I’ll start again. The Hold Steady
tours a ton. They supported Boys And Girls In America with a
gusto that few bands could. Craig had said in interviews that he’s
been approached by fans that thank them for being one of the very few
who actually enjoy playing for the crowd. Kids just wanna have fun
and what better way than to see a band that is having fun?
But man, what dividends that many shows
bring a band. Through the years, they have been followed by a rabid
fanbase. They call themselves “The Unified Scene.” Their ranks
have grown by every show, tour and record. It is a symbiotic
relationship, where both parties feed off each other. While making
Staying Positive, Tad posted weekly picture updates on the
website to let the fans know how the record was progressing. The
Scene was always posting messages and feeding off the clues that Tad
would leave them. Even little clues like writing on the console tape
would lead to speculation who was guesting on the record or what
instruments were being used. These kids really love their band and
devote much time to them. And vice versa.
The first day of tracking couldn’t
have come too soon. After rehearsing most of December, everybody took
the holidays off. At least I did. Tad and the boys made sure to get a
few more rehearsals in before the big day, January 3rd. We really
felt good about being prepared for this record. Even though we had a
remarkable 19 songs we were discussing recording, we felt that we had
fleshed out the 13-15 contenders enough to get the job done while
leaving some room for spontaneity. With these boys though,
spontaneity is never really an issue!
focusing on 12 songs. But here’s what happens at The Hold Steady
(John enters rehearsal room)
“Hey guys, how’s it going today?”
Tad: “Great, I’ve got this new riff
I’m working on!
(Plays enormous rock riff)
“Wow, that’s great! Let’s work
on that a little bit.”
It was pretty clear that starting the
record before Christmas was going to be a pipe dream.
It is the morning of January 3rd and
things are all in place to start tracking. Demon Drums are ready to
go with fresh heads on Bobby’s kit in the big room at Water Music.
Scott Norton, my tracking engineer, was at the studio super early
setting up microphones and plugging in all the extra equipment. The
beautiful Studer A800 24 track analogue tape machine was aligned and
ready to go. I had bought a bunch of 2” tape when my favorite tape
company prepared to stop production. I had saved a large batch for
Bobby Drake is hitting the drums and I
am getting sounds. I generally get a good starting sound on the
entire kit and Bobby comes in to listen back. The drum sound will be
affected by the inclusion of the rest of the band playing, but you’ve
got to start somewhere. After discussing the tones of the drums and
agreeing with Tad that the bass drum should have more depth, we tweak
that drum and we send Bobby back out to play some more.
Bobby, on this record, is showing what
playing 200 shows does to most players. His playing and feel are so
much more solid right off the bat on this record. He is way more
comfortable, with me, with the studio and the task at hand on Stay
Positive. Don’t get me wrong, he was no slouch on the last
record. There was just some adjustment time for him to get “in the
on arrangements and different tweaks that we do. He’s the steady in
The Hold Steady. We go between two basses to see which one sounds
best and then we hook up an additional amp to add more of a brighter
sound and then we threw Bobby out there so they could jam together.
They are playing for only about 20
seconds when I turn to Scott and say, “Dude, these guys are gonna
play their asses off on this record!” I am very excited.
We get sounds with Tad Kubler, “Gibson
Master Extraordinaire.” Tad is great at dialing in awesome sounds
on many amps and has been actually playing through each amp all
morning, getting a mental picture of which amps suit which songs. He
makes my life waaaaaaay easier. And that’s why I love him. Not in
the biblical sense, obviously. I meant, “love working with him.”
Next up, Franz Nicolay. With Franz, we
set up all beautiful, vintage, analogue, authentic, etc. keyboards. A
beautiful Grand Piano, a Hammond Organ with Leslie and a Wurlitzer
Lest you think I’m a vintage snob, we
also have his shitty digital keyboard for any other sounds we need to
replicate. That’s sarcasm. We actually will use the digital keys on
Franz is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Or vice versa. He is a school trained musician with a great ear who
can also rock out with the best of them. And he does. He is in The
Hold Steady. A few weeks later he will chart great string
arrangements and play a mean harpsichord.
All that’s left is reference vocals.
At least I’m calling them reference vocals. I really felt strongly
about putting Craig in a situation where he was actually thinking of
the real vocal takes while the band was playing live. For a few
reasons. I wanted to capture a live vocal that would be great for the
record. I wanted him to start getting comfortable singing the songs
now, so he wouldn’t have to do that when we started the vocal
session later on. Also, I wanted him to give him a vehicle that would
help him finish his lyrics. And I wanted to audition different
microphones for different songs.
So we set up the vocal sound that could
be the keeper sound with a bit of tweaking.
And now we were ready to cut our first