Between Breaths

Musicam novam præsento. This is a sororal love-song to Layla Grant, the bright young gem whom “Nashville” takes an ugly, sadistic joy thrashing the life out of. Like “Tuesday A.M.,” this song pushes the analog emulation as far as I can go; unlike that song, it had a remarkably straightforward gestation. Those who just want the music, click through; as always, for those who like to know what’s going on behind the curtain, let’s dig in.

Start with the obvious: Yes, I brought in a singer for this one. My vocal wasn’t cutting it, so I called up Nate Mensah who came in and did a great job. I had woken up on March 27—having discussed Layla the previous day—with the first verse in my mind, and immediately went down to the studio and cut a demo; I had the basic tracks done by day’s end, and worked on lyrics for the second verse over the next couple of days. Nate came in once I had them down. He sang a couple of coverage takes, and we worked through specific lines that I didn’t feel were nailed in the coverage or where there were questions; for example, there were some articulations that he did a little differently from my guide vocal, so I had him give me a couple of takes his way and a couple of takes my way, leaving me free to decide later which worked better. (Usually his, but not always.) A specific example would be the articulation on the last words of the chorus: In the first chorus, I kept my articulation, but in the second, his way worked better to close out the vocal. At the mix, I added a little processing—some compression (VoS’ Thrillseeker LA takes a first pass, Minimal System’s Punch, a second), and some reverb (this time I used a Lexicon 480L plate from Big Gee’s IR collection; when I’ve tried it before, it hasn’t sat right in the mix, but here it does).

I don’t usually post lyrics—I tend to agree with Michael Stipe that a lyric is meant for the ear not the eye—but I’m very happy with these words:

You’re bent by the wind until you snap.
You’re broken down and pushed around, hurt til you break,
But still go on.
I’m amazed you take it all, forcing yourself forward like the pro.
You push past loss, rejection, heartache, still you seem to undertake
T’ forge on.

Between breaths—it can seem like eternity;
Between breaths—it’s cruel, this city!
It wrings the life and the blood from your breast;
Divided but undimmed you’re trapped between breaths.

This punishment has broken lesser women.
You’re shit-upon and run-around, terrorized, abandoned and betrayed.
If there’s a silver-lining anywhere, you’ll stumble right into the cloud!
But you never quit, you always stay, there’s an innocence to the naïveté
T’ carry on

I like that it doesn’t follow any specific meter; I like that it’s “like the pro” not “a pro”; I love that image “If there’s a silver-lining anywhere, you’ll stumble right into the cloud,” which makes me giggle and cry a little at the same time, which is of course very much the pathos of the character. I’m not wild about “lesser women”; my wife and I went back and forth on that line for quite a while—she really dislikes it—but the problem is that there’s no good alternative. It works better as “men,” but poetry has to give way to canon.

This is an unusually “thin” track for me; although I carried ~30 tracks out of post into the mix, there aren’t many layers at any given time. The piano came from a Roland JV30, played live, no MIDI. I tracked it with the Kurzweil too, which felt perhaps more authentic to the “Nashville vernacular,” but I adore that 80s chorused-piano sound (too many Genesis records at an impressionable age, I fear), and when it came to the mix, I went with my gut, and I think it plays. Like “Tuesday A.M.,” the core of the sound is an acoustic guitar and a mandolin, one on the left, the other on the right. This time, the electric guitars were a couple of Telecasters (my HRT and T12) into a Fender Greta as a tube pre, and a Strat for the solo, where I added a Digitech Bad Monkey, which is a fun TubeScreamer-style overdrive, and the Softamp FM25, which I haven’t used since “Still Alive.” It’s not right for every situation, but it works nicely here. The solo itself—I could probably have taken a few more passes and really nailed the timing, there’s a couple of places where it’s blurry, but I like this one and I like it as-is.

(There’s a passage in the solo—not the one you might think—that gave me fits in tracking. Pro-tip: If it’s not coming together, stop, pull out the metronome, pull it back to the speed where you can play the passage, and work up to 120% of tempo. You can do this. You’ve got this. Just work the system: The metronome is your friend.)

Softsynths are thin on the ground. There’s a Moog emulation bubbling under the track until the second chorus, and an organ that comes in right at the end, and that’s it apart from the drums, which are MT Power Drums with only very light processing; I did separate out the kick and snare from the buss for separate processing (no reverb on the kick, an additional, gated send for the snare), and so you have those plus the stereo buss into another instance of Thrillseeker LA. I also have the Lindell 6X-500CM over the snare and the guitar lead; I really like it but was more restrained in my use of it this time around. The bass is a 5-string Washburn P-bass recorded through a Bellari tube pre with some compression from Minimal System Punch; I added the Blue Cat Chorus under the solo just to thicken it up a little, and Softube’s Saturation Knob is set so that it catches just the parts where I’m playing with a heavier touch at the end.

As always, Sonimus’ SonEQ is my go-to mix EQ, and everything is fed through their Britson console emulation (I did not end up using, but want to plug, their Burnley 1073 emulation) and Ferox into VoS’ Density III and Ferric for just a little bit of mix buss compression. My stock mastering chain has gained a new toy since “Tuesday A.M.”: Kazrog’s KClip. I used it extensively on season one of the podcast, and here I finally get to use it for its intended purpose!

I feel that the mix could be a little better—it feels a little too airy and open—and maybe I’ll revisit it at some point, but for eight days’ work, I’m pretty happy with this.