Posts Tagged Micah Barnes
A few years ago I switched family doctors, and at my first physical he asked me what time I got up in the morning. He then quickly corrected himself: ‘Oh, sorry, you’re a musician…what time do you get up in the afternoon?’ Ha ha. But I was kind of relieved to find that my body’s stubborn adherence to a late-night schedule was so normal for a musician, even the doctor had a de facto acceptance of it.
In my late teens, when I began writing and recording in earnest, the quiet and dark of the night proved to be an effective ‘blank slate’. Without the overt influence of weather, or the sound of the neighbour’s lawnmower asserting what season it was, or somebody phoning for a chat, it was easier to stay inside a song about almost any subject or feeling. A late schedule worked so well for me that I intentionally booked my university classes and part-time job around it, and all of these years later my body is so attuned to the rhythm it’s a tricky manoeuvre to shift out of it, even temporarily.
Most studios have no windows, partly to reduce the unwanted sonic reflections of glass, but mostly, I believe, to block out the influence of the outside world on creative types who are trying to be inside the work together. There’s a long-running joke sound engineers throw around about having a ‘studio tan’: that sickly pale look fair-skinned individuals get when they see no daylight for weeks on end. And there’s the joke about the ‘studio diet’ that traditionally consists of sugar, caffeine, and nicotine.
But of all the maladies specific to musicians, the one that’s the most fun by far is studioitis.
For those who know the feeling but have never heard it by name, I’ll spell it out. I myself am just coming out of a long bout with studioitis, lasting several months, while working with the very talented Micah Barnes on his upcoming record.
It’s not like tonsillitis or any of the other common itises we hear talked about. Studioitis is more like what happens around 4 AM at a junior high slumber party: everybody starts getting stupid, and everything is funny. Except in the studio the predisposing exhaustion might come at 8 in the evening if you’ve already been looping the same few bars of music for six hours, approaching that point where sound begins to unravel into something very abstract…like what happens when you stare at a word on a page for too long and it starts to look foreign.
Working on an album in an expensive facility usually means blocking out weeks of studio time without days off, because you’re riding a wave of creativity, you need the room to remain set up for you, and you’re on a deadline. So an acute case of studioitis might strike early some afternoon weeks into a project. While staring at a screen that no longer makes sense, or arguing about the conceptual purpose of a guitar riff, or trying to capture a fleeting, ethereal feeling in a vocal take…it will strike, and you will find yourself in a bizarro world where everything is funny.
Last month Micah spent long days here in the vocal booth, in an unbearable heatwave, getting his lead vocals down. My job, producing, meant lots of discussion between takes about motivations and intentions around the lyrics. Soon enough, we found ourselves in Studioitis, Population Two: the funniest thing imaginable was stopping the take to yell ‘LOOK’ or ‘LISTEN’ at each other in the most convincingly angry tone possible. ’FEEL’ and ‘SMELL’ got thrown in…who can say why? It’s the mad nature of the illness.
Probably my favourite episode of the itis struck 15 or 16 days into sessions with Jon Levine for JackSoul’s second album, ‘Sleepless’. We had been focused for hours on getting a groove right, and, scrolling through drum sounds on a machine I came across a sample of what sounded like a group of middle eastern men yelling ‘HEY!’ It may have been Israeli men, at a wedding…I’m not sure. But definitely the sort of ‘HEY’ you’d hear with traditional middle eastern folk dancing of some kind.
It broke Jon’s composure, so I triggered it a few times until we were both on the floor, laughing loudly…then laughing silently because we were unable to breathe. I slowly and pointedly reached up from the floor to press the button again, once, which started us all over again, and I did it again until Jon was begging me to stop. Lead singer and frontman Haydain Neale, rest his soul, was not impressed. A couple of days later, in the afternoon, the studio secretary came into the room with a bag of candy and mentioned there was a fully-stocked candy store around the corner. Jon and I looked at each other silently for a moment and then bolted out of the studio for our own bags of candy, with Haydain’s yell fading behind us: ‘awwww guys come onnnnnnn!’ He was feeling the pressure of a looming deadline from BMG.
But it was no use…it seems studioitis kicks in when your body actually needs a break from the kind of serious focus music takes. My theory anyway. And believe me, there is no use fighting it.
Oh look–it’s 4 AM…almost time for bed.