One Of One
Mine As You Ever Were
Sky of Diana
See You In My Dreams
Walking Ghost of Death
Magnetic North has been affectionally dubbed "the punk rock EP" not because of the music, which isn't punk at all, but because of how fast it was made. This is my seventh CD.
Here is our story in four parts: Writing, Recording, Overdubbing and Mixing.
I wrote these songs rather quickly during the long summer of 2009, on my '64 Burgundy Mist Jazzmaster playing through a Carr Vincent. For various reasons, it was not easy writing these songs. They had been stuck in my head for a year and due to general upheaval, did not want to come out. I thought this EP would be out in May 08. Not! I had to really concentrate, and to be honest it was a painful process. Then when the songs came out, I was worried they were not good enough to be recorded. I did, as always, discard quite a few. I have a feeling the next batch of songs is going to be a lot easier. They are growing and rattling around up there too, so you might be hearing about a new record before my usual three year gap.
After coordinating Shawn and Chris's schedules, we booked a weekend at a home studio in Chapel Hill called Double Decker Bus Music. Our dear friends Jay and Jane started Double Decker Bus a few years ago and their business has exploded. This space is normally used for music lessons, not a commercial recording space. I am terrible at remembering what studio gear does what, but suffice to say that Chris kindly brought some of his excellent equipment from his Old House studio in Charlotte to augment our possibilities. The basic tracks were recorded in about 5 hours on Saturday and about 4 hours on Sunday. This included setting up, arranging, and getting through all the songs. I have to credit the guys for their amazing efficiency; as anyone knows, setting up itself can take half a day.
We arrived in Chapel Hill at 4 PM as we were told, and started unloading. Shawn brought his cool Vox amp and guitars in addition to his bass. I brought my Matamp 2000, a 60s vintage precursor to Orange built by Matt Matthias himself, the requisite transformer, as well as a Dan Armstrong guitar, my Gibson platinum model SG and the Ric DCM bass for Shawn. Chris brought his drums and all that mysterious gear that helped make everything sound so good. Jay engineered the session on a digital program called Logic, making this my first record NOT recorded on analog tape since my first EP back in 1994, which was mainly recorded on ADATs.
The worst part of the session for me was playing the songs for people in their basic form. I was dreading it for weeks. It is really uncomfortable, and I had some sort of lung issue due to all the stress and maybe allergies, so I sounded like a frog. Everyone was very nice and we just got to work. I was really happy to have that over with. We started doing takes, with Chris being the main voice on whether or not the take was good enough. I am lazy I guess and thought a lot was good enough that Chris made us play again. Good thing I'm not a producer. I never wanted to be an engineer either, and am happy the world is full of other people to do this. I like being the artist and having someone else in charge. Around 9 or maybe 10 we realized we had to quit if we were going to eat! As I stated before, I am rather lazy and was tired from the intensive 5 hours of work. I was ready to hit the bar, too. Jay, Jane and their out of town friend were ready to eat, so off we all went to Chapel Hill and had a great time hanging out. When we made it back to the hotel, a wedding party had just broken up so the hotel bartender gave us the rest of the champagne. Note to self: Try to refuse free champagne next time, especially if you have been drinking other kinds of drinks all night.
Chris called at about 10:30 ready to go. I was not really awake, but pretended to be. Unfortunately we had to wait a long time to get seated at a diner, and then I managed to get us lost trying to get from Carrboro back to the studio. All those country roads look the same to me. So it was probably about 2 when we got there. What I remember about this day is how tricky "Echo" was to record. We called it "the punk rock song" because there really isn't much to it, and we thought we'd blast through it. It turned out to be a total bugaboo, taking up hours. Seems like we played it 30 times! It was miraculous we finished, thanks to the others' patience. We knocked off around 6, as everyone had to get back to other things, and I had a glass of wine with Jane as Shawn put down some guitar parts. We loaded up quickly and hit the road. I drove westward into the sunset, happy, relieved and very grateful for this fantastic group of friends and musicians. Our little session just had a really good, bright vibe and I felt everyone had a good time. The EP was finally underway.
Overdubbing and Finishing
We had a night and one day to do overdubs at the Fidelitorium. The weather was horrible the first night, and Shawn had a rough drive from Charlotte. I had gone to Chapel Hill that day for some possible freelance work, and got stuck in some of the bad weather. We all managed to meet up at 6th and Vine in downtown Winston-Salem for a pre-recording dinner. Eventually Chris met us at the studio with a fabulous big bag of percussion instruments. We opened some wine and got to work. This late night session went till about 2 AM.
The next day, we started with lunch of course. Kernersville tradition dictated that we go to the famous Prissy Polly's BBQ joint, which we all agreed hit the spot. The rest of the afternoon was just spent recording Shawn's guitars, Chris's percussion, Mitch's piano, and everybody played synthesizers and other studio gadgets, if that's the right word. There is a lot of stuff in the Fidelitorium. In the afternoon, Tim Lee and his band happened to stop by on the way to a gig. I knew Tim had bought a magic red telecaster, and figured he probably had it with him. Sure enough, he did, and the lead guitar on the verses is that guitar. Tim learned the song in no time and got awesome tone, as always. He knows what he's doing!
Shawn also played great lead guitar on that song and the others. I had to actually leave for a couple hours to attend a book club Xmas party, and when I came back, they had done this genius crazy synthesizer part on "Mine As You Ever Were." Again, we got a lot done in not much time. To be honest, I didn't even do anything but ask people to play parts in my head. Mitch got exactly the piano part for "Walking Ghost" and Shawn matched up the lead guitar solo with what I had in mind.
On another day, my good friend and bandmate Jane Francis came to sing backing vocals. As with her session for the last record in 2007, her vocal parts were exactly what I wanted and sounded even better than I had anticipated. It was magic.
The last song "Sky of Diana" was done in a few hours on a Saturday night in January. Mitch and I went out for pizza and wine, and decided we had enough energy to start the song. I was nervous about explaining the beat in my head, but Mitch got out the Dr. Groove drum machine and we sort of found it pretty fast. I am not a drummer and my descriptions of what I am trying to get aren't always clear. From there, I put down a bass track, the first time I had played bass since injuring my right index finger in an accident in April 08. It was really simple, but I thought matched the vibe of the song. I wanted a sparse dance type song with no backing vocals and a sort of drum machine sound. For some reason I thought Mitch should play the guitar part, which he did on my '92 Les Paul. (This guitar was actually used on the whole EP. I re-did all my guitar parts with it in a couple hours at the Fidelitorium, since my basic tracks weren't quite what I wanted.) Mitch added a couple more things when I was gone, like a marimba and a tympani. Finally, all the songs were recorded and mixed.
I sent Betsy the designer the liner notes. She had already got my art concept immediately. What you see as the cover of the EP is her first interpretation of my probably clumsy description of what I had in mind. If you're a musician and you want a really excellent designer for your next EP, call Betsy.
Mixing and Mastering
I don't have a lot to say about this because I can't stand listening to mixing sessions, even my own. Thanks to Mitch for doing a great job. Chris again helped out by recommending his friend Scott Craggs at Old Colony Mastering to master the EP. I hadn't heard anything Scott had done, but I totally trust Chris and it came back sounding great. I just had one suggestion, to make the fade in to "Sky of Diana" longer, and it was done. Done. Really done!
Now we're booking shows for the srping and summer, and hope you come say HI if you catch one. Final thanks to Jim Huie for putting out this EP.
—Shalini + Band