Recording backing vocals with Karen Rustad

Karen leans on the keysThe lovely and talented Karen Rustad has been with working closely with Wrong Side of Dawn since its formation. Karen was there at our first rehearsals, with just me and Brian before we had any other musicians to work with. Karen has repeatedly lent us her artistic skills, doing an amazing job on the cover art for our old EP and the Grinder’s Tale 3P, and she’s currently working on a draft of the cover art for the upcoming Stay Awake album. She also did all of the graphic design and most of the web design for our beautiful website. [Incidentally, she’s currently looking for work. Maybe you could help her out? 😉 ]

In addition, Karen is a serious singer and songwriter in her own right, having sung in choirs for many years, contributed her voice to musical groups such as Tryad (you can hear her singing lead vocals on “Beauty” from their album Listen) and written and recorded several wonderful tracks on her home computer. We had good experiences with her contributing vocals and some keyboards to our previous album attempt, so it is no surprise that we brought in Karen again to help us compose and sing the backing vocals on the “Stay Awake” album.

Adapting live vocal harmonies for a studio album

Karen with guitar (no flash)Karen has been performing at open mikes etc. with me since before WSD took its first steps towards recording a studio album. One song that she sang with me was Break Free (which is an ancient song that I originally wrote when I was in high school), and she wrote her own vocal harmony part to accompany me. On our previous attempt at recording this album, Karen simply sang the exact same vocal harmony that she sang when performing as a duo with me. However, this didn’t work quite as well with a full band, because Karen sang what amounted to a vocal solo during the bridge, at the same time as Brian’s guitar solo. Having two “solos” going at once made the song sound a little busy and disorganized, although there were a few nice interactions between Karen’s singing and Brian’s lead guitar.

When we started recording Break Free again at Portrait Studios for “Stay Awake,” I asked Karen to try writing some new harmonies that would be more choral and less busy-sounding, to avoid the problem of it sounding like there were two solos at once. Karen obliged by singing two-part harmonies, using them to create chords rather than an entirely independent melody line. I think the resulting backing vocals step back during the main part of Brian’s guitar solo in the bridge and give him more space, but also sound more impressive in a Cranberries-esque fashion. Naturally this is impossible for Karen to sing live without help, but that’s what’s great about studio albums, they free you from limits such as how many people you can put on stage at once.


Another issue that we had to confront frequently when recording with Karen and mixing her parts was when and if to use Auto-Tune. This is not because Karen has bad pitch, she’s probably on key more often than I am. This is because almost all of her vocal parts are harmony parts. Brian and I could get away with being a little loose with pitch when singing by ourselves, but whenever we bust out the vocal harmonies, any sourness in pitch is immediately and painfully obvious. Although some of Karen’s parts came out fine, we ended up having to use Auto-Tune extensively in some passages. One passage in “Out of Time” couldn’t even be saved by Auto-Tune (which says bad things about my ear because it sure sounded in tune to me when she recorded it) and we ended up having to throw out her part in that section. Whenever we discovered that Brian or myself were irreparably out of tune during mixing, we could re-take that section on the spot, but Karen wasn’t around during the mixing process, so it was a case of Auto-Tune or die. If someone is doing a difficult vocal harmony (or something similar) and you can’t get them in the studio again easily to fix any problems, I recommend that you record multiple takes and save them all, just in case there are undiscovered problems with the take that you thought was perfect.

For the record, Brian and I would have preferred to not use Auto-Tune at all on this album. We generally went for a straightforward “live” sound on this album, we didn’t want to sound too heavily processed and suspiciously clean. However, there is a trade-off between the time necessary to re-record a passage and the time required to Auto-Tune it. If you’re perfectionist enough to go and fix every little note by re-recording it, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the studio, and a lot of dough (unless you own the studio). Besides, if you have to do a zillion re-takes for each section to get it right, how much more genuine is that than Auto-Tune? Aren’t you using machines to cover up your shortcomings as a musician either way? The best, most “genuine” and impressive way to avoid Auto-Tune would be to practice until your vocal cords bleed, and then sing the song perfectly, without requiring any re-takes or Auto-Tune. Sadly, we just aren’t that good yet, and reality forced our hand.

Surprise harmonies

The vocal harmonies in the chorus of The Grinder’s Tale (listen around 2:55-3:15) came as something of a surprise to all of us. In one of the last recording sessions, we entered the studio with the vague mission of “add more vocal harmonies to the album” because Mr. Gutkowski (my old Latin teacher and indie rock mentor) had said something about how great vocal harmonies separate the pros from the amateurs, and we had agreed with him wholeheartedly. Brian came up with ideas for a couple harmony parts in his car while driving to the studio, singing along to the rough mixes. Karen had a different idea, however, and that sounded good too. So we figured, why not put all of those harmony parts on the record? Karen went off into another room in the studio alone with my iPod with the broken earbuds singing and re-singing the harmony parts until they gelled, and then we recorded the 4-part harmony together.

Similarly, the harmony during the “oohs” on Last Warning was a last-minute addition (listen around 2:44-3:04). I said something like “Hey Karen, Brian sounds kind of lonely in that part, why don’t you go help him out and add a harmony part?” The toughest part was the last note of the harmony. Karen tried a couple different notes, but nothing sounded right except that 2nd we have on the record. Karen was like, “You really want it to end on that dissonant note?” And we were like, “Yep.” The suspension resolves, sort of, when the rest of the band comes in, but dissonant or not we love it to death.

Karen’s interview

N: Karen Rustad, you’ve just finished recording all of your vocals for the Stay Awake album. How does it feel?
Karen: Uhhhhhheehhhhhhhhh [Karen fakes dying]
N: Speak words, woman.
Karen: 😛 Nah, it’s good. I’m glad we got it done in time – barely. I’m happy with the new harmonies we were able to add on, maybe. We’ll see… It’s something different!
N: Alright. And what was your favorite song to record?
Karen: Probably Contained. It was easy. And, sounds good as ever.
N: OK, least favorite?
Karen: Break Free took too long! Ohmigod! I think it’ll sound really cool, but it took *forever*, and I had problems with pitch, until I realized that it’s a lot easier if you only cover one ear.
N: Interesting. So just having one ear outside the headphones…
Karen: Yeah, even though you have a monitor feeding it back to you, for some reason it’s a lot easier if I hear my voice for real, rather than it being broadcast back. A lot easier for me to adjust.
N: OK! And how do you think the album is coming?
Karen: I think it’s coming really good! This is wayyy better-sounding than the previous attempt. And I expect it’s going to be really playable and I hope that it gets lots of interwebs attention 😀
N: Alright, well, thank you 🙂

Recording electric guitar with Brian Rose

In our efforts to bring back the best features of classic rock, Brian’s lead guitar has been our secret weapon. We think that the emotive, virtuoso guitar solo is an important part of rock music that has been neglected for far too long, and we’re trying to fix that. Brian is a bit of a perfectionist, and that can be frustrating when we are paying for studio time by the hour, but his attention to detail really shines through on this album in every note the lead guitar plays. Sharing the studio with him has been a joy, an honor, and a learning experience.

Choosing an electric guitar

"Slash" guitar w/ flashBrian used three electric guitars on this album: a “Slash” Les Paul, an American Stratocaster, and a Mexican Stratocaster.

The “Slash” Les Paul has a very raw, hot, unforgiving sound. Brian used it for the lead parts on Out of Time, Running Scared, Flight III, and Last Warning (you can hear semi-final versions of those songs from The Grinder’s Tale 3P right now!). I was a bit surprised that we didn’t use the “Slash” Les Paul more, it can sound really mean when you play it right and I was very impressed by it in rehearsal. It turned out, however, that we didn’t want the lead guitar to sound quite so mean and in your face all the time. If we didn’t want a guitar part to cut right through the music and slice open your eardrums, we had to pick a different guitar instead of the “Slash” guitar, because that guitar really demands attention.

Brian experiments with effects pedalsThe American Stratocaster is the smoothest-sounding of the three guitars, but it still has a thin, jazzy sound. It is very versatile, you can make a very wide range of different tones depending on which pickups you select or pedals you use. We used it for the lead guitar part on The Grinder’s Tale, Flight II, My Private Asylum, Break Free, and Contained.

(If I recall correctly, the picture to the right also features Brian experimenting with his effects pedals in order to get the several layers of feedback right that appear at the very end of Out of Time. We left the door to the amp closet open so that the guitar would feedback, and we played with delay pedals that gave us some rhythmic patterns, as well as producing some bizarre results that reminded me of the Forbidden Planet soundtrack. This was one of the few times we used multiple pedals, as I’ll discuss later.)

Mexican Strat w/ flash
Finally, we used an inexpensive Mexican Stratocaster for rhythm guitar. (We didn’t use it for lead guitar at all.) Brian likes it for rhythm because it has a little bit of a wobbly, unstable sound that gives more flavor to the rhythm parts. We used it for the rhythm on Last Warning, Running Scared, and the electric guitar at the end of Bobby McGee.

Pedals, or lack thereof

Brian's effects pedals Back in the day when we were in Nuzzo’s basement studio recording our old EP, Brian used to use lots of pedals at once in his pursuit of the ultimate electric guitar sound. The photo to the left shows a typical pedal setup from the Nuzzo sessions. We’ve learned since then that sometimes less is more. If you have a good guitar and a good amp+preamp, and you’ve got a good sound, throwing lots of pedals on top of that will just screw it up. On the “Stay Awake” album, Brian mostly used only one pedal, a distortion pedal. We’re keeping it simple and raw.

The “Out of Time” solo

The guitar solo that closes “Out of Time” just might be the crowning moment of awesome for this album. It’s the solo that made me say “we need to get this into Rock Band” (stay tuned for more on that). The interesting thing to me is that the most emotionally powerful part of the solo, the climactic 20 seconds, is the only part that is simple enough for me to play (although Brian plays it much better, of course). Van Halen-esque theatrics are impressive, but sometimes what you need for a great solo is to play just a couple notes very passionately, and I think that’s what Brian did. Which is not to say that Brian doesn’t also have amazing technique.

One technique that Brian used in this solo that I had never seen before is a pinch harmonic or a “squealie”. Pinch harmonics are quite common in heavy metal and ZZ Top songs, all heavy metal solos are full of pinch harmonics, but I don’t listen to heavy metal much. Neither does Brian, I understand, but he learned the technique from his friend Christan who is into heavy metal giutar. To play a pinch harmonic you pluck the string with a pick, and then immediately after you hit it you barely scrape the string with your thumb. Thumb it too hard and you kill the note, thumb it too lightly and it doesn’t have the desired effect. You’ll be able to hear a pinch harmonic in “Out of Time” at around 3:27, it’s the 3rd note that Brian plays after the background vocals come in, and it is an extremely distinctive sound. I can’t wait for you to hear it 🙂

Brian’s interview

N: You’ve just finished a long day of recording electric guitars, how are you feeling?
B: I’m feeling tired, I’ve been tired for a like few hours now. I’m definitely like several hours, um, steps behind where I should be going to sleep…
N: That’s what our band is about, right?
B: Actually yeah, that’s right, I kind of forgot about that part, the whole Wrong Side of Dawn thing… I mean, I would be staying up until morning if that were true.
N: That’s true, thank god we are not there yet.
B: Yeah, I mean, I feel really good with what I recorded, I’m kind of disappointed we didn’t get through every single song today. But that might have been a little overambitious.
N: What was the favorite thing you recorded today?
B: Definitely the ending solo for Out of Time. We spent a lot of time on the feedback afterwards, which actually I think we need to kind of hold back on that with the mixing so that it doesn’t overshadow the song or anything like that. It’s supposed to be that it comes in for 10 seconds and then goes away. The actual solo itself, I was really glad how that went. I basically got it in one take, had to punch in just a couple of parts. I’m really glad I got the “Slash” Les Paul, it worked really well for that solo. I think it sounds really intense, and once we get other things like the vocal harmonies and stuff in there, that’s going to be a good climax to that song. I’ve definitely really been looking forward to that particular one minute of this album, and it’s gone well so far.
N: What was your least favorite thing about today?
B: Definitely Vulture [now called My Private Asylum], it’s weird how pretty much the solos were the easiest thing to record. It’s something like Vulture that doesn’t have any solos that needs to be exactly right. Definitely the solos were, ironically enough, the easiest thing to do, everything else is hard.
N: How do you think the album is coming along?
B: I think it’s coming along really good. I really feel like these songs are better than good. It’s disappointing when I show people what I’m writing and they say it’s good. People always say it’s good, and it really frustrates me. Your 3rd grade class project that you did the night before is good. I really think our songs are better than good…. so I sometimes wonder if I’m like the only real believer in some of these songs, but I think they’re going really well. Better than well.

Recording acoustic guitar with Nelson Pavlosky

Choosing a guitar

Nelson in profile

Unfortunately, choosing which guitar to record with wasn’t as easy as I hoped. All of our acoustic guitars developed problems during the record sessions, but fortunately they were different problems so we could choose which guitar to use based on which problem would affect the album the least. Now I understand why professional musicians own so many instruments: redundancy! Sure, having a selection of guitars with different properties allows you to produce a wider range of sounds, and having multiple guitars lets you quickly switch tunings while playing live, but I think the most important reason to have a lot of instruments is so you can switch when one instrument breaks down or starts sounding funny.

Kermit the guitar I am in love with my green Takamine acoustic-electric, named “Kermit”, and I would generally want to use it in any situation. However, recently Kermit has started going out of tune if I play high on the fretboard, and unfortunately many of our songs require me to do that. I didn’t have a chance to get Kermit’s problems checked out at the guitar store before recording started, so I had to use other guitars that were more in tune.

We used Brian’s black Martin acoustic-electric for a couple tracks, most notably “Running Scared”, but for some reason the low E string was sounding much louder and rattle-y than the other strings, which sounded strange. Much of “Running Scared” doesn’t use the low E string and we thought the guitar sounded fine with the parts that do, but this problem mostly eliminated the Martin from the album.

We ultimately used Brian’s Ovation acoustic-electric for most of the tracks, even though something was very wrong with the line out. I thought the line out would be important, but it turned out it wasn’t, we were able to record great-sounding acoustic guitars without it.

Recording acoustic-electric guitars without line-out

Nelson strums

For our EP we had two tracks for each acoustic/electric guitar: a microphone in front of the sound hole, and directly plugging it into the guitar’s line out, and that delivered a decent sound. By having multiple tracks for the acoustic guitars, we can mix them together and better control the sound. For example, if the line out has more bass, and the mike over the sound hole has more treble, you can turn up the volume on the line out if you want a more bassy sound. For this album we were hoping to have three tracks for the acoustic/electrics, by adding a third track from a microphone over the fretboard. However, since the line out on the Ovation was oddly quiet and full of static, we didn’t end up using that track, so we just had two tracks, the fretboard mike and the sound hole mike. I think this gave us a deep, rich, and very acoustic sound… the line out would have made the acoustic guitars sound a bit more electric, and I’m not sure I miss it.

Surviving without heat

The Sopranos watch over the heaterWe could not use the central air in the building while recording anything with microphones, because the fans made noise. It was the middle of winter in New Jersey, it was pretty darn cold outside and, without heat, inside. This problem affected recording the drums, acoustic guitars, and vocals. This may have been less of a problem for Santoro because drumming is a very physically intense activity, but playing guitar really was only exercising one or maybe two arms, there was no way I would break a sweat recording guitar. I compensated by wearing lots of layers, sometimes even wearing my winter coat indoors, and bringing a thermos of hot tea and a thermos of hot rice with me to the studio. It would have been hopeless without space heaters such as the one pictured to the left, and the little faux fireplace in the drum room, which we used to warm our fingers and maintain manual dexterity. It was still pretty miserable, but that’s the cost of the pursuing your musical dreams. If I ever get to build my own studio, I will do my best to make sure it has silent heating and cooling, so that we can keep the studio at a comfortable temperature no matter what we are recording.

My Interview

Brian: Um, this is the end of acoustic day… being our primary acoustic guitarist and our primary interviewer, would you like to ask yourself some questions?
Nelson: [laughter] Well, Nelson, how do you feel about being done with acoustic guitar? Well, me, I feel pretty frickin’ good. I’m sad that Kermit didn’t make it onto this album because I never got him tuned up at the shop, so Kermit is unfortunately absent. But I did enjoy the Ovation and the Martin guitars, they were good.
Brian: Did you enjoy freezing your ass off in that room over there?
Nelson: I did not enjoy freezing my ass off! Funny you should ask. But I had some hot tea and stuff, and I’m all good. I wore my orange hoodie over my headphones, so I was nice and cozy. It’s an accomplishment! I am happy.
Brian: One of your standard questions has been your favorite and least favorite songs to record.
Nelson: I think that Flight III / Flight I came out really good, I’m really proud of that. I am not proud of how I couldn’t play the finger-picking to “Out of Time” despite having practiced it for like years on end. But Brian hit it so it’s all good. And you know, I’ll practice it more and someday we’ll play it live, so… I am satisfied.
Brian: Alright, to be continued.
Nelson: Thank me for the interview 😉

Recording bass with Andrew Angelin

Choosing a bass player for “Stay Awake” was easy. Andrew Angelin is the most talented bass guitarist I know, and I am honored to play with him under any circumstances. He also joined us in the studio the last time we attempted to record this album, which meant that he was very familiar with our songs, and he had had plenty of time to polish and improve his basslines. I think it shows, in cuts like this slap bass riff from “Flight III”:

Technical skill

Andrew does some very technically interesting things with his bass, and I learn something from him whenever I watch him play. I once saw Andrew slide a harmonic, which I didn’t even think was possible. (He had a hard time replicating it consistently, but maybe I can convince him to pull that trick out on a future album.) I think that Andrew’s bass adds a lot of depth to our songs, and that it makes our songs interesting to listen to over and over because you hear something new every time.

Bass chordsSometimes Andrew plays chords on his bass, which is something I think most bass players never consider doing. You’ll be able to hear this during one of his bass solos at the end of “Where is Bobby McGee?” and at the beginning of “Crossing the Bar” for example, and I think it’s a really nice effect during quiet parts of a song. It’s an effect that may be hard to hear over a full band, so it is only useful in some cases, but it is a technique I rarely hear in rock music and I’m glad to be able to bring it to our listeners. I also don’t usually hear harmonics on bass guitars very often, outside of the records of Jaco Pastorius and other virtuoso bass players, but you’ll be able hear those after the bridge on “Break Free” and once again in the outro to “Where is Bobby McGee?”. The trick to using any technically difficult technique on an instrument is to only use it when appropriate of course, otherwise it becomes a gimmick or just showing off, which some people accuse bands like Dream Theater of doing. Like a spice, you just want to add enough to taste, and I think Andrew has done a good job of moderating his technical chops and only bringing them out for punctuation. (Is that a mixed metaphor?)

Choosing the bass

Andrew jamming on Brian's bass

Andrew decided not to use his own electric bass in the studio this time around… last time he recorded with it he heard some rattling that he thought was undesirable. When Andrew tried out Brian’s bass during rehearsal, he liked it a lot and so that’s what we went with.

When Brian bought his bass in the music store, he didn’t have any reason to expect it to sound particularly good, it’s just an inexpensive Specter bass. However, everyone who hears that bass agrees that it sounds particularly good, and when he brought it in for servicing once, the store guy offered to buy the bass off of Brian. This bass just hit a sweet spot for some reason. It’s somewhat comforting to know that in this world of assembly lines and mass manufacturing that some of the mass produced items come out special, despite all attempts at standardization.

We considered using Andrew’s upright bass for “Contained”, but Andrew decided that track’s jazz-rock sound worked better with an electric bass. He also doubted that he could pull off the ridiculously fast bass fill at the end of the bridge with an upright 🙂 We do try to avoid making our musicians’ lives harder than necessary.

Song charts

Andrew with his song charts

This may come as no surprise, but one important thing we accomplished during rehearsal for this album was creating/finalizing song charts for everyone to work from. I felt bad about not creating song charts for our musicians ahead of time before rehearsal, but at least with the musicians writing song charts for themselves at rehearsal the song charts were personalized for each of them. I think next time we would try to write out song charts ahead of time, however, so that we could spend more time playing music at rehearsal and less time writing down the basic chords and song structure. It’s quicker to add embellishments/edits to a basic song chart than to write one from scratch.

The aftermath

After each musician recorded their tracks, we interviewed them about their experiences in the studio. For Andrew’s interview, see the video below:

Nelson: Andrew, you just recorded all your bass for this album, how does it feel to be done?
Brian: All your bass are belong to us now!
Where's the bass at?Andrew: Ha ha ha, um, I feel great man, you know, I’m surprised it all got done on time in one day. That never happens. Brian’s bass was definitely the right tool to use, I’m glad he brought it. I had a blast! I’m surprised that we still have like 40 minutes.
Nelson: What was your favorite song that you did today?
Andrew: I could say “Last Warning” because there is a very funky bass solo… I dunno, that’s a tough one. I mean, I really enjoyed doing Flight II, because I think that bass line really, you know, it does a lot for me, I don’t know why, it’s a groove thing. Maybe “Break Free”, because that one goes way back, you know, that one goes back to early high school.
Nelson: Nostalgia, right?
Andrew: Exactly, yeah.
Andrew: My least favorite song might have been… well, “The Grinder’s Tale” had a tricky bass line, because it just involves a really strange finger stretch, getting those octaves and whatnot. “Vulture” [now “My Private Asylum”], I don’t know why, I feel like I’ve played it before, and I couldn’t come up with any good ideas for it.
Nelson: Not enough new stuff this time around?
Andrew: Yeah, I couldn’t figure out how to make it more interesting for myself. I feel like I just did the meat and potatoes.
Andrew: You know, we’re ahead of time. Santoro was a great choice for the drums, Portrait was the best choice, I’m glad we’re here and not with Mr. Nuzzo’s place.
Nelson: Ha ha ha
Andrew: The scratch tracks really really helped, so I think you guys should be pretty set. Let’s make this thing a killer album.

Recording drums with Anthony Santoro

Finding a drummer

When Wrong Side of Dawn was searching for a drummer for the “Stay Awake” album, we started with our friends from high school, old bandmates with whom we used to play music. While we were wasting our time attending a liberal arts college and then law school, our friends went to music school and then become professional musicians. If we wanted to pack as much technical skill and quality into this album as we could, those full-time musicians were the obvious people to talk to. The first drummer we asked to record with us was my friend Camille Olivier, who is currently playing with TV/TV, but his time was already booked up recording a couple albums and touring the world with his full time band. (Big surprise, professional musicians are frequently busy, playing music.) I’m still glad we talked to him because his advice has been invaluable in helping us choose Portrait Studios and make other decisions while recording this album.

Santoro rocks that tambourine!

The next person we talked to was Anthony Santoro, who had been the drummer in Brian’s high school band Ohm. Santoro is now a sound engineer in Boston, handling the sound for live shows at the Hard Rock Cafe, and when he’s not engineering sound he plays drums with singer/songwriter Evan Michael. Thankfully he was available over winter break and he agreed to join us in the studio. Brian was slightly disconcerted by the fact that Santoro agreed to record with us before he even heard the music that was destined to be on “Stay Awake”. What if our music sucked? I guess Santoro just had that much faith in Brian’s musicianship after playing with him in Ohm!

Starting the recording process

Tom, Santoro and some random dude listen to some drum tracks

Before Santoro or anyone else recorded a thing, Brian and I laid down some “scratch tracks” of guitar and vocals. Scratch tracks were recommended by The Indie Band Survival Guide to serve as a guide for the people recording so that they would know the basic song structure without having to memorize e.g. exactly how many times the chorus progression repeats and concentrate instead on playing great music. These scratch tracks were recorded quickly and were only a temporary framework or skeleton for the songs, to be replaced with real guitars and vocals once the rhythm section was recorded, and frequently they contained instructions to the musicians such as “Here comes the chorus! One, two, three, go…” instead of (or in addition to) actual singing. Sometimes our recorded instructions were inadequate, and we supplemented it live in the studio with instructions shouted into a microphone and piped into the musicians’ headsets, as Brian does in the video clip below.

We only got one full day of rehearsal in with Santoro and the full band, but everyone’s musical instincts seemed to serve them well and the songs were rocking hard by the end of a very long Sunday. Song charts were prepared, song parts were polished, and we were all on the same page. Recording started the very next day, Monday night, with Santoro being the first to step up to the plate. Santoro and Tom seemed to hit it off right away since they were both sound engineers and drummers, and together they got Santoro’s drums set up and miked very quickly. I helped hand Santoro things from the gig bag but my usefulness was rather limited in this phase. Later Santoro would record individual drum “samples”, hitting each drum and cymbal separately rather than as part of a song, so that Tom can drop in copies of Santoro’s drum sounds into our recordings to make them sound more awesome.

Santoro and Tom wonder where they can attach a tambourine to the drumset

Tracking the drums


Santoro has a knack for making a track rock, but he seems to have a different philosophy of drumming than other drummers I’ve played with in the past. Whereas a drummer like Camille has no doubt that his drums are playing a leading role in a song and follows in the tradition of flamboyant drummers like Travis Barker from Blink-182, Santoro has more of a humble attitude and is always very concerned about stepping on other players’ parts, considering himself to be more of a background instrument, perhaps like Roger Taylor from Queen. This philosophy generally served him well, but when we wanted him to pull out all the stops and take the drums over the top it sometimes took cajoling and convincing. I’m happy to report, however, that once he understood that we *really* wanted him to demolish his drumset, he delivered some of the most intense drum solos it’s been my pleasure to experience. There were also some communication problems when we had very specific visions for the drum parts because Brian and I don’t really play drums, so the best we could do was make noises with our mouths and vague gestures with our hands, or sometimes refer to similar drum parts in classic songs (e.g. “Think the opening in Give It Away!”). Santoro was fortunately very talented at turning our incoherent instructions into real drum parts, and for that I must give him mad props.

Tracking snare and tambourine

P1030554.JPG I think it’s important to not always use a standard drumset, and while we didn’t experiment with more unusual percussion on this album we did depart from Santoro’s drumset on a couple of occasions. Rather using Santoro’s standard snare on some songs, we got a genuine marching band snare for the more march-y parts, which if I recall correctly includes the opening and end of “Out of Time”. We also used a lot of tambourine on the outro to “Where is Bobby McGee?”, a part which Santoro was initially reluctant to play, claiming he was no tambourine expert. I don’t think any of us could have played the tambourine better / more accurately than he did, and I’m glad we encouraged him to add “percussion” to his credits on the album rather than just drums.

The end result

Ultimately, I think that everyone involved was quite pleased with what we had accomplished. If you want to know what Santoro himself thought, just watch the video interview below!

Nelson: Here we have Anthony Santoro. Anthony, you have just finished tracking all the drums for this album, how does it feel?
Santoro: It feels awesome! … My voice is going out, it’s been a long grueling two days. I’m getting sick, battling the elements, I’m probably going to go get myself some delicious and satisfying McDonalds. I think most people after a big thing they usually go to Disneyland. I’m probably just going to go hit up McDonalds and Wendy’s, get myself some dinner… It’s quarter after 12 in the morning, got an hour and a half drive ahead of me… it’s good times.
Nelson: How are you feeling about the album so far?
Santoro: I think it sounds great! I don’t know who played drums on it, that guy was awful, everything else sounds great though on the album.
Brian: Too bad there’s nothing else [yet] on the album…
Nelson: What’s your favorite song so far, Anthony?
Brian: Or did they all just blend together at this point?
Santoro: I think Flight III was my favorite to track, Flight III was pretty awesome. It’s intense, it’s emotional… If you get the feeling that I wanted to throw my sticks through the window at the songwriter… I didn’t want to do that, you’re great guys.
Nelson: What was your least favorite song?
Santoro: Uhhh… Flight III! Not throwing my sticks through the window at the… Nooo, all the songs I think are great 🙂

Recording a full-length album in a professional studio

I’m happy to announce that Wrong Side of Dawn is recording a full-length album at Portrait Recording Studios in Lincoln Park, NJ. The album is tentatively titled “Stay Awake” and will feature about 12 songs which we attempted to record previously in the Nuzzo sessions but have been polished and updated for this release. We expect this album to be AMAZING once it is finished, Tom Suhey has done a very professional job as studio engineer and we’ve been working with musicians of the highest caliber.

We are almost finished with the recording phase, after having spent most of winter break in the studio. The main thing left to record is some of Brian’s vocals, which should be finished in the next couple of weeks, and then we will move on to mixing. If you want to follow our progress, you can read our microblog on Identica or Twitter, and see photos of WSD on Flickr. We’ve been trying to document the recording process as well as we can, and I think we’ve done a decent job, except for keeping this blog updated. I hope to fix that over the next couple of weeks, by posting accounts of our past recording sessions over winter break and then ideally continuing to post about things as they happen. Stay tuned!