In March, we will celebrate the release of our first full length album, Are You Feeling Alive? When we released the Take What You Can Take EP, we gave the story behind the recording (link). It seems fitting to do it again.
For the recording of Are You Feeling Alive?, Jon Lupfer reprised his role as producer, and James Bridges reprised his role as engineer. The big difference is that these tracks were recorded and mixed entirely at Q Division Studio. Q is widely known as one of the best, if not the best studio in New England. A lot of great records have been recorded there, from Aimee Mann to the Pixies. Relevant to this post - every Muy Cansado album was recorded at Q. It has great rooms, great gear and great people. They also host a killer holiday party for Boston folks with music inclinations.
Most of the songs we recorded were kicking around the last time we recorded and some since our first rehearsals, so you could say we had been preparing since then. We were in pretty good shape heading in. However, one key development in pre-production was that we were not planning on recording our song "Pale Monsters," but Jon convinced us during pre-production to do it.
Yes, we have a song with the band name. Oddly enough, that song and song name existed before we decided to name the band Pale Monsters. It was one of 3 songs we played on our very first rehearsal, so you could actually say we had been preparing for these sessions since we first started playing together.
We recorded basics over the course of a weekend in late February 2017 in Q. We tracked drums, bass, most of the guitar and a good amount of keys that weekend. This marked another change from the sessions for Take What You Can Take, where Mike tracked all of his keys at home after basics. This time we dug into live performances as much as possible. Early mornings and late nights are what basics are all about. As always, there were moments that stand out:
Basics are all about drums and bass, so Travis’ colossal wall of drums for the outro of one of the tracks was a moment. Travis and James went down a rabbit hole of awesome, and we went along for the ride.
Mike’s deadpan countdown into one of the tracks was pretty amazing ("Travis 2-3-4.....bass 2-3-4......). Unfortunately you will never get to hear it, unless Mike makes good on his promise for remixes. It made Kevin and I laugh so hard we could barely make it through our takes.
Kevin purposefully refusing to hit the first beat with one of his bass lines was a particularly awesome moment, because that's how Kev roles.
Vocals and Overdubs
Over the next few months, we tracked vocals, lead guitar, synthesizer and overdubs.
Before the vocal sessions the gang coached me up on annunciating the lyrics better. The goal was to make sure people could understand what I sing, which has been a long running problem for me. During the sessions, Kevin, Jon and James coached me through each song, making sure I got takes with the right feel and tone. Kevin was especially helpful on helping me get the right tone for each song. I am grateful for how focused everyone was to help me get the takes. In fact, I was so pleased, I re-took vocals for a couple of the EP tracks, and they will be re-released with the new vocal takes on the album.
Once I got the vocals, Kevin laid down his, which is exciting. You will get to hear his Jonathan Richman-Liam Gallagher inspired voice on this album. If you checked out our lead single "All This Time We Wait," you already have heard him. Kev has a great voice and a great ear for harmony.
In overdubs, we had our "Mike moment" on guitar. It always happens. After I laid down my guitar overdubs, I handed the guitar to Mike to try something. Everyone was silently excited, really excited. The last time we recorded, Mike non-challantly worked wizardry on the guitar, after declaring he had not played in months. I remember Jon asking us, "Why doesn't he play guitar?!" Mike's not one to disappoint, so this time out he laid down killer lead and textural guitar on a few tracks, because he’s a mad genius, musical wizard. In typical fashion, everything was off the cuff; and once again, he hadn't played guitar in months.
Mixing and Mastering
From there Jon and James mixed the tracks. They took our ideas and made them work together. It took a while to get it right. Mixing is weird for the band. We sit and listen. There is a whole lot of down time and repetition. A lot of down time. It leads to great discoveries, like Jazz Loon. (It is highly recommended that you explore Jazz Loon immediately. Here's a link.)
However, mixing also a time where some serious decisions are made, like what gets cut and what gets to grab your attention. In the end, we all felt we landed in a great spot.
After mixing, the songs were mastered by TW Walsh, who is pretty great at the weird art of mastering. To me (and many musicians), mastering is a mysterious voodoo magic, and we're musicians. To non-musicians - it's sequencing, song spacing and EQ'ing (you're already bored, aren't you?). The band literally listens and says “sounds great” or “sounds like shit.” Thankfully, we landed on the "great."
That's the story of how we made these recordings. We are excited to share the music very soon!