The trouble was, I wasn't sure yet who the singer was going to be. Not me — I write 'em, but I don't sing 'em. While I was pondering this, Gina made a surprise offer: could she have a crack at it? This hadn't occurred to me, since I'd been assuming the singer would be male, but I'd heard Gina's songs and loved both her writing and her voice. And looking again at my lyrics, I didn't see any reason why a woman couldn't sing this song — especially one who sings like Gina.
Vocalist and eSession CEO Gina Fant-Saez has extensive experience producing music online. See her O'Reilly article "The Digital Songwriter: Better Music Through Computer Collaboration."
She began recording her vocals at her Blue World Studio, a facility that's been used by U2, Sting, Shawn Colvin, and others. She got a lead and an initial pass of backgrounds done in short order, and that allowed Bruce to make a start on guitar at his studio in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I was knocked out by what each of them did. Not knowing how to play steel myself, I'd been a little anxious about whether all those jazz chords would be negotiable on that instrument. But Bruce had no trouble building a beautiful, atmospheric, and evocative track on steel and dobro. He played a great solo to boot, as you'll hear in the final mix.
Gina's lead vocal hit a combination of intimacy and intensity that felt just right to me, and she built up some beautiful background parts by overdubbing — singing along to her lead on separate tracks. We spent some time on just how to approach the harmonies in the choruses. With those chords, parallel motion led to a lot of fourths and fifths, a little of which I liked a lot, but too much of which sounded medieval.
An alternative approach, based on shared notes, close voicings, and contrary motion, led us into what I think of as "Stevie Wonder territory," which was just fine by me. We ended up mixing some of the openness and strangeness of octaves, fourths, and fifths with the richness of the "Wonder" sound.
In the midst of vocal tracking, the time came for Gina's vacation in Nantucket, but she took some gear with her. I was now in Nashville, working with singer-songwriter Bob Rea on his upcoming album, and with another talented songwriter, Jim Quealy. (Yes, those were both plugs.) No problem! Gina finished recording and uploaded from the New England seaside, I downloaded her tracks in my Nashville hotel room, and I used Logic to make a rough mix of what I had so far:
And since I was in town, I arranged to have coffee with Byron and lunch with Tom, both whom turned out to be just as nice in the real world as in the virtual one.
"Nowhere Motel" was now close to complete, except for my parts, which were currently represented only by the GarageBand guitar and a dobro intro I'd put down as a reference for Bruce. Time to listen and think about what might still be needed. I'd be doing that at my next destination, the Big Island of Hawaii.
There are good studios in Hawaii, but it sure highlighted how far things have come to be able to stay fully connected with Austin, the Bay Area, New York, and Nashville from the middle of the Pacific. I took along my Stratocaster and Line6 POD XT so I could work on ideas while I was there.
Bruce Kaphan (Photo: Mr Monkey Fingers)