Chicago writer John Fancher talked with songwriter and keyboardist Brendan O’Connell to talk about his experience of recording The Right Now’s brand new album Starlight with Vijay and Steven at Transient Sound in Chicago.
It was one of those tunes that took the most finessing…
We knew we’d sort of pigeonholed ourselves as a band that did retro-soul or throwback kind of stuff. We also knew it was time to breakout—try and be a little more pop.
Going into the studio I’d say the biggest bear for us to handle was mixing this tune called “Postcard.” It’s a pure pop song, but it’s also one of those tunes that took the most finessing.
Quincy Jones used to describe Michael Jackson as great in the studio because he had “ass power.” It meant he could just sit his ass in the chair for as long as needed to in order to see the project through. If it was a 14-hour day then that’s what it was.
That’s what Vijay really had when he was mixing “Postcard”—
Vijay had ass power.
We spent a good week in there every single day dialing in the mix before we moved onto something else.
And he still wasn’t happy.
We went back and mixed and mixed and mixed. We kept going until we ended up finding it—the perfect balance of epic pop music, without being too synthetic or cheesy.
We all loved what we ended up with.
Another thing I enjoyed about making this record was working with him sonically on drum sounds. Vijay is very tuned in to the aesthetics of drums.
I think for anyone trying to make a professional recording, this is the area that stands out.
You can tell right away—was this done on the cheap?
Or was this done with real engineers at a real studio with real mics and pre-amps and stuff?
We had a lot of options, and we took our time, especially the snare sound for every single tune. So even though it’s all played on the same kit, the drums sound different on every one.
For the disco-flavored “Up All Night,” we wanted that classic dry, really deep snare sound. We ended up putting a ton of tape, a cell phone, and Lucas’s wallet on top of the snare. It made it as dead and fat as possible. It almost sounds like a sample drum kit or something. It sounds amazing.
In terms of engineering and problem solving, these guys were great.
We had a good workflow. Vijay and I took the summer to meet 3 or 4 times and go through every single tune using the demo tracks that my band and I made in our rehearsal studio. We would listen down together, critique everything, fine tune arrangements, take out certain parts, shorten verses or choruses, shift stuff around.
Having all of that prepped outside of having the musicians in the room waiting to play was a huge time saver, and because of that we knew what we wanted the minute we stepped in to record.
Every record needs a producer.
Maybe that’s obvious, but it’s worth saying as you look at recent years when everyone could make a record in their bedroom.
Now people are realizing, “Oh, okay well it’s not necessarily going to sound as good as I want it to that way.”
And, even as a band with a strong leader in terms of direction or pushing people, and having musicians who have music studies sort of background to back up their opinions…
Having someone to rein everything in and be a final decision maker is invaluable.
My advice to any musician just getting into this world would be to get a producer.
Also, have a budget for it. We’re in the age of everyone expecting artists to do work for little to nothing.
The art really suffers when that’s the case.
In terms of when you’re working with a band, it’s best if everyone can buy into the dream. Say if we’re playing a gig and only getting $250, we can divide that 7 ways or we can put that into a recording fund. It’s about finding the right group of musicians who are talented, but also interested in the long game.
Another option when you’re a band that doesn’t have a lot of cash at the moment is to look at doing a 2-3 song EP or just releasing a single. The reality is that’s how most consumers are going to be listening to your album anyways.
Getting to work with Transient on our art was just an amazing experience.
I’m not sure there’s anywhere else in Chicago where there’s such a great combination of prolific musicians, great engineers and people that make records.
Photo credit: Seth Thompson/Epiglotic Photographic