I can’t remember the exact day now, but I went over to meet my partner in crime William Fredette to record three of my own songs. They are acoustic tunes; by that I mean they sound fine if the only instruments recorded are one guitar and my voice.
When I got there, William initially suggested I do the guitar and then vocals. My time-conscious brain compelled me to say I would rather try doing both at once. So we gave that a shot for the song “This One Name,” and the results were not that impressive. If I played guitar and sang at the same time, I found I wasn’t able to put my face in the best position in front of the microphone.
So I said, “You know what? I’m so worried about time that I wanted to do guitar and vocals together…but if it comes out crappy, then I will have to come back and spend more time on the same three songs! So you were right. Let’s do guitar line, THEN vocals.”
From that point forward, the session soared. I still had a glitch every now and then. For example, in the song “An Ode to My End,” the vocals start RIGHT WITH the guitar line. Since there was no count off or anything, I had to get the timing just right. After a couple passes, I managed to execute the vocals to my satisfaction.
Then there was the song “You Are the Halo,” a tune written for and inspired by one of the most amazing women I know. I knocked the guitar line out of the park, as I knew I would, but the real shocker were the vocals: William had me do two takes, and I blew those out of the water too.
I think William’s reaction to my vocals was very interesting, but his impression of “Halo” was the one that struck me the most. Let me explain what I mean here.
First of all, my vocals have always been the most lacking part of my music. The reason for this is quite simple: I have not been singing as long as I have been playing guitar or writing songs. Even when recording demos at home, I would always be coy about singing instead of trying to belt it out and push the envelope. Over time, this has changed…and it will CONTINUE to change, until the vocals are also up to my standards. At any rate, William told me afterward that he actually loved my vocals, that I had great tonal control. He said my phrasing reminded him of Michael Stipe from R.E.M. and Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel.
I had heard the Hotel comparison before, but Stipe took me off guard. It was flattering in a way that words cannot accurately describe. I mean, anyone who has read my other blog knows that R.E.M. had one of the biggest influences on shaping my musical tastes. They were the first “alternative” band I really loved. For those of you who did not read that article, here is what I had to say when R.E.M. split:
Circling back to William’s reaction to “Halo,” he said that while he sat at the controls listening to me sing, he was humming backing vocals of his own. He said the song deserved to be a full band, jangle pop song. (I’m seriously considering taking up his offer.) In fact, when he finally mixed the tune, he sent me two versions: one was just my guitar and I, and on the other he threw some guitar leads…the beginning of it being built to a full band jangle pop sound like he described.
Why am I so intrigued by the fact that he reacted strongest to “Halo?” Because it was the only song of the three that was written for someone, and she is someone who has had an amazing impact on my life. Therefore, it was interesting to see THAT tune hit William the hardest. It lets me know I did my job: I wanted to compose a beautiful, moving song for someone who is an important presence in my life. If you never met her, I wanted people to know her THROUGH THIS SONG.
William’s reaction lets me know I was on to something.