This is part one of an article series by Brad Kohn, a producer, writer, musician and artist from the UK, who shares his experience producing songs for the Miss Nomers Number project.
This is my first time writing a blog so go easy on me. I’m a producer, writer, musician and artist from the UK. I started working with new representation this year that connected me to a songwriter from Philadelphia named Peter Evans. Peter was looking for a producer who could take his music to the next level. He had self produced and released an album a couple of years ago and built a small amount of local interest back in Philly. He was looking for someone who could help him develop his compositions and take on the role of producer, so we met at my London studio, Home Farm Studios, in the summer of 2013, and vibed a little.
He is a sweet man and we got on well. He left saying he was going to send me material to work through and asked me to put a rough album budget together. I ended up reviewing 30 to 40 songs. There wasn’t a consistent style that was easily identifiable and though I felt the lyrics and arrangements often needed work, there were some interesting progressions and topics. The main consistencies I identified were underlying themes of satire, humor and playfulness. While working out a fitting concept that would incorporate these characteristics, Peter emailed me saying he wanted us to write completely new material together in a Gypsy Jazz style—think Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club De France but augmented with sampled beats, additional instrumentation and traditional song structures with vocals. Though I didn’t know much about Gypsy Jazz, what I did know led me to think it was a great idea and that I could make it work. I had almost got involved with a Gypsy Swing group in London a couple of years back and knew from Django’s music that the genre is playful, upbeat and gives a lot of space to improvisation. It would be a perfect playground for Peter’s humor and give us a lot of flexibility musically.
So I started researching the style and Peter put together a list of material to illustrate the kind of thing he was going for. We both wanted to work somewhere warm, and given I was in the process of moving to Los Angeles, we decided to base the project there. The project became known as “Miss Nomers Number.” It was among Peter’s first suggestions for a project title and I thought it was perfect. Probably the easiest naming process I’ve experienced. So that was that.
My initial challenge was finding the right musicians for the project. After digesting Peter’s references, I suggested the idea of creating a pool of musicians, a kind of musical family, that could bounce off each other and inspire/ support each other and the project. I started talking to LA-based fixers and my network trying to find the right people. Before long I was conversing with people in New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Paris, London, and LA, but after a while, I had nothing confirmed and was considering flying people to LA from London (which in hindsight would have been ridiculous, considering the pool of talent that resides in LA).
Eventually I had a couple of breakthroughs. The first was sparked while at Burning Man. I ended up jamming with a great saxophonist called Mars Pont. He was the leader of an intergalactic marching band (based in Portland) called Love Bomb Go-Go. They had a somewhat gypsy vibe, were solid musicians and after discussing the project with Mars, were willing to bus the crew down to LA. Mars is a gem and this organic connection became my starting point! The second breakthrough was inspired by Peter. He had tipped me off to two fierce gypsy jazz guitarists that play together, Adrian Moignard and Gonzalo Bergara. It turned out Gonzalo was playing a gig in downtown LA the night I flew in for a run of events Virgin Galacitc were throwing, so I went down to see him play. While there, I met some excellent gypsy jazz musicians, including Leah Zeger, who ended up as one of the vocalists and soloists on the project, and Jeffrey Radaich, who became our principle guitarist (you’ll hear more about them in Part 2).
I planned for the majority of the project to center around a live band but programmed some electro swing beats as starting points for Peter and I to write to. I like to go into new situations having done my homework. I hoped they might both inspire Peter and serve his desire of having some programming in among the compositions. In the end, they did exactly that.
The night I was supposed to fly back (from New York) to Los Angeles to start writing with Peter, I missed my flight!! What a start! I ended up spending the night in JFK airport programming more ideas on Pro Tools on my laptop, hoping to make up the time I’d miss in the morning. I eventually caught the first flight out of New York, slept the whole way to LAX and made it to the Gibson Beverly Hills Showroom at about noon, ready to start working with Peter.
We spent 10 days or so writing and picked the best seven songs to be the first tracks of the album. Peter had suggested we start with seven tracks and if things went well, we’d do another seven following their completion. The idea was to create something fun, engaging, playful and generally upbeat, and we threw around a number of different musical and lyrical ideas in the broad gypsy jazz style we had defined.
Jessy Greene (Foo Fighters, Wilco, REM) had taken me to a show put on by Heartbeat Of A Planet, where I saw Hani Naser and Richard Hardy perform. They had a world music vibe that I liked and thought might mix well with our Gypsy Jazz outfit. I invited them to jam with us at Gibson one day while we were there writing, and later arranged some of the ideas into a composition we recorded in the studio. It just so happened that that day Gibson was putting on a show for their CEO.
We could hear the performance from our rehearsal room so we stepped out to check it out. Richard and the bands MD, Teddy Andreadis (Guns N Roses, Slash, BB King) had played together decades earlier with Carole King, so he invited us up to perform with them. It was great! I found out after that, that David Raven (Keith Richards, Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale) was the drummer; a good friend had been trying to put us together for some time. Small world!
We finished the writing process inspired and with a few lyrics to tighten up. I still had to confirm our final musician list and had a number of studios on hold. See who got involved and how things panned out in Part 2 …
Photos at Gibson are by Ed Glendinning.
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