So, where are we at? / by Marcell Marias

I have been looking forward to this spring and summer for some time.  While I enjoy all the other projects I am involved with, Shai Azul is...  I suppose one could call it the closest reflection to where I am at.  All my other projects are quite specific in their demands, musical and otherwise.  Shai Azul gives me (and my bandmates) quite a bit more latitude in creativity and direction.

In the past few weeks, I have been reviewing 10 scratch tracks with several Shai Azul bandmates and associates. Think of a scratch track as a diagram of the overall song.   It has lyrics, a basic melody, and most (if not all) of the planned instrumentation.  It's more than just a sketch; it's a pretty complete outline.  Verses, choruses, intros, outros, etc.  Even though I write the bulk of the material, I give the singers the final say over melody, harmony, and how something is constructed.  After all, they have to sell it, and if they don't have room to breathe, then that's a problem. 

With the Mirror Darkly compilation, I did most of this on my own.  With this upcoming compilation, I've brought in more people.  Vic, our art director, has co-written three of the songs.  I like what he brings.  I'm far more cerebral and reflective; he's a lot more in your face and sensual.  I have been talking a lot with Carl, a drummer/bandleader friend as well.  He has great ideas regarding rhythm, dynamics, and how to make my drum loops sound more like an organic component.  There's also about half a dozen people outside the band that get updates on the songs regularly.  Their job is to be brutally honest and opinionated about what they hear.  And they are. 

Oily and I are getting together next week to finalize the structures for the songs he leads on, and Tanya is even coming in a few weeks to hash her stuff out. 

If this sounds like an extended process, it isn't, really.  I could dictate down to the note and interval what to do and everyone could pull it off.  But that's not as satisfying as the collective creative process.  I would rather wait a few weeks for everyone to feel good about their contribution than create a song that people are ambivalent about.  The tunes are always better for it. 

After that... it's mostly on me.  The singers will hone their melodies and harmonies, yes.  But the instruments are on my plate.  Drum programming, guitars, bass, keyboards, and any loops or sequences.  The scratch tracks are physically designed in such a way that I can record the 'real' tracks as virtual tracks on top of what's already been recorded, so that saves a lot of time.  Still, it will probably take about 6 weeks to finish all the instrumental tracks at my home studio.

At that point, I will bring all the recorded tracks into a Pro Tools studio (Birdhouse, Seattle, WA), and after a (very critical) confirmatory listening session, we'll start having Oily, Tanya, and Kelly cut vocal tracks.  Probably late June or early July; all depends on how quickly I get done. 

More on that process as it progresses.