A Guided Tour of "Gloss Cannon" from behind various keyboards
Refections from Felony Flats
The basic track was recorded live, on the second take, in our "standard" studio line up of drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and Steinway grand piano. Paul and I sent the Hammond B3 through one of Ed's guitar pedals to "make it sound interesting", and I recorded the organ part quickly in a second pass. Then I voiced a rhythm part on the Wurlitzer electric piano for some variety, and joined the rest of the band in the control room. Maude recorded her contrapuntal harmony, which was new to most of us and nearly revelatory - the master brush strokes of the lotus in a strange strange land. At the producer's insistence, Ed and Earl Slick shared a private moment and performed a dual whammy bar and feedback overdub together and, later, Ed triple-tracked his lead guitar on a temperamental synthesizer manufactured in the former Soviet Union. Steven and Ed spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking the sonic details and Bella crafted the harmony parts together as per our collective instructions. Thus our most accessible track was created.
Tie One On
The band was able to nail this in three takes, credit goes to Joe and Quincy for having it together perfectly. I wrestled with Paul's glitchy farfisa organ for hours, until about two a.m., and recorded at least four complete takes amidst cries from the control room of "too new wave! too cheesy! higher! lower!! reedier!! (???)", none of which I was completely happy with until Ed's masterful stereophonic mixdown into one whirlygig, eight-handed track. Back in the studio, Paul, Earl, Ed and I came up with the idea of doubling some of the bass with lead guitar. However, the only one fully able to grasp the idiosyncrasies of the tremendous bass line was Quincy, who stood by the window in the control room pointing at Ed each time he was to play a note. Somehow, this unlikely conductor's technique produced perfect results. Maude again floored us all with intricate harmony parts, which we could assume heretofore were only heard in her head and sprung out as if fully formed. Earl Slick put some reverb on the vox and a Spector-esque wall of background vocals was affected. At which exact point Ed began to hear definitively crafted 60s pop is unclear to me, but later as a matter of course, he and I had to go and add bells and celeste, respectively. Bella and Paul did an unsupervised mix of the sprawling chaos with monstrously good results. The DIY video with the Coney Island carousel that Ed put together was a no-brainer, and I suspect all our sensibilities are hard-wired in unison on this one.
I remember the recording of this was a little more difficult. In the studio, as well as when we play it live, Ed has to calibrate some sort of delay effects box. Quincy, Joe and Ed had their parts perfect, but it became clear quickly that my live improvisatory ideas for the song weren't going to carry in the studio. Earl Slick rewrote my part with me at the piano so that, at the end of the day, the part became sort of a mix of eight-notes, arpeggios, and the opening chord to Bowie's "Aladdin Sane". As if to drive that last point home, Earl asked me to record the Mike Garson intro again and again on a second run through of the song. Ed then looped and reversed it and put it on another track. He also added a swelling string-keyboard chord in tribute to the Scott Walker song, "It's Raining Today," so, if one wanted to, one could trace all the influences and tributes on this song into one ecstatic web. Bella and I went through and adjusted the specific volume of each note played on the piano afterwards, and I bow to her intuition and patience. Sunday morning, I woke up early to set up the Moog synth and worked out a bookend part with Earl Slick which Bella eventually ran through some excellent reverb box. I feel like Maude nailed her part effortlessly, but I guarantee that she would disagree - some people just make it look easy. For what it's worth, I could not be happier with the results of what is our most "studio" sounding song.
20th Century Graphic
I'm not sure how this came out so wonderfully. Our studio line up hit it live on the second take, though I was playing Rhodes live with the band instead of piano. I believe this was less out of utility and more because I was feeling lonely in the piano's isolation booth at this point during the session. This didn't stop me, however, from adding a bombastic piano part afterwards, with a brutish outro solo and some curious chromaticism during the "spoken word" part, which only works because of Ed's positively brilliant unifying mellotron. And, of course, Maude's masterful and haunting dream conversations with herself. I might have been delirious later on when I overdubbed some sort of plastic synth to layer just at the threshold of hearing, but I swear it does something. Ed and Bella mixed this one while Paul gave Maude and I a ride to the train station. The only other thing I would say about this piece is that one day Ed showed up to rehearsal with his new wah-wah pedal and had the definitive part moments after plugging in. I love this recording.
My personal favorite. I thank Paul for having the good ear to take out a superfluous Hammond organ part of mine. I simplified my piano part from my overexcited live playing, but the real treat for me was using a Roxy Music '72 voco-string section. Even though it behaved thoroughly and completely like a forty year old piece of equipment, I could not resist the opportunity to add as much as possible, and in one take layered the strings on. I say "layered", because a queer feature of this keyboard is that one turns on and off the notes, as if by flipping a switch. Also, I could not change the notes fast enough, therefore, the queasy, urgent feeling in the song was created by pitch-shifting the string section in real time as I played. I felt slightly indulgent about the whole thing, but I feel the results justify the process. The amazing band, sans-keyboardist, did their note perfect take live on the first try. Most, if not all, of Ed's preliminary mix of this song is what was used for the final version. Paul did make one mandatory "suggestion" - Ed and I originally had a string section fade out that definitely went on too long and ended with some extravagant reverb. The fact that you're not listening to thirty seconds of one note as a bridge to the next song is testament to his good sense and experience.
When we dragged out the timpani at the end of night two (after my Farfisa adventure of "Tie One On") Joe revealed another world he is at home in - that of orchestral percussionist. Masterfully played, the room and those of us still awake were literally vibrating, thanks to Joe and his kettle drums. We ran it through Paul's giant speakers for the playback. As for the rest of us, Ed and I pretty much had all our ideas worked out before we arrived. Ed channels the ghost of Peter Buck circa 1985. Unlike live performances, I was able to record the church organ and piano in overdubs, which I took advantage of fully. However, in order to restrain myself and not overdo it, I lay down on the floor of the isolation booth while the rest of the band was recording. I can't say I was successful - the piano banging is ridiculous in the middle, but good sense could not talk me out of it. Good mixing, however, spares you, the listener, most of it. Maude's harmony vocalizing is truly thrilling and, one of my favorite parts of the album is listening to her narrative build up during this piece. I forgot everything that I had to...
I'll be honest, I never thought this song would make it, but it sounds better than I could have guessed. Paul's mixing decision to turn it from less of a piano driven song into an organ and guitar piece was a brilliant stroke of direction. Ed's programmed synth string section again really brings this song to dramatic life, and I need to express my serious admiration for the voice, bass and drums on this one. Sometimes it makes more sense to play some bass guitar and then go make a salad then it does to nitpick over piano parts that end up being abandoned anyway. Or write the word "shuffle" over some chord sheets and let the drummer do his thing. Anyway, I'm supremely proud of our collaboration on this one.
The Mystery is Gone
Earl Slick told us after our first live take that we were done with this one. I argued, but capitulated, and rightfully so. Quincy and Joe get along masterfully on this track. Earl, Paul, Ed and Maude spent a few hours meticulously crafting the vocals, including running and reversing inexpressible harmonies for the goosebump-inducing opening. Ed and I added some minimal effects in his home studio, but, really, the music on this song is much more of a live performance than one would guess. Ed's psychedelic swirl of effects on the guitar and Quincy's dissonant quarter-tone playing was part of the unlikely live take and were absolutely mesmerizing to listen to in the giant three-dimensional Clubhouse speakers during playback. As our long time set closer, no one really doubted that it would be the last track on our album as well.