Janis' Diary - Part 1
I don't know that anyone who hasn't worked on an album project from start to finish can ever have any idea of just how much sheer time and effort goes into the final product. As you can see from the Timeline, this project really began years and years ago - it just picked up speed as we went along.
This is the first week of our six-week project, designed to show you every aspect of the process from my point of view. The song drafts, from first scribbled thought to the last, final lyric. The Worktapes, which you can find defined in our Glossary of Terms. The very first takes, when we all played a song for the first time, and the final takes on that song. The rough mixes, with and without finished vocals, overdubbed instruments, and edits. Toward the end, when we get to the Dolly Parton vocal session, you'll be able to listen as Dolly and I work out the arrangement in the studio. And finally, the final mixes, and the record release, which will be on sale in advance right here. In addition, we're going to be auctioning off a ton of stuff for the Pearl Foundation - signed charts, photos, the worktape and rough mix CD's, so stay tuned!!!
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From my point of view in this first week of our collapsed time frame, I'm in pretty good shape. Most of the songs are completely finished, my guitar parts worked out, and a vague idea of the arrangement already living in my head. The problematic song is "Billie's Bones", which is not good because that's going to be (I'm pretty sure…) the album title. I don't know why, but each time I think it's finished I realize it needs something more, or something less, and I go back to the drawing board. When I did my last worktape, it suddenly occurred to me that the darned thing needed a bridge, and a completely different ending! I'll continue working on it until just a few days before we go into the studio with the band. I think I'm having so much trouble with it because it's really hard to describe how I feel about being an artist myself, trying to measure up to her.
Fortunately, I did manage to finish "My Tennessee Hills" for this album, and it was weird the way it happened. I was sitting there looking at the chorus, as I'd looked at it for several years now, bereft of any ideas. I started playing the song in my head and suddenly thought Wait! This is a George Jones song! I realized if I wrote it that way, with plenty of heart, it would work - and it pretty much wrote itself after that.
I've been doing a budget for several weeks now, trying to figure on the high end of every conceivable expense. From music paper to studio rental, it all adds up, and I've learned over the years that it's the little things that kill you in the end. My business manager, Charles Sussman, always makes us add in 10% contingency funds. That's a good idea, because catastrophes do happen - suddenly the bass player is stranded in a blizzard and you have to put the whole thing off for a week, but you still have to pay the studio and musicians! That's one reason I like cutting in the summer.
Maude Gilman, the art designer, and I have had a couple of lunches and kicked around ideas. At first I thought I'd do the whole album as a homage to my heroine Billie Holiday, and we toyed with making the CD look like an old vinyl record, with a red and gold label. But then, what to do with the cover? Maybe a dressing room table with an orchid? Tacky. Been done. We're a little stuck, I confess. I'm thinking of calling Lisa Powers, who did the gorgeous Breaking Silence cover, but she's in California - and expensive.
"Forever Young" looks like it's going to make it, which pleases me because as the songs come together, the whole album is taking on a very "folky" feel. I think that's partly because, for the first time since I recorded Between the Lines, I've actually had time to relax and slow down. My roots as a writer and singer are in folk and jazz, and the slowing down reminds me of that. It wasn't even in the running until Tanith Lee wrote a marvelous story for my Stars Anthology that was based on the lyric; her story reminded me just how desolate a song it is.
"Dead Men Walking" looks like it'll make it too, though so far I'm the only one who wants it. Any producer with sense will allow for a couple of "artist's choices" on a record; songs that make the artist happy (and often, no one else.) I think they can hear what the song could be, but it sure as heck doesn't translate with just a guitar and vocal worktape.
So far, "When I Lay Down" is the clear favorite among the crew, and I don't blame them. But I think "I Hear You Sing Again" will give it a run for its money.
Choosing songs is always a problem, because you want the best songs, but you also want them to hang together congruently, to form an entire album that makes sense when it stands as a whole. Philip and I decided early on that this album had to hang together. My writing is so eclectic that it's easy to bop from jazz to folk to pop to classical and not skip a beat, but I really think the final product suffers when there's not a thread running through the whole thing.
And then there's my own favorite choice, "Marching On Glasgow". I've never done a guitar piece before, and I'm terrified that I won't be able to play it when the session happens. Good buddy Peter Mayer was here a few weeks ago, doing a guitar concert, and I played it for him - he thought it was great. Then Philip said why was I wanting to do it solo when I'd have a great band? Now I'm enjoying making up the orchestration. It's very Mozart to me, with its repetitive themes, and very Scottish as well (and should be, since I started it in Glasgow). Fun to try and capture those feels and blend them together!
My production team consists of Jeff Balding (who co-produced/engineered Breaking Silence and Hunger), who'll do the tracking and mixing; Marc Moreau (who co-produced/engineered god & the fbi), who'll be responsible for the vocals, overdubs, and editing; Philip Clark, my longtime road manager/soundman/recording partner, who'll be second engineer for Marc at the home studio and help me out with my equipment, and Tina Abato, my assistant, who'll be responsible for everything else. We've booked Sound Emporium for the tracking, we're still uncertain about where to do vocals. If we do it in the home studio, like we did with god, we're going to have to stop every time a plane goes by or a bird whistles. If we do it at Sound Emporium, it's going to cost money.
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