The Story Behind Standard Chill [available for purchase here]
Since this month's release is comprised of all cover tunes, instead of songwriting, I'm going to talk just a little bit about the creative and production process. And I'm glad to have the opportunity to do this because many of the tracks were part of our Chillodesiac Lounge album and I've never told that story. We were originally going to only release the brand new track Our Love Is Here to Stay for February in honor of Valentine's Day in our Year of the Groove, but as we formulated the release schedule, it seemed like we might as well throw the other jazz standards on the release since many people may not have been familiar with our previous releases and it makes sense to have them all together in one place. It's unfortunate that we couldn't include The Man I Love on this release, but way back we sold the rights to the master [our individual recording of the song as opposed to the composition itself] for a compilation, and so we couldn't include it. When Kurt and I talked about what it would take to get permission to use it, I thought since that other record label was no longer in operation, we might be able to release it. But we realized that the owner of the label probably still retained the rights, and when we recollected the personality and character of that person… we decided we'd rather not deal with him. Ever again. So… it's not on here. But I'll still talk a little bit about it below for those who are interested.
OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY
This track started from one of the snippet ideas Kurt had accumulated in a folder during my previously discussed creative hiatus which you can read more about on another blog post. As we were narrowing down which tracks we were going to develop further, this one was slated to be an instrumental named Mojito, and honestly I had very little to do with the programming or production of this one. Kurt got the track pretty far along with my occasional back of the room production feedback, and it was pretty much finished.
But then, as we looked at our body of songs in the works, we decided we needed more songs that would feel like Chillodesiac Lounge, vol 1, for those who liked that project. So… as I did with some of the other jazz standard reconstructions we've done, I sat there while the track looped and mentally scrolled through several jazz standards and sang different songs over the top of the track to see which ones would possibly work. If I recall, the other ones that worked were Nature Boy and Night And Day [with a few harmonic tweaks in places.] We decided on Our Love Is Here To Stay because first of all, I've always loved it and been a Gershwin fan since I was a kid and I used to play Rhapsody in Blue [total hack] on piano. And my love for Gershwin and this song led to me doing a string quartet arrangement of it for one of my dear friends to sing it in my wedding. So… it's a lovely song.
In keeping with the flavor of our Chillodesiac vol. 1 album, we decided to have another singer on this track just for variety. I'm so much more a producer than a singer at heart, so I always love when I get to hand pick a voice and let them do what they do while I guide things along. We've worked with Fleming McWiliams before, and I had hoped to get her voice back on another song for us because it's so fun and quirky and distinctive. But she was unable to get into the studio for us, so we shifted around who would sing what, and Daniella Mason ended up singing this song for us. She had never heard the song until the day she came and sang it for us, so after working out the melody and her approach, we tracked the lead vocal and some ad libs and it was a fun day.
I first met Daniella when she was a student of mine at Belmont University. I very quickly saw that she's the real deal as artists go, and I can say truly that I am a total fan of what Daniella is doing as an artist. I'm very excited for the things happening in her career, and I have much confidence that she is going to do great things. I'm tickled that we have her as part of our Year of the Groove. She will always be one of the special ones among my former students.
[Funny story: Daniella also babysat for us several times when my son was about 4 years old. He has a drum kit and used to ask to have jam sessions all the time where one of us would play piano and he would [amazingly intuitively] play a drum groove to what we were doing. One time when Daniella was babysitting him, he asked her to have a jam session and she obliged. She began playing something on piano, and my 4 year old stopped drumming not long into it. He made her stop playing and said "could you play something… cooler?" End of story.]
Much like Mojito aka: Our Love Is Here To Stay, Summertime is another one of those songs where the track came first under a different name which I can't remember, and we decided which song would go over the top of it later. This one wasn't necessarily going to be a stand alone instrumental, but our original plan was that I would write a song over the top of the track. But as with the other song, we decided we needed to do more jazz standards as a follow up to the Chillodesiac brand since we'd had such good success with it, and so after workshopping several different jazz standards over the top, we landed on Summertime for this track. Another Gerswhin tune.
We had originally planned to have Daniella sing this one, but after Fleming couldn't sing Our Love Is Here To Stay, we switched Daniella over to that song, and I ended up singing this one. I tracked the vocal as my child sat 3 feet away from me quietly playing on the iPad. Kurt and our son and I were all in the same room together. It was hardly the "big studio" set up for this song, but I like how it turned out.
Pretty much all of the programming and production on this track was Kurt's work with my occasional leather couch production opinions.
When I Fall In Love was our first effort toward a vol. 2 Chillodesiac project, which never did officially happen. We had recorded it not long after the release of our first album, when we were still sort of riding the wind of that first release. We eventually lost our momentum on vol. 2 in the midst of life and money work, and so in 2010 we released this song as a single just so it wasn't completely forgotten. I believe we had the song picked out from the beginning on this one. And due to my motherhood duties at that time, I was rather hands off on the programming of this track. This one has the elements of our earlier release, the dirty low fi drum loops and Sade-esque guitar parts. You can tell by listening to it that we were still in the head space from our first release.
Ingrid DuMosch has a lovely buttery voice, which we featured on two of our vol. 1 releases. I love Ingrid's voice. We actually edited a video way back when of us in the studio tracking her as she sang. She's a beautiful person to work with. I sang with Ingrid for 3 years in a 23 piece swing band several years ago, and we used to do a lot of vocal sessions together, so we've worked together a lot and she is a dear friend. She now lives in Washington state with her husband and I miss having her around.
This is one of the tracks that I did the majority of the programming on as I was trying to persuade Kurt to do this project with me. I hear what I did on the intro of this, and now that I'm a bit more seasoned, I probably wouldn't do that thing where it sounds like it's in one time signature and then the drums come in and you hear the real beat of the song. Now that concept seems more self indulgent as an arranger, more as an interesting idea I wanted to try than something people really want to hear. I don't think anyone listens to that intro and says "oooh that's so cool, I love how this sounds"… Ah well, live and learn right?
Most of the samples I used on this track were out of the same folder of a sample library featuring Brazilian elements. I didn't play much midi in on this, I mainly dragged and dropped audio clips onto the arrange window, unlike the other tracks where I'd played most of it in with a keyboard. Then later Kurt played in the organ parts and we tracked the nylon guitar. The repetitive organ parts are actually sample loops, but the organ parts that sound more like noodling and improvisation are what Kurt played.
I realized not long after we finished this track that perhaps one shouldn't just take a bunch of samples from the same folder of a purchased sample library thousands of other people own and use them together in the same song. I say this because I heard about 4 of these sample loops together in a shampoo commercial on TV and it was like a weird alternate universe version of this song. Live and learn... again.
Fleming McWilliams sang on this track. I personally chose her for this track because I'd been a fan of hers for years. I knew of her at Belmont University when we were both students there, and then I followed her work when she and her husband had a record deal in the 90's as "Fleming & John". Before she came and sang I could completely imagine her voice on this track, and when she actually performed it, it was exactly what I'd heard in my head. All of the ad libs in her performances were sung as we muted her lead vocal and let her just come up with various ideas throughout the duration of the song. Then later I edited her vocal and chose the ad libs I liked and placed them throughout the track as part of the arrangement.
I think this track turned out super fun and I'm so glad Fleming could sing on it. She's as nice as can be and always fun to work with.
This track was the official chronological turning point of when my hands were pried off the steering wheel on the production of the Chillodesiac album and Kurt had to take over because I was pregnant and quite ill. I believe this was the first track Kurt actually started from the beginning, which felt very strange to me since up until that point, I had personally chosen the sounds and samples and constructed the arrangements. I had a hard time adjusting to the outside creative input on this one, but it was what it was, and I had much larger issues to deal with in my life than worrying about the fact that I didn't choose the bass line on this track… like dry heaving every morning and heartburn like the fires of Mordor.
Honestly, Kurt did a fine job on this track. It was good for him to take charge. We called in a colleague of mine named Jeff to play accordion on this track, and we had him solo through the track and then we edited his performance by choosing which phrases we wanted and placing them in the arrangement as seemed appropriate. As with other tracks, the goal was to create the effect of using vintage samples that would have been lifted off of an old record and placed into our track.
I don't think my vocal on this is an award winning performance by any measure. I sound completely out of breath because I was in the first half of my pregnancy when I was pretty sick but not yet on bed rest, and was sporting a giant grapefruit sized fibroid in my belly alongside my baby and things were just jacked up in my abdomen. So it was hard to get breath support and I was profoundly exhausted. I don't know why we didn't just have someone else sing it. We really should have. But hey… it's like a little memento of my pregnancy. If this song comes on our Pandora stream I can say to my son "you were in my tummy when I recorded this…" Surprisingly he does not speak Spanish fluently despite hearing this in utero…
I have always loved this song since I was in college. I loved the dark melody. So this was one of the first songs I chose when we were originally coming up with the song list for Chillodesiac vol. 1. Since it was before I got pregnant, I did the majority of the initial programming on this track, and I had a really good time with it. If you'll notice the drums in the beginning have kind of a swishy sound. I took the drum loop sounds and dialed back when the sample sounds would begin so that we don't hear the drum sounds until after the initial strike. Then once the track kicks in, I restored the drum sounds to their normal state. I got the track quite a good ways and then Kurt finessed it and added the subtle ear candy and transitional elements that make it more sophisticated. Kurt made fun of me as I was playing in the 3 note high octaves piano line throughout the track because I guess I was moving about a little more dramatically than I realized, and apparently he found it amusing. #NashvilleMarriageProblems
This track also has one of the Ellenisms that show up in many of our tracks from that era, which I call my "morse code" part. Back then, I often would have one synth part that would be on a single pitch in a repeating rhythm throughout the track. That shows up here and in lots of other places, including if I'm not mistaken in some of our classic country remixes on our "listen" page.
This is a track that I had just barely gotten started when I became ill and had to give up control of the programming. I speak of that event with sadness, but truth be told, as creatively difficult as it was for me when that happened, it was for the good of the project since Kurt is such a better programmer than I am.
That bass part is a sample, meaning that it's an audio clip that we paste in over and over through the arrangement in stead of a synth part that we play in on the keyboard or a bassbline played by a real human like on Glitter & Bliss. The B3 organ was tracked in a studio that we rented specifically for that purpose. We were disappointed when we got to that studio and learned that the leslie [vibrato] setting wasn't as adjustable as it should have been, so Kurt was unable to control the speed of the vibrato as he played it as much as he'd have liked. If you'll notice, the vibrato is either completely off or super fast. And yet the studio charged us full price. Lame.
Now let's talk about Miss Hale. Oooooh Missi Hale… what a VOICE. Missi is hands down one of the best singers I know. Her agility is fantastic and no one does ad libs better than Missi. You can have her do some ridiculous ad lib run where she's hitting all kinds of notes and then say "Hey, can you double that down an octave" and she says "sure, no problem" and then she nails it. She's amazing. When we first met Missi, she was new in town and working at Starbucks to keep the bills paid. She had started doing studio work when she was 13 so even though she was just about 20 at the time, she was well seasoned behind the mic. Missi did so much better singing this song than I ever could have hoped and I believe it brought the track to a whole new level. And if you haven't already heard our "more cowbell" remix of this song from the Chillodesiac release, you really should check it out just to hear Missi's fun ad libs in it.
Missi was only available for us to use as a singer for a short number of years before her talents took her out to L.A. where she now lives singing on sound tracks for major motion pictures and on Glee among many other things. In fact, if you see the movie The Lorax, there's one part where they're all singing around the tree seed that they're going to plant and one guy sings in a high operatic voice… that's Missi's voice. She's a beast. And she's a hilarious person too.
When we were planning the Chillodesiac project, I mentioned hearing a guy do a French rap on a Sting song and I'd always thought it was cool. So we put out feelers around the country and to find a guy who could rap in French, because Nashville… well… I don't need to explain. We finally found a guy who lived somewhere like Minnesota [I don't remember to be honest]. So we hired a studio where he lived to do a session for us, and we produced his rap over the phone because we had internet problems at the time. We never even met him. I remember when we started the session and he first started his rap my jaw almost dropped because of how it sounded over our track. [Totally hot.]
At one point, Venste [the rapper] asked if I wanted to know what the words of his rap meant, and for reasons I cannot explain, I simply said "no". You know when you do something that makes no sense and you wonder in retrospect if you had momentary brain damage? Yeah. That.
Anyway, to this date I have NO IDEA what he's saying in his rap except something about Romeo and Juliet. I'm sincerely hoping it's not NC-17 or blatantly suggestive, because I love Jesus and the beats are sexy enough on their own.
This is where it all began. This track was the very first ground breaking track where I cut my teeth and worked out my vision for the Chillodesiac album. This was the track that I started on when I told Kurt my idea and he said "I don't have time to work on it, but go ahead and do it if you want." The bass line is repetitive and the synth chords are as well. For me it was more about the hypnotic repetition so frequently found in tracks of this genre, and seeing how we could superimpose a jazz standard over the top. I'd always loved this song when I was in college studying voice, and so this was my first go to when I got the chance to start making it happen. After I got the track quite far along, Kurt finessed it and added the flute sample you hear. It's a sample, meaning it was an audio clip and not something we played in on a keyboard or actually played on a flute. That means the melody is what it is and you can't manipulate the notes TOO much, but you can a little bit. In this case, he slowed it way down and pitched it way down. What happened to the sound of the sample at that point was that you hear lots of digital artifacts where it has what sound like beats in it. If you solo it, it sounds completely messed up, but in the track, you don't even really hear those noises with the drum loops to cover it.
I feel like the vocal on this is just okay, I remember I had a sinus infection when we tracked it and my voice was very stiff and I was just trying to not let the phlegm throw me completely off pitch. I was still eating dairy back then, so I was constantly battling vocal problems. And having been born with a cleft palate, I'm prone to issues like that, so my struggles made me more inclined to just stick more to producing and programming, and then hire amazing singers to come and do what they do. Plus at the time, I knew that if I sang every song on the record, pretty much everyone would think I was just the singer and that Kurt had done all of the programming and production, and in my pride that felt like death to me. I've prayed about my prideful black heart, but I still struggle…
We chose to do Mas Que Nada because it is a very popular song for licensing and we wanted to increase our chances of capitalizing on our hard work. [For the record, we got exactly 0 licenses on this one…] This was actually a quick replacement to another song we were going to do [Whatever Lola Wants] because we were thrown off a bit when Melinda Doolittle was far enough along with American Idol [she was slated for Hollywood week] that she couldn't do any lead vocal work for us, but she could do a group vocal. We decided since Melinda couldn't sing Whatever Lola Wants [which you must admit, would have been amazing], we'd do this song with a group vocal and still get her in the mix.
I must admit, this track is my least favorite. It feels contrived to me, because it was contrived. We struggled with this one. At first, it was vibey but completely lacked the fun energy of the original version of the song, and I didn't want it to feel like a complete downgrade. So, we had to figure out how Kurt could play a piano part that would sound like a vintage sample [meaning it was repetitive and sounded like it was lifted off an old record] but work over the track that we had. It took some workshopping, I kept saying things like "it needs to be more fun sounding" and then Kurt would think harmonically about what he could do to have his chords change while the rest of the track stayed on a harmonic plateau. In the end, we got something that really helped make the track seem a bit more festive.
You can hear my trademark "morse code" element in the track, but beyond that, I can't even remember how much I contributed to this one other than leather couch producing from time to time.
Realizing that this song was not in Spanish as I had originally thought, but Portuguese rather, I decided I was in over my head and we scouted around to find someone who knew that language and could also sing. Some friends connected us with Kenya Evelyn who spoke Portuguese as a first language. She came in and tracked the vocal part for Missi and Melinda to use as a guide. When I booked Missi Hale and Melinda Doolittle to come in and sing [as they often worked together], I forgot to mention to them that they'd be singing in Portuguese. Oooops. Sorry… hee hee hee… [sigh] So, they were a little deer in the headlights when we casually brought it up when they showed up to sing. But eventually they phonetically broke it down phrase by phrase and eventually they got it. [Because they are pros and they are awesome. ]
And that little weird vocal line that you hear between other phrases is from my demo vocal where I had sung the hook melody and then we reversed the audio file so it plays backwards. So if you play this whole song backwards, you'll hear my demo vocal of me singing that phrase forward along with sinister propaganda about eating more cheese… #backmasking
I'm going to write about The Man I Love simply because I want to, even though it's not on Standard Chill. Most of what I've written is reminiscing about Chillodesiac Lounge, and this is an important part of that story.
After completing My Funny Valentine, we decided to send that first attempt at a chillout reconstruction of a jazz standard out to several electronic music record labels to see if anyone would be interested in more tracks like that for compilations. This was back when people actually bought CDs and record labels could sell compilations. #oldentimes One woman at a label down in Miami responded very positively and said that while they didn't have a use for that particular track, they were doing a compilation featuring chillout versions of songs by Gershwin and wondered if we'd want to take a crack at it. Once again, this was one of the times when Kurt said "I don't have time, but if you want to do it, go ahead." And so I did.
I worked out the arrangement, reinventing some of the song structure. If you notice, the organ at the beginning is hinting at the very first piano part of Rhapsody in Blue [remember I used to hack play it on the piano when I was a kid]. Also, much of what happens in the intro and througout is where I took snippets of Ingrid's lovely vocal and flipped it so it plays backwards. I took those backwards phrases and touched them right up to where they begin in their original forward state.
Many of the instrumental elements of this track are audio samples, but I also played some in as midi. The wah wah guitar riff is also a quote from one of the counter melodies in Rhapsody in Blue. I spent so much time on this track that I was very aware of exactly how things landed rhythmically, so when it came time to place the wah wah guitar parts, I ended up sliding them WAAAAY back, so if you saw the arrange window, you'd see they're not even close to being right on the beat, but I think it feels much better that way.
I got the track pretty far, and sent it as I had it to the record label in Miami, and they said "sounds great!" At that point in time, this was our very first bite and we were quite thrilled. Up to that point, we were doing production work for other people and a lot of [soul sucking] jingles. So, to have this happen as our OWN venture, emerging into the scene as an electronic music act instead of just writer/producers for hire, that was very exciting. When we got approval to keep moving forward, Kurt eventually stepped in and added his polish to the track and we sold it to them for $500 on the condition that we could release it on our own Chillodesiac Lounge album.
I don't remember much detail about dealing with the dude who owned that record label, but I do recall that he was a pretty big jerk. So, as much as we'd have loved to include The Man I Love with all of the other jazz standards on Standard Chill, we decided it wasn't worth having to communicate with the guy. Maybe I need to pray for his black heart too…