Holly Happy Days everyone! Here are 12 days of ‘Holly Happy Days’ recording sessions which took place in May 2010.
Here some of us are, gathered in the studio to arrange a song. From left to right: Carol Isaac’s leg and accordian, Luke Bulla, Amy. and Alison Brown.
Before we recorded each song, we would get together in this main studio room and work on arrangements. This is where the players’ ideas for their parts originated. Peter Collins (producer) listened in and made suggestions about song structure and vibe. Once we got the shape of the arrangement, we would go to our isolation recording booths at the same time and begin to get song ‘takes’. Regardless of what we came up with at the beginning , we would often change parts and song structure once we got in to the booths, began playing together, and could really hear how the song was coming together.
You can see in the photo that there are many instruments strewn about. At any point, we could pick up a different instrument and try something new on the spot to see how Peter and everyone else liked it. You can also see Alison taking notes on her chart. These Nashville players, and Carol, our Brit, are world class players who write and read charts second nature.
Welcome to the 2nd day of Holly Happy Days! In this video, we are working on ‘I Feel the Christmas Spirit’ which ended up being the first track on the cd. We don’t figure out the track order until near the very end of the project. You can watch as we start from the beginning on the structure. There is also footage of both Luke and Alison playing their solos which end up on the final track. They come up with their own parts typically. Sometimes Peter guides the musicians to hear Luke and Alison just wailed on it. Inside the control room, Peter and Trina direct and Emily distracts Peter with a frivolous question. All good.
Tomorrow we will look inside the control room at a couple of the players.
“I Feel The Christmas Spirit”
On the 3rd day of Holly Happy Days we have a sneak peek inside the control room. For those of you who don’t know, the control room is where the producer (Peter) and engineer (Trina Shoemaker) sit and listen to the goings on. It is where the ‘board’ is and all of the technical recording gear is. Trina is at the helm. She recorded these sessions on ProTools software. In this control room shot, Luke and Jim Brock (percussion) gather to listen to a track. They are standing in the doorway to the entrance of the control room. People come and go into the control room at free will, but we mostly try to stay quiet so that Trina and Peter can concentrate. That being said, there are many conversation breaks and someone offers to get whoever wants hot tea or coffee.
Tomorrow we will take a look at the process of arranging and recording ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’.
On the 4th day of Holly Happy Days we look into recording ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’. Emily plays a baroque style instrumental part and Luke finds his own part to accompany it. Note Jim Brock’s completely unique and fabulous combination of things that he plays to create a percussive track. Brandi Carlile joins us to learn her third harmony part. You see when we land on the notes in three part harmony that work exactly to our liking. This is a tremendously fun part of the process, and Brandi makes it easy. She is a harmony pro!
Tomorrow we go into the control room again.
“Angels We Have Heard On High”
On the 5th day of Holly Happy Days we see Luke and Trina pointing to a part of the track which they see on the soundwaves on the screen. ProTools allows us to see, in sound wave form, everything that has been recorded onto tracks. We not only hear, but we actually see the music. They are working on a spot to fix, and Luke and Trina can see, according to the waves on the screen, exactly where the change needs to be made. ProTools has revolutionized studio recording. It is now a very speedy process to record and fix things. We remember the times when recording tape actually had to be cut and spliced to fix things. Scary!
Tomorrow, we will watch video from the recording of ‘Peace Child”. Emily’s Dad makes his debut on an Indigo Girl’s record!
On the 6th day of Holly Happy Days, we watch the process of recording ‘Peace Child’. The first footage shows show Don Saliers, Emily’s dad. It is his first appearance on an IG record. It is also his first time recording in a professional studio, using headphones, and sitting in an isolation booth. He performs wonderfully. Carol plays the harmonium, and you can hear the sound of the pedals as they pump away. You can see Luke playing violin, and Amy and Emily singing their parts. Each person is housed in a separate, or ‘isolated’ booth, so that we can hear each other through headphones but also keep good ‘takes’ and fix mistakes that an individual player may make. Jim keeps a tempo which does not actually end up on the finished track. There is lots of space in the song, and Jim helps keep our entrances and playing together. Since we’ve worked with him, Peter has always said, right before we record a track, ‘let’s make this a proud day for England…’or anyone else he chooses. Obviously, this makes us laugh and relaxes us before we launch into a take. Peter and Trina listen from the control room. The piano part you hear in this video is not the one we end up with on the final version. In his free time, Don plays jazz.
Tomorrow we visit the nexus of gathering again: the control room.
On the 7th day of Holly Happy Days we go back to the control room. From left to right are Don Saliers, Amy, Tristin Chipman, Emily, Peter, and Trina. As you can see, some people are working and some people are socializing. After we finish a take, or a part, Peter says, ‘come on in y’all’ (in his English accent) or something like that, and we usually head from the booth into the control room to listen to what’s been done. But oftentimes, we just gather there as Trina ties up loose ends and Peter scopes a plan. Or we sit there to listen as the other players record their parts, like solos, or fixes. We also pet the dogs, Dave and Tobey. We are a pet friendly recording environment.
Tomorrow, we will watch the footage that Sulli shot of us recording ‘O Holy Night’.
Here we start with Carol Isaacs, describing the ‘Catamonium’. As you can tell, there is no fun whatsoever allowed during the daily proceedings. On this track, Jim Brock came up with a really nice groove, accompanied by Viktor on bass. Because this song has been done a gazillion times, we wanted to present it in a different musical light. Trina was particularly struck by this arrangement and rushed home to rough mix what she called her favorite track so far. Luke plays mandolin here. He played fiddle, mandolin, and guitar during the sessions. He is not only a virtuoso, but he is ‘tasty’, as we say, which means he comes up with unique and special parts. Amy’s sister, Susan, sings ‘O Holy Night’ in church every year. She has a beautiful soprano voice. Now it’s Amy’s turn to hit a super high note. Listen for it, towards the end of the footage.
Tomorrow we will look at photos of Jim Brock and Alison Brown.
“O Holly Night”
On the 9th day of Happy Holidays, we see Jim and Alison. Jim Brock is a fabulous percussionist. We had never worked with Jim before, Peter found him for us. He has a collection of all kinds of percussive instruments, but also does things like slap his legs and smack his hands on his percussive tracks. It is hard to identify, just by listening, exactly what he is doing. Jim definitely brought a unique and inspiring sound to these sessions.
We have known Alison for a while now. She played on ‘Poseidon and the Bitter Bug’ acoustic versions. Emily used to listen to her records up at her N. Georgia cabin years and years ago, so it was a thrill to actually get to work together. Alison comes with an arsenal of banjo-like instruments. Listening, in the control room, we were always blown away by her parts.
Tomorrow, we will watch the process of recording ‘In the Bleak Mid Winter’.
Today we are in the studio recording ‘In the Bleak Mid Winter’. Jim starts us with a count in, just so we can get the time and entrance. But then he drops out, and we miss our vocal entrance because there is no point of reference for it. So, Peter asks Carol to play piano to help us with that, and we are on our way again. In the end, the piano part stays, which illustrates how happy accidents can happen during the process. Just to note, in the big studio room you see colored lights strung about.These lights gave us a very ‘holiday’ vibe, but they weren’t put up just for the project, they are always there. A little example of just how perfectly everything came together for the ‘Holly Happy Days’ experience.
In the control room, we listen to what we have done so far and, while the structure and arrangement are what we want, we decide that we can get a better performance. Peter is quite adept at recognizing a stellar performance and, also, when we have ‘peaked’ and probably can’t better what we have. The process with this group is quite democratic. However, it is important to have a producer and engineer whose opinions you completely trust. We have that with Peter and Trina. We laugh a lot, but in the end, we are serious about doing the best we can.
Tomorrow, we will look at a picture of Emily and her dad, in the control room and petting Dave, Peter’s dog.
“In The Bleak Midwinter”
On the 11th day of Holly Happy Days, we see Emily and her dad, sitting in the control room and petting Dave. Dave was in the studio with us almost every day, sitting on the couch. But whenever Peter left the room, so did Dave. He is extremely attached to Peter. But as long as Peter was around, Dave had his place on the couch and loved being petted.
You can see how much Emily loves her dad in this picture. She is also proud of him for playing so well in this new and, often intimidating, environment.
One of the best parts of making an IG record is getting to invite people to come join us. Along with Don, there were guest appearances on ‘Holly Happy Days’ by Janis Ian, Mary Gauthier, and Brandi Carlile. We also have friends and family drop by from time to time. It is always a communal affair with us.
Tomorrow, for the 12th Day, we will watch some of the process of recording ‘Your Holiday Song’.
Here we are, starting the arrangement process for ‘Your Holiday Song’. Emily wrote this song strumming the guitar, but it becomes apparent that the ongoing strumming just makes the song feel linear. So Peter suggests that Jim and Viktor come up with a groove, and the song is made! The tempo is faster, we lose the constant strumming, and Luke comes up with a nifty mando part which further lifts the feel of the song. After all, this is meant to be a poppy, uplifting song of celebration. It becomes that once the changes are made in the arrangement. Sitting in a hotel room in the 95 degree Mexican heat, Emily never could have created the parts that would eventually bring this song to its potential. That is the beauty of working with a great team. We all make each other better.
“Your Holiday Song”