This is a list of songs currently under construction for the next two Donovan’s Brain albums and the one after those.
Sandbox Shadows Donovan’s Brain – Sandbox Dispatches
01. Failure To Achieve 3:23
02. Attic Experience 5:06
03. River Of Tears 8:08
04. Changing Textures 3:53
05. Fired From The Circus 5:17
06. Lime Twist 3:59
07. My Baby 4:09
08. The Inquisitor 6:07
09. Time Flowing Backwards 4:14
10. Silent Voices 4:03
Donovan’s Brain – Two Shadows
01. Eden Pariah 4:51
02. A Trip With Auntie 4:20
03. Dolly Jim 2:43
04. Secret Society 4:50
05. Rice Paper Kite 4:21
06. Alternative To Me 4:33
08. Telegraph Ave 4:01
07. Shadow 4:07
09. Crumbling Walls 4:49
10. Ministry Of False Alarms 5:00
Donovan’s Brain Looking Forward
01. Paper Pilots Pushing
02. Break In The Weather
03. Sunshine Days
04. Holding My Own
05. They Are Not Here 8:04
06. How To Leave CT 4:43
07. I Don’t Wanna Anymore 3:07
2 September 2020
After two days vocal and string overdubs on Paper Pilots, it’s coming into focus. This is one of three new songs I’m hope to add drums to this month.
With that secured, I took time to assess where we are at and how to proceed to the finish. Bobby Sutliff suggested that 23 songs was too many, even spread over two albums. I resisted that idea at the time. The original configuration meant that Sandbox was over 60 minutes long and Shadow over 50 minutes. After giving it some serious thought, I decided to see what they albums would look like if cut down to ten songs each. Part of the incentive was that there were now four songs in the album 3 folder. Adding the three that would be cut from Sandbox Shadow increases that number to seven. This is a very good start for another album. I decided that two eight minute epics on Sandbox was one too many. They Are Not Here got the elbow. I think it was stand out more on album 3. It would be a shame if it was overlooked in the crowd. Telegraph Ave would fit comfortably on Shadows. That meant pulling two songs from Shadow. I decided to move two of Scott’s new songs over to album 3. He still have three songs on the new albums. The two songs dropped will help inspire the writing for album 3. His new song Holding My Own is still on the short list for Sandbox Shadow if we can get drums added. Still, it is part of a good foundation for album 3. Good to have some options. On the practical side, it means I only had to ask Tom to add bass to twelve songs and that four of the twenty are mixed. On top of that, two songs on album 3 are also mixed. Four maybe five songs need guitar solos. Matt Piucci is still onboard to do some work. Bobby Sutliff has been assigned two. I’m still waiting to hear back from Peter Holsapple who took one song as part of his open session offer.
28 August 2020
Sunshine Days is now mixed and moved to the finished folder. There was some additional work done before I was satisfied. The second guitar part was replace. Telecaster through the leslie pedal got the right sound. The two main guitar parts now complimented each other and the detail cut through. There is a guitar lick at the end of the bridge. For some reason it didn’t resolve completely. I doubled the solo on piano, and added the missing part. Still not right. The next day I could hear the part played a different way. It took a few passes before the timing was correct. That solved that problem. A small celeste part was also added too. The mix came together quickly, but upon playback, something seemed amiss. I tried a couple of more times with the same faulty results. I was afraid there was a hardware issue involved. I set it aside for a few days while I worked on some non music chores. When I returned to it, I noticed the count in was playing back. It shouldn’t have been as that track was turned off. It was now clear a hidden track was active, and it was playing along with the mix when I played it back through the board. There were a set of tracks I’d prepared for Tom to use when he added bass. I had to switch to a different view of the studio on the computer to a page that showed all the tracks. Sure enough, there was a track called “no bass mix” that was turned on. It was a simple matter to find this hidden track and turn it off. I ran a new mix which played back with no issue. Success.
Time to move on now. My most recent song, Paper Pilots Pushing, was written and recorded in May and June. When I last heard it, I wasn’t happy with the intro section. It comes up three times, so this would be a problem. The track at that point was just guitar, bass, vocals, organ and some strings. First thing to do was a new guitar part. There was no chord chart for the song, so I had to learn it before starting to record. I still didn’t have an idea for the intro lick. I kept this guitar simple in that section, so it wouldn’t clash with any new idea. Next I redid the bass. It was clear the original bass part was too busy. It also followed the original intro lick idea. A new bass part was easy to put together and record. That done, I stopped for the day. I knew the new intro would probably be played on the 12-string. I wanted to start fresh. Before I got the 12-string out and tuned up, I experimented with some ideas using the Casino 6-string. There was a transition section after the main lick that seemed unnecessary. I did try some variations on those chords, but no luck. The answer was to remove the whole sequence, all three instances. This meant adding a measure at the end of the intro lick section. Now I had to fix the new guitar and bass to match this change. That shortened the song a little, which isn’t a bad thing. I decided to try the Subway Danelectaro 12. This is a custom made guitar using New Old Stock parts. I had the idea now, the trick was to work out the picking pattern and then play it correctly. This guitar has some tone options, so I cycled through them until I was happy with the sound. This new part would play thought the whole song. One I got through the intro, I just kept playing. The idea came together quickly. I just moved on to the second verse, punching in as needed. The bridge didn’t cause any problems, so right to the end. The last section is a variation on the bridge. The bridge has an unexpected set of changes. The end Just repeats one part of that. The work was completed in one four hour session.
Work on a new vocal track is up next. A guitar solo will be added later.
11 August 2020
Studio work was put on hold for two weeks while I did a major remodel to the room. The booth shares the space with a wall of records, the singles collection. A new shelf was built and the singles were moved to storage boxes. The keyboard corner needed to move a little to accommodate the new shelf. When the work was done, the studio was given a thorough cleaning. Then it was right back to work in the newly organized space.
The next project was to review several songs that had been left unfinished. I wanted to see if there was anything usable that could be moved back to the active file. The song Sun Goes was cannibalized several years ago. The end section was removed and added to another song, Ministry Of False Alarms. The front part of the song is only 1.30 long, so as it stands there isn’t much there. The chords on the verse work. I decided not to try to expand this one. For some reason I had decided Break In The Weather wasn’t working and shelved it. Upon review I discovered it was a good track. I still didn’t like the singing or lyrics on the bridge section. I think that is what caused me to abandon it 8 or nine years ago. I’d never written words for the second verse. Guitar parts were redone and a new vocal. The results are very good. This was a surprise.
Sunshine Days has a very long history. The first recording was done in July 1993. Two more versions would be recorded before it was set aside for 8 years. Ric added drums to version three in 2011 and then it got shelved again until now. The song was revived in 1999 during the Great Leap sessions. It got a major rewrite. The heavy string and keyboard parts were dropped and the tempo was increased. A new set of lyrics were written for the song now called Punch Wax Circus. It didn’t make the short list for Leap and once again the song was forgotten until work on Convolutions. It got a new mix and was added to the box set. That should have been the end of Sounds Of 73 aka Sunshine Day. The version of Sunshine I looked at had the second lyric attempt. I didn’t much care for them at the time, and even less now. I couldn’t find a version with the third set of lyrics. I don’t think I every attempted to record them. A search turned up a lyric sheet in the files. Again, I’d only written one verse. The bridge and chorus were ok and performed well enough to keep. Before I worked on the vocals, I had to set up a mix to hear what was going on. There are several string parts, three piano parts and three organ parts. I decided to replace one of the guitar parts as the distorted track wasn’t going to work. I still may replace the other one too. I redid the vocals on verse one, and was happy. I rerecord a bit of the bridge. There were three vocal tracks and something didn’t seem right. I figured I’d start with the lead line and then check the others against it. The new section was a major improvement. I wasn’t sure what to do about the second verse. A couple of hours were spent strumming the guitar and humming syllables. I finally got an idea that continued from the first verse. That was quickly recorded, bringing the song up to speed. A new guitar part and additional vocals are all it needs now. Tom has played bass on it, so it will be ready to mix this week.
A new song, Paper Pilots Pushing was also reviewed. I like the verses, but the track needs a rethink. There is enough of a good idea there to work with.
I’ll need to get that working before the next drum session. Scott Sutherland has sent over yet another new song. Holding My Own is a particularly good song. It just needs drums now.
6 July 2020
I woke up the other morning with an idea for Changing Textures. A keyboard part for the bridge. When I listened, I found I had done something similar to what I was thinking. There were two synth parts. I decided that one of them didn’t add anything to the song. The other I turned off while I tried some things. Mellotron first. I ran it through a chain of effects to alter the sound. It took a few different combinations until I got what I was hearing. Next up organ. There was a part on there that was just whole notes. Again it didn’t add anything to the sound. After experimenting I got a sound and part working. The results were good enough that I continued to play to the end of the song. When I was done I put up the two new sounds and added the synth part I had muted. The balance of the three was what I was hearing in my head.
With that done, I decided to continue with the mix. It’s been a while since I had this song up on the computer, so I started with mapping out all the parts. There are four guitar parts. though one only appears at the end. It was a matter of finding where on the stereo spectrum the parts needed to be. The electric piano weaves in and out with the slide guitar. At one point I tried reversing the pan on several tracks, only to realize things were now bunched up on one side. I also did some volume moves on the loud guitar part. It needed to move down for most of the vocals, but some licks worked better it pushed up. I also had an idea for a bit of delay that panned the lick across the sound stage. I spent time finding the right delay time, and the volume to the echo was apparent, but didn’t stick out. The vocals were solid, but the processing I had set up wasn’t working. I stripped out all the plugins and muted the efx. I went through each of the four tracks and got them sounding better. I put the echo chamber back up and then adjusted it so sit in the mix. The bass needed similar attention. The part I played works. Most likely this will be replaced down the line by Tom Stevens. I worked on the mix getting it close. I returned to it yesterday and did a final pass. I also did a mix with no bass and stereo stems: drums, vocals, guitars, keys and bass. this will allow for adjustment when the final bass part is added. this is now moved over to the finished folder. Time to move on.
1 July 2020
The last six weeks have been non stop. On May 17th I woke up with a lyric idea. My first attempt at recording a track missed the mark. The the drum track I recorded was set aside for now. It will probably get recycled for something completely different. The second attempt was successful. Not wanting to get too distracted with a new song, I just made sure it was far enough along. Words were completed and a good musical track recorded.
Once that was completed, it was time to review the progress of the 23 album songs. I made cds up with an attempt at a final running order. Album A seemed to work. One song still seemed lacking. There is always the fear that you can work on a song too hard and lose the intent. Lime Twist had me concerned. I realized that the acoustic rhythm guitars weren’t carrying it very well. The bass part I’d recently done was also not right. I took it back to the folk rock feel with a laid back bass track. An electric rhythm part was also added. I figured some piano would help. It doubles the main lick and the solo. Another piano idea was added to the bridge. Yet another try at the vocals followed. The key change put it a lower register, which took me a while to get comfortable with. While putting together a rough mix I realized there was a very nice organ part. I brought that up and the song seemed to fall together. That one is now checked off and only needs the final bass.
Next up was Broken Ladder/Crumbling Walls. I thought a new vocal would be all it needed. It was apparent that the Key it was in was right at the top of my range. Moving it down to the key of E made sense for the guitar part too. My concern was that the bridge would not work with the verses redone. It did, so I continued with confidence. Rhythm guitar first, then bass. The foundation now had a much more organic groove. Piano went on next. It would have to work with the new guitar-bass parts and add some sparkle too There would be guitar going over the top of the track. That would mean there would have to be some open spaces in the piano line and some variations. The original guitar part was never intended to be the final take. The the rebuild it meant start over. First chore was finding the right guitar sound. 73 Gibson SG Standard was the guitar of choice. I knew what I wanted, it was just a matter of doing it. Like the piano, I wanted it to change very time around. The results were interesting. New vocals were recorded which worked much better. I let it sit for a few days before I returned to examine the results. As suspected there was too much guitar. I went through a edited out about 25% of what I recorded to open up the sound. The song still needs a solo over the bridge section and possibly a new bass part. The progress was noted. Time to move on.
When I reviewed the tracks, I felt that Failure To Achieve was lacking some color. The song is pretty static over the verse and chorus. A highly treated piano was the answer. It added movement and sparkle. A new rough mix was created and the song was parked for future work.
I continued with the vocal update effort. Eden Pariah was next on the list. While working on that, I started hearing a choir part. The Mellotron offers loads of options for that. The idea was captured quickly. I could hear another sound, but wasn’t sure what that could be. This was a good excuse to stroll though the various software synths available. I finally found what I was looking for on the modular simulation. A quick mix and made a note this just needs the lead guitar and it’s done. Tom played bass on this during the Heirloom sessions.
Scanning the list of songs, I realized I’d not done any work on Scott’s song Dolly Jim. Once Ric had added drums I passed it on to Tom. Before I could do any overdubs, I needed a bass track. Scott hadn’t done one. The song suggested a cello part and strings. The classic psych sound. With that done, I added some piano to support a guitar lick Scott was playing. It seemed like a guitar part moving up, where Scott was playing a descending line. It didn’t take long to work out the necessary chord positions. Horns on the bridge? Why not? French horn and trumpets were arranged and added. All that was lacking was the solo. There were already four guitars. Organ solo might work. I had to add some grit to the sound to make it jump out. One of the guitar parts Scott played suggest an old gospel theme. With that as a starting point, I launched into it. The rough mix I sent Scott sounded very close to a final. Scott agreed. I reviewed my work and did a few small repairs to the bass part. Getting into mix mode isn’t a big leap. It just means focusing on details. The rest of the day was spent dialing in all the sounds. The final mix was nailed the next day. I did a mix with out bass in the event Tom wants to have a go at it. For now it’s in the finished folder.
19 May 2020
The other day Iattacked a pile of cds that have accumulated in the corner of the studio for a couple of years. There were four cds marked demos. I figured I should find out which demos they were. The first one just had two songs, Colter’s original version of what became Carefully Considered Answers.
The other was a surprise. The last Brain album Richard Treece contributed to was Defeat Of Echoes. I sent him four or five songs. One was a track titled Overture, as it was the first section of a longer piece which I abandoned. I have returned to the song section recently. After the sessions in London, Richard apologized for not having a finished version of The Overture. He said they ran out of time just as he was starting to learn the song. I think we both figured he’d get back to it next time and nail it. The track on this cd was a rough mix of Richard’s work on the song. He was pretty close. Three years later Mike Musberger had replaced the original drums and Jeff had redone the bass. Deniz Tek did the guitar in the end. He did sit out the first section which is a long string of chords. He just played on the slow second half. Richard seemed to have a good grasp of that complex first half. The song would finally appear on Fires Which Burnt Brightly as After The Final Sequence.
The other three cds were demos for Fires is various stages of development. Interesting to hear how those songs evolved.
18 May 2020
Back to work on Attic Experience. I knew the texture I wanted through the song. I now had plenty of room for something. I decided to redo the guide acoustic track on 12 string. Today I chose the Fender XII. This is the most versatile of the two choices. I recorded a warm up pass with good results. It still wasn’t the sound I wanted. I added a pair of effects to the playback. There is was. A swimming sound. You can head the notes, but it’s not apparent what the instrument playing is. I proceeded to record a final take. I was happy with the results. The song still needs an end solo, which I’ll return to.
Bobby Sutliff offered to send over a track for me to work on. He did. I made some slight arrangement changes and sent it back to Bob to rerecord with the new ideas and at a slightly faster tempo. I’d sketched out some lyrics to add to the new track. Two verses. I didn’t bother to study my version of the track. I wanted to hear it fresh. The two verses fit with little effort. My edits meant there are now two verse variations. I recorded the first verse quickly. I cued up the second, alternate verse, and just sang what came to mind. That worked. I transcribed what I’d put down and moved to the chorus. Bob’s chords suggested melody and phrasing. Once again, I just sang what came to mind. Got the first couplet right away. I wrote out a second set with a slightly different point of view, though nearly the same words. That worked too. I figured I’d do the next verses before tending to the bridge. The final verse needed to resolve the song. I did spend some time with pencil and paper before I got something I liked. In the meantime, I’d dashed off what would be the bridge. There was a short, third verse variation. This will be the solo. The bridge was easy to sing. Once again Bobby’s chords suggested how to sing the words I’d written. That was it. One short session and a new song is fully formed. Bob did a very clever lick on the verses. Something he is the master of.
When I had reviewed the collection of songs I made some notes pointing out which songs needed the vocals worked on. Inquisitor and Eden Pariah would both need another pass. Both of these were pulled up and a session was spent on each. While working on Eden Pariah I made a couple of small changes in lyrics. This one is now done except for the guitar solo.
A new idea appeared a couple of days ago. I recorded some drum loops to work with. As soon as I’d completed that, I decided that this wasn’t the approach I was looking for. The loops will be saved and used for something completely different. I’ve continued working on the lyric idea. I have something in mind for the music, but I will need to sit with guitar and words to work that out.
30 April 2020
Attic Experience is now back under the microscope. An attempt to ad a specific keyboard idea ended in frustration. Once change that did work was to edit the electric guitar part. At that point I put it aside and move on the Broken Ladder/Crumbling Walls. After review, I decided to redo the vocal tracks. This seemed like an easy idea. Only then did I realize that in the key of D, I was singing right at the top of my range, with little room to maneuver. After some tests I decided to rerecord the verses in the key of E. Luckily the track was still just a framework: bass, guitar, a small piano part, vocals and Ric’s drums. Redoing those wouldn’t be too much of a chore. There was the matter of the middle section. It was in a different key and I didn’t know if that would work with the rearranged verse. As it turned out, that wasn’t an issue at all.
The original track was driven by the bass, with guitar draped over that. I decided to start with a strong acoustic rhythm part. The idea was that the new bass part would not be so up front, and the track would get the power from the blend of the acoustic and bass. That opened up the sound stage. A full on piano part would be the next element. I arranged it so it would open up when there were vocals. The piano session took all an afternoon. The song now had a much more folk rock feel rather than the hard rock groove of the original. An electric rhythm was added to fill out the sound. This will probably get another try as the tone wasn’t what I was looking for.
With the track built up, I turned to the vocal remake. It took me a while to get comfortable singing it in a lower range. Once I found the starting note, it went quickly. I doubled the verse and then did two passes of chorus. Everything was now sounding good. The original lead guitar part was just a guide. I would now have a go at a final take. Like the piano part, I built it up one phrase at a time. My first guitar and amp choice worked with just slight adjustment. After that it was all up to the fingers. The goal was not to repeat any riff, at least not on every verse. Another full day was spent refining the new guitar until I was satisfied. I found I needed to replace a slide guitar note that leads into the middle. the original was clipped and didn’t sound right. I’m going to hand this one over to Kris to add vocals. This will further the folk-rock sound. There still is the matter of a solo over the middle section and maybe a second lead guitar on the verse.
Attic is now back on the front page. A new final vocal will be recorded. It’s still just a rough guide track. The acoustic guitar was only meant to be a guide for the piano. Some of the idea works, but a dedicated rhythm guitar will help fill out the sound…
24 April 2020
As soon as Ric left, I got back to work on the 7 A list songs. Secretive Society was just a rough framework. It had drums now, which made it easier to see where it should go. Ric’s idea for the drums was considerably different from what I had envisioned. Of course his idea was much better. The working track only had a simple bass and piano part and guide vocals. An organ part was now added which filled out the sound and gave the track more weight. The piano part was expanded from just the basic chords that Ric heard. I also added a simple, but heavy guitar part as a guide for Bobby.
The Way To Find was more complete, but needed a new vocal. Two more guitar tracks were added. Once I created a rough mix, I sent it over to Deniz Tek for a guitar solo. I did give him any suggestions, I just told him were to start. His work was done and sent back to me with in a week.
Scott’s song I Don’t Wanna Anymore was presented to me the night before Ric was due to arrive. I told Scott to get the tracks to me by the next day if he wanted drums added to this one. He did. I loaded in the tracks after the first drum session. That meant I hadn’t had any time to learn the song or add anything to it. When I reviewed the song with drums, I didn’t know if there was anything I could add. A simple organ part was added to give it a little color. When I started on a rough mix, it was clear that this song was done. The bass part Scott had done worked very well. Scott agreed with my idea to do a final mix, which I spun of in a day. It was approved and the song was moved to the completed folder. That brings that total to five.
09 March 2020
Work resumed after a weekend in San Francisco for the Roy Loney Tribute which was held on February 21 at the Chapel venue. The musical guests included the Long Shots augmented by John Ramberg and Scott Sutherland. The current Flamin’ Groovies line up also performed. A wonderful night of Roy’s music played by band mates and friends. The weekend also gave Scott and I a chance to have a beer fueled band meeting. I updated Scott on the current activities including the upcoming session with Ric Parnell. Two were considered optional, time allowing. What They Want had been on the list, but was now set aside for another time. I never added the vocals to the track, as I wasn’t confident the arrangement workes. The days leading up to the session were spent preparing the tracks for the session. This meant creating the tracks for the drums and making sure only the correct tracks were on the project list.
Back in Bozeman, I returned to work on the new song started before I left. I’d written the second verse, but had never tried to sing it. The song now titled Secretive Society, was now ready for drums. This meant we now had as many as nine songs for Ric to work on.
Ric was scheduled to arrive early on Tuesday afternoon. That morning Scott Sutherland sent over a song he’d just written and recorded. I told him if he could get me the tracks that day, we could add drums. He assured me this wouldn’t be a problem. The filed arrived that evening. I loaded them in to the computer that evening after the first session. I needed to know that everything was recording ready. I Don’t Wanna Anymore is a great up tempo rocker. Just what was needed.
I explained to Ric that we had a lot of work and it would be best to get at least three songs finished this first session. He was on the case. We got set up and started recording straight away. My song, The Way To Find was up first. The drums sit out the first half of the song, and when they do come in, it’s a straight beat. Ric did a good take, but asked that we do a second pass. He was correct, the second effort was much better. With that we knew it was going to be a productive day. Up next was Scotts How To Leave CT. I knew this one would be easy. I just asked Ric to not play it like a country song. Again, the second pass was the keeper. I believe Time Flows Backwards was the third and final song before we wrapped up for dinner. I only had a couple of suggestions, which Ric took under consideration, then did what worked best for the song. We were both satisfied when we reviewed our work.
We got an unusual early start on Wednesday and quickly worked our way through the four other A-list songs. Secretive Society, Fired From The Circus, Attic Experience, and I Don’t Wanna Anymore were tended to in rapid succession. Ric had solid ideas for every song and nailed them in one or two takes. Time for a break. What was left were a song of mine that I wanted drums on for possible future use and a cover Bob and I had discussed. Again for use at a later date. Ric only needed to add floor tom and cymbals to my song. There was a synth drum sound we would keep. This was an easy one and the results were very interesting. I’d done an arrangement for Making Time, the Creation msong. Turned out not only did Ric know the song, he had seen Creation back in their day. The arrangement I’d done paid tribute to their mod roots. Ric nailed it in fine fashion.
With that completed I asked Ric if he was up for another. I had one more recent song that I had never finished. I had a track and words. I put it aside as I wasn’t sure where it should go. I told Ric to take a break while i reviewed What They Want to decide if it was worth our time. Ric liked what he heard. I made on suggestion and let him work it out. The transition from half time to full tempo always seemed awkward to me. Ric had no trouble working through those and fulled the song together. This was unexpected. There is a chance this one will get finished now and added to the new set.
Work was completed by 3.30pm. Ten songs in 8 hours.
With this work done, I could start sending the songs to Tom Stevens to add bass to. He always has a free hand to add anything else he wants. Right now there are 18 for him to attack. There is still one more song in our near future. Bobby had sent me a song to work on. He wanted some input. I made some changes in the arrangement and sent it back for approval and with a request to recut the track at a slightly faster tempo. He’ll be working on that now. Tom and Scott had also been asked to listen to some of Bob’s new songs. We will now compare notes and discuss these with Bobby. This suggests the next drum session might happen even sooner than planned.
11 February 2020
As soon as False Alarms was mixed, I turned my attention to the next song. After a test, I decided that Inquisitor would benefit from a Tom Stevens bass part. I played the right notes, but Tom could make it come to life. That decided, I set up Rice Paper Kites for a mix. This is a pretty simple song. The only issue was there are three distinct piano parts that needed to be treated individually. The two vocal tracks needed to be blended for the intended sound. A third guide track was added to sit behind the two main parts. This one came together quickly. At that point I took a break for a short holiday and my radio show.
I have started rounding up the band for the finish work. Most of the songs Tom will play on have now been sent over to him, with a few notes. Bobby Sutliff asked me to have a listen to one of his new ideas. He said do what you need to get it into shape. I had a lyric idea, but decided a bit of arranging need to be done first. All the ideas were there. I just made some changes to give it a little more shape. I sent my work back to Bob with a couple of ideas for him to consider. As soon as that work was completed I returned to the mix project. There was one more song I felt was complete and could be mixed.
Silent Voices was a rare song that confused Ric. He’s usually able to suss out the arrangements quickly. Not this one. In the end he recorded a basic beat, then did a second pass to add the fills. Of course he nailed it. This one is the most stripped down recording of the twenty. Two guitars, doubled vocals, bass and two organ parts. It’s also the most aggressive of the lot. Once I cleaned up the tracks and pushed up the faders, the mix was nearly there. This is when the magic part happens. Panned delay on the guitars. Some EQ effects on the voices and it is there. I will return to this tomorrow for the final work. A mix was recorded, but I can’t be sure this is the final.
Sunday night I was discussing Bob’s song, and mentioned he’d played a very good organ part. Thing is, I felt it’s a guitar song and the organ filled too much space. I casually comment suggested we were not Procal Harum. Two steps later, I thought that might be a sound the Brain could manage. I woke up at 3.30am with the first bits of lyric. The Procol idea had put me in the mind of Keith Reid. The first lines were good enough that I kept adding to it through the next few hours of broken sleep. When I finally woke at 7.30am, I quickly transcribed what I had. With that secure, I thought about it for a while and came up with the chorus. I will add some music to this as soon as the Silent Voice mix is finalized. I had hoped I wouldn’t write any more songs just now, but that is something you can’t turn away from if there is an idea.
2 February 2020
Once Scott’s song was finished I quickly set up Ministry Of False Alarms. This song has been finished for a couple of years. It’s the oldest song meant for the new albums. The end section is from a song I believe was written before 2010. At some point I abandon the orginal song and rewrote the front part. The ending was grafted on to that. It was passed over for Turned Up Later and Heirloom as it was still lacking the end solo. That was corrected when Ric brought his friend John Goodsall over to visit a couple of years ago. I was determined to finish this one as it is meant to be the finale for the double album. I reset the board on Sunday after I finished Alternative To Me. Spent all day Monday getting a balance. The front section was the complicated part. There are four vocal parts singing the verse and chorus. Tony Miller had added two tracks of vocal. I’d sung one and Kaz and I had done another together. If I put them all up, it was too dense. I spent time working that out and came up with a plan. That took all day to work out. I returned to it on Tuesday to fix a small glitch and make some minor adjustments. The final mix was the first one attempted.
25 January 2020
Work on the new albums has moved forward. The first song for the next albums got a final mix today. Last week I while cleaning up our shared file, I found that Tom Stevens had done a bass part for Scott’s Alternative To Me two years ago. I’d not seen it until now. I thought I’d better add the bass part of the song and give a listen. Tom’s part added a lot to the arrangement. I made sense for me to finish the song and mix it while it was fresh in my head. I had done a bass part when Scott sent the song over for consideration. That would have been after the release of Turned Up Later, 2014 would be my guess. He had also sent over Kelp Whip. Two more soon followed and it was those two, Light In The Window and Up To You Down To Me that ended up on Heirloom Varieties. Kelp Whip got finished and released on Burnt Trees In The Snow.
As I was finishing up work on my most recent piece, I reminded Scott he had presented three new songs, and needed to get me the tracks so drums could be added. In the end he decided two were up to speed and sent those. I did some overdubs on Fired From the Circus and then sent that one and Attic Experience off to Bob Sutliff for guitar solos. With all these pieces in place I could now arrange a visit from Ric to add drums to the eight new songs. Five of these are on the list for what will be the next two album. The other three will go on the shelf for later use. I once again too inventory of what we had and drew up the running order for two albums. The list has changed considerably from a year ago. Four A list songs were committed to the split album with Fraudband. Three new songs were written in the last part of 2019. The revised play lists might be better for the changes.
At the end of 2018. I had begun a program of finish work on the new songs. This effort was put on hold when I turned my attention to Burnt Trees. Only one of those five songs was completed and mixed when I started assembling our half of the album. The time needed to complete the other four songs and then the work managing the release of the Brain album and Deniz Tek’s record took up the first 6 months of 2019. In August I began writing again. The first two came quickly. I had them both in solid shape by October. The third one took a bit longer to work out and wasn’t presentable until the beginning of January. This is where it stands now. The current plan is to get drums on the new songs. The songs will then be handed off to Tom to add bass parts. I imagine he might add guitar and maybe vocals too. At some point three or four songs will be sent out to Matt Piucci for guitar overdubs. After that, it’s the drive to completion. There are at least two songs that just need to be mixed. This is the first step. After that, the songs will get a mix when then are finished. I don’t want to face mixing 20 songs in one long session. I figure once a song is finished, it’s fresh in my head, and the mix has been building as work on the song was being done. It makes sense to finalize the mix right then, rather than returning to it 6 months later. With that in mind, it’s back to work today. Next up is the oldest song of the batch, Ministry Of False Alarms. This one is the finale of the album and requires special attention.
6 January 2020
Attic Experience is now complete and ready for drums and guitar overdubs. This proved to be the most difficult of the new ones. The words were written, it was the arrangement that caused problems. It took for attempts to find the right tempo and feel. I searched through the drum loop library for the right groove. Four or five loops were added to the track to see what might work best. In the end I layered two loops to get what I needed. With that worked out, the song now delivered itself. While searching for the arrangement, I’d developed several guitar parts that could be put to use. It all came together very quickly. This should be the last new song for the album. The writing process is unpredictable, so nothing is set in stone. One never wants to turn off the creative process.
15 November 2019
They Are Not Here is now ready for drums. The second section was added and the vocals sorted out for the whole song. Keyboards were added, then lost. The parts were redone, though slightly different from the originals. The second section got bass and more guitar added.
With that secured, I could return to Time Flows Backwards. This one was written at the piano and vocals added right after. I left it there and went on holiday. When I returned my attention was turned to What They Want. The first thing I needed to do was add a bass part. The guitar will hang on that, rather than drive the song. First effort was musically valid, but didn’t suit the song. Too busy. I stripped it down to the basic notes, and found places to lay out. That gave the song a better shape. Some keyboards seemed like a good idea. Organ first to accent selected sections. The drum loop just plays straight through. I could hear some rests now with the bass added. That was a simple matter. The drum loops are just a simple guide for Ric. He can work out what it should be on the final track. Guitar is up next.
Meanwhile a new set of lyrics is under construction. No music has been written, but the feel of the song is developing as the words come.
5 November 2019
Two new songs are currently in progress. Music and voice have been recorded. Overdubs started last week. Both of these appeared as complete songs: words, music and melody. They were both assembled in just one sort session each. The first, Time Flows Backwards, was written on piano, but will ultimately feature guitar. It’s the up tempo song of the two. They Are Not Here lyrics were written while drinking wine and listening to the new Green Pajamas record. I found the lyrics scrawled out on a scrap of paper the morning after. The musical idea came back to me. It had to experiment with some chord ideas. Once I sat down to play and sing, it all fell into place.
Meanwhile Scott Sutherland has offered up three more songs. These will also have Ric Parnell drums added at the next session. We are making plans for a couple of days of drum work. At the moment there are 7 new songs that need attention.
19 August 2019
Work on the new album will stop for the next two weeks while Penny Ikinger and Jim Dickson are in town for a visit. Most of the promotional effort for Burnt Trees has been done. Time to get out of the office and enjoy the summer.
A new musical idea has been started.
17 August 2019
The unexpected Burnt Trees In The Snow album seems to have altered the Donovan’s Brain schedule for 2019. Don at Kasumuen casually suggested we do a split album. This was in December 2018. It seemed possible as there were two finished songs in the can. Looking at the list I decided Scott’s Kelp Whip and Kris’ Hear Me would work for this album. I had a new song, Flash Containment, which actually seems to have been written sometime late last year, not in January like I thought. Kelp Whip just needed a little work. Tom had already played bass on it. I added a little guitar, but in reality Scott had it covered. There was the matter of the solo. I tried slide guitar with no luck. I then decided to see if a synth solo would fit. It did. I doubled it on piano. I think I was channeling a bit of Phil Ryan. We had talked about working together and I was just waiting for him to finish a Man tour. Sadly he passed away after the last gig of the tour. After that is was just a matter of mixing.
Hear me had been looked at when Kris sent it over. At that time I recorded bass, organ, and a guitar lick. Ric added drums to that and it was set aside. When I returned to the song, I decided to ask Bob Sutliff to help. I stripped off my guitar part and let him run free. He sent over the first guitar track, adding it didn’t mean much yet. The second guitar track worked with the first, pulling the whole thing together. He also promised a solo. I returned to the original guitar lick as a string arrangement. Bob came up with a very important organ part over the verse. That meant my organ part needed to duck out when his came in. With that, I added a bit of synth and piano. Bob’s solos fit right in. Time to mix. Kris has a good ear and made some suggestions. It all came together quickly.
Flash Containment was just a sketch when Kels and I met up. He took it home and came back with an arrangement idea that would accommodate the verses. We had a discussion about the ending. The scratch track was edited and we agreed to meet again to do vocals. When he returned, I could not find our previous work. That meant redoing the edits. When we got to the ending, I agreed his idea was better. He put down a vocal with a small addition to the lyrics. I ran the idea past Deniz, thinking he could do the lead guitar. He agreed and I prepared a track for him. In the meantime I decided to redo the rhythm guitars. Kels couldn’t make time to do a new bass part so I added that too. Once we started working on the song, it was completed quickly. While working on the song, I was also doing the album art and taking care of the necessary business on this end.
The album would be pressed in Australia. There was no CD release due to a previous agreement Fraudband had in Japan. That meant I needed to get promo cds pressed on this end. It also meant another round of cover art. The original design was adapted to the CD wallet. The album would have a download card with six bonus songs. Fraudband had three live tracks. I decided to contribute three Convolutions Of The Brain outtakes. These were another ski film track, a remix of Thinking Of Neutrons that I done for Deniz and the second version of Tad’s with Richard Treece. The later was not used for the box as there were some issues with my guitar. When I mixed it I had to add organ to fill the gaps. I felt like this wasn’t good enough for the box. On review it is actually the better performance despite the guitar problems. I made the decision to add this to the promo cd, so there would he a proper digital version. I figured this would help promo the box while selling the new album. I also want this song on a cd for my own use.
Meanwhile work on songs for the next album continues….
15 January 2019
Work on the list of existing songs is moving along at a good pace. Gandy Dancer began life as a song called Under My Hat. It was determined that the lyrics would not pass the test and a new set of lyrics were drafted. A review of the track revealed the need for further work. The vocals have been redone, bringing them up to speed. The main guitar parts have also been updated. The two distorted guitar tracks didn’t have much identity. A clean guitar replaced the main riff. Rather than doubling it, a new part was created to compliment the first part. A this point Gandy Dancer was set aside to pursue a new idea.
One of the film tracks heard on the Convolutions Box Set is a short piano theme titled Big Skies. It appears in the film twice. While working on the DJs film, I attempted to expand the idea into a complete song. One of Colter’s ideas was grafted onto the piano section. It fit, but didn’t suggest anywhere to go. Eleven years later a new piece of lyric was written. The words seemed to recall the feel of Big Skies. I opened up the original recording file and began work on this new songs. The verse was easy, just a variation of the main theme. The middle section nearly wrote itself. Sitting at the piano with the rough draft of the lyrics, I played and sang what ever came to mind. Two sections appeared. The verse and then the main theme were added a second time. Nearly there. One more bridge section was needed. This developed quickly and was recorded.
I needed to relearn all the parts to adapt to the new verse sections and then to the middle. This was all completed in three sessions. A guitar part was added as well. This the structure in place, it was just a matter of completing the lyrics. This has been done and a new vocal will be recorded today. Then back to Gandy Dancer to see where I left off. If it’s approved, I’ll move on to another of the new songs.
22 December 2018
Two Old Cats is now mixed and in the finished folder. The addition of Kris’s vocals meant I had to redo mine too. A guitar solo was also added. With that complete it was right back to work on another of the new songs. Changing Textures was up first. Not much has been done to this one since it was written and drums added last spring. A guitar part, new vocals, bass and a bridge arrangement have all been recorded. The song is now mixed and moved to the finished folder.
A very new song demo was handed over to Kels Koch, an original Brain member to see if he could made some sense of it. We will meet up in the new year to work on this one.
While we work on the newest songs, I will continue to complete the backlog of 20 or so songs. Most are pretty far along. Final vocals is the major concern. Where possible, the tracks will be finished and mixed. The usual practice has been to finish all the songs for an album and then mix in one long session. While doing finish work on a song, a mix is also being finalized. Makes sense to nail down the mix while it is happening, rather than trying to recreate it several months down the line. I will see if this is a good idea. Easy enough to revisit mixes when the album is completed.
The studio is in need of some maintenance which I hope to look at next week.
4 November 2018
Gray Whiskers (Winter Cats) was completed this week. Bobby Sutliff supplied the guitar solo and the song was mixed over three days until determined satisfactory. The master has now been delivered to Tom Dyer for his release. Gray Whiskers is based on one of the new album songs, Two Old Cats. Kris sang the original lyrics as well as her new Christmas themed words. The song in it’s original form will appear on the first of two new albums.
Dave Martens has asked if we could contribute to the second Lost Sounds Montana Records compilation. Long Time Coming was a collection of 60s Montana artists. The new release focuses on 70s and 80s Montana bands. Donovan’s Brain falls into this time frame as we formed in 1986, though our serious recording career started in 1990. The compilation is a companion to a documentary assembled by Kirk Leclaire. Original Brain members Ron Sanchez, Jim Kehoe and Kels Koch appear in the film. Archival footage of nearly 20 bands is seen in this 70 minute documentary.
I decided to return to the Tiny Crustacean remix project for our contribution to the album. The satisfactory results of the Arnold 4 Souls remix heard on Convolutions has motivated me to pursue this project over the next two years. The Walker-Sanchez collaboration Don’t Thank Me has been chosen for this release. All the tapes from the Tiny Crust sessions have been transferred to the studio computer for work. The good news is that the raw tracks sound very good. Tiny Crustacean Light Show was recorded prior to some significant upgrades to the studio and the mix suffered as a result. The modern studio and tools will bring out the best of the sounds recorded in 1998-99. More about the film and soundtrack album soon.
24 October 2018
While in Jackson 2 months ago, I sat around with Bobby Sutliff playing his guitars. New instruments often inspire ideas. I started getting an idea together. Bob looked up when I said “damn, Groovies chord”. He asked if that was a new idea, and assured me the Groovies probably borrowed it too.
I’d written some lyrics while traveling to Mississippi. When I got home I recorded the various changes so I could remember them and get a feel for the song. I quickly got distracted with two more new ideas and the Xmas song.
I returned to Nine Layers Of Security with the idea to play it on organ and piano. I was hearing Richard Wright. Got one verse, and added guitar. Next day I figured I’d pick up from there on guitar to find an arrangement. I charted that out and decided it needed a middle and end. I added 4 bars in the middle and figured out an ending. Today I finished the organ and piano parts. Well the jangly tune now seems to want to be Neu! The lyrics probably suit that idea better than a power pop number.
A Krautrock song is not a new thing for the Brain nor an accident. When I interviewed Brian Eno in 1974, he gave me a list of German bands he thought I should listen to. I bought up everything on that list and more. The original Perky Pat, the first good riff I wrote, is pure KR. You can hear that on Shambaholic And Other Love Songs. There is a section on Kew Observatory, also on Shambaholic, which borrows from Kraftwerk musically and Eno lyrically. Row Out is pure Before And After Science. Eclipse And Debris has four synth instrumentals that come from the Neu!, Cluster influences. Ken Stringfellow thought Central Services sounded a lot like Can. It did, but the original title was Bongo/Santana! Thinking of Neutrons on Fires Which Burnt Brightly again visits the Conny Plank sound. You can hear more synth based compositions on Convolutions Of The Brain. In the last year two more lengthy Krautrock pieces have been recorded, though I don’t think these will appear on the new albums.
9 October 2018
The last year has been full on. Deniz and band recorded the basic tracks for Lost For Words in just three days. I spent another month adding keyboards to eight of the ten songs. Once that was completed I could return my attention to work on the Convolutions box set. Several more new songs were written over Winter and Spring 2017-18. Ric returned to Bozeman in the spring for yet another recording session.
The two long instrumentals, Open G and Theme For A Special Place fall into the experimental column and will probably not appear on either of the two new albums currently under construction. Inquisitor Non Sequitur was conceived as a keyboard instrumental. After it was recorded, I realized that a set of lyrics might fit. The track Voyage became Inquisitor Non Sequitur with out much effort.
This spring, Jerker Emmanuelson, label boss at Sound Asleep solicited songs for Vol 10 of the Hit The Hay series. I thought that a bit of music I’d demoed might suit the power pop theme of the compilation. This meant finishing the song. Lyrics were written, drums added and then the guitar parts were redone to bring it up to snuff. Tom and Kris joined in to add bass and vocals. The song was mixed and sent off to Sweden in early June. This might be the quickest turnaround for a Brain song, start to finish. No, that honor would belong to Tiny Crustacean Light Show. That song was written over coffee on Saturday morning and recorded the next day. The usual method for Brain recording requite a certain amount of time for the song to evolve in the studio.
Bobby Sutliff invited me to join The Windbreakers on stage at the James Patterson benefit in Jackson, MS. I flew out for a few days in August for the gig. I’ve been a Windbreakers fan since the early days of their career, so this was quite an honor to share the stage with Bobby and Tim.
Bobby invited me up to his room on the morning of the gig to check out his array of guitars. He’d brought both his Les Pauls, a Casino, an Esquire and his Danelectro 12-string. While having a play, I came up with some chord changes which I quickly jotted down. I’d written some lyrics while waiting in the Dallas airport on the way out. A demo was recorded as soon as I returned to Montana. Another new song appeared in a dream a couple of weeks ago. Fully formed music and a lyric. This isn’t the first time I’ve created a song in my sleep. The basic track for this one has been recorded. Another travel song appeared last week while on vacation in New Orleans. I had a free morning and decided to see what I could come up with over coffee. The set of lyrics suggested the musical format. I’m about to head down to the studio right now to put that one down on the hard drive.
A couple of weeks ago, Tom Dyer asked me if we might have a song for a Green Monkey Holiday Benefit album. I figured we could rewrite the lyrics to the new song Two Old Cats to suit the holiday theme. Kris once again offered to have a go at it. The results were very good. She added an extra verse and blocked out an arrangement. I’ve since added a new guitar part and piano. She also recorded a vocal track on my original recording. Bobby and Tom have yet to add the solo and final bass part. These tasks should be completed in the next week.
8 August 2017
Drums will be added to five new songs next week. A day will be dedicated to Brain material after work on Deniz Tek’s album is completed.
I completed three new pieces Old Cats, Silent Voices and Harvest Zoo Fireplace. Another long instrumental Theme For A Secret Place will be set aside for future use.
River Of Tears is a collaboration between Kris Hughes, Ron and Bobby Sutliff. The main riff is of Bob’s which dates back several years. Kris and Ron had written the lyrics and worked out the two voice arrangement.
Scott Sutherland has offered up three news songs. Dolly Jim will be the first to attend to.
The goal is to collect enough material for two albums before moving to the finish stage.
1 July 2017
The 17 months since the last entry reflects the full recording schedule that occupied the time.
Writing and recording songs for the new Brain album resumed in earnest in the summer of 2016. Ric Parnell brought his old band mate John Goodsall around to add guitar to a pair of songs. Ministry Of False Alarms was on the short list for Heirloom Varieties, but was lacking the end solo. John did the work on this puzzle. He also played on an instrumental experiment YMG. Following this session, several new ideas were recorded including Bass Lick, A Trip With Auntie, Lemon Twist and My Baby. Lyrics for Changing Textures were also written in this period.
Work on the box set officially began on September 1st, 2016. An full inventory of the tape vaults turned up several surprises. The original plan was for a two disc set. One disc would feature Richard Treece and the second would be comprised of film music. It was soon discovered there was two hours of Treece material to consider. There were a few songs which had never been finished and several in need of repair before they could be mixed. It was decided to use the original mixes for two of the compilation tracks and several of the film tracks. Four album tracks were remixed for the set. The new mix of To One Who Waits restores the vocal track which was not used on the original mix. Joey’s In The Pouch was mixed twice, each with previously unheard Richard Treece guitar tracks.
When Richard Treece visited in the summer of 1999 he brought with him the song Brave New Girl. It would take 18 years to complete this epic performance. Ric had added drums several years ago, but the song was still lacking organ and bass. Tom Stevens was more than happy to work up a bass part to replace the one on the demo track Malcolm Morley had given us. Then there was the matter of sorting out the six guitar tracks Richard had recorded. It took several days to map out the elaborate arrangement. The results are a stand out track on the set.
Just after the mixes for the box were completed in February 2017, Deniz asked Ron to join up on the east coast for three warm up gigs prior to the European tour. Ron would fill the keyboard position for the show. Deniz was pleased with the result, so you can expect to see Ron on future North American gigs. The front line with Keith Streng will be gathering at GLEA in August to begin work on Deniz’s new album. Ric Parnell and Bob Brown will be called in to supply the engine.
Back in Bozeman, Ric was called in to add drums to several new songs. Changing Textures was written a few days before the session. The results were deemed satisfactory and Ric was sent home with the demos for Deniz’s album. The momentum continued and two more songs were written and recorded. Another idea has been demoed. Scott Sutherland has offered up three new songs as well. Writing will continue while work on the box set release is carried out. All a very active time for Donovan’s Brain. Expect the new album in Fall 2018.
29 February 2016
Much to our surprise, Heirloom Varieties has continued to get good press and radio play around the world. Dee Jays in Spain have taken to our record and its been in high rotation on Radio 3 and the Plastic Elastico show. A very good review appeared recently on efeeme.com site. This continued activity has meant more time dedicated to promotion.
The new year has finally seen some activity in the studio. One new song has been written and demoed. Work on one of the two covers we plan to record has finally reached the stage that the band can now start adding to the basic track. Ric and I did the drum track while working on Heirloom. It was set aside for later. Later is now. Tom Steven’s commitment to the just released Long Ryders box set and tour will keep him busy for the first part of the year. This should allow the rest of us to start collecting new material.
Meanwhile work on the second archive release has begun. Three songs have been mixed. This is just exploratory at this point. Making sure all the material is usable. The new box set will focus on the period from 1994 up to 2010. There is over an hour of unreleased recordings with Richard Treece. Dave Walker appears on some of these tracks. No release date has been set. A new album is the priority.
8 September 2015
The machine never rests.
Discussions about the next album have already begun. New song ideas are starting to come together and unfinished tracks from the last two album will be reviewed. Serious work will commence in January 2016.