Was World Axis a small studio?
Yeah, its just a one-room studio. One recording room. Its where Only One was recorded also.
Did you bring any songs to the sessions
or were they all Chriss compositions?
When we were wrapping it up, I tried to compose an e-mail to let everyone know how the recording had gone. The first thing that I wanted to say in the e-mailI couldnt de-focus enough from the studio to compose a simple e-mailwas that this is all really Chriss music. I had nothing to do with it, except for Duarte e Ezell. I didnt write any part of those songs except in the way you do when youre in a rhythm section, just bringing yourself into the part and trying to make the song sound good. Its really all Chris. I think thats one of the good things about the record, its a very unified statement. In a way I sort of feel like this is Chris debut. Its Chris stepping forward as a composer and songwriter. He has really come into his own as a writer. Without sounding forlorn or overly dramatic, he doesnt need me in that capacity anymore. Not that he wouldnt welcome my compositions, he has always been very generous about that, but he doesnt need that anymore. I couldnt have written any of those songs because the subject matter and the musical way he approaches stuff is unique. To me it sounds like good songs written by a wonderful guitar player whos becoming a wonderful songwriter. I sincerely think its by far our best record. Partly its the maturity that weve gained and the unity, coming from one composer, that kind of holds the record together. When I listen to the record it really doesnt sound like a guitar record. The playings in service of the song. Like on Badness, theres really not a guitar solo, the rhythm part is just amped up. Its not even, strictly speaking, guitar solos, its more like groove solos! And theres a lot of pure flying-on-the-fingerboard stuff,too! Theres a lot of guitar playing on it, but it feels like a record, it feels like music. I guess Im just wanting to blow a trumpet on behalf of Chris!
Did Doyle Bramhall, being who he
is, put his stamp on the project? As a producer, did he have
a lot of ideas or did he just let you roll with it?
Hmm. Thats a real interesting question, because he does have a certain style. Doyle pretty emphatically did NOT want to make a blues record any more than we did. I think he had heard just about every song in one form or another, on a tape or something, and had listened to them, but he was pretty transparent on the whole thing. Very light, almost imperceptible. In other words, when we first got in the studio he was giving us plenty of rope, you know? Right off the bat he said he was just gonna come in and tell us what he thought and felt. He has a real good ear, just a real acute ear for the right sort of vibe going on. Hes so much a player himself, it was like someone in the band instead of a producer in a limo. And I mean from right away, from the first day. He focused on finding arrangements that worked for him, and just getting things to feel right. Sometimes he would come in and have real specific ideas, sometimes he would come in with pruning shears and start hacking away! But make it feel good, too! He could take your prized, beloved verses and throw them out the window and youd be O.K. with it. He just made it feel so good. In the past when we worked with producers, the same process goes on, but it usually hurt whenever they hacked our poor little songs to bits, throwing verses in the rubbish and stuff! Doyle had a knack for making it painless. I think a big part of it is his savvy as a songwriter. Another real big part of it is that we just automatically had tons of respect for him in so many ways. In my little circle of the universe hes pretty much a legend. So, going in with that, and then having him do nothing more than reinforce my respect, was, by far, the best experience Ive ever had with a produceroutside of myselfI thought I was a pretty good producer!
I noticed that a lot of songs are
real tight, like 4 minutes or so. Was that Doyles pruning
or did the band come into the studio with that in mind?
Chris and I both did. We wanted the album to have the effect of receiving a bunch of combinations from a welterweightpunch, jab, body, head, jab, jab! Every one of the songs was longer, but Doyle had real savvy ideas on how to cut them down and still preserve them. We had that vibe, too. The best example of that is on Soul Thang, because the natural form of it is about ten minutes, a ten-minute 60s freakout! He thought the song was really powerful and deserved to have a shot at radio airplay, so he wanted to bring it in at a certain time. If you make a song six minutes long its not gonna get a chance. So the way the song is on the record and the way we play it live are wildly different. The psychedelic thing we do in the middle of the song live, that now happens at the end and fades out. Theyre different phenomenon, we play the live arrangement our way and not the studio way.
I believe this album really captures the sound of the Chris Duarte Group for the first time. I can hear everyone real well in the mix and Chriss guitar is dead-on!
Weve got to give all the credit to Jared Tuten who was the engineer on the session. He was, frankly, brilliant. He was getting guitar sounds, better guitar sounds, right off the bat, just during roughs, than we ever got off the other two records, in my opinion. And I dont mean to put down the other records because I love those records, both of them. Getting a good guitar tone, which is a big part of making a guitar-trio record, is very problematic. But Jared was just there, and not just with guitar, but with the bass sound, the way the drums sounded, the vocalsI mean everything. He was quick, he was there, and it sounded good right away. He was faithfully getting us down on discwe were recording to hard disc on this albumand editing on the spot, it was amazing! The guy is great, and Doyle loved him, too. They had their little producer/engineer thing goin on, putting their heads together and having a conference. Minutes would go by and we would start to get kinda nervous about what cruel things they were saying about us!
Did the sessions go fast or feel
rushed? I know yall wanted to get it off to the record company quickly.
Jason and I, our biggest goal, was to get our stuff done in the first week because we wanted to leave as much time as possible for guitar and vocals. We wanted to get the rhythm section stuff out of the way. Chris is in there playing and singing, and some of the stuff might get saved if its good. None of the singing is saved because youre not using the right kind of mikes, but some of the guitar parts might be if theyre good. But really the whole focus, when youre doing rhythm-section stuff, is trying to get a great drum part. You can go back and redo everything else, but its really hard to go back and do one little thing in a drum part because its all together and everythings miked up. So Chris and I play in a way thats just sort of trying to give Jason as much good stuff to chew on as possible, not worrying about vocals or even making mistakes. We got everything done in a week. It was really a blur!
Were the sessions long each day?
Not that long. We tended to start about 3:00 p.m. and we would quit every night at about 11:00. Doyle was comfortable with our abilities, we were pretty tuned up from doing a fair amount of road work, everybody was in good shapeso there wasnt any particular reason to beat our brains out. As you get older you learn that you dont necessarily get your best performance at hour 20! Sometimes, but generally not.
What was the first song recorded
or worked on?
We set up the night before and literally threw everything in the studio. Doyle came in the next day and we were setting up microphones, amps, stuff like that, and Chris starts playing this riff from what is now Badness. By the end of the day we had recorded that song. That was the first thing that we did. Jason and I had never heard it before. We got a really good version of it. Then, about a week later, Jared said he felt he was getting better sounds and would we try doing Badness again (untitled at the time). So we went in and did it even betterand
in just one take!
Which song took the most work?
Azul Ezell by far. Its a hard bastardand you can quote me on that! Everybodys part is really difficult. And its gotta dance. Thats something I learned from playing with Erick Tatuaka. He always kept the dance feeling in the song. Thats important, because its got that Latin rhythm, it has to have a kind of sway in it or its pointless, it just becomes a fusion brou-ha-ha! So I was just trying to get that dance in it, and also get all these great, crushing drum fills, all in the same takeits just a hard song for everybody. It took me 73 or 76, some unbelievable amount of passes to get it! Finally, Jared had to do some editing magic to suck it in. I was grateful for the opportunity to get it right, it had to be perfect, of course! That was one advantage of us doing our rhythm section work so fast, we were able to go back and take the time to get things right.
I really dig the electric and acoustic
versions of Metaphor Song,
were there others?
How Long went through quite a few metamorphoses. The whole evolution of the thing was funnyand Doyle finally ended up playing drums on How Long! Doyle was saying he wanted a different bass tone on the song, so I picked up the acoustic Epiphone bass that my daughter had. Its like a Beatle bass, it looks like Paul McCartneys old Hofner bass and sounds like it, too. So I went and got that thing and first we put it on Brand New Day, literally playing a Paul McCartney part (all hail Paul!), because Doyle basically came in and said to play Paul. So then we recorded How Long with it. We got a drum part with Jason playing a simple snare kit. Doyle was getting Jason to play this awkward, weird, funky Texas thing, trying to get him to be really sloppy. How often does a producer come in and tell you to be sloppy!? So Jason was trying to do this really odd, Wolf-ish drum part, playing in a way that no one would deliberately do. Then I got out my bass and it sounded incredible, so I went back in and put down a new bass part. Then Jason felt that his drum part just wasnt setting right, so he goes back and redoes the drum part to my bass part. Then Doyle listens to it several times over and says that it just isnt ugly and creepy enough. So Doyle went in and redid the drum part again! So this is how weird it is to work in the studio: here we had a completed song, and by the time we had completed the completed song, all of the original parts werent there anymore! They were gone! But it still sounds like this organic thing, a weed that sprouts up in your backyard. It doesnt sound like a studio creation at all. Its like we set up on Doyles front porch!
Is that the only track Doyle is on?
He played on Homemade Sin, but it didnt make it on the record. And when you hear a tambourine or a shaker on the album, thats pretty much all Doyle. Lots of little stuff.
Isnt Homemade Sin your composition?
Thats my cheatin song with a sense of humor. I like the song but Im not terribly attached to it. Its more of an experiment than anything for me. And the record didnt need it, in my opinion. Chris wouldve had to learn how to sing it and so forth, and it is way shuffle! I think everyone was sort of relieved to not have a shuffle on the record. Homemade Sin is way shuffle!
Who brought in Erin Foster on the
Doyle distinctly wanted some percussion added, so we were bandying names about. Erin Foster plays tablas and Middle Eastern percussion. She played tablas on the acoustic version of Metaphor Song and also laid down a riq part. A riq is basically a fish-skinned tambourine from somewhere in the Middle East with huge brass plates on it. You dont shake it or bang it on your butt, you hold it at a certain angle and then tap it. She was great. She came in and really participated. It only took her 2 hours and she was gone, but its a magical contribution. Her fiance, Glen Rexache, is a dear old friend of mine. Glen and I used to be in a group called Roundtrip, a fusion group that played songs he wrote. I was also in the Vanguards, because fusion trios dont tend to get work a whole lot! Glen has got more harmony on the guitar than anyone I have ever known. He replaced Chris on the guitar in the Bad Boys and he replaced me on bass in the Vanguards. He is also teaching my daughter guitar. James Fenner also came in. He is pretty much the premier African and Afro-Cuban percussionist around Austin. At least while Ive been there since 77, so hes The Man. We were honored and thrilled to invite him in on the sessions. He played on Azul Ezell and Paper Dolls. He was quick, too. Blat-blat-blat, he was killer!
Theres a real cool, early-70s,
soul feel on a lot of the cuts on this record. I love the smooth, organ-like
guitar solo Chris does on All
It reminds me of early George Benson from way back when. Speaking of keyboards, Ive got keyboard credits on this album! I played organ on that song! During the solo you can hear this little Wurlitzer piano playing these kind of jazzy chords during the first solo. Its pretty subtle the way they mixed it, but you can hear it. Theyre kind of fatter chords. I also put some cello-like things on the electric Metaphor Song. The point was textural, it didnt have to be great. Im just mashing simple chords, nothing fancy. I brought it in from home, but its a good instrument. I was just thrilled that they let me play keyboards. I love it, I just love playing piano.
I know you said this record was sort of trying to avoid shuffles and blues, but I still hear a bluesy undertone on many songs. I dont think yall can help it!
Well, yeah. I think the blues is what informs us. The thing about the blues is being an individual. Thats what its all about. Jazz, too. Being yourself. Playing your heart. I think what we have to say comes from us loving the blues, loving rock, loving jazz, loving Beethoven, loving baseballall of thatthat makes it such an individual expression. Just relax and be what and who you are.
I think this album combines the feel of both Texas Sugar and Tailspin, its got a lot of funky soul and straight-ahead power riffs!
Yeah, one of the cool things about this record is that it has aspects of both of them. Its got the raw, roadhouse thing and its got the funky-hippie-dippy-trippy thing goin on, too. Its a great record! Chris wrote great songs, Doyle had a great sympathy with the production, and Jason was just kick-ass from beginning to end!
So its gone off for final mixing at this point? Do you have any further input on it?
No, its such a professional realm that when you hire someone like Bernie Grundman, whos done it like something on the order of 50,000 times, its really kind of pointless.
Isnt Pro-Tools what you have
at your home studio?
I had it but I hadnt loaded it because theres some hardware connections you have to make and software to install. During the last week of recording I wasnt really doing too much of anything on the record, so I installed my Pro-Tools stuff. In the studio I was just watching and learning, so I could do it myself. Everything, the whole album, was done on Pro-Tools. Its an editing and recording software and it was just unreal! What Ive got at home now, which is their home version of it, in terms of comparable specs, the Rolling Stones couldnt have afforded ten years ago! It is so bad-ass! Im actually working on my Record #2, trying to actually do the entire thing right there in my apartment.
Is this the I-Need-To-Raise-Money-For-The-Funk-Project
Project? The one with just you and a drummer? Do you have a drummer in mind?
Yeah, the one that hopefully funds the Funk Project. I was thinking about using Brannen Temple, but Im still not sure, well see how it goes.I may even do it all myself and use a lot of percussionists to come in and give it that human feeling.
I kind of like the idea of knockin out this thing in a humble little South Austin apartment. I like the idea of it being homemade. I might take someone like Brannen and just have him come in and play cymbals. Use a drum machine to get everything done and then supplant it to give it a human feel in different, creative ways. Its gonna be a bunch of songs that dont belong anywhere except on my own record. I think itll be really cool and psychedelica mind-candy sort of thing with some interesting songs. But I really want everyone to buy this little song record, because itll be good! I mean, hopefully, you know? I figure itll be about a 50-minute CD, and then the Funk record will go a full 70 minutes, another long one.
So whats up with the Funk?
Hows that goin?
I realized when we got signed that it would have to be deferred, so I just kinda quit for now. Im not worried about it because I know that anyone whos around will jump at the chance to do it. Theres gonna be so many killer playersitll be an easy thing to put together as far as personnel.
Are you still planning on horns, drummers, percussion, back-up singersthe whole shebang?
And cello. And Chris. And bass. Really what I want to do and what Ive been hearing is two men singing, more narrative, kind of like Sam & Dave. Not songs in a radio sense. As I envision it, the spirit of the thing is closer to Bitches Brew or In A Silent Way. Its not gonna be a funk record like Ohio Players funk, itll be funkier and trippier, well maybe not funkier, but trippier and stranger and psychedelic, with real, real heavy grooves. Thats what Im hearing, with big, extended forms and long stories being told. Not long stories, but stories that unfold over the course of these 12- to 15-minute long jams. Hopefully its not gonna be quite like anything ever! Lots of lyrical ideas and a lot of grooves. Really though, the only challenge about the whole record, because its basically written, in fact its playing in my head right now, but my goal is to actually pay people what theyre worth. Not that its gonna be some wild amount of money, but I want to give them a real respectable wage. And I want to do it without being beholden to anyone. Thats the corporate statement of Tana Records: I want to pay musicians and I dont want to be beholden to anyone. Thats Tana Records. And hey everyone, thats why I want you to buy this little pre-funk thing. If I have to resort to beating everyone over the head with a promised Funk project, I will!
How do you feel about Only One now that it has been out awhile? Is that something youd do again?
If I did it again, that approach, I wouldnt do it with a trio. If I were inclined to do that kind of record again, I would lean more towards a quintet setting. But I love it! I still love it, which is amazing for me to like it at all because it came out of such a dark, dark time in my life. The worst of times. It was like swimming underwater at night. Thats what I remember about that entire time of my life. My personal life was a shamblesbut Im doing much better now, thank you very much! I dont want anyone to worry about me, everything is fine!
Yeah, yall have always been
able to take a shot, right on the kisser!
Well John, I have just enough tape for one more question. Lets see, I know, any word of a possible video by Rounder? And who would you want as a stunt double on bass??
Videos are contractual-type things, I really dont know. But there are video provisions. I was thinking about approaching Brad Pitt. I think he would be good for record sales! He might look good with a bass. Samuel L. Jackson would be good, especially coming off this Shaft thing!!
That Shaft is a bad mutha...
Watch yo mouth!
But Im talkin bout Shaft!