On this day, I could just kick back and relax a bit. I already knew from listening to his work that Mike Payne was “my kind” of guitar player… No need for example tracks or a pre-recording discussion. The foundation laid down by Ken & Blair was already there, so anything Mike added would just be icing on the sonic cake! And what BEAUTIFUL icing it was!!! Mike brought 4 electrics including a Fender Jaquar, a Fender Telecaster, a Les Paul and a Guild. Mike has exquisite taste in pedals and tones so there were no worries there… He pretty much “read my mind” the entire time and just filled in any empty space with sonic guitar tones and riffs that complemented what Blair had already done. We did enlist Mike to lay down foundational acoustic tracks as well, so he had his work cut out for him, but all in all, the day went as wonderful and perfect as the days before it. Thank you Mike for bringing your alternative guitar God awesomeness to the songs!!! ~EB
Okay, so there are keyboard players and then there are KEYBOARD PLAYERS like Blair Masters!!! You can’t even begin to imagine the sonic joy I was in on this day in the studio. The day started off much like the day before – with me explaining to Blair that I didn’t want him to just play in the background, I wanted him to be FEATURED. I was looking for that melodic ear candy that I knew Blair was known for… so once again, I excitedly opened my laptop and played Blair my example tracks… Once again, Sia’s “Breathe Me” with its incredible repetitive piano riff, the super cool keyboard riff from the intro of Alanis Morisette’s “Thank You”, a cool vintage Rhodes part that Blair had played on Nashville’s Anna Johnson’s song called “MUSIC”, and of course, the beautiful piano riffs Blake had played on our latest Mary Dream record “This Kind of Life”…
The day went beyond belief… Blair dialed in the coolest sounds, played stunning riffs… we kept things simple and alternative, making sure not to ever sound too “joe piano”… At one point, when we were recording “Blue Christmas” I literally think Blair read my mind. I had been thinking to myself “can you play something that represents snowflakes?” Before I could even voice my idea, Blair was playing these cool little “bursts” of sound… LIKE FREAKIN’ SNOWFLAKES!!! I kid you not. The only way to truly understand what I’m talking about is to actually listen to “Blue Christmas” and you will hear what I mean. Blair, you have brought complete and utter sonic joy to my ears on these tracks. ~EB
Well it’s Day 3 in the studio, and it’s also drum tracking day! I’m a drum freak, so drum tracking day is always extra special for me : ) And the day could not have been more amazing with the incomparable Nashville drummer Ken Lewis! The day started off with me explaining to Ken how into drums I am and how I don’t like drums to take a “back seat” in a recording, I like them to be FEATURED… I’m literally a drum ADDICT and live for the ear candy that a truly GREAT drummer can create. Ken Lewis is one of those drummers. I excitedly opened my laptop and played my example tracks for Ken… Cool, syncopated Matt Chamberlain-style grooves like Sia’s “Breathe Me”, Fiona Apple’s “Across the Universe” cover, stuff from the last Mary Dream record that Steve Brewster had laid down… Within minutes Ken was on his awesome Gretsch kit playing a glorious array of syncopated riffs and fills. I was in Drum Heaven. So that’s how the day went… the syncopated stuff worked great for some songs and for others we had to explore other avenues, but in the end, a FANTASTIC collection of drums tracks!!! Ken, I thank you from the bottom of my drum-loving heart!!! ~EB
December 9th & 10th:
Well today was my first day in the studio and what a day it was! I got to see my long-time friend, engineer/producer Michael Head for the first time since 2006! And I also got to meet Michael’s long-time friend and incredibly talented Nashville songwriter Micah Tawlks. For the next 2 days, our mission was to go through the Christmas songs I had selected and come up with unique arrangements for them and chart out the chords, so that we’d be ready for the session musicians, who would be arriving later that week…
Now of course I had some ideas about the direction of the songs already, but one of the most exciting things about recording, is that you never know where a song might take you… And these songs really “took” all three of us on a “Christmas Song Adventure” that I don’t think any of us expected…
On “Winter Wonderland”, I figured that song would end up being the most straight forward song on the record. I had been practicing it at home, and I knew I wanted it to be upbeat… I had fallen in love with most of the lyrics, especially the line “To face unafraid, the plans that we made”… which seemed really progressive for a song written in 1934, and Michael and Micah thought so too… so I knew I wanted to emphasize that lyric somehow… I think we are ALL so used to hearing these songs over and over that we kind of tune out the actual lyrics… But over the next 2 days, we dove deeply into them… At one point, Michael pointed out that the sections about the snowman, “Parson Brown”, and the “Eskimo way” were setting off the proverbial “dork meter”, so we all took a step back and before you knew it, Micah was writing these cool new chords, and I came up with some lyrics and a melody, and we wrote a whole new part for the song! So yes, it’s true, we re-wrote a section of Winter Wonderland! I still can’t believe it myself, but I’m super excited about it and so are the guys!
Micah proceeded to work his chordal magic for all of the songs, adding chords that gave each song a more sophisticated musical foundation. For “Blue Christmas”, we wrote this cool instrumental/vocal section after the verses, and did the same for “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”. There was an interesting moment when Micah pointed out that the lyrics for “Blue Christmas” mentioned so many colors… of course BLUE, but also: “Decorations of RED, on a GREEN Christmas Tree” and “You’ll be doing alright, with your Christmas of WHITE”… none of us ever realized that before!
On our folk/goth rendition of Greensleeves, we also re-wrote lyrics. I had already re-written some of the lyrics, but Michael pointed out that perhaps some of the lyrics were still a bit too “16th Century” (the original version of the song is a traditional English folk song about unrequited love, written around 1580, with possible contributions from King Henry VIII. It wasn’t until 1865 that the song was re-written to become the more widely known “What Child Is This”), so we re-wrote some of the original love song lyrics to be more “current”.
With “Silver Bells” I already had a strong idea of how I wanted to pursue it, so we pretty much stuck to that, which was to keep the song very short, sweet and rhythmic, and sing it almost like a little “Christmas Rap”. But somehow the song still came out sounding pretty laid back and not much like a rap at all, lol : ) But it sure felt that way when I was practicing the tongue-twisting lyrics “Strings of street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green…” Try saying that 10 times in a row! lol! : ) ~EB
Most recording artists record their Christmas records during the Spring so they can release them in time for the holiday season…
I am so excited to say that this was not the case for me and it’s all because of my wonderful friend, Nashville engineer/producer Michael Head. Michael had reached out to me in the Spring of 2013 to see if I’d be interested in recording a new record at McPherson Studio with him. I hadn’t seen Michael since 2006 after he had done some digital editing on The Mary Dream’s “Beautiful World” record, and here it was 2013!
I explained to Michael about some budget limitations, and he came up with the idea to record during his slowest time of year to make it easier for both of us to make something happen – Christmastime! Michael confessed to me that he had always wanted to make a Christmas record during the ACTUAL Christmas season but never got to, so we decided to go for it!
Of course, this meant that we would have to wait an ENTIRE YEAR to release the record, but the idea of recording Christmas songs during the actual Christmas season thrilled us both!
For the coming months, I went to work listening to Christmas songs, noting my favorites, both melodically and lyrically… I narrowed it down to about 20 songs and started practicing them a capella. I didn’t want to influence how we might arrange and produce the songs, so that’s why I didn’t practice them to music. But even with a capella, arranging and production ideas began to form…
By the time December rolled around, I had narrowed the songs down to 7 favorites, with the 5 that I was most sure we would record, which we did : )
December 2013 in Nashville was FREEZING!!! So everyone who worked on the record certainly had no problem getting into the Christmas spirit! The thing that I found most entertaining though was grocery shopping at night at Kroger after recording all day, and hearing the exact same songs we were just working on, on the radio, only my versions were VERY different… : ) ~EB