This is part two of an Avid Blogs 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. Read part one here.
So at this stage we had five songs written, a sketch of a jam that we were going to work out live in the studio and one track (which later became “Dancing Shoes”) where we had an arrangement but no lyrics. Peter had given me a couple of drafts to approve but none of them, I felt, had made the grade, as we went into the studio.
Mars (LoveBomb Go-Go) and I had been throwing round ideas re musicians to use for the project. We had initially planned to do the whole thing in Portland for its quirky, organic, homegrown feel, but though we had a killer band lined up I was not happy with the guitarists available in the area at that time. Given the guitar is the lynchpin of Gypsy Jazz music I assembled a band in LA. Not wanting Mars’ efforts to go to waste, we agreed to track the brass with him in Portland once we were done.
So with the writing pretty much wrapped we headed to Fonogenic Studios (owned by Rami Jaffee of the Foo Fighters and Ran Pink) in Van Nuys to start recording.
We started the first day with Leah Zeger – Vocals, Jeffrey Radaich – Guitar, Michael Jerome – Drums, Michael Papillo – Bass and I was playing keys. It was the first time I was producing a job where the client was flying in for it and so in an attempt to limit costs, I made the work schedule pretty tight. Our ideas that had started life on my laptop or at Gibson were now transferred onto the Pro Tools HD rig at Fono. The two Michaels, Jeffrey and I were essentially the house band and other guest performers would drop in according to the schedule.
We were cutting three tracks a day, live, and left the third day for the jam, editing and overdubs. Joshua Stubee and Samon Rajabnik engineered and were excellent at getting things set up for us and keeping the sessions flowing.
We would generally work through an arrangement, run it a couple of times and then put it down. Everyone was top notch. Leah cut her vocal, bvs and violin solo pretty much in successive takes! It was intense but fun work. We had a great team…
Rami, was in Asia when we started recording. I had planned for him and Jessy Greeen to play on the tracks but Leah ended up covering the violin duties and when Rami came back towards the end of the Fono sessions, we tried a little accordion but I felt it best to leave space for the brass. So, after working 15 hour days, (lesson learnt here) we packed up inspired and exhausted and headed to Portland.
It was about a half hour drive from the hotel to the studio in Portland. Peter and I had really bonded by this point and it felt like an adventure we were taking together. I think it was at this point he ran a couple of names by me for the project. I loved “Miss Nomer’s Number” from the get go and so that became the name for the project!
We were greeted at Supernatural Studios by the chief engineer David Pollock with news that the B room we were supposed to be working in was being reassembled and was still in pieces… so we got moved into the A room. Result! It was a really sweet set up that had a beautiful large API board at the heart of it. David had close mics up and my favorites – Cole 3048’s – for the room. I take a drive caddy from studio to studio with all the session files and media on it; so just plug in and we’re ready to go.
Shortly after our players arrived. We had Mars play a variety of saxes (Baritone, Alto and Soprano) Johnny Powell on Tenor and Stan Bock on Trombone and Euphonium. We went in with no charts, just some ideas and faith, and had 2 days to cut the tracks.
My friend Yuliya Miroshnikova (Saga Pictures) who had been with us at Fonogenic, was supposed to be present as she was making a short film of our working method for us to use for promo. Unfortunately her flight had been cancelled and she was unable to get up to Portland in time. Mars helped me hire some local Cats to collect stills and footage for her to later use on the edit.
Things flowed well and there was a great feeling of camaraderie between us all. In fact the relationship that was slowest to flourish was between David and I. Perhaps this was partly down to the eustress created by the tight deadline. Regardless, after completing the session successfully and hearing some of David’s other work, I realized what a badass he was and asked him if he would mix the project when we finished tracking. He agreed and we had a good hang once the work was done.
My plan was to keep up the momentum and finish tracking before the Christmas Holidays. Peter however ran into some family stuff which meant between him having time to take care of that and me having to head back to London early in 2014, it wasn’t till late January that I touched down in LA, having come in from Summit Series (Utah) ready to start tracking the remaining Vocals and overdubs.
I had been at the Christmas Party for New West Records in December of 2013 with Michael Jerome, who also drummed for their artist Richard Thompson. I had particularly liked Gary Briggs, the label manager, and struck up a bit of a relationship with him and Richard Garcia, the studio manager. Between the two of them they agreed to let me use their studio, which up until me asking, was only used by their artists, however during the time we needed it was going to be largely unoccupied.
It was a decent sounding room with a Control 24 and a nice selection of mic pre’s, mics and gear. The only trouble was it was a custom setup with fast but small hard drives, pretty funky routing and they were running Pro Tools 9. This meant I had to convert all the .ptx files back into .ptf’s. It also meant that the file archives got pretty messy which caused a headache with missing files from that point on. (Another lesson learnt!)
New West was a cool spot to set up shop. Yuliya was back on the scene and Peter and I agreed to work more relaxed hours; fifteen hours now became eight or so and an hour for lunch. Over the course of eight working days, Leah came in to sing “The Edges”, Michael Jerome put down his percussion parts, the vocal group Aroura came in for a couple of days to do some vocal arrangements and Peter and I both laid our vocal tracks. The trick with vocals is generally to make people comfortable and give them the space to try things out; to know when to push and when to ease off. Peter was a little nervous going in but the proof is in the result. Hopefully the result and the memory of the process means that he’s more comfortable next time or hires me again! 😉
It can’t have been too bad because we ended a day early. Relations were at a high and I had a few days comping and editing to do before sending things to mix.
The final stages are always the hardest. Find out what happened and the challenges we faced in part 3…
Photos at Fonogenic and New West by Yuliya Miroshnikova.
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