Session 1 is done, now the real work begins...

My first recording session went better than I ever could have hoped. Ten thousand thank yous to Eric Metzgar, Scott Kwiatek, and Jeff Gilhart for making this possible. Thank you to all those who have contributed to the cause. What started as an EP is quickly turning into an album.

I had my first meeting with Jeff, the engineer, in early March and set the June 29th session date in early May. At the time, June 29th seemed far off and in the mean time I had to finish the school year strong and keep pace with my busy gig schedule to raise the money I needed for the project. The next thing I knew, I was in New York visiting my sister with an impending session coming up in 4 days that I felt very unprepared for. I had been building this session up in my head for months and I felt the stakes were high. Eric Metzgar, the incredible drummer on the record, is getting ready to move to New York in August and the bass player who he recommended, Scott Kwiatek, was only available for one rehearsal before the session. I sent him some really shitty demos the week before and wrote up charts for him, but the fact that we would only have one rehearsal together as a band before the session loomed large. I felt like I had to get as much done as possible in that 5 hour session to get the most out of my money and my time. 

I ended up with seven high quality rough tracks. It was the smoothest recording session I've ever been a part of. Eric, Scott, and I had a musical rapport that is rare to come by and Jeff made us feel so comfortable that it felt like we were a high school band jamming in the garage with the tape running. We made adjustments and changes to the arrangements on the fly and powered through seven songs with no more than three takes on each. They each made clutch contributions to each track. It was incredible. By the time we got to 4 pm, we had two tracks left to hit my ambitious goal of seven and hadn't taken a break at all. We finished our third take of "I Didn't Use all My Love on You" at 4:57 pm and wrapped it up feeling like we had just run a marathon. I had a two hour gig to play that night and my hands hurt so much by 10 pm that I could barely finish my set. I woke up the next morning to the rough mixes in my inbox.

Initial impressions

At this point, I've listened to all the tracks about 10 times each. Here are my initial thoughts for each: 

  • Naked Bourbon. The clear cut winner. This take might even make the final cut because it was that good. It's very raw, gritty, and powerful. I might even keep the scratch vocal. 
  • I Didn't Use All My Love On You. A surprising addition that came out very well. It captures my blues background that I've ventured away from but still informs a lot of my writing. 
  • Blankets. A strong take, but I'm not loving the guitar sound. Jeff had me using a DI and an electronic pedal board. The guitar doesn't sound like me at all. However, it came out dark and stormy, which captures the main character's angst. Add a kickass solo and my tone, and we have a winner.
  • Picture of an Indian. A good start, but still needs refining. Once more layers are added the song will fill out more. It's a gentle sounding acoustic ballad and I really like the way Scott plays the upright bass. My scratch vocals suck, but I was mostly concerned with carrying the finger pattern through the whole song. I'm excited to hear how it comes together.
  • Life on Wheels. A good start again, but it  came out just left of center. It's a little Mumford sons sounding in the beginning but fills out and builds momentum towards the end. I think layers are definitely going to help shape the sound more, especially with the addition of a fiddle and slide guitar. 
  • Flower City. The way this came out surprised me. It was the second to last song that we did that day and maybe I was getting tired. When I listened to it the next morning I thought I sounded like an angry teenager in a punk band (lol!). And then I get hints of funeral for a friend-esque instrumental sections. After further review, the openness of the arrangement is growing on me, but I'm not convinced yet. My gut tells me it's too fast.
  • Long After Midnight. This last minute addition shines. I wrote this song two weeks before the session, a self deprecating story about a man trying to drink away heartbreak. It's simplicity made it easy to arrange and perform quickly. It was a bit of a risk but it came out sounding like classic high powered rock 'n roll. It has single potential. 

 What's Next: 

These tracks are going to marinate for a couple of weeks before I get back in the studio for my first overdubbing session. I have some camping trips planned and upcoming gigs to prepare for and between all that I know I have to redo most of the vocal tracks, write and overdub some guitar solos, bring in my friend Chelsea to play fiddle and Sara to lay down some harmonies. Maybe even rearrange and record Flower City. Writing is never done, but this is the most exciting part. 

 

 Eric Metzgar testing out some grooves. 

Eric Metzgar testing out some grooves. 

 Scott getting comfortable with his jazz bass.

Scott getting comfortable with his jazz bass.

The Road to an EP

The last EP I put out was over 5 years ago. I had just graduated from the University of Rochester and had committed to a two year teaching stint in Nashville, TN with Teach for America. At the time, I thought I could move to Nashville, teach on the side, and dive in to the city's music scene. I had to have something presentable when I got down there. "Introducing Chris Bethmann" was the result; a five track demo that featured some of my earliest songs. I've learned a lot since then and my writing style has evolved.

 5 years later, I'm still a teacher, but this time in Rochester, my little hometown in Western, NY. It's a classic rust-belt, great lakes town. Much more mid-west than northeast. Industrial. Segregated. The school I work in is trying to make a comeback.

I ended up resigning from TFA after 6 months in Nashville. After I moved home, I was unemployed and aimless. I started grad school and didn't play a gig at all for two years. I wrote a few songs, but they weren't anything I was proud of. My Nashville experience taught me that I liked country music more than I thought I did. On Spotify I followed the bread crumbs from artists like Zac Brown and Eric Church to Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. Then I was hooked.

Suffice to say, the songs on this EP reflect my experiences reacquainting myself with my hometown, navigating a new career in a challenging environment, and immersing myself in a new style of music and lyric writing. 

This series of posts is meant to chronicle the journey to my EP release, which I hope to complete by the end of this summer. I'll write about the recording process, tell stories behind lyrics, deliberate on the title track and which songs to release as singles. In this way, I hope to bring you, readers, into the creative process. 

Enjoy! Never stop thinking.