It's that time again! New music, new music, new music!
I've been hard at work on a collection of soft and delicate songs featuring just piano and vocals: no more, no less. After Geography made its way into the world and into people's ears, I was shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response the simple piano songs received. I had always viewed piano and vocal tracks as a cop out - as something I did because I was too lazy, confused, or indecisive to think of more production options. Thankfully, I relinquished those unhelpful beliefs, and dug deep into my catalog to share some old, old songs, along with some newer songs which didn't seem to fit anywhere else.
Be Careful with Your Man was always going to be a throwaway song, and I'm glad it didn't get thrown away. I kept reflecting on adding more lyrics, making it longer, but it just didn't work that way.
Anyone who knows me for a long time knows the reasons why I am so fiercely protective of my process. I have had a very hard time trusting people with my work, and after a terrible experience, it took me years before I could even ask anyone to play with me, to mix my songs, to help with anything. And producing? Out of the question. I became a control freak with my music as a response to nearly having my entire creative process burned to the ground by an abusive individual.
Slowly, I started having good experiences again. Recording with Red Pony Clock, working with my friend Roy at Rarefied Recording (formerly of The Habitat in Golden Hill) was a great start. It enabled me to open up my music again, to allow other people in, so that I could make better music.
I only knew David Fleminger as a friend of my friend Bart Mendoza when I asked him to start working with me on this project. I had seen him rocking pretty hard as the mop-haired dual-duty guitarist/keyboardist with one of my favorite bands in town, True Stories, but I can't say I was super familiar with his work as an engineer, producer, or even as a songwriter. I trusted him to do some recording based solely on recommendations, so you can imagine my surprise when he showed up in the studio on the first day of the session and asked me a question no one has ever asked me before:
"How do you want your piano to sound on this?"
I was immediately stumped. A loud-mouthed pianist, who has engineered the majority of her own work, sat in the power chair in the control room, and suddenly had no answer. I only had a question to ask back: "What do you mean?"
"Well," Dave said, "I took a listen to your catalog and I noticed that on the new EP (Flowers) the piano has a slightly different sound than on Geography, but overall, it sounds to me like you usually want your piano to sound the way it does," he pauses for a second, "to you when you're sitting at the piano, playing the songs."
I was floored. I had never thought of anything like this before. I have created dozens of songs and designed them all, somehow, but I had never thought of the higher level process behind WHY I wanted it to sound the way I wanted it to sound. I had not worked with someone who had come to the session with references from my own work ready to present to me, ready to talk to me about my process - not just the technical details of the process (how do you usually mic your piano?) but the reasoning behind the process.
Dave Fleminger was right. I want my piano to sound the way it does to me when I'm in front of it. From that conversation on, there was a level of comfortability and ease I'd never felt in the studio before. Being recorded always felt like a performance under a microscope for me. "Surely the engineer will hear all the flaws in my voicing and my pitch. Surely they will notice that I flubbed a note here or slowed the tempo down there." Recording got easier for me, but it was always an exercise in perfectionism, and not necessarily an exercise in emoting. Too many bad experiences with people who made me feel uncomfortable or worse, inadequate, while I was trying to capture a vocal take or piano solo.
Strange things began to happen when I started in on the vocals. I turned the lights off in the main room at Rarefied and all of a sudden, I was in a time warp, singing to people who haven't been in my life for a very long time. I was singing clearly and smoothly, with all the strength I've learned over the past few years of performing regularly, and yet there was something *else* underneath the vocals. I wasn't just singing, I wasn't just nailing the pitch; I was living and breathing in the songs. I was emoting, I was diving and swimming into the songs and living them out.
It was different. It wasn't just that I was a better singer than I was the last time I worked on a record - it was that I was opening up a lot more than I had previously. I already felt like doing a record of just piano and vocals was going to be a super-intimate thing, but it wasn't until comping vocals a few weeks later that I realized exactly how deep I had gone emotionally in order to get those vocals to sound the way they did.
This only can happen in a situation where you feel safe enough to be that vulnerable. It's hard to explain, but the experience opened up a new world to me of thinking about my music in more emotional terms. Probably sounds crazy, as music is one of the most emotional things that exists in the world, but for so long I have focused almost exclusively on the technical aspects of making music and I have downplayed the emotion present in the music. It doesn't just exist in the songwriting, it exists also in the process, and to feel safe enough to cry during a take is huge. Finding "the magic" in the studio is not an easy thing, and the magic definitely exists. So much magic, in fact, that I'm releasing my clenched fists on the title of "producer" which I have insisted on holding for a while now (control freak) and freely, happily giving Dave Fleminger the credit that he deserves for facilitating an environment where the magic is free to live, to roam, and to get captured and shared. I have had the best time in the world working with him behind the controls and through the production process, and I am so eager to share this record with you.
I'm also grateful for Roy for giving my Boston baby grand piano a home and putting so much time and energy into making his dreams come true (aka building one of the most magical studios I've ever worked in).
Basically, everything is awesome and this record is going to be something really new and exciting for me. And for you too. :)
Enjoy! The new album will be out in November. :)