Experiments (failed and otherwise)

A big part of the appeal for projects of this nature is the ability to experiment. We’re not paying studio time, and we’re not beholden to some record company wanting us to push out product. That means we can do try things that may be dumb, but there’s really no penalty for failure.

Our process on the last two albums (and most of the non-album stuff we’ve done) has been as such: I write music, recording as many instruments as I feel necessary to flesh out my ideas, then James shoehorns his ideas into my framework. He can usually be credited with giving structure to my meanderings. More to the point, he makes my music into songs.

In the grander scheme, I’ll start with a rough demo, Kevin will record drums, I’ll record bass, Grant will record guitar, then James will add vocals. There have been many times we’ll listen to a song and Kevin will say, “If I’d known the guitar was doing that, I could have changed my part to match,” or, “I didn’t know there were going to be vocals in that part, I should have laid back,” etc. This time, the big experiment was to do full-band demos then reevaluate. Basically, we were going to record the entire album (at least) twice. That would allow everyone in the pipeline to add feedback on what needed to be changed to accommodate each others ideas. Better collaboration was the goal. A quagmire is what we got. Somehow, recording an album twice takes 10 times as long. Some of the songs are better off for it, absolutely, but we ended up abandoning the process a little over halfway through.

Here’s one of the songs that got the do and redo treatment. It’s called Stun Gun. I’ve cut together some of the demos this song went through on its way to its final version. If you’re interested in the sausage factory, give this a listen:

Stun Gun demo smorgasbord (yum).

The first cut is from the original demo I did which clocked in at just over 4 minutes. That’s just me on bass and drums, sketchpadding (if that’s a word).
Second cut is a live demo Kevin and I did where I overdubbed a guitar part to see what it sounded like. That demo was still 3:40.
Third cut is another live demo, a little faster.
Fourth cut is from James’ vocal demo over one of the bass/drum live demos Kevin and I had done. He suggested edits to the arrangement to accommodate his vocals, which really helped tighten up the song.
Fifth cut is Grant’s guitar demo over James’ vocal demo.

That’s not even all the versions I recorded over time. There are about 6 songs we wound up doing this way, and while it does give room for more collaborative input, it’s kind of unsustainable, especially given our schedules.

In this case, I think it worked out pretty well. We discovered through the process that there were redundant parts of the song, it worked better at a faster tempo, and the vocals drove the arrangement rather than leaving James to make do with whatever I gave him. What started out as a 4 minute draft turned into a song that clocks in at a lean and mean 2:47.

If you’re not sick of that loop of 3 on 4 self-indulgence, here’s a rough unmastered mix of the final version:

Stun Gun (rough mix)

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