Session Notes Archive – Freddy and Francine

Freddy and Francine was a wonderful project that was fronted by Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso.  Their songs were wonderful slices of pop goodness that also had the ability to make your heart ache and pull on your emotions in a wonderful way.  These sessions would become what turned out to be our second and last album – The Forest and the Sea.  I miss that band, but am so glad that I can call them friends to this day.

Session – Freddy & Francine
Dates – 5/27-29/10
Studio – Big Fish Studios, Encinitas, CA

Out of town for this one.  Lovely Encinitas, CA – right on the ocean.  From our vantage point high upon a hill looking down at the blue Pacific, the peace and quiet we were able to enjoy (when not making noise in the studio) helped to focus intentions and attentions I think.  My drive down was the night before and the full moon – a pale gelatin yellow and as big as a dinner plate, was a welcome companion as I careened southbound down the highway.

As with Circe Link’s sessions for “California Kid”, we were familiar with most of these songs already.  We had been playing well over half of them for the better part of a year and the other songs we hadn’t been playing got sussed out in necessary pre-production rehearsals.

This was my first time working with producer Mike Butler and my conversations with him before heading into the studio put me at ease immensely.  He’s all about solid keeper takes and very little editing: “play it live or don’t play it.”  Suits me fine!

Given the above ethos, it’s not surprising that the sounds we went for were live, open, and full.  We close mic’d everything on the kit and then also had various room mics happening which wound up getting used in various combinations.  For this session I went with a somewhat unorthodox set up.  I had two bass drums but the configuration was like you’d see Stanton Moore, Matt Chamberlain, or Dave Weckl use.  Main bass drum and then a secondary bass drum to the RIGHT of it… not the left in the traditional double bass configuration.  I played it with a remote pedal (of course).  The 20″ bass drum had a small hole in the front and was a big sound that was still tight and thumpy.  The 18″ bass drum had both head intact with a little muffling.  It was tuned up a little higher – not quite jazz high, but up there.  Soloed in the control room it sounded like an 808.  It sits nice in the mix and is used here or there throughout the album.  Here’s the run down of the rest of the gear and the mics:

Drum kit – Drum Workshop Collector Maple.  Mics used are in (parentheses):
Bass Drum – 20×18 (AKG D112 – inside and Sound Delux U195 – outside)
Bass Drum – 18×16 (Sennheiser 421 – outside)
Tom Tom – 12×8 (Electro-Voice ATM 25)
Floor Tom – 14×16 (Electro-Voice ATM 25)
Snare Drum – (Shure SM57 – top and Sennheiser 441 – bottom)
Hi-Hat – (AKG C451 EB)
Overheads – (Neumann U67’s)
Center Overhead – (Sound Delux 251)
Rooms – (Cole 300’s)

Snare Drums:
Tempus 6.5×15 Carbon Fibre
Tempus 8×14 Carbon Fibre
Tempus 5×14 Fibre Glass
Ludwig 5×14 Black Beauty

(These 4 gave me a nice combination of sounds.)

Cymbals were all Istanbul Agop (always) and included:
22″ Traditional Dark Ride
22″ Limited Edition ’06 Ride
21″ Traditional Original Ride
21″ Special Edition Ride
20″ Azure Ride
19″ Traditional Dark Crash
18″ Traditional Dark Crash
18″ Azure Crash
18″ Agop Signature Crash
22″ Trash Hit
18″ Trash Hit
16″ Trash Hit
16″ Hi hats (Traditional Thin Top and Alchemy Sweet Bottom)
15″ Traditional Medium Hi Hats

Sticks?  What else?  VATER!  I used their Recording model primarily.  A couple of times I picked up a pair of 5A’s (primarily if I wanted a different kind of sound on the cymbals – the Recording and 5A are similar in weight).  I also used their Wire Tap brush, the Monster Brush, and the T4 mallet.  I had a full quiver to choose from.

Now, I admit I’ve got a lot of gear listed here and I’ve spent a fair bit of time collecting these (and other) pieces.  I don’t want someone just starting out to get discouraged though if they don’t have a rolling drum case like Matt Chamberlain or Jim Keltner.  The key in any session it to make whatever you have sound good and to get great performances.  I’m reminded of a story The Edge (U2) told when recording their first album, when the producer (Steve Lillywhite) said “O-kay, let’s use a different guitar to get some different sound options.”  The Edge was famously to have said “We only HAVE one guitar among the whole band!”

If you only have one snare drum and one set of cymbals; well, you can still get an amazing amount of sounds out of those instruments.  Remember, the goals is to make what you have sound as good as it can and to get keeper takes that inspire you and make you happy.  There’s also a hell of a lot of experimenting you can do to get really different creative sounds from a minimal amount of gear.  This is a topic I’ll tackle in a future blog post.

Most of the first day there (5/27) was dedicated to set up and mic placement.  We got most of the drums happening first so, once I was done… it was kind of forced relaxation as everyone else did their thing.  After I was set up and cozy, it took about a hour or so to get the sounds where we wanted them.  I didn’t mind spending more time.  Afterall, this was a new environment for all of us and we wanted it to be right.  Plus, we were ALL rolling in with a lot of gear.  Electric and upright bass, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, Rhodes, B3, and Nord keyboards… we had a lot of stuff happening and that means a lot of mics, a lot of wires, and a lot of potential troubleshooting.

Big Fish Studios is a lovely place.  They’ve got a great old API board so we used those pre-amps.  I love API pre-amps and I had a whole slew of them for all of my gear this time around.  The live room at Big Fish is a big wood paneled space.    Similar to Stagg Street Studios (Circe Link sessions for “California Kid”), it was probably about 20-25 feet wide and we were working with around 15-20 foot ceilings.  The drums had serious room to bloom in a space like that and the extra room mics we were using captured those sounds wonderfully.  John Classick (basses) and Michael Feldman (keyboards) were in the live room with me; while Lee Ferris (guitar, vox) and Bianca Caruso (vox) were in a smaller iso booth just to my left.  Like I said, we were going for a nice warm, open sound.

After a long first day of getting sounds, we tried to get a song happening before we called it – but everyone was so burnt from the day and from the drive the night before, we decided to wait until the next morning when we were fresh and focused.

Once we settled in that second day though, we were good.  We tracked 7 the first day and 6 the second day I believe (it’s a bit of a blur).  We had a nice balance of really popping songs and more moody, brooding ones.  Selecting song order to record is a lot to do with overall group energy, and where things are tuned, and what instruments are being used.  We don’t want to bounce back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar for example… or electric and upright bass.

I will freely admit, I was not happy about the schlep down before hand.  It had been a rough couple of months on my end and being away over a holiday weekend  was a bit of a bummer to consider.  But, I couldn’t have been happier with the comraderie, the hang time, the alone time, the goofiness, or the musical results.  Sometimes you learn something about yourself on trips like this.  How to be – in a new space, a new vibe… My goal initially was to get the work done… and what wound up happening is that I enjoyed myself and got to feel a bit like a kid again and tap back into the energy that made me want to pick up sticks in the first place.  For that I am extremely grateful.  I have a new appreciation for what it is to ‘be’.

The big thing is to have fun.  Yes, music can be very serious when you consider the marketing, the promotion, the egos involved, etc.; but in the end what you are doing is creating something that hits someone in their heart, their head, and their soul.  Don’t lose sight of that fact.  This is still ART.  Even if there is the reality of commerce being involved in order to get your stuff ‘out there’ to the masses.

I often use this quote by Frank Zappa – “Music is the best.”  I can think of no better way to sum it up than that.

Thanks for reading and keep listening!

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