Hey Stranger began recording a full length record in March 2010. It was finally available online in August 2011 and physically a few weeks after that. What took so long? I recorded 3 songs with The Hard Times in 8 hours of a Sunday afternoon. Why was this so different?
We did it the new old-fashioned way. That is, we spent time in advance of recording figuring out the best tempos for the tunes, and then recording vocal and guitar scratch tracks. In the 3 or 4 practices leading up to recording, we would take a few minutes out of an already busy practice to find the right tempo. Tony, our lead singer, then used those tempos to create the scratch tracks. We’d then go to multi-tracking where we recorded each instrument, one at a time, to those scratch tracks. This is where the bulk of the time went. (The last update I gave on recording was in September of 2011!)
For each session, it meant a number of people had to be available: our loyal engineer, Dave, the musician performing (or in the case of the horn section, 3 musicians), and Frankie or me acting as producers. If we were using the Creation Station studio in Whitestone, Queens, that meant coordinating with their schedule, too. The bulk of the people involved were working Joes; weekends were the only option. If I’ve learned nothing else about adulthood, free weekends are worth their weight in gold. When it came time to record the horn section, it meant 6 different calendars had to align. This album took a year and a half because we really only recorded one weekend a month when all was said and done. Really, it’s amazing we finished at all.
Our engineer Dave handled the mixing and we brought in Jesse Litwa of Royal City Riot and Broadcaster to handle mastering. Mastering, like every other stage of recording, took time only because of how long the feedback and revision stages took. After we got a round of mixes (or masters, or album artwork, or whatever), it took a solid week to collect the band’s feedback and relay it back to the person in charge in a meaningful way. Our practice time is precious and not as regular as we’d like. We’re all busy with our jobs or classes, and our lead singer bounces between NYC and Baltimore. When it came time to listen to a round of mixes, it happened over email. Effectively, we’re an “email band.” Decisions are made over email, feedback is given over email, and having discussions can be… challenging. Anyone with an office job can tell you how great/awful email can be. Now apply that to a creative process like making a record. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we had to work with.
The result was a record we didn’t rush through and we’re really proud of. We have 10 tracks of songs we’d been playing for quite some time and had the itch to record, proving they were written. The exception being one song that we had only demo’ed, not yet played out, and that we had to learn along the way. Ironically, I think this song came out the best and is my favorite (it reminds me the most of The Hippos’ “Heads Are Gonna Roll,” the record I wanted ours to sound most like). While we didn’t get to add every bell and whistle to the record that we wanted, we did get every song down that we had which I’ve never accomplished in any band before. The record is titled “Waited Out The Day,” the first song on the record. Tony speaks about the tune and plays an acoustic version:
The cover art was created by our friends at Shameless Design who also did the “Devil Girl” (aka Suzy) who’s appeared on stickers and CDs. We can’t thank them enough for their time and patience as we only had a vague idea of what we wanted out of a cover. I had the pleasure of creating the rest of the album artwork taking design cues from the cover. We’re really excited about the cover. You’ll find nods to handful of songs and the same kitschy vibe that we seem to carry with us.
Like anything else, this was a tremendous learning experience. I wore the “producer” hat for a chunk of the recording. Turns out, I’m not bad at it, but it was a role I was happy to relieve myself of every now and again. I think this will also be the last time I record to a click track. If you don’t practice or perform to a metronome, don’t try recording to one. Use the metronome to figure out the best tempos and have your drummer get a sense of the tempo right before tracking. You’ll end up playing to the song and the drummer and not to the click. It’s a much more natural process. I also think if we go back into the studio, I want to record bass and drums at the same time, with the guitarist in the room playing, but not tracking. This is how we did some basic tracks for The Hard Times and I think the tracks we got what we wanted.
You can stream the entire record on bandcamp. “Bitch and Rhyme” can be downloaded for free. If you like what you hear, you can buy the record directly from us for $4.99 on bandcamp. It’s also available on iTunes and Amazon if those are your stores of choice. In case your curious, Tunecore is our digital distributor of choice. Physical records are only available at shows but they may soon appear online (it’s a totally sexxy digipak, I promise).