Monday, January 28, 2008

Celtic Connections

After three different flights and 30 hours of total travel time, I finally made it to Scotland! My bass and luggage however were lucky enough to spend an extra night in London. Thank you American Airlines.

Celtic Connections was amazing. I played two fantastic Concerts with Lissa Schneckenburger. We also taped a performance for Scottish television which will air sometime later in the spring. The band for this festival was Keith Murphy on guitar, Stefan Amidon on percussion, me on bass and of course, Lissa on fiddle and vocals.

It's really great to play with Keith, Stefan and Lissa. I think we really play well together and we performed a lot of music from Lissa's new CD, which has just been finished up and will be released in April.

The first night we opened up for the wonderful Irish singer, Heidi Talbot. It was a great show. The venue was a beautiful converted church here in Glasgow. It seems that this city is filled with one stunning venue after another. Check it out.

Scotland does have some odd food though. Everyone knows about haggis, but I discovered this on a menu:

Rumbledethumps? What the hell is that? Seriously, that's the weirdest, most non-descriptive name for food I have ever seen. At first I thought is was some sort of inside joke to puzzle Americans, but it turns out it's mashed potatoes with cabbage and onions in it. It was actually pretty darn tasty. Here's some more information on this delightful cultural cuisine.

The other surprising thing that Scotland has a lot of: Starbucks. Within three blocks of our hotel in Glasgow there were four Starbucks. Seriously. Now don't get me wrong, I'm thankful to have reliable espresso while in the UK, but this was a bit out of hand. Considering it's so hard to find decent coffee in Europe (Italy excluded of course) I was thinking that some of these could perhaps be more evenly disbursed throughout the EU.

Much of the fun of this festival is the late night party. After all of the concerts are over everyone convenes at the hotel where there is a festival club. Bands play informal short sets there and inevitably, you find yourself up until dawn playing music and hanging out. Here's me and tenor banjo whiz, Eamon Coyne getting a good start.

We even managed to keep Keith up until the wee hours, which is no small feat. Here's the proof.

The highlight of the festival for me was a concert by the Swedish band, Vasen. I think that this was the most exciting musical performance i have ever seen. Seriously amazing. It was as close to perfection as it can get. I was blown away, inspired, and humbled by their performance.

Here is youtube clip of them on tour in Japan

Monday, January 21, 2008

Elephant Seals, Scotland and Eric Clapton

I'm back. After a fast and furious start to my blogging career, I hit the wall and needed a few days off.

I've just spent the weekend in San Luis Obispo, CA playing at a dance festival with the very fine contra dance band, Wild Asparagus. The music has been a blast and it's always great to get to play with this band.

Yesterday, I drove about 30 miles up the coast to see the elephant seals calving on the beach. This is truly one of the craziest natural things I have ever witnessed. It's like something out of Doctor Seuss. I mean, these beasts are freaking huge and weird looking and there's hundreds and hundreds of them. Check it out.

They can dive 5000 feet under water and the mature bulls weigh two tons!!!! It's crazy. I saw some good fights for dominance and thought I was going to see one of the cows give birth, but we had to get back to the gig before it happened.

This trip is the start of my crazy travel schedule the next month or so. Here's a list of the places I go, in order, between now and February 24:

San Luis Obsipo, CA
Glasgow, Scotland
Brattleboro, VT (for two days)
St. Thomas, USVI
St. Croix, USVI
Big Sky, Montana
Vancouver Island, BC
Tacoma, WA

Not bad. I'm not even sure I'll get jet lagged because it's so insane. I'm currently sitting in the San Jose airport, waiting for my flight to Scotland to board. My flight leaves here at 7 AM and I don't arrive in Glasgow until 10 am, Scottish time on Tuesday morning.

I'm always amazed at how crazy people get in airports. I think that everyone should be required to fly with a double-bass at least once so that they mellow out when they realize how much easier it is without a seven foot long coffin containing a valuable musical instrument in tow.

I am so excited about heading back to Celtic Connections. I've been there twice with Crooked Still and am excited to be able to return to play with Lissa. She's just finishing up a new CD as well, which will be released in April. It really came out fantastic and I am very proud of it.

On another note, I just watched a DVD about The Band and my conclusions are that Levon Helm is the man, Robbie Robertson is an ass, and I can't freaking stand Eric Clapton (he is interviewed several times on the video). What's the deal with that guy? How is it that he's considered an expert on anything?

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Only The Beginning

It's been an amazing and crazy week, but we are finally done at Allaire. We finished up Saturday night a bit after midnight. It was an incredible week and one of the coolest experiences of my life.

It's really hard to express how excited I am about this music. It's exceeded every expectation I had going into the process by miles. It really feels like we are a band now, both musically and otherwise.

Recording this way was such a bonding experience and in hindsight, I can't imagine doing it any other way. In the end, we recorded 13 songs and I am so proud of every single one. Here's a picture of all of us at the end of the night after the mics and gear were all broken down.

from left to right:

Nick Brough (our assistant engineer) , Eric Merrill(producer), Aoife O'Donovan, Erick Jaskowiak(engineer), Corey DiMario, Greg Liszt, Brittany Haas, Tristan Clarridge.

We left the studio Sunday morning and headed down to New York City. It was a really weird feeling to not be in the studio anymore. The lower east side is about as different a place as could be from the serene mountain top retreat of Allaire.

Last night we played at GlobalFEST, a one day festival showcase at Webster Hall in New York City. According to their website it is the "greatest nightclub in the world." The stage we played on had two metal poles on it that have only one purpose, as far as I can tell. This seems like the kind of place where some crazy shit went down in the 70s. Needless to say, their were no strippers during our set, but I thought Greg and Tristan might be tempted, since they were closest to them on stage.

Here's a picture, courtesy of No Depression photographer, Jacob Blickenstaff :

GlobalFEST features some of the premiere bands in the world music scene today. I don't really think of us a world music band, but I guess the term is vague enough to include us. The club had a crazy, electric energy and was completely packed. Our set was the live performance debut of the new lineup and we performed seven of the songs we just recorded, as well as a couple of Crooked Still classics, reworked of course to accommodate the new instrumentation. It was such an amazing feeling to finally play a show in this configuration.

Check out these two videos:

Playing with Tristan and Brittany feels so good and natural. The transition has been as seamless as it could be and I am so honored and thrilled at the way we've really become a band. It was a special way to start things off and I cannot wait for more!

I'm back in Vermont now and gearing up to head to Scotland to perform at Celtic Connections with fiddler/singer Lissa Schneckenburger. It's one of the most amazing festivals in the world and I can't wait to go!

That's all for now.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Low Down with Amy and Ruthy

Last night was our latest night of the week. After not leaving the studio all week, we were feeling a little stir crazy after the Absentee was finished so we went into Woodstock for our first meal out since entering the studio on Sunday night.

When we returned to the studio, we decided to work up an entirely new arrangement of an original song by Aoife called Low Down and Dirty. We had made a demo version during rehearsals, but it just didn't seem to work with the mood and character of the song. The song has a real spooky, moody vibe and I think our late night arrangement really brings that out.

Today is our last day of tracking here at Allaire. It's also harmony vocal day. Amy Helm, from the band Ollabelle, just arrived to sing some harmony with Aoife. We really bonded with Amy and the rest of Ollabelle at several festivals last summer so it's great to have her here in the studio contributing to the album.

Our good friend Ruth Ungar Merenda, from the Mammals is here as well. Ruth has sung on every Crooked Still CD and it just wouldn't be right to make a record without her. Ruth and Amy, besides being amazing singers, are both very pregnant, so we are adding that powerful energy to the mix.

The thing I am really loving about recording here at Allaire is that there is so much character in the sound of the room and the environment. The record is going to have some serious mojo. In a world of increasingly clean and sterilized recordings, this approach really gives it something special that is hard to achieve in a typical recording studio setting.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thank You, Mr. and Mrs. Sams

Day Five at Allaire.

Today, we are working on a song called the Absentee. It's a hairy little number with a crazy frenetic energy, which is really fun and challenging.

We learned it from an old recording from Kentucky of a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Sams.

Here's a picture of them playing on the porch:

Here's a picture of us playing in the foyer:

On the recording, Mrs. Sams starts out a cappella and it's kind of what you might expect from a scratchy field recording of an old lady singing. About halfway through, Mr. Sams enters with the most frightening guitar backup you've ever heard. Greg says he sounds like a guy who was once pretty good, but is now totally deaf.

The really cool, and unsettling part is that he messes up the timing at his entrance, so for a few seconds the beat is turned around. I think it's one of my favorite musical moments of all time.

OK, enough of this shenanigans, I need to get back to work.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

buzz, buzz

Today I took Eric and Tristan with me on my morning excursion. We headed up the mountain again to see if there were any other cool things to find on this hillside. Once again, the grounds of Allaire did not let us down.

At the point where yesterday I had taken a sharp left to find the creepy couch, we decided to stay straight on the path. This lead us up to another lookout with this cool tower on it.

We were unable to gain roof access because of a padlock keeping the second floor shut. We briefly considered pulling a mission impossible maneuver and scaling the wall, but thought better of it as it might be considered irresponsible to put the lives and well being of the producer, cellist and bassist on the line all at the same time!

As Tristan's hat suggests, the temperature has dropped about 15 degrees today, which has not gone unnoticed by our instruments. The bass, cello, ukulele, and fiddle have all acquired some new buzzes. It hasn't been a deal breaker, but it has required a certain amount of attention.

Luckily our esteemed producer Eric Merrill is also an accomplished luthier and has been able to get us in working order. We're ahead of schedule, so taking a bit of extra time for the instruments hasn't set us back. We've put two more songs to bed today and will hopefully get another before the end of the night.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

twin fiddles, banjo

Tristan, Brittany and Greg are recording some of the most glorious twin fiddle and banjo music of all time for the instrumental outro of a song called "Poor Ellen Smith" that we learned from the playing and singing of Frank Proffitt.

This song also features some baritone ukulele playing by Aoife and tenor guitar playing by yours truly. It's my recording debut on the tenor guitar! This song has been so much fun to record and really shows a different side of the band.

Windy As Hell

I woke up this morning to the wind howling and rattling my windows. It's a spectacularly clear and beautiful day, but holy god, the wind is crazy!

As part of my morning routine to prevent muscle atrophy, I went for another walk, this time up to the top of the mountain we are on.

As you can see, it was amazing up there, but I did find some more weird shit in the woods.

Check this out:

It reminds me of the fancy, old school furniture from my grandmother's house. Grandma always refers to the furniture not as the couch or the love seat, but instead uses the brand names, such as the "Davenport" or the "Chesterfield." Finding such a couch all decayed in the woods is starting to make me think there might be some spooky history on this hillside.

When i got back to the studio, I found Erick Jaskowiak, our engineer, out on the sun porch trying to decide which expensive mic would best capture the wind. It's pretty amazing what a 35 mph gust sounds like when recorded on a $2000 microphone.

We were all feeling a little fuzzy today, so we blew of some steam with a nice little old-time jam with me on tenor guitar, Erick on bass, Eric Merrill on claw hammer banjo, Brittany Haas on fiddle and Tristan Clarridge on cello.   Then it was down to business.

The tracking is going really well so far. We've got six songs done and have two more scheduled for today. I really can't wait to unleash this music on the world.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Day Two

Welcome to day two of my blogging life.   It's also day two of my  life at Allaire Studios.  I feel like a new man.   

More impressions of Allaire

It's unbelievably awesome to sleep in a bed that is literally down the hall from the recording space.

This is my first time in a residential studio and so far it's way better to do it this way.  

The only foreseeable risk of this approach, both to my mental and physical health, is that there is the very real possibility that I'll never go outside for a week or two.  

To counter that, I made the extra effort to walk around the grounds this morning. This is what I found:

It's not everyday you find a giant ball of trash while walking in the peaceful, snowy woods.  This thing is literally as tall as I am.  

Ok.  Time to record! 

Monday, January 7, 2008

First post from Allaire Studios

Hi everyone! Welcome to my brand spanking new blog.  I had an epiphany late last night that the world just didn't seem right without one more person ranting, raving and pontificating about meaningless minutia.  So... in the grand tradition of Yankee ingenuity and shameless self promotion, I've appointed myself the man for the job!  Go me.  

I am sitting here in the wonderful Allaire Studios in Shokan, NY recording with my band Crooked Still.  Check out the view!

We got in late last night and here are the highlights so far: 

1. Being woken up at 3 a.m. by our producer Eric and our banjo player, Greg, who were blasting Greg's yet to be released banjo rap album in the car outside my bedroom.  Yes you heard right, I said banjo rap album.  

2. Having the two best sounding mics on my bass be taken away to be used on the vocals and the fiddle, respectively.  I guess I now know  where I stand in the scheme of things, although now we have a good method for choosing the mic for the next person to play.

3. Coming to the conclusion that our producer, our engineer and I can't agree on our likes and dislikes of  Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee and Led Zeppelin. I think we're screwed. 

That's all for now.   I'll be updating all week.