Oct 23, 2016

Studio, Sweet Studio: But First, Some Sound Sarcastic Advice

There are several benefits to being a world famous musician. Obviously, having your pick of stunning models to accompany you to all of the grand social events is one. Being chauffeured around to all the best private Hollywood and Bollywood parties is pretty nice, too.  If you've never been the guest of honor at a lavish party that spontaneously breaks into big song, it's a gas!  And the food is out of this world!  Never having to wait at posh restaurants, there's a time saver!  Being able to scam fans out of millions of dollars in donations to your relief projects is another advantage.  But there are some tedious aspects of mega fame that one must endure that keep you in touch with the struggles of the common people who occasionally have access to your music.  Take for example having tiny, germ covered newborn humans entrusted to you by complete strangers for baby kissing photo ops, or quick selfies with world leaders and political wannabees alike, many of whom are one in the same. Then there are the hassles of trying to find a bureau large enough to hold the honorary keys to large metropolitan cities around the world, or the burden of never being able to leave the house without the correct $400 sunglasses.  Mega fame is not without its difficulties.

The worst of days of superstardome will find you rolling up the sleeves of your Yves Saint Laurent shirt at some kind of "Housing for the Homeless" ceremony to drive a couple of nails into a two by four while armies of press find the most attractive homeless person to beam at you like a savior while you take questions from sycophants about your next album or outreach program.  Then, when you see the spot on the news that night you'll be horrified to learn you have been ridiculed all day because your handlers never informed you that a two inch swing while grabbing the hammer just under the head is a clear sign that you have never actually held a hammer once in your entire life.  Believe me, the next time it'll be the super models swinging the hammers assembly line style behind me.  Think of a cross between Robert Palmer's videos and the video for "Tough Enough" by the insidious band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  At least that way when the houses fall apart four years later I'll have plausible deniability.  It's a lot of hassle for what should be a simple money laundering scheme.  And on second thought I beg you... please don't think of The Fabulous Thunderbirds... for any reason, ever.

To maintain your status as the most sought after musician during times of international crisis you have to plan ahead, and you have to surround yourself with better handlers.  I think that's why the common folk relate to me.  That, and the occasional hollow reference to social issues.  Nothing lubes up the press and social media like a shout out to the most current Victim of the Day.  Using terms like "fairness" and "social justice" will keep the curious reporters from checking into the long list of mysterious deaths and ruined reputations lying in your wake.  Yes, mega fame is hard work.  Even something as mundane as keeping your prescriptions straight is critical.  Just ask Ozzy.  You can't ask Michael, Prince or Elvis about that anymore, can you? 

In all seriousness, there are two big payoffs in playing music.  One is obviously the fact that you get to travel and meet like minded fans of music, sometimes even fans of your own music, who come from all corners of the globe.  The other payoff, and the one that I would choose if I had to select just one, is the chance to put the ideas you and your band mates labored over for so, so long down for all eternity in the intoxicating, high tech fantasy world known as "the studio".  That is where it all becomes real. 

In just a few days I will enter the studio with my thirty two year old drum set to begin recording the drums for Loincloth's follow up album to the now infamous release, 'Iron Balls of Steel'.  Loincloth have been on a very strange, disjointed ride over the last two years but all of our pieces have finally come together, or shall I say "back together" and our vision of a second, more headbangin' album is about to be realized.  I still have a few things to figure out, and after our obligatory Mexican lunch this afternoon I'll spend a good bit of the day working on those loose ideas at our space.  One of the problems with constantly wanting to try new things is that you always feel like your on the verge of a better idea, so instead of settling for something right away you are constantly tweaking things.  When Confessor recorded it tended to be as soon as we were able to play our songs, and I can hear the lack of fluidity in my playing, particularly on 'Condemned'.  Having many more opportunities to record since then has made studio performances much better for me, but there is always a little anxiety before surrounding your drums with miles of cables and strategically placed microphones. Something about all the flashing lights of the control board and the voice in your headphones asking if you are feeling okay makes everything you normally take for granted about your instrument and your abilities seem far more serious.  It can be a little daunting.

The last time I was in the studio was when Loincloth recorded many of these same songs two years ago.  We ended up shelving that recording, and we'll have a much better album because of it.  There was pressure to get things done by a certain time instead of waiting until we were ready.  Because I was still cramming like it was a test, I actually had to sit outside on the curb while everyone else was listening to things to try and nail down a very long pattern.  The work crew that was across the street at the time were thoroughly confused by the soulless ginger slapping away at his knees, but I had no other choice.  I was able to get the section down, including the error I made in the linear "sketch" I had written out that I didn't notice until listening to the rough track a few days later.  It was a pattern that took ten seconds to play, but every ten seconds it shifted by a 1/16th note, so the relationship changed very subtly and there were really four patterns to learn as a result, all of which were similar enough that my arms wanted to play the same thing.  So much of what I do requires that I override what comes naturally to me.  It's a challenge that I enjoy, and once I am able to play those weird things without thinking about them I have a new set of tricks I can pull out whenever I need them.  It does take dedication though, and if I settled for my first or second draft of things I doubt very seriously that I would ever have stood out to anyone as a drummer.

Sitting on the curb that day slapping away at my knees and peppering the asphalt with bass drum triplets and quarter note changes actually took some of the pressure off of the whole notion of going into the studio.  I was always afraid to attempt anything new once passing through the doors of a studio.  By the time you get to that point you feel as though you should have everything completely down, but since I never feel that way about any track I always entered the studio with more doubt than conviction.  We also took some time that day for me to play the long pattern with Tannon with our gear.  It was a practice within a recording session.  Before that day I would never have considered practicing a section at such an expensive studio rate, but I have to say it provided a thirty minute break from the pressure of feeling as though everything had to be 'perfect'.  I don't think I would have gotten it as quickly had there been the pressure to do it "right this time" every time I attempted it. As a result I will never feel the pressure that I used to impose on myself quite as acutely as any other time we went into the studio, and I really think that all future recordings will benefit because of what I learned that day.  That's not to say I won't still be a little stressed out before going into a studio, but I now know that taking a twenty minute breather to sharpen up on some difficult riff is not only fine, but actually better than recording every single attempt only to see the pile of your failures grow larger every minute or so. Repeating the phrase "Take one" before pressing record even when it's really "Take thirty seven" really does help take some of the pressure away, a little levity is good sometimes, but it won't actually help you figure out the beat that you can't really play as well as you'd like.

So today I'll be plowing my way through two riffs that I have not nailed down yet and an entire song that needs finessing.  One of the riffs is that very same riff I performed for the work crew on the curb two years ago.  Nothing about it is the same as it was then.  I really can't leave anything alone.  Another riff is about thirty seconds long at the end of another song that has undergone massive changes since we recorded last time.  It is a prime example of the kind of riff I could do four or five different ways and find all kinds of satisfying things in, but today I have to pick one.  Just one, eh?   Dammit!  Eenie meenie miny mo... who here can play drums? 

Photo credit:  Traer Scott


  1. Howdy Steve Shelton. I like reading perspectives on creating. Best wishes to you and Loincloth as you head in to the studio! It will be interesting to hear your expressions as always.

    I like your attitude about creative challenge. I think to focus on mastering your process at the curb instead of focusing on the end result, "perfection" only, will move creativity forward faster and better. For me, expecting to "get it right" (perfect) to the point of obsession, kills the joy and progression. I like creation to have some fun involved.

    Thanks for standing out as a drummer. I just had my second drum lesson and I'm playing along with Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and AC/DC's Back in Black. No asphalt in the bedroom but my air bass drum attack wants to leave scars.

    Rooting for you guys!

    1. Thank you, Mr. Tooth! I'm actually packing my drums up in a couple of hours to take them down to the studio and I start tracking Friday. Congratulations on having your second drum lesson under your belt! That's great! I used plenty of AC/DC albums as make shift metronomes when I first started playing drums. One day I wanted to play to something different so I pulled out 'Spring Session M' by Missing Persons. I was a fan before I started thinking about drumming and I remembered that it was really straightforward a lot of the time. After a couple of minutes I stopped trying to play over it and really paid attention to Terry Bozzio's drumming. From that moment on he's been my favorite. Thanks for rooting for us! See ya' around KT