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Sills & Smith / Blog

Hitting Scottish Airwaves on Saturday!

Thanks to our new friend Chas Cunningham of the terrific Scottish band The Skunnered, the title track from Uncertain Vista will be played on the radio in Scotland this Saturday, January 21st on the Pulse 98.4: http://www.pulseonair.co.uk/ In addition to playing with The Skunnered, Chas does music programming on Pulse 98.4 in East Renfrewshire. The Saturday Sandwich is a program that runs from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. (which means a 6:00 a.m. start for us in Ottawa). The show is a really neat format, combining live music with Chas and various talented friends and pre-recorded songs. The land of the finest single malt whisky is home to even finer people and tremendous music.Chas has already played No Safety Net and A Writer's Retreat from our album on his show, so I guess that means he likes us. If you're not in East Renfrewshire within radio signal distance, just tune in online as we'll be doing this Saturday. Sills and Smith will be having an early breakfast with the Saturday Sandwich this weekend.

Day 5 In The Studio

Today, was our scheduled fifth day at Corvidae Music as we work to complete our second album. But it started with a sense of trepidation and dread at what the Ottawa winter had dished out. After hearing the daunting weather forecast, I couldn't help but think of a line from Tom Waits' Diamonds on My Windshield from the brilliant Heart of Saturday Night album: "There's 50 feet of snow in the East and it was colder than a well digger's ass; colder than a well digger's ass." Still not a lot of snow for these parts, but it was damn cold at -33 with the wind chill. Luckily, things warmed -- just a touch -- as we headed off to Jonathan's studio in the late afternoon for a session of musical merriment and certain mayhem. Since I'd done extra vocal work last Thursday, it was Jeremy's turn to do the heavy lifting today, with acoustic guitar and vocals required on Radiance and Clouds. I assumed my position as "co-producer" for this session, stretched out on a rather comfy couch at the back of Jonathan's control room while Jeremy tuned up his guitar. Meanwhile, Jonathan twiddled knobs and dials, plugged and unplugged cables and cords. I have vowed to stay well away from any vital studio equipment while in session. There was a certain, unfortunate incident involving an exploding package of M@M's (manufacturing defect, I'm convinced) that occurred during an Uncertain Vista mixes listening session in the summer that could have been catastrophic. Luckily, the M@M's spilled all over Jonathan's floor, but if one or two had lodged in a pre-amp or something that might well have shut the studio down for weeks. I won't tell, for sure, if we picked all those delicious chocolate candies up and ate them, as that would be indelicate. I will say, at least from my perspective, that an M@M would need to land on a heap of steaming dung before it would be considered entirely unsalvageable. But I digress. Anyway, Jeremy did a brilliant job with the acoustic guitar on Radiance. Everything sounds so warm, particularly the way Jonathan has the guitar mics set-up in the room. There will be a lot of acoustic guitar on this album, even on the tracks that rock pretty hard. We all dearly love the texture that acoustic guitar adds to a song -- whether its a folk or an alternative rock piece. After he played guitar, Jeremy sang an extra, high vocal part on the chorus of Radiance as counter to my lower part; Jonathan plans on singing a part between the two of us. The blending of voices should be marvelous once Jonathan is through with the mix. As there was considerable set-up required initially, and levels had to be checked on the guitar, the recording of the acoustic on Clouds went much more quickly. Jeremy nailed that pretty smartly. Really thick strummy sound, that suits the song perfectly. Jonathan may add a mandolin to the mix. That would be lovely. The bass sounds so rich on both of these tracks. Jeremy sang the chorus for Clouds after adding the guitar part. I suggested a hummed part to close out the last few bars of the song, as I kept hearing it in my head with the chiming electric guitar, bass and acoustic atmospherics. In fact, I've put humming this out loud everytime I play the rough mix. Jeremy delivered the idea, in spades, with a tremendous vocalization that closes the song. It was a very successful day of recording and I did next to nothing. I'll be working harder on Thursday though when we are back at it, with a bunch of songs left to record to complete the album including: Saturday, Open Season On Love, Light, In Silence, In Miniature, Pain and Let It All Float By. We also need to go back and re-record certain vocal parts for Would It All Be Different? and It Doesn't Matter. So, there's a lot to be done but we are making steady progress in the studio and having a blast in the process. Another report will follow after Thursday's session. Until then, Cheers, Frank

Day 4 In The Studio

On Thursday. I managed to find some time mid-day to pay Jonathan a visit in the studio to do vocal parts for three songs: I Can't Reach You, Clouds and Radiance. I must say the current mixes are sounding tremendous. Clouds is really evocative when our three voices come in on the chorus. Radiance is a lovely, shimmery piece, aptly named. I Can't Reach You rocks pretty hard; Jonathan has a searing electric lead guitar part, which is anchored by his amazing bass work, on that tune. Anyway, I sang the verses for Clouds again to address pitch issues from the initial recording. Sang that one all the way through, so Jonathan could utilize some of the chorus singing as well. I Can't Reach You mainly required work in the verses as there were issues with the click track coming through from the intial recordings of the vocals. There's also guitar bleed on Jeremy's vocal mic, but he'll address that next week when he does more singing on this track. Since Jeremy and I trade verses on I Can't Reach You, I only had to sing half the tune, so that was easy as pie. Radiance was much tougher to re-record my vocals in the verses. It was a timing issue for me, on the second verse. Between the first and second verse there is a strummed guitar part -- just before a massive drum fill that commences the second verse -- I kept coming in either a beat too early or too late. Jonathan corrected the problem by coming out of his control room, with a remote system, and counted me in so I could see him from the booth I was singing in. I left Corvidae Music with a disc that has the current studio mixes of six songs: Clouds, I Can't Reach You, Radiance, That's Not The Reason, Melancholy World and I'm Right Here. This stuff sounds amazing so far to my ears, but there's still lots of work to be done on these songs and others. Jonathan is currently working on the arrangements for It Doesn't Matter and Would It All Be Different?, two tracks recorded before Christmas with just Jeremy's guitar and our vocals. Next Monday, Jeremy will be doing vocals and adding some guitar to tracks already laid down. It looks like we'll be tackling recording additional material for the album at Corvidae on Wednesday. At the moment it's shaping up to be a 15-16 song album. There will be fewer tunes on this disc than Uncertain Vista, but two or three that could stretch to five or six minutes in length, with longer instrumental passages. Many of the songs have more verses as well, this time around. The challenge has been to carefully cull tunes from the ones Jeremy and I have been rehearsing over the last few months since the first album was released. We'll probably need to leave six or seven pretty damn good tunes off this album in the interests of continuity and to keep the disc to a reasonable length. We'll save those ones for a future effort. I'll keep you posted as things develop. Cheers, Frank

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

Fascinating to hear how the album is being brought together. Can't wait to hear the finished product.

Day 3 In The Studio

It was a productive session today with Jonathan at Corvidae Music. He has been busy adding extra guitars, bass and drums to five of the eight songs that we've recorded to our follow-up album to Uncertain Vista. And man, the early mixes are sounding incredible. Some real, blistering, yet textured, trippy rockers will be on this disc, but our soft acoustic side wins the day, every now and then. Today, Jeremy and I re-visited vocals on three of the tracks: Melancholy World, I Can't Reach You and I'm Right Here. It's interesting to hear how dynamic sounding this music is, even in the early mixes. Melancholy World is a great vehicle for Jeremy's incredible vocal range and startling tonal colour. I sing the verse parts primarily, with some support from Jonathan. Jeremy sings the bridge -- which is really like a first chorus -- and then all three voices blend on the massive chorus with the simple repeated "Can't escape it now" phrase. Jeremy's voice rises above it all. The guitars -- electric and acoustic -- are prominent on Melancholy World. As usual, the rhythm section -- bolstered by Jonathan's brilliant bass playing -- really drives this track. I'm pretty proud of the song. It's come a long way from the first time Jeremy and I practiced it. I Can't Reach You is quite a desperate, bluesy, rocker; a very different kind of tune. The verse parts are sung alternately. I sing the first two verses, Jeremy the second two. We both sing the chorus and we added an extra response part that was Jonathan's idea. Jeremy's sings this. It really fills up the sound and adds suspense and tension to a tune that is already wound just about as tight as it gets. I'm Right Here is the straight ahead love song. Jonathan said he thinks it might be the most beautiful one I've written. I hope people like it. We both sang our vocal parts again on that song. We trade verses and sing the chorus together. Some astonishing, high harmonics to Jeremy's singing on this tune. This is a hard song to sing, but when we nailed it, it sounded just gorgeous. Near the end of the session, Jonathan listened to our live demo recordings from last week of two new tunes In Silence and In Miniature. Jonathan loves those songs too, so it looks like they will also make the cut for this album. We briefly discussed ideas for musical and vocal arrangements for the tracks before we trundled off into the deep, frigid Ottawa winter. Back in the studio for another session on Friday. Will have more to report then. Cheers, Frank

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

Thanks for the update Frank. Starting to sound like really exciting progress. Do you have a new album title yet?

Rehearsals For New Album Tracks This Week

While Jonathan has been busy doing his magic in the studio at Corvidae Music, working with the eight songs recorded before Christmas, Jeremy and I got right back at it rehearsing more new songs for the next album. We practiced and then did live recordings in Jeremy's studio of five songs that Jonathan hasn't heard yet. Yesterday, we tackled the blistering, Open Season On Love and Pain with Jeremy playing some absolutely searing electric guitar. I thought we'd blow the roof off the place when we hit the chorus on Pain. We slowed things down a tad for the acoustic, anti-bullying song, Let It All Float By. After the session, MP3s were dispatched to Jonathan so he could hear the new material in its, raw, unvarnished form. It all sounds pretty great to me, although my voice is a bit low in the rough, live mixes. This morning I wrote a brand new tune called In Silence. The melody came quite easily; the lyrics damn near killed me. Nice to finally work the word "miscreants" into a song, although that part -- strangely enough -- doesn't rhyme, Anyway, In Silence will be pretty epic when Jonathan applies a full studio treatment. Jeremy came up with some extremely trippy, ambient, electric craziness on the spot as we rehearsed and we recorded that one within 30 minutes or so. On to the last tune of the week, the pretty, acoustic guitar based, In Miniature. As I explained in an earlier blog, that one is about an old woman who does paintings in miniature and keeps them in her china cabinet. It's a revisiting of some of the thematics from Uncertain Vista, but the tune is quite different. We'll see what Jonathan thinks of it when he hears it. So, it's been a productive week of rehearsals and live demo recordings. We seem to be collecting and storing tons of songs as squirrels store their nuts. At one point yesterday, as we were looking through the stack of song sheets, Jeremy and I actually couldn't recall all of the tunes recorded before the holidays. I'm sure Jonathan will refresh our memories next Wednesday when we are back at Corvidae Music for more work on vocals with him. Until then, Cheers, Frank

Snob's Music Best of 2011!

Well, we have some very exciting news that totally made my day just before Christmas! Our debut album, Uncertain Vista has made the top 100 best albums of 2011 according to prominent music blog-spot T.O. Snob's Music: http://www.snobsmusic.net/2011/12/best-of-2011-albums-100-51.html We're sitting pretty at number #92 in this year's list. That may not seem too high, but that ranks us ahead of Thurston Moore's amazing Demolished Thoughts (a personal fave from 2011), Dan Mangan's Oh Fortune and David Lowery's Palace of The Guards. Next year we'll try to catch up to Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, who are just ahead of Sills and Smith at number 91 and 90 respectively. In any event, we are right up there with some pretty esteemed company. Many thanks and happy holidays to Peter Kearns at Snob's Music for this wonderful recognition of our music. We are so very proud! Frank

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

Top 100 best albums of 2011 - that's fantastic news. Congrats chaps.

Day 2 In The Studio

We managed to carve out some studio time at Corvidae Music today after being away from recording the new album for a week. The rehearsal time we had yesterday was especially productive, however. Jeremy and I had about 7 tunes in particularly great shape. He is getting over a cold, but his voice has a charming shade of Mark Oliver Everett, while maintaining that stunning four octave range. Anyway, I was running late so we arrived without time for the usual stop for viscous, high octane fair trade coffee. As a result, I was a bit concerned that low energy -- due to caffeine deprivation -- would trump unbridled enthusiasm for the material and preparedness. But with Jonathan's able direction in the control room, and despite a few delays for planned and unplanned guitar tunings, we completed guide vocals for five songs. We recorded I Can't Reach You, It Doesn't Matter, Clouds, Melancholy World, and Would It All Be Different? I think folks will really like these songs.. They sound amazing already with one guitar and two voices. Can't wait to hear Jonathan's backing instrumentation and arrangements. Two weeks ago we recorded Radiance, I'm Right Here, and That's Not the Reason. The first two really are love songs and That's Not the Reason is the grim, foreboding rocker. The songs tracked today also have varied themes lyrically -- but it's pretty dark stuff, for the most part. Clouds has a gorgeous chorus and I think the verses are really unique melodically as well. It is as advertised, a song about Clouds; their incredible majesty and mystery. It is a song of celebration at one of nature's wonders. And I assure you, our Clouds doesn't have even a hint of Joni Mitchell's or The Go-Between's great tunes of the same name. I Can't Reach You is a song of lament at a relationship that has gone awry, a person who can't be helped or saved. Melancholy World is kind of a bitter tune at life's injustices, but the bouncy tone of the chorus -- sung beautifully by Jeremy -- leavens the mood a fair bit. It Doesn't Matter is about people in your life who don't care about anybody, but themselves. And, in fact, don't even care about themselves that much. They just drift through life unaware of the havoc that they leave in their path. Would It All Be Different? is also pretty bleak and about life's catastrophies and how we're basically helpless in the face of fate. But, with eight songs recorded with guide vocals, I can say the material is diverse musically and thematically. We shall start afresh in the new year with a bunch more tunes on deck to record before we go back to re-record and over-dub certain vocal parts. I'm sure Jeremy will be adding some cool ambient guitar textures to what he's already played. And I can't wait to hear the extra guitar, upright bass, mandolin, drum, keyboards etc. that Jonathan will contribute to create a fragrant stew of sound. You'll learn more on the progress of the new album in early 2012!

Uncertain Vista in seasonal greeting

Just when I was starting to think about possibly doing another music video for the album, a surprising request came along, out of the blue, from Calgary. Recently I've reconnected with some friends from my residence days at Carleton University, which was some thirty years ago. Jody MacPherson, who is one of the nicest people I knew back then, has become a renewed contact through social media. Jody even bought our album on Itunes. Anyway, Jody asked if she could use the song Uncertain Vista in her seasonal family greeting this year. I must say I am very flattered and touched that she would choose our song as the soundtrack for her cherished memories of 2011. With Jody's permission, I am sharing this Youtube link with you. Check it out. It's so beautifully done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAguEi-CN8s&feature=youtu.be As you can see, Jody is quite a photographer and an accomplished, professional communicator. Her blog, Jody MacPherson -- which offers thoughts on communication, politics and popular culture -- is well worth reading on a regular basis. http://jodymacpherson.wordpress.com/ Happy holidays and all the best in 2012 to Jody and her family from Sills and Smith. Cheers, Frank

JMacPherson
JMacPherson  (over 4 years ago)

Thanks for letting me use your song, Frank. It's a beautiful tune (and album). Thanks also for the kind mention on your blog!
Jody

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

I checked out the link, fabulous photo story telling, very artistic, and the matching with Sills & Smith works perfectly.

Back in the studio next week!

Various things have prevented a return to the studio this week. But it now looks like Tuesday is a go for Jeremy and I to pay Jonathan another visit at Corvidae Music to work on more songs for the follow-up album to our debut disc, Uncertain Vista. We've got guide vocals down for three songs and Jonathan has already created wonderful arrangements for two of the quieter numbers: Radiance and I'm Right Here. The anguished rocker, That's Not The Reason is still just a guitar and voice recording at this stage. We've got another 13 songs on deck that have been well-rehearsed, so we will pick our way through them gradually to get the recording just right. During this break week, I worked on three new tunes on my own. Open Season On Love is a real bluesy one, which laments the state of the world and how little folks seem to care about poverty, hunger, greed etc. I think it will rock as hard as No Safety Net, but the song is quite different. The chorus is pretty memorable and I'm really pleased with the words. In Miniature carries on with my fascination with artists. This one is about a woman who paints miniatures and stores them in her china cabinet. It's a weird idea that occurred to me during a meditation class in the middle of a chant. Let It All Float By is my attempt to tackle the serious issue of bullying in our schools. It's inspired by the American "It Gets Better" campaign, which is particularly directed at gay youth. Jeremy and I haven't even practiced these songs yet, so they may not translate so well in the studio. In the meanwhile, the lyrics for all three songs are written and the tunes are stored on my portable Panasonic device. I need to go back to a few other song fragments that are mostly just hummed bits with some lyrics. Perhaps I'll find time this weekend to complete what I've started. We'll post another blog after our next studio session with Jonathan. Until then, wishing one and all in the Reverbnation community a lovely weekend. Frank

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

Great to hear on the good progress Frank.

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

Interesting themes (lyrical ideas) too.

The Sorry State of Things

We are now engaged in recording songs for a new album and that makes us excited. And we remain immensely proud of Uncertain Vista. Thank you to so many kind and talented souls on Reverbnation who have said nice things about our music. At the same time, it is difficult not to take note of the sorry state of things for independent music and artists. It's bad enough that commercial radio won't play decent music anymore. But it also seems that the majority in the world around us are not willing to support musicians and composers. Folks will spend $50 a week on coffee and donuts at Tim Hortons, but they won't shell out $15 bucks for a CD. It reminds me of a line from a Rodney Dangerfield film: "It's rough out there." It is and it's not funny. I see so many artists on Reverbnation offering up their music for free on Bandcamp and other online venues. Don't do it! It hurts all of us involved in the creative process so badly when you do. I'm thrilled that we now have fans in places like England, Australia and Norway who have bought our album and tell us how much they are enjoying it. That warms my heart and keeps me going. But let's make sure as artists that we don't devalue our art by giving it away for free. Frank

Rhesus Monkey
Rhesus Monkey  (over 4 years ago)

Right on Frank!

kloudworks
kloudworks  (over 4 years ago)

Basically right!