The Process: Here and Now… / by Marcell Marias

There is nothing more ironic for a musician as the moment where they forget how to play their own songs.  And I have been enjoying a lot of irony of late.

If it seems like I am going to California every other week, it’s about right.  As I have mentioned before, Shai Azul is one of several projects.  As much as I enjoy making music with Oily, Tanya, Kelly, Vic, and Anthony, it doesn’t pay the bills.  That isn’t too weird.  It’s rare that ANY artist can pay the bills with their art form.  So I have been spending a lot of time with the theatre troupe in the last 2 months, helping them get ready for tour, rehearsing the players, driving, and generally trying to pass on everything I know to people half my age.

And they are presently on tour.  In California. 

Admittedly the reason I am going THIS time is because a friend asked if I would help her company out at San Diego Comic Con.  I have never been.  Should be fun. 

Still, that’s a lot of time between recording sessions.  Last week I finally had an uninterrupted stretch to get some work done on the second compilation of songs.  And it was hilarious how much I had forgotten of my own music. 

The scratch tracks for most of these songs are 4-6 months old.  While I do take notes, sometimes I forget to write down the chord patterns.  That’s not too bad for guitar, since most of what we do there is riff-driven.  But I tend to play a lot of ambiguous-sounding patterns on the keyboards (5th chords, suspended chords, and things that generally don’t imply a major/minor).  I also tend toward a gut-level approach with keys, playing what sounds ‘right’ and then figuring out the actual chord voicing later.  If I haven’t written this all down, then it’s a game of ‘guess the chord’.   Which, on some keyboard patches with lots of extra fiddly bits, can be a challenge. I struggled with one part for 3 hours before I realized that the arpeggio pattern I had put on the scratch track required actual chord voicings as opposed to single notes.

That’s written down now.

The most humbling indication that I have been away from the console for too long came on a new song called “Wasted/Wanted”.  This particular tune is the first collaboration between Vic and myself and is quickly becoming one of my faves.  Vic’s initial vision was for a strong keyboard hook, but as the tune developed, a relentless distorted bass guitar line came more to the forefront.  The scratch track came around in less than a few hours.  Then the tune simmered on the back burner until last week.  Well, I’m a bass player, right?  How long can it possibly take to cut a mix-ready version?  I’ve played on about half a dozen studio recordings in the past year.  Not like I don’t know what I’m doing.

Or not.  Took me about 30-40 passes to get it right.

Admittedly my studio doesn’t make overdubbing easy.  I am using a console-based digital deck for recording; no Pro Tools at this stage.  So I either have to be very quick with my button pressing (a very 80s’ way of doing it all) or program in the punch points.  But on this song specifically, the bass guitar NEVER LETS UP.  There’s not really any place to insert an overdub without making a digital ‘click’ because of the note spacing and distortion.  Even if I had Pro Tools with Chris at the command chair, this would be a hard song to punch in on.  And I kept screwing up either 15 seconds in (doesn’t take long to decide the overall performance isn’t where you want it to be) or 15 seconds from the END of the song. 

In the end, it all worked out.  The guitars went surprisingly fast (I was expecting to struggle with them since I hadn’t completely finalized the guitar grooves yet) and we added a few little keyboard treats that we many not even end up using. 

It even provided enough momentum to get some more drum programming done and dissect out chord charts for some of the other songs.

It only cost a little bit of professional pride. 

Cheap price to pay, really.