The following is an account of the previous two days spent tracking in Knoxville with Will Reagan and Brandon Hampton - as best as I can remember. We worked on two of the new songs that are going to be on the album, one being “My Time Will Come” and the other “Never A Waste,” the title track of the record. I am still trying to process everything that transpired in those two days in eastern Tennessee, as I feel the depth and worth of what the experience was cannot be contained in words - much less written. I am trying desperately to remember and document each moment of the trip, because I think, and can only guess, that these two days will live on in my life forever as one of the most critical moments in my history. No pressure, haha. So here, the account:
Gray and I leave Athens around 6pm on the evening of Wednesday, 11/28. I am extremely caffeinated because the heater in our house is broken so I’ve spent the better part of the day hopping around to different coffee shops in town, where I buy a drink at each place because I feel bad using the WIFI without ordering anything. I have two coffees and a hot chocolate - and that amount of hot excited drink goes a long way for my bamboo-shoot build. I play Fortnite at Gray’s house before we leave because quite frankly, I miss having it. But I’m thankful the temptation doesn’t live in my own living room anymore. I get so much more done now! I get killed really fast because I’m more garbage now than I ever have been. After the five second silence and deep passing anger that takes place after each and every Fortnite failure, we hit the road. I’m so glad Gray is on this trip. He is one of the most special people I know, and is truly a salty man in the biblical sense. He brings flavor to any place he is in. Gray is joining us this weekend to film some footage of the studio process and how these songs grow and take shape.
Gray and I stop at Upbeet in Atlanta for the most coveted Aloha Bowl, and then we pick up Abe Choi. Abe Choi is about 2,000 years old in our estimation, but looks about 27. I met Abe in Nashville through Common Hymnal, and I’m so glad to have someone in that group so close by. Abe is interested in life itself, and everything it contains, and while he works in software (I think?) he values art and the creative process so much and sees life in a beautiful way - it’s contagious and inspiring. Abe is along for the ride, just to support and hang out and shed knowledge about literally any interesting thing that has ever happened or is currently happening.
We roll into Knoxville around 11PM and meet Will at the apartment where we will be staying. The plumbing is broke so we decide to stay at Will’s house in his basement. The crew meets up with Brandon at our guilty pleasure, the Jig & Reel in downtown Knoxville, which boasts “one of” the largest selections of Scotch in the world. We catch up, grab some grub, and head to Wills house to get a good night’s rest - for the next day, we begin recording.
DAY 1: MY TIME WILL COME
We wake up and head to the studio. Will was kind enough to have the new studio ready to record for these could songs. It’s impossible to express how much of an honor it was to be the first artist to record in the new studio. It was beautiful. magical. impossible to understand the meaning of. Going into this weekend, I was so nervous. I even felt self-conscious around Will and Brandon, like I was being super careful of what to say or do. Nervous energy. I think it’s because I respect their work so much and feel so honored that they would even agree to work with me and I put a lot of pressure on myself to not let them down. I felt like a kid in high school trying to make the jump from JV to Varsity.
One thing that I realized immediately was that the pace was going to be different. One of the appeals of working with another producer, for me, was to be able to be submerged in someone else’s creative process - to get out of my own pathways and ruts and to be challenged. Something that I appreciated was how Will took his time and allowed his curiosity to guide him in the recording. It’s easy to get wrapped up in efficiency and to ignore the pull to wander and explore, and that’s something that I was challenged to do by observing him. After all, making music is a creative and organic process, so it’s ok to go a little slower and try a bunch of things that don’t work. We would spend hours moving microphones, trying different settings, moving rooms, trying different guitars, and manipulating sounds - all to learn, explore and experience the expression in the music. We would create, mix, and track along the way as if each step of the process would grow and inspire the next idea. I enjoyed working this way and it challenged to me shift some of my own approach to producing.
We begin recording “My Time Will Come.” After determining the tempo and direction, we decide that a live performance of the song would communicate best, as it has a lot of feeling. So I perform the song live singing and playing at the same time. Will uses some incredible vintage microphones to record it, including a Neumann U67 and a RCA 44. The room sounds killer and acted, in this particular case, as a reverb that we were able to tuck under everything. Then, Brandon laid done some incredible lead acoustic parts and tracked the hook of the song, which is a repeated riff that loops over the chord changes that I do on the original guitar. We played with pitching sounds up and down, throwing guitar lines into funky plugins and delays, and in the end had a really textural and unique sounding guitar line. I can’t share too many of the chef’s secrets here, but man was it saucy. The song took an incredible shape that our collaboration was able to pull out of it. Will, Brandon, and my vision joined to make something none of us could have made on our own. Will and I ended up layering some background vocals to create a makeshift choir that helped lift and push the chorus along. We worked through lunch and ended up going to Barley’s to snag a plate of their legendary chicken fingers, officially dubbed “fingies.” I bypassed the fingies and shared a delicious pizza with Gray. But man… did those fingies look both delicious and deadly in every sense of the word. We return to the studio after eating Fingies and continue to layer and explore. We are all zonked by the end of day 1 and return to the house and are in bed before midnight.
DAY 2: NEVER A WASTE
In my experience, no longer how many days of recording there are in a row… start times and general urgency to work always diminishes at an exponential rate as a session goes on. So, even though we were only recording for 2 days, the second day was the last and therefore we acted the same as a group of artists might act at the end of a 5 day recording. Will asks me what time we should get going and I shrug, “10?” So, we get a great nights sleep and head to breakfast at my favorite spot, Olli Bea’s, which serves up some delicious breakfast. I don’t think we even got to the studio until noon. I loved the pace though. It was refreshing to just enjoy relationship and enjoy sluggin’ along and easing into create-mode.
On the second day, we took a crack at “Never A Waste,” the title track to the album. The challenges of this song turned out to be its length and its dynamics. I was so used to playing it with just me and the guitar that I tried to filled every space in the arrangement with playing. But what I feel like I was able to grow in was the ability to restrain and leave more space. To not overplay and to let some moments rest and breathe. Just as with the first song, we spent a good chunk of time dissecting the song and finding the right tempo, feel, and arrangement. I had an idea of adding some sort of heart beat kick drum sound, which Will suggested we create by softly tapping the bridge of the guitar. It was so cool, I love when that happens. We were able to record and manipulate me hitting the guitar and create a sound that sounded like a pulsing drum beat. We later recorded Brandon and myself slapping our knees to create a backbeat. So, that’s how the percussion was created. After a few hours of layering and tracking some acoustic guitars, Brandon laid down an incredible harmonic acoustic guitar line. I was amazed at how Will interpreted certain sounds and was able to manipulate and morph audio into something completely different. We ended up reversing certain guitar chords and forming them into a swirling, evolving pad that helped lift and lower certain parts of the song. I was so inspired. Things are coming along.
After a late afternoon hot Tamale lunch and an additional coffee break, we return to the studio for the last leg. I don’t know where time went in that space because before we knew it, it was almost 9 oclock. The last thing we did was the main vocal. The performance of a vocal can make or break how it feels. When music moves us, it’s not cause it’s perfect, it’s because it’s real. The reason songs take you to a certain place is due to its humanness and its communication. All music is, in essence, is communication. So, I’m learning, that the more vulnerable and myself I can be, the more that people will be able to connect with what I’m trying to say. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. I think with music, especially in today’s day, there is a tendency to make things too perfect. We have the technology to correct, autotune, fatten, and virtually eliminate all mistakes and dynamics, but when we do that, we kill the humanness of the music. Something I was stretched in when singing “Never A Waste” was to let go and sing with my heart, not worrying about singing perfectly. Will was able to pull so much out of me and give me a runway to be myself and dig deep into what was inside me. I am so excited about how the song is sounding. I can’t wait to continues working on it!
Here’s my extra credit. It’s incredibly difficult for me to even understand, much less communicate. But how I view November 29 and 30th of 2018 can be best be described as the slow convergence of deep tectonic plates, that have been in motion since the beginning of time, going in a specific direction, destined to meet and shift our landscape from the inside out. The coincidences are far too specific to ignore. There is a plan that has been set in motion for my whole life and just when I began to believe I was drifting aimlessly in the dark, God opened and door and reminded be of his incredible intentionality.Plates began to meet and form something. The extra credit is this: the present always feels normal, shallow, and stagnant. We are unable to see beneath the surface in our every day lives. Our perspective is limited by our humanness and unbelief. But, our history will reveal the depth of what God was doing beyond what we could see in our small moments. I don’t know why its designed this way, or what this means exactly, but I think my response is simply to live in faithfulness. We are tempted to live in fantasy about our lives, like it should be marvelous and speculator and shiny - but everything in history that we perceive as a “big” moment was actually someone’s everyday, simple, life. We do not know the extent of our influence every day - good or bad. We do not understand the tectonic movement of our lives - how things converge inches at a time in a specific direction. But history will reveal our faithfulness. Will our plates converge to form mountains or valleys? Will how we lives our lives in the most minute areas compound to create a marvelous landscape or a sunken hole? How are we holding our days?
History will reveal the authenticity, love, and care that we plant in the Earth every day.
Do you care for the life that you’ve been given? Do you live on purpose or on accident?
Do you believe that things are happening for a reason? Are you persevering? Are you hoping?
Are you faithful in the dark?
History will tell us later on.