“Walking to the Light” Recording Process Synopsis

Here’s a brief synopsis:

(scroll to the bottom for album art)

The Making of Walking to the Light

On my 34th birthday, March 4th, 2016, I asked you to help me make my 5th original studio album, and you all showed up big time, allowing me to reach my Kickstarter goal by April 20th.

I immediately dove deeper into work with my Saturday morning co-writer Parker MacDonell and my producer Brad Jones in Nashville. They helped me select which songs I would include on the record, and helped me to repeatedly edit the songs and breathe new life into the material.

Spontaneity in the creative process

I began rehearsing the new batch of songs with my longtime bassist Roger Hines and even longer time drummer Jack Knuttila. My intention was to hire Nashville drummers and have the producer Brad overdub bass. But, as fortune would have it, rehearsals were going so well, and the feeling of the performances was so real I decided would not hire session players in Nashville and that I would ask Jack and Roger to take off their normal work and come down to record the album with me. I wanted the album to be as live as possible and these songs were a bit more nuanced than the last album, 700 Miles. Jack and Roger organically move with me on many different vectors; tempo, emphasis, volume, space, and tone. They listen and react in real time after years of experience playing music with a guy who never really plays his songs the same way twice!

Prior to recording the album itself, I traveled to Nashville and spent 2 days with producer Brad Jones going through every nook and cranny of the songs and I came back to Columbus with a stack of homework! Brad influenced the final arrangement of almost every song on the album. He suggested a revolving key change on Whiskey and Me. He suggested the sparse and sudden breakdowns on Deciding Time. He suggested the second set of chords on the bridge of Walking to the Light. He made many other critical observations that enriched the album.

A few weeks before I left for Nashville, my friend Nick D’Andrea came by the house to write a song that I had no idea would end up on the record. It’s called Tonight I’m Showing Up. It seems to sum up the essence of where i was in my life as I wrote the other songs, and tied up some loose ends.

On September 11th I arrived in Nashville to Alex the Great, Brad’s studio, and began recording live with Jack and Roger. We spent three days tracking over 150 takes of 10 different songs. It was intense and required patience and openness from everyone present. In this era, it is very rare to track live, let alone tracking without a metronome or click track as we call it. After the last song we recorded, Jack and Roger left town to get back to their jobs and Brad and I spent the next three days picking our favorite takes and mixing.

For the next several weeks I lived with those live trio and vocal recordings, imagining the arrangements for strings and woodwinds and background vocals that we would be overdubbing in October. After some conversation about overdubs, Brad and I decided to hire two of the musicians who worked on 700 miles Chris Carmichael (strings) and Jim Hoke (woodwinds and pedal steel).

On October 11th my co writer Parker and I, arrived back in Nashville and cut ‘Some Call Me Lonely’ the next morning. As we were preparing to record that morning I told Parker that I had some ideas about it needing a third verse. So, in the last minutes to spare we did just that. It was a testament to Parker’s skill in supporting and guiding my inspirations and helping them become finished! We played the song live together 7 or 8 times and then Brad’s voice came through my headphones saying “we’ve got more than enough, guys, come on in!”

Parker overdubbed some acoustic guitar on Walking to the Light and Blind Bartimaeus and then I took him back to the airport and session 2, day one was over.

The following day was Jim Hoke overdub day. Jim plays dozens of instruments, and plays them all well! A brilliant and fast learner, he overdubbed saxophone, flute, clarinet, and even pedal steel on a handful of songs. Jim payed close attention to my piano parts as he added color to harmonies, and personality filled flourishes that added to the emotional impact of the soundscape and lyric. Jim was all ears and had pencil to paper as I sang woodwind parts I heard in my head to him. On the fly he was able to replicate and improve my ideas. Brad, of course, was ultimately at the helm, verbally guiding Jim take after take, and marking the takes that would end up on the record. Session 2, day 2, in the can.

Day 3 was background singer day.

On 700 Miles, I had imagined the background vocals as almost character roles which ended up elevating them in the mix to very close the same volume level as my lead vocal. They were intended to be a Mother Spirit and Father Spirit type of thing…

On Walking to the Light, however, I went back to the more traditional pop background singer type of approach. This is where the main vocal is harmonized and vocal sections sound more woven into the framework of the song as opposed to standing out on their own.

I decided to ask long time friends to be the background singers this time around. I was fortunate to meet Patty Plas, Taylor Plas, and  Tom LoSchiavo back in 2002 at Patty’s coffee shop in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Everyone travelled to Nashville and had already listened to the material. We spent the whole day overdubbing and then had a great party afterwards! The sound of comfort and ease is evident and truly gave more authenticity to the songs…

On the 4th Day of session 2, string wizard Chris Carmichael, one of my favorite musicians I’ve ever worked with, brought his talent, energy, and 8 string instruments to Alex the great. We spent all day putting together string parts on 4 songs; my very favorite of which was Chris’ solo viola on a song called Sunshiner.

That night I crashed pretty hard from all the intense work and play and the next morning I told Brad to take the wheel and work on the mixes and I headed up to Kentucky for the day to see my monk friends at Our Lady of Gethsemane monastery. I got to spend the day with my friend Brother Thomas, chant with the monks, climb a little mountain, and rejuvenate! It was a great day 5. I arrived back in Nashville that night to the studio and got to spin the record as it was after Brad’s day of mixing and I made my last mixing notes…

Day 6, Brad and I worked through every song making sure all the parts and levels were the way we thought was right. What an awesome man to go through this process with.

Now, it’s been mastered and is in the process of being manufactured in both vinyl and CD…

Here’s what the cover looks like: