Playing Slide on an old friend-Fairview Pub Apr 2014
I recorded “Robin James Hunter” at home in Vancouver, and I really enjoyed doing it. Here’s an overview of the songs and descriptions of what went down:
“Crying At All”
I started with a drum pattern and worked on it until it stopped sounding machine like and started to get a feel. At each turn of a verse, I made a signature drum fill sound that worked so well that I used it to start the song. The first instrument I grabbed was a Bass Guitar. The chord progression was under my fingers almost immediatley, a really good sign. Next thing I did was lay down a guitar track. I wanted to try to fit the other instruments into the ambience that the drum sound was creating. I have a semi-hollowbody electric guitar that I plugged in to an amp, but instead of miking the amp, I put the mic close to the guitar and got a great sound that was not quite acoustic, not quite electric. Having laid the foundation down, I began to work on the words and the vocal melody at the same time. I had a couple of lines written down, and I improvised the rest of the lyrics until I had a song. I had a few takes of vocals that I kept, thinking that I would pick and choose the best when it came to mixing. The last thing I put down was a slide guitar track, and I reasoned that if the first electric guitar track had an unusual ambience, the slide guitar would have to be even more murky sounding in order to fit in. I took the mic and positioned it above the amp, so it picked up the sound from the walls and the ceiling instead of directly from the speakers. I listened back to what I had and turned it over to Rob Malowany to mix. I was surprised to hear that he used two, sometimes three of the vocal takes at the same time, bringing out even more of the song’s moody, murky feel. Recording is done in two dimensions, but it is listened to in three dimensions, so it was really important to make sure that each overdub was a little less detailed and more out of focus than the previous one; this achieved the effect I was reaching for.
“Bring It Right”
This song started with percussion and a guitar riff. My favourite thing in this song is the interplay between the Bass Guitar and this great clay Dumbek I have. It’s an off kilter groove kind of like a washing machine spinning with too many clothes on one side. The words were improvised over top and were influenced by Groucho Marx, The Guitar Amp Handbook by Dave Hunter and every rock and roll song where they count numbers off. I did a little guitar solo near the end that I imagined was going to be buried in the background, but when Rob Malowany was getting ready to mix it, he told me that I was a good guitar player and there was no way he was going to bury this particular part under anything. In fact, we wound up burying a verse so it could stand out even more. Good call.
I have another song about Limousines on a previous record, and I guess there’s a theme going on here. A man can represent that he will pick a girl up in a Limousine, and if she doesn’t ask too many questions, he can get a date. When he shows up driving the Limousine because that’s his day job, he figures as long as he’s there with the car anyway, and she’s gone through the trouble to get ready, she might just say what the hell. Of course there’s always the possibility that she’ll say what the hell followed by I wonder what else is going on in this town tonight.
This song took the least amount of time to write, the chorus was invented on the tail end of a different song that I decided not to put on the album, it was inspired by a girl singing in a powerful voice while she was busking on Granville Street in Vancouver, plus a few of my friends are in there too as touchstones. This is the first place on the record where you hear dual slide guitar in the solo section, and it really was a lot of fun coming up with those parts. It’s just a simple Rock n’ Roll song with an upbeat message.
“Nobody Stop Me”
This song and “Limo Driver” are related in an interesting way, I was trying to record this loud guitar amp part for another song when I heard a knock on my door. My neighbour didn’t want to hear loud guitar at 10:30 PM and I couldn’t really blame her for that, but I was kind of miffed and I still wanted to record something. So I tapped some wooden spoons together and snapped my fingers and drummed on this little wooden pencil holder and I had a cool little rhythm going in no time. The next thing I did was press an SM58 mic right up against the body of my electric guitar and boosted the preamp on the recording unit. It wound up being a cool sound that I used again on “Limo Driver”, kind of a not quite electric, not quite acoustic sound that really blended nicely with the percussion track I already had. I recorded the vocals whisper quiet and the ironic and hilarious part is that the song is a defiant message of personal freedom, recorded at a volume level so as not to disturb anyone’s sleep.
This was the last song recorded, and for some reason, one of the most difficult. I was trying to capture the perfect performance, so I did it over and over, and I found that after awhile, the flaws in the performance were what was making the song work, so lesson learned. It’s kind of a blues form, and it’s pretty stripped down. The lyrics are about financial desperation, which I have seen some of personally, and through the eyes of some of my friends. It might be seen as a funny song too, what the hell do I know.
“Gimme A Hit’
This is a great example of what you can do to your voice when you sing into a cardboard tube. Making your own special effects rather than looking for a factory preset on a digital effects unit is a great way of making a recording sound unique, I couldn’t duplicate the sound again, and I wouldn’t want to. Rob Malowany once again found something in the song that I didn’t perceive was there, he made the drum sound much more aggressive and in your face than I was thinking and it really made a big difference. I had a hard time with some of these songs because I didn’t labour over them a lot and I didn’t craft the living fuck out of them. I worried about how slight and basic they are and I really had to be open minded enough to just let the notes lay as they fell. I think if I had worried more about perfection and making some kind of unique artistic statement, I would have never finished them and I would be miserably judging every note until eventually it was no fun anymore. Ben Sures said to me about my songs, “where’s the background vocals?” They’re here Ben.
Another dual slide guitar song, another slow ballad, this one is really personal as it deals with my own realtionship/career with music over the years. The original vocal part was recorded next to a loudly hissing amp, and as the lyrics develped I recorded the voice in a much more traditional fashion, I wasn’t really intending on using multiple voices from alternate takes on the finished mix, but Rob found some cool sounds that were buried and brought them forward, and it gave the song much more spookiness and dimension. I think this is my favorite mix on the recording, and I really like all of them.
This was a song that I was going to leave off the record, but Rob Malowany was really keen on it, so I worked on it just a little bit more and that was it. I came around to realize that it’s mandatory in every music artist’s life to record a “Twist” song of some kind to appease those who remain nameless and dwell in the deep. The making of the song was another happy accident, I was using a looper pedal for awhile and then I got busy doing other things and I let it sit for a number of months. One day I was scrolling thru the memory on the looper and heard this weird fuzz bass loop with a kick drum beat that I’d forgotten about, it seemed so primitive and wacky that it pretty much asked to be made into a song. If you can call it a song.
I was reading a book called “Talkin To Myself” which is a collection of lyrics from blues records from the 1920’s thru to the 1940’s, and I read through Lonnie Johnson’s “Blue Ghost Blues”,
and something clicked for me and I decided to take the Blue Ghost character in that song and get him to chase around and frighten a 21st century loser that seems to appear in my songs over and over. The music came from imagining a Sun Records session in the early 50’s trying to blend the Blues sound with the later Rockabilly sound. Another great contribution from Rob Malowany, I had about a two minute song, and I was just going to leave it at that, but Rob found some extensive guitar noodling at the end of the recording that I hadn’t really thought too much of, and he said “This has got to go on here!” We looped the Drums and Percussion and Bass and let the thing flow, it’s the longest song on the record, and I’m really proud of it.
“Manitoba Is Indian Land”
I was reading an interview with JJ Cale and he described a technique for recording vocals where you overdub and layer the lead vocal part over and over to get it to sound more in tune. I wanted to try this idea with percussion, I kept recording this big clay dumbek I have like that in order to make it sound more “in time”. It worked really well and I quickly found a guitar riff and bass part that worked and then the words came to me. I don’t know if what I am saying makes sense or not, but it just felt like the right words for the right music. I guess it’s a montage of a lot of things that have happened and are still happening to the original peoples of the Americas. This is the only song on the record that has steel guitar on it, and Nashville high strung guitar, so it sticks out a bit, but I think it’s a great way to end the record.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, lots of thanks to Rob and the kind people who had nice things to say about the album,
feel free to comment if you want.
All the Best,
Robin James Hunter
I am a songwriting acoustic/electric/steel/slide guitarist/musician based in Vancouver, I have recently been playing and/or recording with Devilsplender, Sound Refuge and Sarah Wheeler, I moved to Vancouver from Edmonton, where I fronted an acoustic trio called “Robin Hunter and the Six Foot Bullies” who released two albums of original songs. I’ve worked live and in studio with the following artists: Mark Davis, Sherry-Lee Wisor, Old Reliable, Wendy Mcneill, Justin Rutledge, Tanyss Nixi, Everett Laroi, and many others. Previous to this activity, I was in a very loud rock band called the Imagineers (1988-1999) whose sketchy musical legacy can be viewed here. Ok, so enough with the past and on to the now. I have recorded an album of songs called “Robin James Hunter” and I have made it available on the venerable Bandcamp website. Here’s the address:
I basically had to trick myself into recording this record, otherwise I would still be working on the first song. My M.O. ( modus operandi-That’s latin for “trick yourself” ) was to make music in a way that was casual and unconcerned with a polished end result. After sitting in a folding chair at my home studio polishing my end result for a number of months, I decided to turn the music over to my good friend and musical collaborator Rob Malowany , who mixed and mastered it and made it much more palatable than I had previously remembered. I like to think of it as a hallway record, with interesting sounds buried behind the lyrics and guitar playing. Like you’re in a dream and you walk down a hall and hear some kind of odd sound that pulls your ear a bit. I played all of the instruments on the thing and had a lot of fun making textured guitar and percussion parts and singing weirdly into a microphone. If it makes you want to do anything weirdly into anything else, then I believe my job was done well.