Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Vacation Before Last

As promised, here's the unposted and unedited Weekend Listening from the archives.  Note that all references to dates are from July of 2008.

Your Weekend Listening • 8/2/08
Fearless • July,2008

Just to throw the last Weekend Listening (with its ultracrap and hypertense recording at an expensive studio) into sharp contrast, this week's entry shows what you can do if you're relaxed, among friends, and have just a MacBook with a pinhole mic and Garageband at your disposal.

As regular readers might recall, over the July Fourth weekend, I drove up to Durham, Maine, to spend the weekend with Putnam at his (actual) log cabin. Putnam is something of an inspiration for me - he's putting a lot of effort into promoting himself, and just recently finished a small tour of New England cafés and college radio stations, with just himself and his antique banjo, mandolin and guitar. All right - the guitar is new, but the banjo and mandolin were handed down from his great-grandfather, and that's pretty cool.

Honestly? I don't think I can even tell you my great-grandfather's name. On either side. And the most embarrassing part of that my middle name is my maternal great-grandfather's last name, so I should really be more up on that. But family history in my family is a mostly neglected category.

Putnam, on the other hand, comes from American longevity going back to - I guess - the Mayflower. Perhaps as a result, he's come to identify himself through the musical forms of the century before last - Old Time music, as it's properly called. Although he's really a singer-songwriter, he's part of a larger community of players, and even participates in a weekly old-time jamboree, which I joined in and thoroughly sucked eggs on before I drove back to New York.

A large part of what I envy in Putnam is that he's living the life, a pretty free life in which he's able to donate as much time to his music as he can. Another part is that he's doing it himself, and he's definitely earned it. It also doesn't hurt that he married a girl I had a serious crush on in college - which is actually how I know him. So, in a way, I have a small dream of being Putnam, sometimes.

I'm a songwriter first, and that even though I lack any kind of acoustic technique or stage-presence, I have that dream of getting up on stage with a guitar, keeping the crowd interested with my life set to music, and then moving on to the next town. So, when the idea first came up for me to go to Maine and accompany Putt at one of his shows, it reminded me of that and I began to noodle around on acoustic for the first time in a while. I spent a couple of hours here and there noodling around with songs from the entire Dave oeuvre - whatever I thought could translate well to just me and a guitar.

It wasn't that easy, because I tend to think in arrangements, and it's rare that any of the newer (read: better) songs that I've either written or co-written can just be banged out on acoustic and have the same impact. This is particularly true of the DeSk numbers, which are so perfectly balanced between the individual styles and contributions of the individual members that they practically cease to function as songs if any member isn't present. And the DeSk material is far and away the best stuff I've ever had a hand in writing, so it's kind of a drag to know that I can't get up on stage and just busk these songs, but they rely so much on the sound of the group to achieve their effect, which includes somewhat lengthy instrumental passages. Someone out there may be able to do it, but I'm quite incapable of playing a guitar, piano, bass and drum arrangement on a six-string acoustic.

I'm not sure where it came from, exactly, but while I was digging through the catalog, I started noodling around with a Lennon-style finger-picked version of Pink Floyd's Fearless, from Meddle, Floyd's 1971 album that I have a serious obsession with, and has Echoes on its flip side. As I played around with this arrangement - thinking of my ongoing half-assed project of randomly rearranging various Floyd songs - I couldn't quite get it to sound right. Then I recalled that the song was written in some kind of open 'G' tuning, but I had no idea exactly what, so I futzed with the tuning until I came up with one that didn't sound like ass with what I was playing.

After a couple of days, I lost interest and promptly forgot the arrangement and the tuning. But when I got to Putnam's, and we started busking the first night after dinner, I tried to recreate it. The picking was easy enough, but the tuning took me a little while to recall.

This time I wrote the damn thing down: G B D G D G (low to high). Note that I have no idea what the song's original tuning is, but I'm pretty sure that's not it. And even though he feels it's his least instrument, Putt obliged me with a little fiddle while I recreated the arrangement, and I thought it all sounded rather nice.

We didn't do it at the show* - in fact, I don't think I even thought of it as a possibility. But I did have the laptop and wanted to get something down, and listening back to this recording after a month, I find that it does capture something of the feeling of that cabin, and that weekend, that I really like. I pretty quickly laid down a double-tracked acoustic, and then the vocals, and then Putnam did one quick take at the fiddle,** and that's everything you hear in the final, complete with room noise, wonky vocals and flubs.

Well, okay, I did one quick vocal patch earlier today when I went to mix it down, but that was because Putnam's smoke alarm went off while I was singing on the original take. I do regret that I didn't get Putnam to sing the harmony, but it didn't cross my mind that this was going to be something that I'd like so much, so I just did it quickly myself. Also, in this final mix, I added a little effects here and there to open it up - a little EQ and reverb on the guitars, some echo on the vocals and a little flange on the fiddle to make it sound more like I felt, if you know what I mean.

I think the relaxed spirit of that weekend comes through. As well as the melancholy that I seem to so enjoy.


17" MacBook Pro
2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
OS 10.5.4
Celebrity Ovation Acoustic Guitar
Beat-up old fiddle
Recorded on Swamp Road in Durham, ME
July 3, 2008


*At the show, as mentioned here at the Rambler around that time, I actually ended up playing a DeSk song toward the end of Putnam's set after all... albeit the one song that's the most 'Dave' of the bunch.

**Don't call it a violin. Putnam gets very unhappy. I got snarky and called the Garageband track 'Fiddolin,' but I don't think he noticed.

P.S.: Coincidentally, the Floyd band I play keys in will be debuting Fearless at our show this coming Friday - that's the Floyd arrangement, not the rustic folk cabin version. Ace of Clubs, for those who are interested.


Christine said...

there goes Rule #1... (c;

Dave Kopperman said...

RIght. I think the PCMA rule sort of covers specific developments - but I suppose that if the blog luck demons are paying attention, I could have just made a critical error.

Watch out for falling 'blue ice.'