Monday, May 14, 2007

The Backburner

Spent the evening doing the 'final' overdubs for a friend's album that I've been producing - very, very slowly - over the last six years. You can see why 'final' is in quotes... anyone who's ever been involved in a long term backburner project like this knows that the finish line recedes faster the closer you get to it. Theoretically, we're going to start the final mixdowns on Thursday, and they'll be occupying the better part of my weekend. I'm looking forward to it, because when I'm in the studio I feel a confidence and decisiveness that's pretty elusive most of the rest of the time.

Tonight's work consisted of two final vocals - trouble songs that couldn't quite come together in the past. One got a complete melodic overhaul; Ryan (the artist) had written the original melody as a fast, rappy patter, with a lyric about someone else's romantic obsession with him. Neither the lyric or melody worked for me - in fact, it's fair to say that I really disliked them strongly. But the guitar solo had a completely different melody that I thought would work as a verse (it does). So, on Saturday - in a break from home repair - Ryan and I sat on the back porch and threw together a new version of the song, along with a more thematically appropriate lyric. The theme? Being unable to finish a long-term backburner project.

The other song just needed a tweak to make the melody more interesting, but apparently we didn't tweak hard enough, because even after redoing the vocals tonight, the thing still just lay there, a great instrumental track waiting to be fulfilled.

Other overdubs were mostly some 'final' vocal harmonies for me - a role I as a singer volunteered myself for, and I as a producer accepted. Ryan also laid down some nice harmonica on his ode to George Harrison - which was timely when we first started recording this album, so that should give you some idea of how long it's taken to get to this point.

Lord knows why these things take so long. Copper Man's own album, Selling the Downtown Dream, took about three years to pound through the tubes. The first sessions were done while Ryan was still in the band (in fact, about five of the songs on his album are his Copper Man compositions from those sessions) back in early 2001. Then those were laid aside. After Ryan left (alright, I fired him, sigh), Shaun came onboard and we developed enough new songs to replace Ryan's in the set, and went in to record those the week before Christmas, 2002.

Then Shaun flew to India to attend his sister-in-law's wedding, and broke his back in a terrible traffic accident there Christmas Eve, on his way back from the rehearsal dinner (well, whatever passes for a rehearsal dinner in Zoroastrianism). Then, his first week recuperating, they discovered that his wife was pregnant.

Think about that: that's got to be the most intense possible chain of events possible. I think only if he'd found out he was due to fly to Mars the following Wednesday would it have been any more storied.

So, we slowly recorded the guitars and vocals over the course of 2003, which Shaun mightily soldiered through, relearning each song before recording, not having a chance to develop any solo ideas that he really was thrilled with - although the guitar turned out to be a highlight of the album. But it all proved too much - he finally retired from the band in late 2003. The record sat around for a few more months, and then we finally mixed it - but by then, the spirit had gone out of it and I can barely stand to listen to big chunks of it (but I'm still proud of the achievement, so go figure that paradox).

It's funny - the rest of our lives, we spend trying to figure out ways to make time to play music - for many musicians I know, it's about the only thing that we really enjoy doing. But always, it's on the backburner, getting black and crunchy. Maybe when we all retire, we'll form some godawful band of octogenarian light rockers, an "America" for the 2060s.

But, really, who doesn't have something in their lives they'd rather be doing than the things they usually find themselves doing? Anyone who's figured out how to live that full life, out there? Or are you editing copy instead of printmaking? Assembling widgets instead of writing illuminating travel literature? Clearing tables instead of studying Byzantine Art? Answering phones instead of writing symphonies?

Really, why are we all jerking off instead of humping like bunnies?

Or was that just me?



Unknown said...

That was a good post. I want to hear that album. I think I only heard parts of it. I'm trying to sign in to this comment using my gmail account. I wonder if it will work? -JN

Unknown said...


Dave Kopperman said...

You don't have a copy of Selling the Downtown Dream? For shame. I'll happily get you one.

Unknown said...

OK. I would actually listen to it.

Dave Kopperman said...

I'll probably do a critical appraisal of it in a few posts - sort of like Wil Wheaton's reviews of ST:TNG that are turning up over on TV Squad.