Climbing Mount Everest
My new record is being mastered today, after 8 months of work! It’s called “Indigo”, and I’m particularly proud of it because I made it differently from my last 2 CDs. This project was built from scratch: it was layered, one instrument at a time, instead of being recorded in the studio in one fell swoop with a full band. That means that with considerable help from my co-producer Park Chisolm, I was able to paint Indigo with my own brush more than anything else I have ever recorded. Making a CD is like climbing Mount Everest, and this one was no different. First, I stood at the bottom for a while, craning my neck up at the sky and marveling at the sheer distance I was going to have to travel to get to the top. I knew I couldn’t make it alone, but I had to figure out who I was gonna work with to get there. What did I want to achieve in climbing this mountain? And did I really have it IN me to do this again? It seemed really overwhelming, but I knew it was time. It had been 3 years since my last record came out, and my music had evolved and changed a ton in the meantime. The audience reaction I was getting at shows made me sure that these new songs deserved to be put out into the world.
So I started putting one foot in front of the other. I burned some midnight oil sitting up in the loft, playing my guitar into a microphone hooked up to the ProTools rig on my computer. I hooked the keyboard up via MIDI, spent a few days learning how to operate the software, and started playing with piano sounds. I learned how to program some drum and percussion samples. I started to build something. It wasn’t much, but it was the bones of what I wanted Indigo to be.
Then, I got to a point where I didn’t know where to go next. So I called co-producer and multi-talented instrumentalist Park Chisolm and asked him to help me find my way to the top of the mountain. I brought my bare bones tracks over to his studio, and he began to layer instruments and paint his brushstrokes on Indigo too. We hired a cellist, a percussionist, a guitarist and a B3 player to come over and paint their colours into the picture.
After the tracks were built, it was time to sing the vocal parts. That’s the part of climbing the mountain where it becomes a real struggle, and I think that's the case for any artist. Each song on Indigo represents about 18 hours of singing, distilled into 3 minutes of music. And because I’m my own worst critic, the vocals are NEVER what I wish they could be.
I talked to a co-writer recently who told me she broke down and cried in the studio when she was trying to edit her vocals together for her own album, because she didn’t think they were good enough, and she wished she could hire someone else to do it! I know how she feels! It’s a tough thing, because you can get all the musicians in the world to play your tracks, but when it comes down to the vocals, it’s just YOU, and those 2 little vocal cords are all you’ve got to work with. It can be very frustrating! So you play with different things: if first thing in the morning vocals don’t give the song the right feeling, you re-sing it late at night just to try and capture it the way you’re hearing it in your head. You sing, sing, and re-sing, and then you start over again with a different microphone (or you get a cold and have to wait for a month before you can finish)! That’s why this part of the process takes so long, and is so exhausting.
After I pushed through a couple months of sleep deprivation, I got to my favourite part of climbing the mountain: the background vocals. I sang a bunch of them myself, but I also called on my best girlfriends to sing (it’s convenient having girlfriends like Canadian legend Lisa Brokop and background singer extraordinaire Tania Hancheroff, whose voice you can hear backing up Sheryl Crow and Carrie Underwood’s records). I am also married to a sweet-voiced tenor, so that’s convenient too when it comes to backgrounds. Thanks Dave. :)
Next, the mixing engineer, Sean Moffitt, mixed and tweaked and re-tweaked each song until everything sounded just right. The instruments were EQ’d, panned left or right, and woven in around each other in volume with the vocals sitting nicely on top. The songs were checked on ten different kinds of speakers, and even played in mono to make sure they’d sound good on AM radio. In the meantime there were photo shoots, website re-designing, song licensing, album graphics and promotional plans to tackle (and throughout this whole experience, I’ve been working full-time as a staff songwriter for other artists, so it’s been a handful)!
Today, I’m standing at the top of the mountain. In a couple of hours, I will have a mastered copy of the songs with the sounds compressed and cleaned up, the volume levels equalized, and the song order sequenced. It’s gonna be a good day. These songs are really special, and I'm so glad you will finally get to hear them.
Stay tuned…Indigo is coming out soon on the Fontana North label!!!