Lord have mercy. We just finished three solid days of recording for House of Return, the new drop from our Fearless Leader Jeff Gauthier and his ensemble, the Goatette (Nels "Zardosh" Cline on guitar, David "Lurch" Witham on keyboards, Joel "The Quiet Beatle" Hamilton on bass and Alex "Man of 1,000 Stories" Cline on drums).
The sessions took place Jan. 9-11 at the stellar environs of Threshold Sound + Vision on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica. (It just happens to be located next to a liquor store that sells raunchy porn DVDs...what God did we please?!) Like any recording studio worth its salt, its walls are covered by the hallowed faces who have recorded here, including Sir Elton John, J.Lo, ZZ Top and the immortal Ronnie James Dio. (Our studio was appropriately guarded by an autographed photo of jazz singer Nancy Wilson.)
For the three days recording started at approximarely 11amish and broke up at around 8pmish and seven songs were put to bed: "Friends of the Animals" "Dizang" (written by Alex Cline) "House of Return" "Biko's Blues" & "Dissolution" (both Eric Von Essen tunes), and two Nels Cline originals "J.Z." (tentative title, a tribute to "the original Jay-Z: Joe Zawinul") and "I.O.A." (also a tentative title on whose meaning Nels refused to elaborate).
Thanks to all who came to donate their efforts, including new Crypto Director of Marketing Josh Schroeder, who showed up bearing a HOMEMADE Thai smorgasbord for the hungry hearts; engineering merlins Scott Coslett and Mike Aarvold, who spun the digital studio magic; and poet Shauna Hannibal, who showed up to keep Jeff calm and away from broken glass despite the untimely loss of her beloved black cat Mingus the week before.
(Oh yes, and Nels wished to thank a chap named Bob Garrison "for lending me some stuff.")
We understand why musicians hate the studio versus live performance, but the cats of the Goatette ran through most of the tunes in one or two takes, with minimal overdubbing afterwards. (Nels: "We might as well see what happens just so we can figure it out. Oh man, that TOTALLY SUCKED...I think we should follow Alex's advice: 'We gotta polish this old turd'.") Not a small accomplishment, as most of the songs took on an epic grandeur, clocking in at an average of 11-14 minutes.
Two tunes in particular caught our ear: "Friends of the Animals" is a 4/4 tune that starts with a collapsing free jazz tumble before being picked up by the duelling sounds of Nels' guitar and Jeff's violin as they chase each other like fireflies, Jeff's violin flitting around Nels' burbling foamy lines like a drunken hornet. The tune morphs into a boilingly intense fusion workout (think David W.'s splats of electric piano) mixed with soft lyrical lines (Hamilton's thunking yet calming pizzicato). Quite the struggle of forms! (Jeff: "Dave, could you make that keyboard sound a little nastier?") We hope the final version contains Nels' incredible solo. Turns out the guy is as physically antic in the studio as he is on stage -- I mean, the guy never stops moving! Even listening to the playbacks he paced the booth like a restless skinny tiger. His feats of string shredding were somewhat scary to behold, especially when he let the feeback bleed out of his guitar while changing its tone and textures by hitting his effects box repeatedly with the palm of his hand. "I.O.A." is a surprisingly mellow ballad from Nels with a constantly shifting time structure that contributes to its disorienting and hallucinatory feel. The challenge of getting this one down came during the song's coda, where Jeff had to match his acoustic violin with the sonic technofrippery of Mr. Cline and Mr. Witham. It took a few takes, but Jeff finally nails it with furious note clusters. John Henry would have been proud. The last overbdubs included Mr. Witham adding beautifully creepy lines on an accordion he purchased in a Chinatown NY music shop called The Main Squeeze and Alex dusting things up with his brother's novelty tambourine that lit up like a pinball machine every time he hit it. The session ended with a raucous duel between the Cline boys on shakers.
Jeff (who sported a "Make Music Not War" t-shirt) and David spent most of the time in their stocking feet, which gave the sessions an air of a wacky-jazz slumber party. Alex (who is due to go into the studio in the Spring to record his next Crypto drop "Continuation" with pianist Myra Melford, cellist Peggy Lee and bassist Scott Walton) regaled us with bizarre stories of his up-and-coming days as a working musician. One memorable yarn was about one of the few movie soundtracks he worked on with ex-Mother of Invention Don Preston -- a cheesy B horror movie called "The Being" which starred a Match Game-esque panel from hell: Martin Landau, Ruth Buzzi, Kinky Friedman and Jose Ferrer. "The lead actor, who was reasonably well known, dropped out of the picture at the last minute and was replaced by -- of all people -- the film's producer, who went by the name 'Rex Coltrane.' As turns out, the guy could not only not act but he had an entirely inappropriate-sounding voice. So they brought in this unknown kid to overdub his lines, and this kid winds up doing this near-genius improvisation where he played all of the characters in the scene like they were having this hilarious conversation. And this goes on for like twenty minutes! Don said it was the most amazing performance by an actor he's ever seem. Turns out they recorded all of this. Don told me if we could somehow track down that tape that it would be worth a lot, because the kid's name was Robert Downey Jr."
So, if anyone out there knows where this tape is...you know what to do. E-BAY BAY-BEEE!!!
Oh yes, and an interesting debate arose which we've still not resolved. "There is no way to write a grammatically correct way to spell the abbreviation of the word 'fusion,'" said Nels. "I've tried and its impossible." We came up with a variety of spellings to capture its linguistic peculiarities: "fyooshe"? "fushe"? "fjuge"? "fyouge"? "Fyooje"? "fyushe"? "Fuze"?
Holy crap. He might be right!