Burning Bright

1. The Same Mistakes (Sanchez)
2. Green 17 (Langan)
3. Broken Glass Corner (Sanchez)
4. You Gotta Go Now (Sutliff)
5. Carefully Considered Answers (Langan-Sanchez)
6. Last Acid Riders (Sanchez)
7. After The Main Sequence (Sanchez)
8. Come For The Sun (Langan)
9. Wooden Horse (Sanchez)
10. I Saw Your Light (Langan)
11. Vanished (Tek-Sanchez-Masuak)
12. High Street Hitman (Sanchez – Sutliff)
13. Thinking About Neutrons (Sanchez-Tek)

Spring 2009: Fortune Smiles Upon Us

Every Donovan’s Brain album has been a unique creation. We never start with any set ideas, just the desire to write and record some new music. Tiny Crustacean Light Show and The Great Leap Forward were the product of non stop recording that spanned a two and an half years. When we finished, everyone was ready to do yet another album. The one request was that it would be made by the core band, working together on the arrangements and playing out live. The results were sharp contrast to the previous two albums, which were recorded with an ever changing group of musicians passing through the studio. There never was much of a chance the new album would be created the same way as A Defeat Of Echoes. Jeff Arntsen had moved back to Seattle, and without Jeff it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

When Colter and I first sat down to discuss the new album, we both agreed we would aim for a collection of compact tunes. We didn’t want to attempt any of the long sort of compositions that were part of the Echoes package. Four lengthy pieces had been recorded though only two appeared on the final CD. The most successful of these, Dim Gem has only appeared on the Dream Magazine compilation and only half of the long version of Control is heard on the DVD.

Most of the first Donovan’s Brain album, Carelessly Restored Art, was done by myself, with the occasional help from Colter and friends. It was evident the new album was going to at least begin in this fashion. I figured we could record the tracks using drum loops and add real drums later in the process. One advantage of this method is the final results would stay true to the original intent. It also meant we would avoid the scheduling conflicts which can make group sessions nearly impossible sometimes. Right from the start Deniz was on board and soon after Bobby Sutliff suggested he’d like to be a participant. This now meant there were four song writers involved. This fact would further support the prime directive for this album.

Ron Craighead was committed to the new album, but never participated in any of the sessions before November 2008. I wanted all the songs for the album to be in presentable shape, music and vocals, when he came in to drum. I had sent him progress reports and solicited comments, which he freely offered. As time progressed, it became clear Ron’s limited availability was going to make hitting our deadlines very difficult. Two and a half months after the first session, only five songs had drums. This left six songs still needing his time and only a few weeks to complete the work before our final deadline would pass. To make matters worse, Ron was now fully occupied with the annual KGLT Fund Drive, which is followed by his annual trip to the Utah desert. Bob Brown had suggested I might talk to one of a number of drummers he knew in Billings. We had already brought in Tony Horton to cut two tracks with Deniz and Bob. Tony is a fantastic drummer, but the logistics of setting up two full days of recording would not be easy.

Just when our plans were looking shaky, we were once again blessed with the good fortune that seems to strike just when help is needed. Donovan’s Brain have had a long time connection to the Posies. Joe Skyward was a member of an early Brain variant and Ken Stringfellow had mixed the Eclipse And Debris album. Mike Musburger had been the drummer for the Posies in the early 90’s, appearing on their first two major label releases. Mike had also spent time with our friends the Fastbacks and more recently Sgt Major. He’s also one of the first call drummers in Seattle with a long list of credits. On a whim, I dropped Mike a line and asked if he would want to drum on our record. I was surprised when he wrote back and said he could, if I could find a studio in Seattle to do the work. Then in the next breath, he mentioned he was going to be in Montana to play and asked if his gig was anywhere near Bozeman. As it happened, it was in “the neighborhood”. After giving it some thought, I asked Mike to put us on his schedule, and we worked out the details.

He asked to hear the songs, and for me to send over production notes. I sent over the five songs I had for him. Feeling optimistic about the time we might have, I also sent him two of the Shambaholic tunes, thinking we might be able to get to these if time permitted. A couple of weeks out from his arrival, I decided time might be better spent putting a new drum track on the instrumental After The Final Sequence. This is a track that has been around in some form since the Great Leap era. Seth Lyon had added drums when he was last here, but due to a technical problem, his performance was not recorded as well as I would have liked. At the very last minute I hit on an idea for the new drums, and asked Mike to consider this approach.

On Friday Mike called from Livingston, where the large country band was staying, to say they were an hour ahead of schedule and he was just leaving for Bozeman. With a pretty serious work load, the extra hour was welcome. Before we started we took inventory of the house drum kit and Mike’s traveling gear, and decided to visit Music Villa to see if the drum stool I ordered had arrived. Like every good musician, a trip to the local shop was approved. Most of his time was spent checking out the vintage “not for sale” collection of drums, and trying to talk the owner into selling some of the treasure.

MuzOnce we were in the studio it was a simple matter to tune the drums, get levels and have a look at the old snare drums in the studio’s collection. Both the Ludwig and Slingerland were deemed serviceable and set aside for later use. Then it was right to work. I had done a major revision to Broken Glass Corner over the previous week, rewriting the bridge and adding newly written lyrics to the same. While this work was being done, I decided the two extra bars between the intro and the first verse were unnecessary, and had removed them. This one was set up on the board, so this is where we would start. Mike seemed familiar with the arrangement and had his basic idea down in a few takes. From there he just refined his performance until we were both satisfied. He was pleased it hadn’t taken long to get started and I was pleased our time budget seemed to be right on.

The Same Mistakes was the first song I wrote for this album, music and words were recorded in one quick session in 2006. Bobby Sutliff had added several guitars, and lent his arrangement skills on the “underwater” section. The requirement for Mike was to keep it moving. He had to adapt my four on the floor concept into something he could play and that fit the song. After a couple of takes it was decided to borrow from Slade, a band we both love. This one didn’t take too long either. We were able to take a dinner break, and relax before returning to the studio.

After a late night in Livingston, and some serious work today, I decided After The Final Sequence would be what we would attempt in the last couple hours for the day. This track had carried the title “The Overture” and was originally intended to be the introduction for a longer piece. Every attempt to complete the song portion failed, and it was Seth who said, just leave it. When Deniz worked on it, he suggested his guitar solo would be best on the second half of the song. The first part was a long series of chord changes, with a complex string arrangement laid over the top. The second half was just a slow groove on a Gm#7 chord. The first half would be played with sticks and then change over to mallets for the solo section. The heroic first section was an easy task. The mallet section presented some challenges to Mike. To make it work, he needed to hit the same accents as Jeff’s bass. Jeff had had done a fantastic job, stretching time to give the song an elastic feel. It took a few passes before Mike had the timing down, and the tricky section was accomplished as a punch in. The beauty of digital recording.

MuzAs soon as we had both signed off on the performance, Mike was ready for bed, and excused himself for the night. I figured a noon start time for Saturday would give us plenty of time to take care of the three remaining tracks, and still be able to knock off early so we could enjoy dinner with a few friends. I wasn’t surprised I didn’t see Mike until nearly 10am. After breakfast, we treated ourselves to coffee at our local, and took another walk downtown. Mike hadn’t heard about the Bozeman explosion and wanted to take some photos of the leveled buildings.

We were back in the studio at noon, and right back to work. First up today would be Wooden Horse. Once again I had a clear idea for the intro and outro on this one. I was thinking of Jim Capaldi and some of his playing on the first Traffic album. Mike thought the deeper Slingerland snare would be the best drum for the jazzy feel I was looking for. He was taken aback when he discovered this drum still had the original vintage heads. Wooden Horse was written about my father a week after he passed away. I woke up with the song complete in my head. I wrote it out and figured out what the chords were. I had the demo done by the afternoon. I was forced to re-record the track when I discovered much later, I’d played it in a key that was too high for me to hit some of the notes. While listening to Mike play the song, I also realized there were five distinct parts to the song. If you listen close you will hear a bit of Toy Town whimsy, some very Sweet-like thumping, a Mitch Mitchell lick or two, a West Coast guitar solo, and the jazz groove. Mike’s sharp ear was able to make each of these sections stand out, and still make the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

The last two songs on the list were written by Bobby Sutliff. You Gotta Go Now underwent one of the famous Brain treatments. It was a fine song when we got it, but Deniz and I weren’t content to leave well enough alone. I added a new lick at the top of each verse and a syncopated beat. Deniz thought substituting two new chords for one in the verse would be more fun to play! Bobby got his guitar and bass over dubs back to us just in time for the session. Good thing too, as his bass helped Mike work out his approach to this one. The loop I used for the track was intended to push the song towards a Rubber Soul – Revolver feel. Bobby and I had tossed around some ideas, but it was always going to be left in the hands of who ever drummed on it. There is no mistaking it’s a classic Bobby Sutliff tune, but now there is a bit of Brain matter splattered all over it.

I realized I had held back the most complex of the new songs thinking by the time Ron Craighead had got to these he would have a feel for the new material and be ready to tackle the tricky arrangements. Mike was forced to jump right in with only a few weeks to familiarize himself with a years work. High Street Hit Man is Bobby’s music. I had been working on the story for a while when this track showed up in the mail. I knew straight away, that the two ideas would be a perfect match. The only change I made to Bobby’s arrangement was to turn one of the choruses into a bridge section. My concept was to write a song like Keith West’s Excerpt From A Teenage Opera, the song also known as Grocer Jack. There are few other great examples of this 60’s style performed by Kaleidoscope and the Who. I knew if I said Keith Moon, Mike would eat it right up. It took a few passes to find the correct balance of wildness and control. A perfect take was marred by a missed cue, but we were able to fix that with a tight punch in.

With the the last song in the can, we set up to add some percussion to You Gotta Go Now. While reviewing the two days work, Mike asked if he could add a cymbal hit on After The Final Sequence. It was just 6pm when we declared the project complete. This left us plenty of time to regroup and prepare for our dinner guests.