to see where it goes. No definite release date yet, but I’m sure as we get closer I’ll be posting some teasers and sharing clips. Until then, hang tight and check back here often!

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Here is a great video I just watched online on the amazing effect music can have on a person’s life.

*UPDATE: I found out from the video’s creator (Jeff Pinilla) that this clip is from a movie called “Alive Inside” which has not yet been released. The clip itself unfortunately “leaked” without permission and though it’s gaining millions of views on YouTube no credit was given to it’s original creator. I just thought he should at least get credit here. You can see the original trailer for “Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory” on Jeff’s vimeo page by clicking here, or watch below…

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Music Is Losing It’s Touch, Literally

When I was nine years old I wrote a letter to Michael Jackson. As I’m sure we are all King of Pop fans in some way, you can bet I  spent a lot of my own childhood pretending to be him. Truth be told, before I discovered the guitar I would lock myself away in my room mimicking his dance moves pretending it was me in all those iconic music videos. It wasn’t uncommon for me to show off those mad skills during family get-togethers either, especially if it meant scoring a couple dollars from Grandpa to entertain everyone. I had every solo album Michael made on cassette tape. Well, every album except one. I don’t remember why exactly, but, when Dangerous came out I had a hard time getting a copy. Maybe I didn’t have the money, maybe I didn’t have the patience for someone to take me to Sam Goody at the mall. For whatever reason, my naive young mind thought the best course of action to obtain MJ’s latest would be to just write the guy, tell him how big of a fan I was and simply ask if he’d send me his new album. I thought surely he read and answered all his fan mail, he would understand, right? Well, actually, yes… well, sort of. Weeks went by after I mailed the letter and by the time all hope of hearing back was lost a small manilla packet addressed to me from Epic Records happened to show up in the mail, and guess what? Inside was a copy of Dangerous on compact disc. I couldn’t believe  it! Of course Michael himself probably never got the letter, but somebody somewhere in the industry ranks granted my wish and I’ll never forget and always appreciate that.

That’s the story of the first CD I ever owned, I still have it today. It sits in alphabetical order (by artist) amongst 2,000 or so other discs I’ve accumulated since then, each with it’s own little personal story on how it got there on my shelf. Some sit in cracked jewel cases with a worn and wrinkled lyric booklet, and on the most important albums you will undoubtedly find the discs themselves marked with scuffs and scratches from dedicated and continuos play (especially the ones I kept in my car during high school). So, what with the evolution of the digital music library, why not get rid of them? Don’t all those CDs take up a bunch of space in my house?? Well, no, not really. But, that’s the assumption these days considering most people can now fit their entire music collection comfortabley in their back pocket on an iPod or Smartphone. Our homes are more empty than ever, void of tangible books, music, and movies (also known as “culture”). Make no mistake, I love the convenience of having all those albums on my own iPod too, but at heart I am of that dying breed of people that still prefers to buy the physical version before importing it into iTunes. Having the actual album in hand, to me, is like holding a photograph. It represents a specific time, a memory, and the many emotions you’ve had in life. Though the paper itself might get a little tattered in time, at least I can touch it. It’s not just a physical product, it’s a physical memory. When you got it, where you kept it, who you played it for, who you let borrow it, why there are staple holes on the cover or doodles  and underlined favorite lyrics in the booklet; all subconscious memories about who you were/are stored away in a little plastic case with a round disc. You can hold it and say “I remember when I got this” and a story quickly evolves. Rarely will you find somebody mousing swiftly down a computer playlist and say “I remember when I downloaded this, that was so great.” There’s just no sentiment in owning only the digital file.

The idea of the iPod, to me, is like I said, just a convenience. It beats carrying around a huge binder of CDs, that’s for sure. It’s made it easier to enjoy my favorite music on a long drive, a jog, or in bed before I go to sleep. But, it’s not what I turn to when I want to sit down and really focus on the composition and recording being presented. Why? Because while I’m doing those things it makes the music secondary. It becomes a foggy audible background to my daily errands at that point and I don’t really find myself absorbing the entire art. It’s kind of like having the vacuum on while your watching a TV show. You kind of know what’s going on, you find yourself enjoying what little you notice, but overall you’re missing out on a lot of important information that can really enhance the entertainment experience. For as important as music is to our lives we continue to find ways to make the least amount of investment possible in it. We keep degrading the magnitude of it all, shrinking every aspect of it’s presentation almost to the point of it now being practically invisible. We went from big 12″ vinyl records to clunky little cassette tapes, clunky tapes to slim CDs, slim CDs to mp3 files, and now mp3s to an overly compressed audio stream stored on some “cloud” of glorious  internet  space in the sky.  You can’t even hold a mp3 but somehow we have concluded we just don’t have space for it in our lives. These new cloud services are, if anything, symbolic reassurance that the physical format is dying slowly and drifting to the heavens. Additionally, headphones have shrunk to Skittle and M&M proportions, speakers the size of a quarter, and album covers are rarely viewed larger than the dimensions of a postage stamp.

While the quality of these technological advances are actually pretty okay for their respective purposes, the price of these mobile music conveniences  has come at the cost of sacrificing the most important attribute of all, sonic quality. Music of course has a lot to do with sound, so why haven’t we advanced to hi-def audio in the same way DVDs have advanced to Blu Ray? Well, we have… Super Audio CDs and other hi-def audio options have been around for over ten years already and offer listeners much better resolution and clarity in sound presentation than a standard CD. Like Blu Ray discs, they are a little more expensive and require a compatible system, but the impact of the musical performance is far-far more superior than any compressed mp3 you could download. But, truth be told, there isn’t a large market for SACDs or hi-def audio equipment because the reality is the average consumer doesn’t care, nor really understand, about higher audio quality and won’t invest in it. It’s a niche market, not to mention it’s another physical format that could horrendously “take up space” in our homes (gasp!).

So while new technology is offering us wonderful opportunities to take our music with us anywhere we go, I guess the question is at what point will it get so small we long to touch and feel music on a larger physical platform again? Does the physical product have to completely vaporize for a decade so a later generation can rediscover those vintage CDs their parents grew up listening to? I know I wouldn’t have discovered much of the music I know now if my own parents hadn’t kept their vinyl records, and I know my son will undoubtedly have a decent collection of CDs and records to rummage through one day for himself. And when he asks me about them there will be plenty of stories to tell, too. But generally, I don’t envision children down the road thumbing through their parent’s obsolete Mp3 players the same way. But, speaking of vinyl, it has made a small and trendy comeback in recent years, so maybe there is hope for another generation yet! We’ll see…

That’s all for now.

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