Making a Record

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For the last few months, I’ve been making a record. It’s not my first, technically, but it’s my first full-length studio album. It’s called Portal, and I’ll release it in the early days of 2014.

The primordial soup of this record has been bubbling all year, but the lightning bolt that brought it to life struck in May 2013. My friends threw a big shindig in the woods in northern California. I played guitar in my friend Nat’s band, and we debuted there. My friend Kirk was the drummer, and he was also the MC of a pretty special part of the whole event. We blasted a lot of love and music on that mountain that evening.

The next thing I knew, I was falling in love with one of the singers in the band, and a whole solo record had been downloaded into my head.

Photo by Justin Benttinen

The title and all the track names came first. I wrote the songs over the next few months. As they started to come together, Kirk decided he wanted to join me on this trip, and he started playing the drums with me and developing the songs. Before long, he had us rehearsing every day. By the end, he was producing the record. I couldn’t have done it without him.

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As the dream got realer and realer, the little music jokes with God started to pile up. New and old friends started coming out of the woodwork to make this happen.

One of the new friends was Stephen Feinberg. He was college friends with Ariel, the aforementioned singer in the band, who was, by this point in the story, infinitely more to me than that. He works at Tiny Telephone Recording in San Francisco, and he called out of the blue to see if Ariel wanted to book some recording time. While she definitely intends to make an awesome record very soon, she figured I’d want to go first, so she arranged for me and Stephen to meet.

It wasn’t long before he and John Vanderslice were showing me around Tiny, and I was booking studio time in November. Oh, boy! A deadline! And even though I ended up hiring Tiny Telephone engineer Ian Pellicci to call the shots, Stephen manned the controls a lot of the time, and he even sang on the record.

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One of the old friends was Michael Feinberg (no relation). We’ve been friends since high school, and until recently, that was the last time we had played music together. He went on to be a pro jazz bass player in New York City, and I went on to blog about telephone computers until I remembered my rock and roll destiny. He happened to be playing a gig in Oakland — during my recording session, of course — and he asked if he could stay with us. I said yes hoping I could get him to play on one song. He ended up playing bass on every song except the one I insisted on playing myself.

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Then it turned out that Mike’s drummer couldn’t make it to the second gig in Santa Cruz, so Kirk had to sit in on drums. That was pretty cool.

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I really can’t speak highly enough of Ian Pellicci and Tiny Telephone. Yeah, Kirk and I had practiced the tunes, but we’d never done a studio project of anywhere close to this magnitude, especially by ourselves, and I had no idea we were even capable of it until it was almost done. That’s because Ian was such a masterful engineer, and Tiny’s facilities were absolutely magical. I believe in the analog dream! Eight or nine days into the session, I started to realize that the record sounded even better than I dreamed it would. So I’m deeply grateful to Ian, and I’d recommend him and Tiny to anyone.

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As the first recording date loomed, I had the good sense to ask JV — as John Vanderslice is known around the studio — if he knew any pro guitar teachers who could help me polish up the material. His sources recommended Travis Andrews. I met with Travis for a few weeks before the session, and his lessons completely transformed me. Not only did he help me write some of the best guitar parts on the record, he introduced me to some new techniques and gadgets that will change my playing for good.

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My heartfelt thanks go out to all these people. But I saved a special thanks for my friends on the ground. Track 8 is called “Friends On The Ground,” and it contains one of my favorite moments on the whole record. From the moment I wrote it, I knew I needed a huge chorus of my friends to sing it with me. I asked, and they showed up and rocked. Thank you so much to Irina Alexander, Josh Cohen, Megan Doak, Randall Leeds, Jenna Rose Marek, Sam Mitchell, and Jesse Alexander Eunoia Wolfe, and especially Nat Rosenzweig and Lauren Thomas, who also played piano and violin (respectively) on the record.

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Deepest, realest thanks to Ariel Root Wolpe, one of my favorite musicians, for singing so beautifully throughout the record. Most of the songs are about you, anyway, so it’s fitting. You’re not just a brilliant collaborator and irresistible muse, you’re my partner all the way, and I love you so.

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Kirk, my brother, I saved you for last. For a while, I didn’t know why you were giving me so much time, energy, and music to help me make this record, but now I do. It’s a profound joy to collaborate with you. We make amazing things together. I owe the completion of this record to you, and I can’t wait to give you every sound I’ve got when it’s time to make yours.

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The record is almost done. After a few weeks off, we’re going back to Tiny in December to finish mixing, then we ship it off for mastering, then it’s done. Listen up for Portal early in the new year.

And you won’t want to miss the release party.