black diamond express train to hell: bunker syndrome and recording

After three and a half days in a windowless bunker, you lose track of time. Have I been here for an hour? A day? A week? There’s no way to know for sure.

The bunker that played set to the recording of our new album felt like the set of a horror film. Bare concrete walls, long hallways with flickering flourescent lights and rows of closed metal doors. Every once in a while a creepy doomy metal band would practice for a few hours and provide an appropriate soundtrack. At first I was kind of scared to go to the bathroom—located across the stairwell and a long hallway away—by myself. But after a few days of doing so without being murdered, the place started to grow on me. I’ve always liked the smell of basements, and this place smelled like a basement even on the second floor.

A lot of people romantcize the process of making music. And maybe some parts of it live up to the fantasy. But recording is not one of those parts. Before I had ever recorded anything myself, I would imagine performers in sequins, bright stages, and live energy when I heard canned music. But the process couldn’t be any more disjointed from any of that. It’s just about the most unromantic thing you could do with your time and with your music. All in the name of trapping the sounds on little plastic discs.

When we record, we do all the instruments “live.” Which means all the instruments playing together. Which means if one person fucks up, everybody has to play the whole song again because you can’t just delete the bass track (or the banjo or the guitar or whatever) and replay it as it has been recorded on everybody else’s microphones as well. This is a pain in the ass. Some people record one instrument at a time which divorces the whole process even further from the heart of the matter, but can save you a hell of a lot of headache when the same guy keeps fucking up the same part and everybody looks like they’re plotting a murder.

But for better or for worse, that’s how we do it, and so the first days of recording always start with a whole lot of waiting for anyone doing vocals or adding any other extra trimming. I parked myself on the couch and sang along in my head during each take to make sure nobody forgot to play a verse that would fuck me up later when I added the vocals on top of the music. We went through the usual ups and downs, but managed to get ten songs recorded by Saturday morning. Two days of overdubs (that’s what you call whatever you play over the main track that you’ve recorded) followed, and let me tell you, recording the singing saw was a huge pain in the ass. Damn that instrument and damn me for not being better at playing it. But in the end, we all prevailed.

Every night we returned to the Au—an enormous squatted house/concert venue/vokü location/generally awesome place with a Wagenplatz out back—to sleep in the cozy bunks set up for the touring bands that play there. It’s the first place where the Beard and I slept cuddled together the night that we met, and sleeping there since has always felt a little festive because of it. Despite the fact that every night we’d pile into the sleeping rooms and pass the fuck out. And because that’s not very exciting (kidding—wait for it…) I shut the Beard’s hand in a car door on the second night, creating a mass panic that I’d broken his hand and promptly put an end to our chances of finishing the album before Peanut arrives. I feel like I owe the universe big for not letting that turn into the disaster it could have become. Physically hurting someone you love is pretty much the worst thing ever, and yet the Beard and I seem to have a talent for maiming each other. Go figure.

Today, back at home at last, I stayed in bed until noon recooperating. And then, breakfast and computer in hand, I stayed in bed some more. As tiring as the weekend was, however, I can barely fathom the fact that we’ve finally gotten the ground work laid for our second album (next up: mixing and mastering and label hunting). !!!!!!!!!! I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Yihaw.

0 Comments on “black diamond express train to hell: bunker syndrome and recording

  1. That’s about how I remember recording- never seeing sunlight and being really, really bored for hours, because we recorded it track by track and had some divas who kept fucking up and wanting to rerecord their track five million times while the rest of us sullenly ate pizza and glared daggers.

  2. Fishie: Haha. It’s not the most interesting way to spend a few days to be sure. And I forgot to bring a book! But on the second day I bought one and then was content. I don’t mind the waiting so much as the part where the others start to get crabby and pissed at each other over weird little things. I particularly don’t have a problem with people recording their own track as many times as they want. I’m all for getting it as perfect as possible. Just a pain when it means everybody has to redo it. A definite downside to the way we do it. Where did you guys record anyway?

  3. Hi! my husband found your blog and turned me on to it and now I’m addicted:) congrats on the first stage of your 2nd album. you are a very inspiring and interesting person and i wish you, peanut and the beard, the very best:)

  4. Can’t wait to hear it, Nik! Yeah!!!!!!!
    You sho’ brought me back with your description of boredom. Haha. Basement slouching, jostling every twenty minutes to keep your heartrate up while someone tries the third or fourth take of, like, three ooh-ooh-oohs. Stab my eyes out with spoooooons!!!
    On the other hand, we’re recording now, just the two of us, and it is literally the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything, ever. Just sitting inside a big pile of instruments coming up with stuff and chattering endlessly and then playing dueling electric guitar solos or pounding-drum-duos… Music hasn’t been this fun since I was, like, a teenager! Melding two minds into one song – especially since we think so much alike, and especially think so much alike about what kind of music we’re creating – seems a lot easier than trying to herd cats with a whole band with the recording process, even if the whole band is on the same page. ANYWAY, I digress. Lots of coffee = recounting my entire thought process.
    Point: This is SO FUCKING AWESOME and I am SO FUCKING EXCITED to hear your new songs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GAH!!!!!!

  5. Katey: Weeeeeeeeeee! So glad that you guys are having an awesome time recording stuff. Herding cats is pretty much the perfect description for trying to do so with so many people. Can’t wait to see how Peanut reacts to hearing our album once she’s on the other side. Hopefully it’ll be the perfect calming influence on her too…

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