Nov 13, 2016

A Diamond in the Rough Mix, Part Deux

As the first day of recording Loincloth's second album drew to a close I felt as though things had gone quite well at Pershing Hill Sound.  Thankfully, I don't get anxious before going into the studio anymore.  I have accepted the fact that there will always be a part of me that feels ill prepared, and that things beyond my control might, and probably will happen.  All you can do in those situations is to roll with the changes.  I was bolstered by Tannon's excitement as he heard many of my ideas for the very first time while "tape" was rolling.  For him, Loincloth has been nothing more than endless guitar files since we finished writing everything in Richmond last year.  He needed to have his pilot flame reignited.  I was confident that would happen, and when it did I appreciated his enthusiasm.  Since he and I have ended up having the greatest veto power it was nice to see him smiling like a kid in a candy store.  It was too late to make any significant changes, so seeing his approval turn into giddy excitement was a relief.  When I was a kid I never had a cheering section to push me along. That is one thing he and Monica are both great at, and it makes a difference.  I hope all of you have cheerleaders among your friends and family.  Not the ones who throw a beer bong in your face and yell "Chug! Chug!", but the ones who really hope you do well in life.  Maybe being the beer bong champion means a lot to you.  We don't judge around here.  Not unless you suck.

After my first day of recording we relaxed around the house with friends, pizza, coffee and pastries, and the greatest uniting factor of all, low budget horror film.  While it was difficult to focus on my homework with everyone reacting in disbelief and nearly uncomfortable shock as a possessed doll had its way, time after time, with a woman who eventually became a very willing sexual partner, it was still a nice and fitting way to end a day of metal history making.  By the time 3:00 am rolled around I knew I could no longer focus on my scribbled notes and hash marks representing the drum patterns I was trying to work on, so I called it a night.  Day one was the easy day.  Day two is when the fun would start.

On the second day of recording there was no way to avoid drifting into uncharted waters. There were things I had never played before that I needed to pull off.  I don't just mean sections of songs I had never played, I mean things I had never tried before in any setting. Right off the bat it was time to record an idea I had come up with only a day or so before recording.  While I knew what I wanted to do, I had never actually sat down behind the my kit to figure it all out.  Why not give it a go with the meter running, right?  It involved a series of quick cymbal chokes within a beat that kept going.  It was one of those beats where I had to remember to use my left hand for specific things or the beat would fall apart. Remembering to lead with the left hand or the left foot is something I have to do frequently, but it requires playing things until they becomes muscle memory.  Nothing is smooth if you have to think about it, and this required a lot of thought.  I finally got it right during the last two takes, and it took about two hours to get through the whole track.  That was my average time for most songs.  A couple of songs went down quicker than that, but two hours per track was the norm.

The second track that day was the easiest one to record all weekend.  It was the track that Craig, Thomas and I wrote last for the album.  I had wanted to do something different in the intro for awhile but nothing was coming to me.  Miraculously, something materialized a day or two before we started recording.  The intro ended up sounding a bit like an homage to Faith No More's drummer, Mike Bordin.  He's from the Artful Caveman School of Hard Rock. You enjoy those rare "easy" tracks when you can, because most songs end up taking longer than you think they should.  There was a slow down at the end of this track that was a little weird at first because in our practice space I always lead the way by playing what feels right in the moment.  We make eye contact and it works out well.  In the studio however,  I had to follow the click track, which is counter intuitive for me.  Fortunately, Tannon and I were able to approximate the slow down really well between texts and some quick file studies via email. Technology can definitely be your friend these days, but only when it isn't causing you to pull your hair out.  It is a little weird to think about creating music with someone who is in a different state.  I know plenty of people do it that way, but they are really good musicians and I am not.  For me, music is more about the feeling of playing than an academic pursuit of excellence.  

By four o'clock I was down to four songs, and three of them had long sections I still had to work out.  I went for the toughest one to finish out the day because I had an extra hour.  I opted to save the easiest of them for the following day's warm up track.  A smart move if I do say so myself.  That meant that it was time to dive into the one I knew would be a test for me.  Fortunately the rough spot was at the end, so if necessary I could record up to that ending and then focus on the two minute outro as a separate piece.  Big shock... "if necessary" became "very necessary" pretty damned quick!  Being comfortable with that decision made it possible to record a Loincloth album in three days that I had no real way of practicing for a full year.  Damn!  That sounds much more impressive than the "I had no idea what I was doing" approach I chose for these posts.  

Years ago I never would have considered recording in sections, but time constraints made it necessary and the click track made it much, much easier.  Without a click track there would have been small timing fluctuations that could have made cutting and pasting impossible,but I could not have played to the click track without having spent so much time practicing with it at the space.  It must be kind of like a trust fall... you wanna believe it'll work, but you're not convinced.  Ever since our last recordings I have focused on maintaining tempo, and both bands are benefiting greatly from it.  No matter how I get to my own end result in the studio I can always play it all live, and that is what matters most.  If any purists are offended by that, I will accept donations to pay for an extra day or two the next time I record an album.    

The outro to this particular song has a section that is as close to drum corps drumming as anything I've ever tried.  I stumbled upon it while messing around at the space.  I knew I wanted to do something different but nothing was coming to mind.  The guitar has a couple of gallops in it that lined up with a beat I had written for the section a long time ago.  It's a beat that sounds much more complicated when you hear it than it really is.  After a couple of passes those gallops go away and the guitar gets really airy and undefined.  Since the pa wouldn't get very loud I had to learn how to play the part without the music to accompany me.  That was a lot of fun, actually.  It was one of those sections I could, and did play for several minutes at a time.  Once I felt comfortable with my part I began to play it with the guitar tracks.  Since the rest of the guitar is kind of dreamy and amorphous I had to shift my focus to the actual clicks of the metronome which was so robotic that it exposed my tendency to speed things up when they are new.  Trying to make the adjustment from smooth and fun to stiff and regimented was the hardest part of recording the album.  That the entire section was a new approach to me didn't help but as I said, it's a fun part to play. I will no doubt expand upon that one before we ever play it live.

There wasn't enough time to try anything else after finally making it through my robotic outro tryout for the metal marching band.  I had hoped to leave less to do during my last day, especially since I had an ending to write for one song and sixty percent of a longer track to settle on, but you have to be able to go with the flow when you're recording.  This particular flow meant that I had three songs waiting for me again.  The last "easy" track would go down first, and then I'd have to knock out the two songs that required the most work.  Once again we had company after we were done in the studio.  Thomas and his wife, Becca (congratulations to the new bride and groom, by the way! ) came over along with Tannon and we all ended the night with a horror movie and more yuks.  There were no sex starved dolls like the night before, just some good ol' zombies in Denmark.  Thomas and Becca left a little before 2:00 am.  I sat down at the computer to work on my outro again and there it was, the all too familiar light head buzz of sleep deprivation!  It's kind of like having too much coffee on an empty stomach, only you walk into more walls.  I know that feeling very well.  I decided sleep was more important than pounding my head on a brick wall and went to bed around 3:00 am for the second night in a row.  I think I was out before I even hit the mattress!

The way day three started was almost indistinguishable from day two.  More pastry remnants, coffee cups and me quietly tapping out ideas for my yet to be determined outro. Monica and the dogs were snoozing sweetly in the bedroom and Tannon was sacked out downstairs.  The song I was still working on already had a history of being the Last Minute Baby for Loincloth.  When we were in the studio the last time this song was arranged from start to finish the night before we recorded it.  We filmed Tannon playing it in sections here in front of the computer.  The only real difference was that the last time we actually finished the arrangement.  It required about twenty or thirty minutes of practice time in the studio to get through it the next day, but we knew we were done when got in the truck that morning.. This time I was sure once again... sure that I was not there yet.  

I gave myself the confidence building, easiest track first.  Good call!  That went pretty smoothly.  Good thing too, because Monica, mom and my nephew all came by to check things out.  They got to see the last track I felt like I had a really solid handle on go down. There is a quick break before the long riff that closes out the track so I got myself to that point and then treated that riff as a separate track.  That enabled me to really focus in on the ending which still required a little more finesse.  That worked out well.  I played it as well as I ever have.  Good time to have an audience!  It wasn't a difficult part mind you, but I needed to refine cymbal grabs and be able to kick things up and bring them back down in ways that called for being more in control of their tone and decay.  Cymbals have a lot to say if you know how to make them speak. Track number two that day kind of had to be the Last Minute Baby one more time.  Of the two remaining tracks, the other one was going to really abuse my toms so I needed to make it last in case they started to sound dead.  Dead things are often cool, and while the visual is fun to think about, dead things really do make terrible sounding drums.  It was time for me to really focus.  Fortunately, Monica and Co. made a quick stop of it and split before I began the next one.  Thanks for the lunch, guys!  I hope it was interesting for a bit.

As was the case with the first song that day, I was able to get to the last part without much difficulty.  Faster songs don't allow for much time to think, so you often play them more consistently.  That's why I never have to worry about playing the song 'Condemned' live. There is no time for me to second guess what I'm doing.  This Last Minute Baby track was fast and choppy, much like 'Condemned' with an ending in which I had utilized another trick from that Confessor song; hitting the ride every third note regardless of what the meter was. As luck would have it the entire riff is thirty nine notes long, so my three note ride pattern worked.  I had the skeletal version worked out, but none of the bells and whistles.  Once we finished the mapped out sections of the song I realized within just two or three takes that what I had been working on for a couple of weeks, what I had been looking forward to as a drumming highlight, was not working for me.  The three note ride pattern sucked all of the momentum that had been crafted into the song right out.  There was no denying it, and no reason to try and tweak it.  While that may seem like a real downer it was actually a relief.  I never know exactly how things will work together until I have a chance to hear them, and I had not heard this beat in the context of the song in its entirety.  As a stand alone riff it worked, but not as the ending to something that was really chugging along.  The "fix" was simple: revert to the original idea.  I changed the cymbal pattern to something that was more rigid, which created an off time contrast point and I played the rest of it in a more natural way. The biggest difference was that the "normal" cymbal count kept the song moving, but the bass drums and snare are not too unlike what I had been working on for weeks.  The final evolutionary steps all happened at once, in the studio when it counted the most. Hurray, for honest analysis and the ability to accept its outcomes!

The final song I recorded for the album was the easiest to digest for a listener, but the hardest for me to get a grip on because of its loose nature.  I am accustomed to mapping out my drums according to where little things in the riff grab my ear.  I think to myself "Oooh, I could hang this triplet here and add a cymbal choke there and tie it all in with a blah, blah, blah."  This song has vast sections with no hooks for me to hang my drum tchotchkes, so I felt like I was floating at sea with no land in sight.  By this point I was feeling a bit fatigued and some stress started to show up, but once I got past the section with no hooks I blew through the rest of the track pretty quickly.  My thirty year old bag of mid tempo enhancements finally paid off!  I think this song will end up standing out on the album because of how different it is, and it will have a doomier impact than almost anything Loincloth have written before.  I like that we have given Doom a tip of the hat, and hopefully some of you will love the dark breather on the album.  

Time to Relax Again

I allowed myself a little time before listening to what we had accomplished in the studio.  I would have given myself a few days but I had to begin working up some ides for bass so that we can have a genuine rhythm section on this album.  I was very pleasantly surprised when I first heard our rough tracks!  My initial thought was that I have never been more proud of a set of roughs, nor of my own performance in any of the recordings I have been a part of, regardless of the band.  I feel as though I take something away from every studio experience that helps me get closer and closer to where I want to be the next time.  I can finally hear in a series of roughs that many years of recording and trying to be creative are beginning to pay off.  I have always had confidence in my ideas as a drummer, but not always in my execution.  This collection of rough mixes has made me feel better about an area of my drumming I always feel I could improve.  

This experience with Greg at Pershing Hill Sound has given me great confidence that the next Confessor album will be the truest representation of how we sound to date, and that our unique twists and turns will be as effective as ever when our turn in the studio comes. Confessor still have plenty of work ahead, but I am going to list all of the ideas I have had that would make people turn their heads and I'll begin sharpening my own skills so that I can hammer what makes me stand out as a drummer home.  I may decide to back off of the amazeballs levels just a smidge to leave some wow factor room for the other guys in the band.  I'll have to see how they behave between now and then, but I am seriously considering leaving some space for an occasional note from the string section. 

This two part post may have been a bit too "in the weeds" for people who don't eat, breathe and poop metal, or even music.  If you had to bail midway through, I don't blame you.  If you had to bail midway through you would not have gotten to this recognition of your selfless suffering.  Hopefully one of your cooler friends will let you know "I feel ya!"

Oh, I should thank Tony Williams at 2112 Percussion for hooking me up with loaner cymbals for the studio.  I had ordered some new cymbals but one of them didn't show up in time for the recording sessions.  Tony let me bring one of my crashes in to try and find a good match to use in the studio.  The one I used was better for washes than any that I had, and its tone was a perfect fit.  So thanks, Tony!  You went above and beyond to make sure I was taken care of, and I truly appreciate that!  I should also thank the guy at Ace Hardware who saved me a couple hundred dollars by finding all of the proper, tiny screws and springs I needed to put my snare back together.  If he hadn't hooked me up I would have had no choice but to buy another snare only sixteen hours before recording.  So thanks, "helpful hardware person"!


  1. It's all very exciting. Really looking forward to the new album. Still trying to get my head around the last one though...amazing stuff! I love that you are so unique and always seem to be pushing yourself even though no body comes close to your style, yet you have as much confidence in your drumming as the rest of us do in ours. You rule dude!!! I don't suppose there is any drum recording footage you can share with us? Any talks of a Steve Shelton TV show even? Steve Shelton:The Movie surely?

    1. Good afternoon, Keith! I borrowed a GoPro camera from a friend of mine for the recording sessions but I never had any "free time" to figure the thing out. I will record myself playing to these tracks down at the space eventually. I really enjoy doing that. I'll have a version burned that has everything but the drums so it'll make more sens than me playing an entire track by myself. I was going to have an entire season of "Game of Drum Thrones: the Steve Shelton Story" air on Sundays this year but the NFL begged m us not to. Seems their ratings are a bit down this year for some inexplicable reason and they were afraid my show would sink their ship. Poor little millionaires... I hope they end up okay. Thanks for stopping by, fellow dude who rules!

  2. Damn you NFL *shaking fist in anger*

  3. Just take a knee during every game they play this season. Is that reference one you understand? Their viewership is down forty percent this year and they can't figure out why. Leave it to activists to suck the fun out of everything in life. "You will be forced to care!" They should just stick to large men in tights slapping each other on the butt and rolling around in giant man-piles. Totally straight, right?