Recording countdown

Hi guys,

been a little quiet here in the blog lately, I know.
Gearing up and preparing to go into the studio starting next week Thursday. So I’ve been weeding out songs, thinking about arrangements, polishing up a few lyrics. It’s all nitty-gritty work that’s important and it’ll pay off but it’s nothing exciting to blog about. (Yes, in case you haven’t noticed, the other stuff I blog about is supposed to be exciting.)

An example? Sure. I changed a line from “things will soon be better” to “things are bound to soon be better”. See? It works for me but I doubt it’s super-exciting for you at this point. Hopefully, it will be once you hear the song (A Braver Smile).

There’s 14 songs we’re planning to record. Ten or eleven with drums and a few quieter acoustic tunes. The band knows eight of those ten or eleven songs. There’s a few I like to confront them with in the studio. Why? Because I think there’s some magic in creating a song and playing it for the first time and I hope we can capture that moment in the studio.
The first time we played “In My Bones” in our rehearsal room all the way through … I don’t mean to sound smug but we all felt it had come together beautifully and we all wish it had been recorded right then and there. Now when we go in to record this song, we’ll be chasing something that’s already happened, trying to recreate something rather than trying to create something. It can work (and I sure hope it does) but sometimes that feeling of chasing after something can create a difficult mindset in the studio.
A similar thing happened when we were recording “The Kid From Tupelo” for “Wild Blue & True”. We did several takes trying to get it just right, the way we heard it in our heads. It got a little frustrating. Then Tom – the producer/engineer – played us a rehearsal take which had a much more relaxed feel. A slightly different drum arrangement than the one in our minds but still, it had that intangible vibe that you’re always shooting for. Needless to say we went with that rehearsal take for the album (and have also adopted the much more natural drum/rhythm arrangement since).

But then there’s other songs that want to be prepared a little. Maybe because they’re a little more intricate or maybe because I imagine a specific arrangement that I want to be able to try out and tweak before we actually record the song. “Your Own Private Rainbow” from “Wild Blue & True” is an example of such a song.

In general I’d say maybe it’s the slower songs on which I lean toward a spontaneous approach and maybe it’s the one or two songs on each record that you imagine might be a little more radio-friendly that I think will profit from a more thought-out approach.

But then, of course, there’s also other songs that I just want to play to the band as soon they’re written because I feel they’ll be a great asset to our live show and I’m excited about them RIGHT NOW. You’ve heard some of them in our shows over the last six or eight months, The Facts About My Life is a good example. In other words, my excitement about a new song often gets in the way of my considerations of what might be best for a particular song when it comes to making an album. It’s often difficult to constrain myself.

Back when I made those three albums in Nashville, before I flew there, I asked the participating musicians whether they wanted to hear solo demos of my songs before going in to record them and the usual reply was they like to hear them fresh in the studio and be able to approach them with an open ear and an open mind in the studio. I love that attitude and I learned greatly from it. Of course, you can only allow yourself that kind of attitude when you know you have the chops to handle absolutely anything. And when you trust your instincts. And when you don’t get nervous in the studio situation.

I’m working on it.

PS: By the way, this Thursday, Jan 19, I’m at Wunschlos glücklich in Würzburg, next Wednesday, Jan 25, at Stadtcafé Hünfeld.

17 January 2012 ·

Rock The Boat

On Saturday we played a double header concert at das boot in Würzburg with Lick And A Promise, a great rock’n’roll band in the Stones/Black Crowes/Faces tradition. The Troublemakers presented a new band member in piano and organ player Jan Reinelt and a whole bunch of new songs. It turned into a great gig!

Lick And A Promise opened with a few acoustic numbers. I love a rock band that knows more than one gear. They have some beautiful acoustic tunes, some of the psychedelic Led Zep school and some with a bit of a country influence, obviously those are closer to my heart. And then they have a knack for writing truly great rock songs. Sometimes it seems like writing a kickass rock’n’roll song is a lost art. These days most songs in that vein have a certain rock factor (big drums, big riffs) but lack the roll part of the equation, the swing, the tongue in cheek, the finger-snapping groove. Lick And A Promise have certainly got it all.
They have a singer with charisma, a great guitarist who plays licks with flair (and looks, I must admit, just how you want a rock guitarist to look), a drummer with drive & subtlety and a bass player with great harmony vocals and arrangement skills. They’re often joined but Andi Kümmert, a talented songwriter/guitarist with a great voice, and a horn section. The horns weren’t there on Saturday but the songs and the band were in shipshape.
I sat in with them on Hard To Handle, the Otis Redding number.

Knowing that Lick would bring a bunch of fans, the Troublemakers also played a pretty rocking set that saw a few debuts.
Pianist Jan Reinelt played his first gig with us. I’ve known Jan for a while, he has often mentioned that he likes my stuff and would be willing to sit in should the occasion arise. He recently said this again and this time the timing was perfect. (My longtime partner Andi Obieglo is far away in Berlin these days and very busy with his band Carolin.No.)
We spent three hours on Saturday afternoon running through the songs with Jan (we’d only had a private two-guy rehearsal before) and he rounded them out and made them sound fabulous. We also debuted a whole bunch of new songs.

  • Free To Fly - a driving, bluegrassy/country rocker
  • When The Night Calls - a soul-inspired number
  • In My Bones - a poignant ballad to which Jan added a beautiful piano melody
  • Never Come To Know - a midtempo burner that picks up momentum along the way
  • Edge Of Nothin’ - it’s got a cool, stomping groove and some fiery guitar

They all went well, we felt good on stage and had fun playing with Jan.

And as a rousing encore, Jochen and Manuel of Lick joined us for a cool take on the Stones’ classic You Can’t Always Get What You Want (perceiced by many as the evening’s highlight) and Chuck Berry’s Nadine.

photo by Regina Haflinger

Whew, what a real good night. We’re still getting great feedback from the camp of Lick & A Promise and their fans.
Looks like we’ll repeat this soon.

23 November 2011 ·


Rock'n'roll-folk-country-Americana songwriter Markus Rill blogs about his latest exploits, upcoming shows, backstage shenanigans and more. Markus Rill

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