9 Months in the Womb with Classic Glass

Collage by Annie Graham (anniegraham.tumblr.com)

On April 25, 2011, I went to Columbus Discount Recordings with Dane Terry and Gentleman All-Star Sean Leary to begin tracking Classic Glass, the second Swarming Branch LP.  The band had only reunited two weeks prior, and we expected the excitement of playing unfamiliar material to instill the session with an unbridled joy that is an impossibility under the strain of attachment that grows from road-testing a song for too long before recording it.

The lyrics were scant, at best, but that didn’t seem to be a problem at the time.  Our goal was to make a record that people shared with friends, in person, through social dance.

We figured that if one takes this drum sound, a midrange-heavy bass guitar, and this piano sound and implements the Motown “exciting compressor” technique on the vocals, she cannot go wrong, especially especially if she’s working with an engineer like Adam Smith.

Five days later, we left the studio with two tape reels full of great instrumental tracks, the bass, drum, and piano live takes having been augmented by electric guitar, french horn, and a buffet of organ.

But I had only recorded the vocals on two songs: “Holy Joeys, Cognoscenti, Tar Babies in Love” and “The Pounce,” both of which had been written long before the session.  I vowed to spend ample time writing the remaining lyrics during my may 5th-13th trip to Seattle and Portland.  But the trip came and went, and aside from crafting two verses of hyperbolic claims concerning the inventory of my temperament, intellect, and my garage…

{I’ve got a bead on the line, that runs from my heart to Virginia
but make no mistake, I’ve got some knots tied inside of me, too.

And I have sudden surprises on a plan that was strong to begin with,

and I have two good eyes but I still can’t see what you mean.

I’ve got my mind in a hive and my crystals are lined up so sweetly;

I have unbearable jive, sewn up inside of my sleeves.

I have a mountain behind me and my footsteps fall proudly beneath me; 
and I have so many good words but I still can’t say what I mean.}

…I remained stumped.

My May 16th session date, intended for finishing all remaining vocals, ended up functioning only as a test to see how comfortably our studio takes could sit alongside home recordings on the same album.  Luckily, they seemed to sit quite nicely. Around this time, Sean and I decided to cut a long-form boogie song, “When the Bats Come Alive,” from the album.  We would need more material to flesh out an LP.  Then I realized that an acoustic number I had been working on was borrowing too heavily from Dave Davies perfect anthem “Strangers” from Lola Vs. Powerman…, so that got the axe, too.

And then the money started running out.  I vowed that I wouldn’t get a job until I finished the record.  Like an unborn baby who has somehow managed to see many American films and cannot contain his anticipation for life on the outside, I blindly kicked.  From the outside, I assume it looked as if nothing was happening.

July came, and Gentleman All-Star announced he would return to North Carolina to reclaim his post as a sandwich boss.  We recorded the drums to two new songs, “I Warn You” and “The New Age Succubus, Susie Jean,” the day before he left.  All the other kids moved out of the house on Hunter which I had called home for almost four years.  I moved in just before Flagships came out on September 21, 2007.  New Jack  was recorded there.  Dums Will Survive was recorded there.  Good Word, too.  The third floor arrangement made me feel hidden, out of sight.  The curtains gave me the power to turn day to night.  This was the place, regardless of how many of my howls reached the street, where I felt most comfortable letting loose.  But I was left with little choice but to throw out the junk from the legendary, generous basement and move on.

Despite countless hours of experimentation with delicate and fancy accoutrement, little stuck to the wall during August save a handful of organ recorded during a brief visit from Dane Terry.  I felt unable to sing freely in my new apartment, and this stifled the fountain of jibberish which so often predicates my best vocal melodies and lyrics.

For the first time in my life, I began to desire a sound that flies dangerously close the the concept of the “industry standard.”  I also became impatient with the low output of my Cascade Fat Head ribbon microphone. 

During a brief stint in October, moonlighting as a chestnut picker, an associate loaned me a basic tube mic pre-amp. Then, in November, I received a generous invitation from Heather Wise and Ian Carpenter to record in the first floor of their carriage house.  Having a place to work reinvigorated the project.  Yesterday, I picked up the bulk of my equipment from their carriage house.  There are a few hours of work left, but it’s cold and I figure I can finish the album in comfort before anyone gets too annoyed from the other side of the wall.

Somehow, through months of flailing experimentation spent voyaging to the apogee of its own orbit, followed by its eventual re-conception as a rather minimal affair, Classic Glass has shed the simple politics of a maypole dance and become an exacting adult.  It has forced me to sing in ways I had never imagined back on April 25, 2011.

And stupidly, stubbornly, I have honored the vow to put off my return to a conventional work environment for 7 tedious months.

Classic Glass is scheduled to be mixed down to stereo on Monday, February 6th, 2012. Industry professionals should feel free to request mp3s at any time after that date by contacting andrewpancake@gmail.com.  The album will be available to the public this summer.

That Constant Country Thirst
The Sistine Twist
Pony, Ain’t it Good to Be Alive
This Water Does Not Reach the River
I Warn You

Holy Joeys, Cognoscenti, Tar Babies in Love
The Pounce
The New Age Succuba, Susie Jean
Final Boss
Party Phantasy

Special thanks to my sister, Annie Graham, for the collage that graces the cover of the record, a section of which can be seen in the above picture.

…and to the players:

Lindsay Ciulla - French horn
Julian Dassai - lead guitar
Sven Kahns - lead guitar
Mike Kohn - lead guitar
Gentleman All-Star Sean Leary - drum set
Dane Terry - piano and organ

  1. swarmingbranch posted this