The Confetti Clatter – December 2015 Newsletter

Jan 2   |   JohnG

Recording Update

We continued to work on our latest recording project in December. Our goal is to have a release, along with new merchandise, by the performance season this coming July. As a recap, we have three songs worth of basic tracks completed. These songs are, for the most part, instrumentally complete and ready for vocal tracks. One song “Mister Sunshine,” is further ahead, it has the lead vocal tracks recorded by Sarah, and only needs the backing vocals. “That Boy of Mine” is lacking all of the vocal tracks, as is our yet-to-be revealed classic cover song.

One of our goals in December was to assess the feasibility of a strong performance of the classic cover. Our recording of this instantly recognizable song is a half-step lower than the original, and was intended for a guest male vocalist, with the IMP girls singing backups. That idea being scrapped back in August, it remained to be seen whether Michelle could sing the lead vocal in the key of C. A December rehearsal showed promise, and although the melody begins at the low end of Michelle’s register, it may produce interesting results.

I will share one clue about this classic song, it was originally recorded and co-written by an iconic male singer/ songwriter from the 1960s. This artist saw his career resurrected in the late 1980s with the help of hit-makers at that time, who saw him as an influence and inspiration. I was very fortunate to have seen him perform live in the 1980s at the now defunct Rochester Festival Tent. His energy was palpable, and I was amazed to see so many college-aged kids rocking in the audience; newcomers, who most likely discovered his music on their parents old records.

One exciting aspect of this recording project is that we are working for the first time with Michael Lynch, a musician and songwriter from Downstate New York. Lynch submitted two songs, “Mister Sunshine” and  “I Almost Forgive Him.” These tracks, when completed, will be the first group originals since the 2012 releases of “Dear Michelle (The Fighting’s Begun)” and “Bus Driver.”

Lynch’s songs fit our style, especially in regard to the lyrical content; more on this in the following article. Both tunes ooze with the girl group feel. Lynch left room for the backing vocals wide open; there is only a hint of backups during the fade on his demo of “Mister Sunshine.” In both of his recordings, Lynch has some two-part harmonies, not all that common with the girl groups, but more so with the solo singers classified in the girl group genre, like Lesley Gore. The instrumentation on both demos includes piano and guitar. With his permission, I have included both of Lynch’s demos for our readers to give a listen. It should be fun to refer to these again, after we release our versions of these two songs.

As a producer who dabbles in songwriting, it’s always cool to work on a fellow songwriter’s material. One thing I like to keep in mind is that these songs are almost like children to the songwriters, and you have to respect their artistic vision. I usually feel out how each writer receives my suggestions. Everyone is different, and how much, or how little, of an arrangement they provide varies from writer to writer.

Syeed Abdulal-haqq, our main songwriter — he penned “Bus Driver” — takes a simple approach. He passes his material to me as a live vocal performance. Typically, Syeed opens up a legal pad, and sings the melody to his jotted-down lyrics. I get to fill in all of the arrangement, instrumentation and backing vocals, giving me a tremendous amount of latitude.

Syeed is very easy to work with; in the end, he usually says, “I like what you’ve done with my song.”  Song ideas come to Syeed spontaneously, so way back, we purchased a mini-cassette recorder for him to sing into, when the creative spirit moves him, so he doesn’t lose a possible new song idea. To this day, I’m not sure if Syeed plays a musical instrument.

Paul Kanack’s material comes to me in a more structured form. As a musician with singing ability, and a strong grasp of the girl group sound, Paul has a clear vision for his works. I can make some suggestions about the instrumentation and possible backing vocal arrangements, but, for the most part, his songs have few changes from his original ideas.

Two examples of Paul’s songs where I made some subtle changes come to mind. The first is his song “On the Beach Tonight.” On this song, I added the backing vocal chant during the fade-out, “Fun, fun for everyone; All day, out in the sun.” The other song is “The Joy of Love,” where I helped change the opening lyrics from “When he walked my home last night” to “Romeo just held me tight.” The latter change came during an inspired moment while dinning with Paul at the Burger King in East Rochester, perhaps channeling artistic energy lingering from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who once worked at this particular location. Always have a pen and napkin handy!

This is the first time I have worked with Michael Lynch. The challenge working with Michael, is that he is not local, so all communication has been through Facebook. Lynch, a multi-instrumentalist and singer, presented his material to me as completed demos (refer to the SoundCloud embedded tracks). As a producer, it’s easy to be swayed into using the exact same instrumentation, vocals, and arrangement as on a complete work. It’s not even a question of being lazy, it’s just too easy to be influenced by a song in finished form.

Phil Collins once suggesting that he’s not influenced by anybody; while that seems silly, he continued on to say that he does not listen to any music when he’s in creative-mode. For me, the more sparse the production is on the demo, the easier it is to develop an arrangement for the group.

We left Lynch’s “Mister Sunshine” very true to the demo when we recorded it back in August. During the “That Boy of Mine” session in October, we decided to defer the recording of “I Almost Forgive Him” until we could work out a new arrangement. So, on December 23, Michelle, Sarah, Sierra, and Matt Doi met with me to come up with some ideas. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the opening riff of the song, which Lynch repeats again, in full, before the third verse. As I was about to search for something different, Matt Doi, one of our talented multi-instrumentalists, referred to the opening hook positively, identifying it as having a “Louie, Louie” feel.

“Hmm,” I thought, yes indeed, how could we change the opening after that comparison!

When listening to “I Almost Forgive Him,” I hear the Merseybeat sound, similar to Freddie and the Dreamers or Gerry and the Pacemakers. There’s room for a jangling Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, especially during the instrumental break. It all seemed to make sense. With the feel and instrumentation taking shape, we went on to consider the backing vocal arrangement.

Parts of “I Almost Forgive Him” are open to smooth vocal “oohs,” and, dare I say, perhaps some “yeah, yeah, yeahs.” The girls really dug the tune and started to offer some suggestions. Michelle and Sierra came up with the idea of using a call and answer, which would preserve the two-part harmonies in Lynch’s demo. In this idea, the lead vocal sings when there is no harmony, and the backups answer her in two-part harmony. As this idea materialized, it became apparent that we needed to change a few of the lyrics to reflect the lead singers point-of-view, and then the back-up vocal responses. We were all excited about this direction. Hopefully Michael Lynch will enjoy our interpretations of his songs.

We are going into the studio to record “I Almost Forgive Him” on January 3. We’ll let you know how things turned out in next month’s edition of the Confetti Clatter.

The Challenge of Covering Contemporary Songs

From time-to-time our fans have asked us to record a current pop song with an IMP twist. This idea piqued my interest, so I began tuning into the now-sound to see what grabbed me. I’m sure you’ve heard one of those stations that rotate the same 10 songs every hour. As tough as it was to listen to such a limited playlist, I must say, there were a few decent numbers in the short rotation, some sounding like possible targets for an IMP cover.

So, what have I heard lately? One song that is repeated every hour is a Fall Out Boy song called “Uma Thurman.” If you’ve been hiding under a radio rock since the early ’90s, like me, in this tune, Fall Out Boy lifts the Munster’s Theme by playing it on electric guitar over a thundering drum track. I’m not sure how that riff ties in with Uma Thurman, because that’s not the song she danced to in Pulp Fiction. Gee, I wonder if any of the kids listening to that song even know where that guitar riff comes from? Though it had a retro-feel, this tune was not a song I would consider for us.

“Uma Thurman” not being the best pick, the next song that lured me in was “On My Mind,” by Ellie Goulding. The song’s hook felt right, and, although it’s sung in a monotone, I thought it had potential. Feeling good about this track, I added the tune to my SoundHound app history, something I often do when looking for cover material. You see, at my age you get senior moments, but SoundHound will save the history of the songs you searched for future reference. For the record, Big Lots is an excellent venue for song ideas, they seem to pipe in a nice cross-section of music, so I always have my smartphone handy when shopping there.

Okay, so, SoundHound shows the lyrics of the song in real-time, and as I read the lyrics to “On My Mind,” this song went down the tubes as far as a potential cover song.  Now I’m not a good-two-shoes, but girl group lyrics do have a sense of innocence or naivete, such can not be said for “On My Mind.”

And I quote from the song:

“Poured it down, so I poured it down
Next thing that I know I’m in a hotel with you
You were talking deep like it was mad love to you
You wanted my heart but I just liked your tattoos
Poured it down, so I poured it down” 

I don’t think so, this isn’t even Shangri-Las material. I wonder what she’s pouring down? I have been warned by the IMP girls that today’s lyrics are the main hurdle in finding the proper fit for the group.

So, why record one of these songs in the first place? First, it’s a challenge, and could be fun. Secondly, and more important to exposure for the group, it has the potential to introduce us to a wider audience, that’s what covers do. Heck, even the early Beatles albums were heavy on cover music. Cover material, which I refer to as “islands of familiarity” hopefully lead the listener to your original material.

Call To Action!

Perhaps you know a current tune we can cover, feel free to leave a reply to this edition of our newsletter, perhaps we can get a discussion going! 

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