"The months leading up going into the studio Cody sent me half a dozen songs or so to give me an idea of what he was working with. In listening to these songs recorded on his iPhone and an acoustic guitar, all I could think of was good old classic country. It’s a type of record I have wanted to make with Cody for a long time. So, I began referencing songs and artists from the 40’s thru the late 80’s. One thing became very evident to me early on - the simplicity of the music accompanying the vocals and the song itself.
I felt like I found my baseline for the record. I put Cody and the Tonedeaf Hippies, except for Dave, in one room to track as much live as we could. (Poor Dave, even though the communication was great between us all, he had to be in a room all alone.) I can’t remember which song we started with, but within the first two or three songs we began tracking “After the Fire”. We had gotten the structure down as a band but were having a hard time figuring out the best way to start the song. It was Cody who said, “Hey, how about Dave start the song and let’s just feel this thing out.” The next take is what you hear on the record. After we finished we all looked at each other and knew we had the take.
“Ain’t a Train” was one of my favorite songs to produce. This was a situation where I needed the guys to trust my vision. I approached this song like two acts in a play. There is the first act that feels heavy and moody. The second act explodes with the fiddle and has that feeling of enlightenment. The challenge with this song was it would be six weeks and the second recording session before the fiddle was recorded even though the rest of the song had been cut. Billy came in and absolutely sold the song with his fiddle part. By the way, that solo you hear is a one-take solo. No edits, no magic, just Billy.
Another great moment happened during “William and Wanda”. It was Cody’s idea to have two acoustics as the only instruments for the song. Eddie, our amazing sound engineer and my right hand man in the studio, is a master at tracking these types of situations live. We were at the end of a twelve hour day and I wanted to start the next day with this song. Equipment had to be re-arranged for this kind of setup. We took the time that night to get set up for the next day. Cody, Chris and Drew also took that time to work on the song for the next day. The lights were low in the control room and I was looking over my notes getting my plan ready for the next day. Eddie catches my attention running into the room frantically setting ProTools up to begin recording. I ask him, “What the hell are you doing?” He says, “We have to capture this moment now!” I should probably say I had actually never heard the song up until this point. Eddie starts recording and turns up the main speakers in the control room. What I hear stops me in my tracks. Just like many of you, when you heard the song for the first time, I was crying like a baby by the last verse. Cody, Chris and Drew had no idea we were recording them. They just thought they were rehearsing the song. They went through in two or three more times and called it a night. When they came back into the control room I was happy to say, “Well guys, I think we just finished another song.”
I know I did not go into this project thinking we would come out with two records. You always want to record more than you release. Some songs just don’t end up working like you think they will. We were 15-16 songs in and really proud of everything we had done to this point. With songs like “Yesterday Again”, “It Don’t Rain in California”, “Whiskey”, and “Think Like You Think” I felt we had made a really great “county” record. We could have stopped right then and there, but the songs just kept coming. “The Wanting”, “Wounded Mind”, and “Which One I Feed” were all part of the last group of songs we recorded. Time is a precious commodity in the studio. For the first time in my studio experience we actually had the time and liberty to get creative and try some ideas on these songs. From the gang vocals on “The Wanting”, to the heavy riffs in “Wounded Mind”, or walking the thin line of “is this ‘dark county or straight up metal” for “Which One I Feed”. It was a really great and exciting way to finish up this record.
“The Raven and the Dove” started off as one of the more difficult songs of the whole lot. By this point in the record, we were 18 or so songs in. There is no mistaking the song had a great country feel to it. But as I said before, I felt we had enough songs that were recorded in a “traditional” country style. We tried a couple different ideas full band but nothing seemed to fit. We actually walked away from the song for a day or two. When Cody showed us the tune, he told us that it felt like a Billy Joe Shaver song. My very first interaction with Billy Joe was in Luckenbach, Tx. Eddie had the idea of building the song from the ground up centered around the acoustic guitar. It got me thinking of Luckenbach and the jam sessions that happen there on Sunday afternoons. We knew the song had the potential to be a fun sing-a-long. With that idea, we got to work. With the acoustic laid down, we began to build. There are no drums, other than a mallet hitting a kick. The percussion is all of us in the room with different percussion toys playing whatever we wanted along with the song. The gang vocals even include Bobby Keith! When I asked Chris to lay down a lead acoustic part, he asked what I wanted. I told him play like you walked into a jam and picked up in the middle of the song. That’s exactly how we recorded it. No chart in front of him, no direction on where or where not to play. He finished the first take and said, “Okay I think I know what to do, run it again.” I said, “Nope, that was perfect.”
The recording of the records were broken up in two different two week sessions. The first session was recorded in the Big Room at Sonic Ranch. It was a room I have wanted to record in since starting at the Ranch. Over half of the songs on the two albums were recorded there. The second half was recorded back at the Adobe Room. That place just feels like home. What started off as an off-the-cuff remark during the first two weeks came to fruition at the very end of the process. We as a band were jokingly talking about creating a western swing instrumental. Cody, on the other hand, thought it was a great idea and a great way to showcase the band. I gave complete control to the Tonedeaf Hippies to come up with something. I can’t take any credit for what the guys came up with. There were two days left on the last session. Cody had finished up all his vocals and flew home. Again, we set up live in a small circle to cut the song. Eddie just hit record and we started working on the song. Even though the theme of the song had been written, we still had to figure out the song itself. It didn’t take long. The way we recorded there could be no edits or punching in and out. What you hear is a full take from start to finish. We were, of course, proud of what we had done but didn’t know how Cody would feel about it. Turns out, he’s pretty proud of his band and the song too.
Even though there was a ton of material for these records, the flow and process worked magically. But, I could not have done it without the hard work from Chris, Drew, Dave, HotRod and Cody. This was one of the most collaborative projects I have ever been a part of. Eddie, our engineer, was an integral part in the production of these records as well. Sal, who did all the mundane tasks that need to be done during a session. I pushed these guys in some directions they may not have been comfortable doing. For example, I told Dave we were going to record without any drum toms. That’s like asking me to play bass without a low E string. I put Drew almost exclusively on the acoustic guitar. I asked HotRod to dust off his dobro chops. It is all these small things that make a record fun to listen to. I said in the beginning I wanted the instrumentation to accompany the song. We didn’t want a bunch of layers. I believe, and I hope you believe too, we accomplished that goal. The song is always there. It’s my job to make sure we don’t get in the way."
After The Fire
I lost my way
I lost track
My heart and all my money
The shirt off my back
Then I found a place
To lie and rest
Clear the cloudy skies of my mind
Clean up my mess
I’m not sure if this is prayer, or if it’s plea
Beggin’ or hopin’ or my insanity
You’re my first clean breath after the fire
You’re that cool drink of water my soul requires
Are you the sunshine
Are you are the rain
You light my darkness
You wash my pain
You’re I love you in a world of doubt
Fill me with somethin’, I can’t go without
I’m not sure if this is a prayer or if it’s plea
Beggin’ or hopin’ or my insanity
You’re my first clean breath after the fire
You’re the cool drink of water my soul requires