Note: It’s been over 7 months since we finished mastering Outside and about a year since we were done writing it, so some facts here may be distorted, left out, or fictional. These are some of my thoughts on how the record came together.
In the winter of early 2010 the band went out to dinner.
We had a batch of new songs that we’d been working with on and off for the last year. We were ready to make a record; we just needed to figure out how we wanted to make it. There was talk of studios, engineers, producers, labels…and whether the Shakira on infinite repeat over the restaurant stereo would eventually lead to madness. Despite the Shakira, we were able to figure a few things out.
The first song written for Outside was “SWM.” I recorded a demo of it on my laptop when we were on tour for Walk It Off, and we sound checked with it before our show at the Troubadour–a version that, at the time, was more punk rock than what ended up on the album. As we played it more, and once Matt added his melodica part, the song settled into a mellower vibe, which seemed to fit the theme: it ain’t always easy being a single septuagenarian.
When we return home from that tour there wasn’t much of a push to work on new songs right away. We were home, with friends and family, and our normal lives. We focused on those things. Both “Hidee Ho” and “Saddest of All Keys” came out of informal jam sessions during this time. And while we also went down the rabbit hole and wrote a bunch of psychedelic rock-outs, for better or worse, none fit with the other songs on Outside, so we left them alone.
In the fall of 2009 I started focusing on songwriting in earnest, and over the next three to four months the rest of the record took shape.
The recording: Terrarium, Minneapolis; Drew Malamud, engineer.
Day 1—In order to maximize recording time in the studio, we spend the first day getting everything prepped. First, we all set up in the studio like we were going to play a show. Drew mic’d the room and then we recorded the songs together live as a reference point for later in the process. Listening back to this initial recording we made a checklist of all the tracks we want to record. When you’re self-producing a record on a tight time frame, a checklist is key.
Day 2—I try to explain what I mean when I say, “I think we should play with a ‘drunken feel’” on “People You Know.” I do this a lot. I try to explain a sound; I don’t usually do a very good job. Thankfully, Erik is around to translate. He’s very good at translating music speak. “Drunken feel” accomplished.
Day 4—Most of the first few days are spent tracking drums, so we are all pretty tired of hearing drum sounds. We need something on top of all of that rhythm, so at the end of the day, I record two takes of vocals for the song “Saddest of All Keys,” and fortunately, one is good and ends up on the record.
Day 6—I start to stress out. Our checklist is less than half checked off, and we are halfway done with our studio time. It’s on me: Most of what’s unchecked are guitar and vocal parts. I have to pick it up.
Day 8—I’m not eating much at this point. There’s a lot of guitar and vocals to track, so I split time going back and forth between the two…forever.
Day 10—I eat at Brasa Rotisserie for the third time in a week—going for quality since I don’t have much time for quantity. Their slow cooked meats are inspiring.
Day 12—Recording is done. The checklist is all crossed off. Everybody is in high spirits. We take the final day in the studio to get packed up, while Drew works on rough mixes. He gets his final fix of Brasa before he heads back home to Montreal.
The record marinates for a month or so after we record and before we mix. Spring comes to Minneapolis, and I take a little break from thinking about the record to focus on grilling. Then I take a break from grilling to focus on the record. I add some vocal and guitar tracks at home, because I can’t help myself. There just wasn’t quite enough time to get everything done while we were at the Terrarium.
By the beginning of June the wait to mix the record is over. I’m excited to get the record out of my hands, so I’m not tempted to mess with it. I head out to Connecticut to mix with Peter Katis. It takes a plane, a train, a subway, and an automobile to get me to Bridgeport. When I arrive late on Monday night, Peter has been working all day mixing “Badaboom”. After a long day of travel and travel delays, hearing how good the mix sounds totally rejuvenates me.
Peter has a great ear and working with him is a joy. I spend most of my time sitting around at his home studio waiting to listen back and comment on mixes. The World Cup is under way, and I end up watching pretty much every minute of every match.
On the eighth day of mixing, a tornado hits downtown Bridgeport, only a few blocks from Peter’s studio. The mixes are unaffected by the Great Bridgeport Tornado of 2010, but I’m convinced it’s another sign of the impending apocalypse.