Social Gravy — Part One — From Composition to Recording

By in Music Creation, Pro Mixing

In 2014 Vee Bordukov, a Belarusian indie artist, approached me saying he was looking to connect with a writer / producer who could help him take his creative aspirations to the next level. In assessing his material, I found nuggets of ideas I related to; a riff here, a chorus there… The overriding influences in his music were Beatle-esque chord changes and an aesthetic that landed somewhere between classic rock and indie rock. Not strident enough to be Led Zeppelin and not hipster enough to be Alex Turner though there were allusions to both and at times a psychedelic Pink Floyd moment. I suggested he come over to my apartment for a tea and a chat.

We played some music and I conveyed my observations. He liked the idea of creating an indie rock project that drew on our collective influences and we started writing with that intention. My initial intention is that it would make for a fun little side project. Generally Vee would come over with a bunch of riffs or chord sequences, I’d select the ones I liked and then would flesh them out musically and lyrically. It was a slightly new arena for me in terms of writing but was still music I was familiar with. It’s unlikely to not be influenced in some way from the bands mentioned above, so we both had that in common, but I would also play Vee stuff like Eels, Jeff Buckley, Ani Difranco, Dead Sara, etc.

In those writing sessions, I’d sing the melodies and ideas so we’d generally put them in keys that sat well with my voice. When it came time to record the material and I was assembling the band and creative team, Vee suggested I sing the tracks. It was a kind invitation and the start of what would become an interesting partnership between us.

I booked us some time at East West Studio 3. I thought it would be the perfect spot as the Trident board there has so much vibe and compliments the smaller but awesome sounding live room. It was also my intention to record as much of the tracks live as possible as I felt having all the musicians playing in the same room would be a cool vibe. I sang the vocals in the control room through an SM7 and we used a Kemper amp on the early live sessions to isolate the guitars. Many of the live vocals ended up on the record and all of them using that mic. I love it! We’d go in and cut 3 songs a day; the first batch we recorded was “Change”, “Master Of Your Mind” and “No Surprise”.

Jake Hayden came and played drums, Kristian Attard bass, Sean Hurwitz guitar; Vee would play acoustic guitar and I’d sing and play guitar and overdub keys later (first at Fonogenic and later Hammond at The Village Recorder). Josh Stuebe engineered. It was a fun first session and the tracks came out with a quirky indie rock vibe as intended.

The writing continued and thus so did the recording, all of which took place at East West (except for the track “So Cool” which we recorded at NRG (Studio B – The Moroccan Room) where I was working a lot at the time. The vibe turned out more Gov’t Mule than Arctic Monkeys so we opted to keep it as “b-side”. Sean was touring with Smash Mouth at the time so Jake suggested bringing in Eric Hammer  to play guitar. In what came to be his standard modus operandi, Eric put down a bitchin’ guitar solo, 1st take. Except for the song “Fools”, that was the case with all his solos; and more often than not it would be live with the band. Vee got more and more comfortable playing in the studio over time. He didn’t have a lot of studio experience prior to this project and so it was important for me to build him up while also maintaining the flow of the sessions. I kept him as involved as possible and he was humble enough to know when things weren’t working and to let me try another approach.

Jake stayed on throughout and became a great band leader and vibe man. I also developed a good flow and communication with Josh (who was engineering all my sessions at the time). By the time we did our second session at East West Kristian went on tour with Jason Mraz so Alex Al took over and while Eric was away with Lupe Fiasco, LA session legend  Michael “Fish” Herring joined us.

All the musicians were great and both Sean and Fish kindly invited us to do guitar overdubs at their home studios before I later recorded my own parts at my place.

Obviously all the studios mentioned run Pro Tools as standard, so it was never a problem moving the files around, whether for overdubs, mixing or playback. Id generally work off bounces when doing an overdub session, just in case a home studio system had trouble with high resolution sessions, but would always have the full session on hand in case we needed to mute something, make edits etc.

I originally suggested we record keyboards at Fonogenic as Josh was one of the house engineers at the time and after-all it’s part owned by a well known local keyboard player. Josh set up a Baby Grand, Rhodes, Whirlitzer, Hammond and Melotron for me. I was like a kid in a candy store! We later switched to The Village Recorder where we would track Hammond. I love the staff there!

After another 2 (3 track) sessions at East West we had 10 songs tracked:

 

• Something Fun – Leah Zegher on BVs
• Demerol – Carol on BVs
• Try Me – co-written with Liam O’Donnell and with Nachum Petersil on BVs
• I Wont Tell You No – Nachum sang BV’s on this one also
• Change
• Beautiful
• No Surprise
• So LA
• Master Of Your Mind
• So Cool

 

We mixed them at my mix suite in West Hollywood where we could take our time and not be on the clock…

After extensive back and forth on the mastering – with Howie Weinberg – we found ourselves reflecting on the material and our plans for release. (We actually had a disaster first run with another mastering engineer who’s work I love, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.) Mastering for me has been a tricky thing to get right and over the years I’ve had more bad experiences than positive ones. It seems there are always compromises to be made…

I have an open door policy in my sessions so it was a pleasure to host my friend Steve Lillywhite while he was around.

On one hand we were happy with the material and how it sounded, on the other hand we felt we were somewhat lacking in communicating our original intention through a body of work. Check out part 2 to hear how we rectified that concern, how the band created some of their best work to date, why they went back into the studio – this time to East West Studio 1 – and who their new engineer, musicians and guests were. Also hear how they got the album ready for release and the promotions that happened around it, allowing the project to grow and continue.

 

Brad Kohn
Instagram | Facebook | SoundCloudwww.bradkohnmusic.com

Social Gravy
Instagram | Facebook | SoundCloud www.socialgravymusic.com/music

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The Founder of Home Farm Studios in London—I am a multi-platinum awarded singer-songwriter, producer and engineer in LA—producing and performing music and investing in startup ventures.