Dispatches From The "MY SOUL ALONE" Sessions...
Chris Duarte sent some e-mails on the recording of the album "My Soul Alone". It was recorded in October of 2012 at Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati, California, and was Chris Duarte's seventh release with Mike Varney and Blues Bureau International. This album shows Chris hitting his creative stride and honing his new sound which has developed over the course of his last three albums. Having retired his vintage '63 Strat from the road, the source of his "signature" sound over the last 15 years, Chris has redefined his sound with his Xotic guitars. "My Soul Alone", along with "Blues In The Afterburner" and "Infinite Energy", display an artist with incredible versatility and talent boldly carving out a unique style. Anyway, enough of my jibber-jabber, here's Chris!
Here's a bit of stuff I've jotted down from my events these past 4 weeks. We're mixing the new album right now.
My San Francisco Month
Well it's been an eventful past three weeks people. Ever since the first week of September I've had Yoshi Ogasahara at my house for song collaboration and general hanging-out times. He quickly found out that I'm a pretty quiet guy when I'm not on the road. Really didn't go out much and I cooked our food. Tomomi had gone off with a friend for a 2-week vacation so that just left us guys to fend for ourselves. My culinary attempts were to provide Yoshi with a bit of Japanese cooking, recipes I copied from Tomomi's repertoire, and a bit of Americana fare from me. We practiced together and spent one weekend watching TV but for the most part the TV wasn't in use. We only had one festival to play so we took the long trek to Tulsa, did the gig and came back in true merc' fashion. From there we had about a week off then we flew out to San Francisco to attend a gathering out at the Bohemian Grove, a grove of redwoods held by a private club since the early 20th century (but I could be wrong on that). We'd sleep in cabins provided to us and perform for the guests at various times during the day and night, with basically an undetermined curfew on the playing and festivities. This was fine for me, since I don't drink, so playing was the perfect excuse for me to stay up on stage and play. I was happy! Everybody at the gathering was courteous and gregarious and the food was great, too. It was fun to see Yoshi out there treading water linguistically, so to speak. Yoshi's English is still a bit in its nascent stages, but he's fully able to communicate effectively. The event was really just an overall success. After we left there, I dropped off Yoshi in San Francisco so he could post up for his plane ride back the next day. Then I headed out to Prairie Sun Studios to record the next album! More on that tomorrow...
- chris duarte
Prairie Sun Studios
So after dropping off Yoshi's earnings he made here in the states, I dropped off the rental car and jumped on the shuttle at the San Francisco airport to take me out to Rohnert Park (Cotati's contiguous sister city). I'm picked up by an intern from the studio and thus the journey starts. Actually it wouldn't start 'til the following day, there's an acclimation process to go through when you arrive; learning who the interns are and meeting the grand Pooh-Bah himself - Mooka. Mooka is a jovial, big character that's quick to imbibe the laid-back-Peace-and-Love-California-way-of-life with you, but don't let that fool you. These studios have been going for close to 30 years and to sustain that type of longevity your business acumen must incorporate practices that are anything but 'laid-back'. I've been coming here of 7 years now, this being my 7th new album with Mike Varney and Prairie Sun. I've seen it all, from dressing down the interns in stentorian rants to the back-and-forth haggling with clients. I've dipped myself into that drama - but only because I was learning the parameters of decorum, protocol, and routines - so the occasional bumping up against the rules was to be expected (nuff' said there). So I'm in and have gotten to meet all the interns. I came during a transitional period and one was heading out, having completed the full 3-month internship, no small feat in itself, and two were coming in. Good luck, boys! The musicians arrived the next day, Aaron Haggerty on drums, he was also on "Blues in the Afterburner", and Steve Evans on bass. Really good musicians. Since my last recording I was somewhat intimidated by these guys cuz' #1 - I've been used to me having my band and we had a relationship and we understood and knew each other so even though we'd have tacit moments, all was understood - but these guys come with great credentials and I was a bit uneasy. Now I'm confident since going through my 'trial-by-fire' and was ready to request my needs. The guys were total pros about it, too, and ready to accommodate. So after drum sounds were set and we got a good bass sound, we started to lay down tracks and I started to show the guys the songs that I already had when I got there. The songs I brought, which had no name as of yet but turned into "Show Me That You Want It", "Yes It's True", "Sweet Little Girl", "Take Me Now", "Gun It, Run It", "Lazy Grey Afternoon", "All Alone", "Leave My Soul Alone", "I Bucked It Up", and "Blue Jean Outlaw". The rest I wrote while I was there. Writing new songs and lyrics is always a weighty labor for me. There's nothing like it when you're done with the composing part of the process cuz' it doesn't come easy for me. When we'd have days off I was doing nothing but sitting at a table running ideas through my head, trying to construct it and write out the melody so I wouldn't forget it. Then I would get to the studio when the bass player and drummer arrived and start showing them the arrangement. I wish it came easy to me but those moments are few and far between. I wish I had stories to tell about what interesting stuff was going on while getting basics, bass and drums, but the guys were just real pros and we hardly had to do more than 3 or 4 takes per song and that would be that and then we're on to the next song. While recording "Leave My Soul Alone", I was just using this Marshall 100w plexi-remake and singing along with the melody, and it turned out to have just the right vibe. We decided to use the scratch guitar as the basic rhythm for the foundation. Then I fashioned the lyrics to its cadence and we had it. On one of the last days to record bass and drums, Mike Varney and I discussed what we needed for the next day and how many songs were left. We had agreed to 4 but when I showed up I had 3 after spending every waking moment that day composing and pushing myself to come up with new stuff. When we had finished the third song I was relieved and put down my guitar and was hopefully heading outside to breathe a sigh that the 'basics' phase was done, but Mike had different ideas. "We still need one more song!" I turned incredulously towards Mike, "What!?" "We still need one more song. We said 13 and we've got 12. Need one more." I said, "We've got one song that's over 11 minutes long and two songs that are about 9 minutes long. I think we have more than enough." As if Mike couldn't take notice of all the work it's taken me the past two-and-a-half days of pushing myself - and to top it off, Mike was not even looking at me while talking to me! He just sat there in a chair slumped with bad posture, texting to someone on his I-phone, insouciantly demanding "one more song". C'mon! I was borderline livid and inside I was like, "Fine! you want a song!? Here you go " So I sat down and came up with a lick, thought about the turn around, told myself I needed something quirky to introduce the solo section and then arranged the parts in order so it made sense. Not 3 minutes after I sat down to start writing this song in anger I was calling the band back in the studio to lay it down. I explained the form to the guys and we went through it maybe 3 times and it was done. It took about 15 to 20 minutes and it was in the can! That song is now called "Outta' My Way"! More to come.
- chris duarte
Vocals and Guitars, Guitars, Guitars
It's been the same for the past 8 days: get up early. There are chickens out here and since I am in the cabin close to the studio and not in the little white house that is several hundred yards from the main complex, the chickens are in my locale (and yes they crow at the crack of dawn, as well as the rest of the day intermittently, but with gusto at daybreak). I was up early every day, but that didn't bother me cuz' there was lots to do. I did my exercise routine then sat down and worked on songs and lyrics. We even had two days off while tracking but these were not days off for me, just more time to work. This really didn't bother me, I liked the solitude when there's work of this nature involved. Then on work days I would go down to the studio, literally 50 feet from my front door, and start the live stuff and then move on the playing or singing. There was one song that was particularly vexing to me. If anyone knows my catalog, one notices a paucity of slow major blues in my repertoire. This is mainly a personal choice because I've always leaned towards the minor blues for the evocative and dark mood they inspire inside me, plus I think Stevie so excellently covered this, as did a host of others including Hendrix and all the Kings, so I felt the minors were to be in my wheelhouse. Mike Varney said for the album, a month or so before heading out there, that he wanted more blues on this album and a slow major one should be strongly considered. What I chose to do was a slow major with richer chords plus a bridge, an AAB form, two verses then the bridge. I really enjoyed playing the rhythm track on this song and then kind of filed it away, choosing to concentrate on the Hendrixy and the traditional shuffles I had laid down previously. Upon reviewing every morning the songs I still had to write lyrics for, the slow major kept me at bay because I knew this was not going to be the typical slow blues form; two couplets, the first being the same stating the situation and the next being a method to resolve and an optimistic or resigning to the aforementioned quandary! No, this was going to be a story told with the last couplet being the summation and title wrapped up in it. I had never written a song like this so I was worried. We've now laid down most of the rock stuff and I have one more day off in the schedule so it was do-or-die time for me! I had to get this song done and finished. The days out here in northern California are mostly sunny and really pleasant. It was a bit hot when I first arrived in early October, but Autumn was quickly approaching and the days started to turn cool, in the mid 70's. From time to time the coastal fog extends its long reach from the coastal region and reaches easterly into the adjoining valleys, thus did the fog arrive on my off-day. The sun was thwarted in its efforts to break through and the fog allied with the clouds as the afternoon progressed so as to leave the ground dwellers in a shadowless environment. Me, I was inside anyway racking my brains to come up with something to start writing about, some storyline like a novelist sitting at their typewriter awaiting the attention-grabbing opening line to get the ball rolling! Rolling my pencil between my index and middle fingers in a drumstick-like motion, I tapped on the big table that dominates the one big room in the cabin. Looking out the window that is above the sink there is a small row of pines and I fixed my gaze on them. I noticed that it was a still day outside with no wind. Something popped in my head, "Looking out at the trees", no, "Looking out at the pines", pines has a more specific visual value to it. Then a romantic revision, "Looking out at swayless pines", well that's better. Trees sway in the wind and I've just enhanced the visual value. "Just above the kitchen sink", after all I was gazing out the window that's above the sink, and now the so-called finishline pops into my head or in other words, the subject; the libretto. It was going to be about my day and it just happened to be a gray overcast day with no wind. Days like these that have long been the subjects in songs about laidback and lazy pass-the-time-away-reminiscing, or sad-and-depressing ruminations. I was determined to include a little bit of it all and keep the vernacular in the old style of the 50's and 60's crooners. I've oft found myself in the aforementioned position of running into an inspirational wall and unable to climb over it. What I've learned from being here is that you just start writing - write anything, keep it up and don't stop 'til something grabs you. You'll know it when it comes. This may not be failsafe or result in genius, but at least you're able to work through it and not deal with the stigma that will attach to your sub-conscience if you give up. That only makes the wall grow higher.