"Watermark" & how it was made.
thanks for reading these "how it was made" posts... they've been really fun to write, and it's so nice to hear positive feedback!
today, i'm going to write about "watermark," the last song on the "october" EP.
although it wasn't the first song we began working on for yearbook, it was the first song that we completed.
the piano melody was hidden away in one of my digital recorders for a few years, before it became watermark. a few years back, i wrote the primary piano piece (the piano first heard in the song) and always liked it, but could never figure out what i wanted to do with it. for some reason, when i got home from a mini vacation to disney world a couple months ago, i remembered that little 30 second recording and grew fonder of it and began working out vocal melodies to it. i'm pretty sure writing a vocal part was the reason it didn't get turned into a song sooner... couldn't come up with something over it, but this time the vocal melody came right out, so i dug right in.
after playing with it for a few days, i knew that this song would benefit from recording it organically, to record vocal and piano together live, with no click track/guide. we used this same concept to record "naive" and "clockwork" from storyboards, and this song felt like it would work best in that scenario too.
this time, however... for the piano we tried new mic positions... a mic on each side of my upright piano, aimed almost directly at the wall the piano was up against. weird, for sure... but out of all of the positioning we've tried with my piano, this is so far the most true and accurate sound we've gotten from it. (in past, we've pulled the piano away from the wall, with mics behind it, etc)
this was the first song we got to use our newly purchased neumann m-147 tube microphone and our UA 6176 compressor/preamp! our knowledge for gear is minimal at best, but we're fortunate to know what we need to know... so after some fiddling around and knob turning, we got a sound that we fell in love with. recording this song definitely set the precedence for recording the rest of the songs, in terms of the type of vocal sound... piano mic-ing, etc. we're pleased with the direction.
i have a little bit of record-button phobia. when nothing is recording, i can play through songs without mistakes or hesitation. press record, immediately my brain sends messages to my entire body to mess up as often as possible. it's a completely phycological issue, that i've never been able to fully shake, but fortunately it's never effected my takes in such a way that i can't get it done eventually. just a bit frustrating at first! after getting over that, and playing a few times through, i finally got into a pocket and felt like the takes were decent. and of course, right on cue, traffic noises battled me for hours during the takes. honking... loud engines... trucks, etc. so much noise, that seemed to disappear only when i pressed stop. literally. so, i tried takes in the morning... same story. afternoon... same story... late night... less traffic, but louder stereos on occasion (again, pretty much only while recording)... so, that was a discouraging start to recording yearbook, but eventually i got what i needed and moved on. so, i'm sure if you listen close enough, you can probably hear a couple monster trucks driving by in the background somewhere...
a little FYI... in the digital booklet of "october" it says it was recorded at "drive by studios," the above traffic issue explains that name.
shortly after recording the vocal/piano... the string arrangement was put together! at first i thought i wanted something very simple and minimal, but after working on it, we decided that something slightly more complex and fuller would be the right way to go. more cinematic.
earlier this year, a gal named joanna hui reached out to us and mentioned that she played violin and would love to play with us sometime. we replied and say that'd be lovely and we'd love to hear her play! she sent over a video of her and her sister playing a few songs and we were blown away by the talent... so when we thought of string players for "watermark," joanna came to mind, right off the bat. being from chicago and her being from michigan, we had to coordinate a time when she was in town and when we were ready to have her record something! so, watermark began to develop and matched up perfectly for her visit in august. we asked if she knew of another violinist and a cellist that she enjoyed working with and she was kind enough to connect us with her sister, jessica. and jessica was kind enough to seek out a cellist named, alex kruser.
once we had an idea of who exactly was going to play, we sent off our inaccurate pro-tool created charts and some midi versions of the parts to joanna, who was kind enough to distribute the parts to each of the other players, while making sure nothing got mistranslated in the pro-tool charts...
next was the question - where are we going to record this string trio? so, jessica hui, who was staying at a nearby hotel, asked the hotel if it'd be alright for us to record there... they kindly gave permission and so, the trio was recorded in a hotel suite! dan and i brought our new gear and wore our engineer hats (not actual hats.. mind you) and got to work! each of them played so beautifully, we were blown away! such talented folks and so much fun to be around too! had a really fun afternoon recording those strings.
after all of that was in place, the song was just about complete. we wanted to add just a little more subtle magic, so dan recorded a little harp part, as well as his custom atmospheric "spaceghost" keyboard patch... (which is a secret weapon/recipe that we've been using for a couple years now! it's all over storyboards. we love it.) and lastly, some simple bass 2guitar to give the song some weight.
lyrically, this song was a challenge. a fun one... but definitely a challenge. it started with the first line, naturally. (actually more often than not, a line from somewhere in the middle is where i begin, but this time, i began in the beginning) ...
"you were carved out of the sea."
from that line on, i knew i wanted write this song as a story. so i decided that it would be fun to write a story inspired by a concept trailer to an upcoming animated film a recently saw. the trailer had no narrative, and was completely visual.. so the story i created probably has very little to do with the actual film's story, but it was a really fun place to live in and write from in my head.
i wrote it from a parent's perspective, speaking to their child, encouraging him/her to live bravely.
once it was all finished on our end, we sent it to john goodmanson to be mixed. he sent it back to us pretty quickly and it sounded excellent right out the gate. so, watermark was overall a really nice way to begin the yearbook project for us! lots of experimenting with new gear, recording techniques, logistical stuff (getting files to and from mixing online, etc.) and we're really pleased with how it all turned out and the tone it set.
thanks for reading! "november" will release soon... can't wait!