The Houston Music Blog section of the Free Press Houston.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Talking CD release with Elaine Greer

posted by Ramon Medina - LP4 @ 12:01 AM

Elaine Greer vs. Bubbles by Jim Dillon


Elaine Greer is someone readers of this newspaper and blog should be quite familiar with (See our profile of her from March 2008). She's one of Houston's best singer songwriters - packing a sharp gift for melody in one holster and strong and distinctive voice in the other. If anyone's work in Houston has been long overdue a proper CD release, it's Elaine Greer's! Thankfully on Thursday at Mango's Elaine is finally letting the hen out and releasing her first proper CD - a six-song EP "Making Plans and Going Places." The songs should be quite familiar to fans who've kept up with her live performances and many will be excited and surprised at how Elaine approached the songs in the studio.

Thrilled about the imminent release we sent Elaine the death metal questions you saw on the homepage (link) then figured - oh, what they hey - we may as well actually ask her some real questions too. Thankfully Elaine was gracious enough to reply to both sets of questions.

FPH: How was this whole process different than the CDRs of your work that you've released before and sold at shows?

EG: Well, I didn't want to stray too far from that and risk the CD not sounding how I'm used to sounding. I think the biggest change is simply the instrumentation. In my past recordings I would add on as much as I could, but a lot of the things on the CD now weren't a possibility. And of course, quality wise, this CD shouldn't even compare to the home recordings, all of which were done with one crappy USB microphone! Process wise, it was initially strange for me just sitting there waiting while someone else recorded parts, but I think I got used to it pretty quickly!

FPH: I really like the production on the album. It’s rich but not overbearing. My favorite example is the string arrangements on Under The Radar they’re just this perfect touch. Who played the strings and who arranged them? Also, where was this recorded? Did you have a Producer? How was the recording process like? Who were the players and what did they bring to the process?

EG: The strings on Under the Radar were played by Gillian Williams (cello) from News on the March, and Brian Howe (violin). The arrangements were constructed by Harrison Speck and myself. For Under the Radar, we sat down with a keyboard and used the fake string sound to figure out something that would sound good, and then he made our dinky keyboard sketch into some readable sheet music! For Wild Things, I have to give all of the credit to him as far as the string arrangement goes. Some of it ended up being cut out in the mixing process. Nearly the entire CD was recorded at Master Bedroom Studios (the studio of Joe Weber from NOTM), but the horns parts were recorded by Harrison Speck (trombone) and Amber Nepodal (trumpet) in Austin and sent to us in Houston. There was no producer; I kind of had rough ideas for how I wanted the songs to sound, but nothing definite. I wanted to ideally reach a mix between the simpler more vocally based home recordings and the more upbeat live band sound we had at the time. All of the different people who played on the CD brought something different to the table and I think that's what really affected the end result. Other than the above mentioned players, there was Travis Smith on bass, Andrew Ortiz on drums, Lucas Gorham on lapsteel, Austin Sepulvado on guitar, accordian, and backing vocals...I played a bunch of piano and keyboardy bits, bells, and omnichord...Joe Weber and Harrison Speck played a couple of keyboardy bits...you get the idea! I went in first to lay down the acoustic guitar tracks, followed by bass and drums, and from there it was just a slow building process to what it is now.


FPH: These songs have been kicking around for a while now and for the most part the arrangements have been pretty set in stone for a while so while recordings don’t vary much structurally, there is a lot more lush palate you are working with in the studio in terms of instrumentation. How did you approach figuring out just what you wanted to add, what you wanted to change, and what was too much?

EG: This was actually something I mulled over a lot before and during the recording process. I knew the kinds of sounds I wanted, but I initially didn't know where or how to incorporate it...which resulted in the recording happening in a system of layers. We would record the parts we already had, and then record new alternatives, and in the end it was kind of a trial and error/elimination process. There were definitely a couple points where things started sounding really cluttered and confusing, but in the end I think it all got sorted out!

FPH: Were there any unexpectedly happy surprises in the process?

EG: Oh definitely. Lots and lots of them. I was super excited about the string and horn parts, and I'm really pleased with the outro of Ancient History and the big build up at the end of Under the Radar. After Lucas recorded lapsteel on Wild Things, we all kept listening to it and being like "Whoa that part's neat!" I was also glad to be able to incorporate some pretty dreamy instruments, and now have a new love for glockenspiel and omnichord.

FPH: How did you approach your vocals on the CD compared to your live performances. Did you find your phrasing change in the studio or was it pretty much just how it came out?

EG: Well, in general I think I tend to sing louder and more enthusiastically in the live setting, especially with the band...mostly to match the volume of the situation. On the recording I wanted it to be more of how I would naturally sing the song, even if only to myself. I get really nervous about recording vocals around other people, especially harmonies and "oohs" and "ahs". So I had to do a lot of those when there was no one else in the room, but I guess in the end however it came out wasn't completely planned. A couple little changes had to be made, such as having overlapping lines on Under the Radar. The reason is that the song is faster now than it originally was when I wrote it, and I had trouble fitting all the words in! Not to mention that some of the songs on the CD were first (home) recorded 6 months-a year ago...sometimes I start singing them a little differently throughout time without even realizing it.

FPH: I see Michael Rodriguez did the cover art. How was it working with him and getting the look that conveyed what you wanted for the CD?

EG: Working with him was great...it went very smoothly and was very easy. We sat down once to talk about ideas for the cover art, and there were a few different directions it could have gone. There were also a couple different stages with different designs. I think what I initially told him was fairly vague, but I wasn't too worried because I've never seen anything he's done that I didn't like!

FPH: Was there anything you wanted to add that just wasn’t able to make it on the CD?

EG: Yes, but I think that would always be the case. I originally had recorded a piano song that was supposed to be on the CD, but it ended up getting ignored and was never finished. I would have liked to have a piano based song, and I didn't quite do as many crazy vocal harmony parts as I would have liked to. But hey, I'll save all that for the full length.

Elaine Greer CD release party with News on the March and One Hundred Flowers. $8 includes copy of disc. 9 p.m. Thursday @ Mango's.


(Note: that digital download version of the EP should be available in about a month.)

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