Just before the gig at the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado, 6/17/00, John and I grabbed some coffee and hung out, talking about the recent recording sessions for the new Chris Duarte Group album, "Love>Me". John proceeded to give a wonderful inside-view of the whole process, so pour yourself some coffee, put on the album, and make yourself comfortable! AND a great big THANK YOU to drummer Jason Patterson, who generously sent the photos of the recording sessions used in this interview...

 


Was World Axis a small studio?
Yeah, it’s just a one-room studio. One recording room. It’s where “Only One” was recorded also.

Did you bring any songs to the sessions or were they all Chris’s 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-mail—I couldn’t de-focus enough from the studio to compose a simple e-mail—was that this is all really Chris’s music. I had nothing to do with it, except for “Duarte e Ezell”. I didn’t write any part of those songs except in the way you do when you’re in a rhythm section, just bringing yourself into the part and trying to make the song sound good. It’s really all Chris. I think that’s one of the good things about the record, it’s a very unified statement. In a way I sort of feel like this is Chris’ debut. It’s 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 doesn’t need me in that capacity anymore. Not that he wouldn’t welcome my compositions, he has always been very generous about that, but he doesn’t need that anymore. I couldn’t 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 who’s becoming a wonderful songwriter. I sincerely think it’s by far our best record. Partly it’s the maturity that we’ve gained and the unity, coming from one composer, that kind of holds the record together. When I listen to the record it really doesn’t sound like a “guitar” record.
The playing’s in service of the song. Like on “Badness”, there’s really not a guitar solo, the rhythm part is just amped up. It’s not even, strictly speaking, guitar solos, it’s more like groove solos! And there’s a lot of pure flying-on-the-fingerboard stuff,too! There’s a lot of guitar playing on it, but it feels like a record, it feels like music. I guess I’m 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. That’s 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. He’s 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 you’d 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 he’s 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 I’ve ever had with a producer—outside of myself—I thought I was a pretty good producer!

I noticed that a lot of songs are real tight, like 4 minutes or so. Was that Doyle’s “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 welterweight—punch, 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 60’s 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 it’s 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. They’re 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 Chris’s guitar is dead-on!
We’ve 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 don’t 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 vocals—I mean everything. He was quick, he was there, and it sounded good right away. He was faithfully getting us down on disc—we were recording to hard disc on this album—and 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 y’all 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 it’s good. None of the singing is saved because you’re not using the right kind of mikes, but some of the guitar parts might be if they’re good. But really the whole focus, when you’re doing rhythm-section stuff, is trying to get a great drum part. You can go back and redo everything else, but it’s really hard to go back and do one little thing in a drum part because it’s all together and everything’s miked up. So Chris and I play in a way that’s 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 shape—so there wasn’t any particular reason to beat our brains out. As you get older you learn that you don’t 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 better—and
in just one take!

Which song took the most work?
“Azul Ezell” by far. It’s a hard bastard—and you can quote me on that! Everybody’s part is really difficult. And it’s gotta’ dance. That’s something I learned from playing with Erick Tatuaka. He always kept the dance feeling in the song. That’s important, because it’s got that Latin rhythm, it has to have a kind of “sway” in it or it’s 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 take—it’s 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 funny—and 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. It’s like a Beatle bass, it looks like Paul McCartney’s 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 wasn’t 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 isn’t 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 weren’t there anymore! They were gone! But it still sounds like this organic thing, a weed that sprouts up in your backyard. It doesn’t sound like a studio creation at all. It’s like we set up on Doyle’s front porch!

Is that the only track Doyle is on?
He played on “Homemade Sin”, but it didn’t make it on the record. And when you hear a tambourine or a shaker on the album, that’s pretty much all Doyle. Lots of little stuff.

Isn’t “Homemade Sin” your composition?
That’s my cheatin’ song with a sense of humor. I like the song but I’m not terribly attached to it. It’s more of an experiment than anything for me. And the record didn’t need it, in my opinion. Chris would’ve 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 tablas?
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 don’t 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 it’s 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 don’t 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 I’ve been there since ‘77, so he’s 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!

There’s 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 Night”.
It reminds me of early George Benson from way back when. Speaking of keyboards, I’ve 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. It’s pretty subtle the way they mixed it, but you can hear it. They’re kind of fatter chords. I also put some cello-like things on the
electric “Metaphor Song”. The point was textural, it didn’t have to be great. I’m just mashing simple chords, nothing fancy. I brought it in from home, but it’s 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 don’t think y’all can help it!
Well, yeah. I think the blues is what informs us. The thing about the blues is being an individual. That’s what it’s 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 baseball—all of that—that 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”, it’s 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. It’s got the raw, roadhouse thing and it’s got the funky-hippie-dippy-trippy thing goin’ on, too. It’s 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 it’s gone off for final mixing at this point? Do you have any further input on it?
No, it’s such a professional realm that when you hire someone like Bernie Grundman, who’s done it like something on the order of 50,000 times, it’s really kind of pointless.

Isn’t Pro-Tools what you have at your home studio?
I had it but I hadn’t loaded it because there’s some hardware connections you have to make and software to install. During the last week of recording I wasn’t 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. It’s an editing and recording software and it was just unreal! What I’ve got at home now, which is their “home” version of it, in terms of comparable specs, the Rolling Stones couldn’t have afforded ten years ago! It is so bad-ass! I’m 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 I’m still not sure, we’ll 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. It’s gonna be a bunch of songs that don’t belong anywhere except on my own record. I think it’ll be really cool and psychedelic—a mind-candy sort of thing with some interesting songs. But I really want everyone to buy this little song record, because it’ll be good! I mean, hopefully, you know? I figure it’ll be about a 50-minute CD, and then the Funk record will go a full 70 minutes, another long one.

So what’s up with the Funk? How’s that goin’?
I realized when we got signed that it would have to be deferred, so I just kinda’ quit for now. I’m not worried about it because I know that anyone who’s around will jump at the chance to do it. There’s gonna’ be so many killer players—it’ll be an easy thing to put together as far as personnel.

Are you still planning on horns, drummers, percussion, back-up singers—the whole shebang?
And cello. And Chris. And bass. Really what I want to do and what I’ve 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”. It’s not gonna’ be a funk record like Ohio Players funk, it’ll be funkier and trippier, well maybe not funkier, but trippier and stranger and psychedelic, with real, real heavy grooves. That’s what I’m 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 it’s 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 it’s basically written, in fact it’s playing in my head right now, but my goal is to actually pay people what they’re worth. Not that it’s 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. That’s the corporate statement of Tana Records: I want to pay musicians and I don’t want to be beholden to anyone. That’s Tana Records. And hey everyone, that’s 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 you’d do again?
If I did it again, that approach, I wouldn’t 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. That’s what I remember about that entire time of my life. My personal life was a shambles—but I’m doing much better now, thank you very much! I don’t want anyone to worry about me, everything is fine!

Yeah, y’all have always been able to take a shot, right on the kisser!
Hell yes!

Well John, I have just enough tape for one more question. Let’s 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 don’t 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 I’m talkin’ bout Shaft!

 

(And with that little gem, we’ll bring down the curtain!)

 

for more interviews on the
"Love Is Greater Than Me" sessions, click on...

Chris Duarte or Jason Patterson

 


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