RW193 - Sounding Fatter

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to different techniques of recording a guitar to make it sounding fatter.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Internet Outages (RW193)

Dan has problems with Internet outages at the worst possible time and having to reboot machines and that kind of nonsense, which is never fun. Imagine if the series of tubes of the Internet went down! Dan wouldn't have much of an income if that happened. John wondered what it would take for the Internet to go down and not come back up for some period. It would take a lot for the Internet as a whole, but it is bad enough when Amazon S3 goes offline for an hour or CloudFlare goes offline and the whole Internet is disrupted for extended periods of time.

The Internet was designed to be a fault tolerant systems so that in the event of a nuclear war or some other big disruption, things could still work, but when you have a service that a lot of people rely on, like Amazon S3 is where a lot of companies and businesses store things like images, and if Amazon S3 is down, then no images show up on anything. It could be much worse than that, of course. There have been problems where one junior level engineer typed a wrong number, instead of a 1 they typed a 2, and that caused an outage that resulted in hours of downtime and millions of dollars lost by companies, and that has happened more than once and it will happen again.

When the Internet finally goes down for the last time John will never know and he will watch the spinning beach ball and say: ”I am sure that I just need to turn it off and turn it back on again!” If the Internet went down at that level, such that they couldn't do podcasts anymore, it is not just that they couldn't do them, but nobody could get them even they we did them. John could record and send it to Dan in the mail, but there would be no venue for it and then John would be practicing cottage course somewhere, making bread and just hoping that the blood wave washes over us. That doesn't sound very good. John needs Dan to keep the Internet rolling!

Playing guitar with a capo, slightly speeding up his recordings (RW193)

Dan was watching some of John’s KEXP recordings that are beloved in his family and his kids especially love to watch those. He noticed that John uses a capo for some of the songs, namely Cinnamon, but how do you make those kinds of decisions? Has it the right sound that you are looking for? Is it because of your vocal range and the way you want to sing the song?

Sometimes it is reverse engineering because a technique John used on every record is that after the track was finished, in trying to make it sound more glued-together and more exciting, he would speed up the tape machine a couple of clicks and because it was all on actual analog tape, if you sped it up, the pitch of the song went up. If you crank it too much, then you get chipmunk voice and it sounds unnatural, but if you do it a little bit up to a certain point, often you get a pleasing urgency to the song and stuff blurs a little bit together and it feels more of a piece.

You will find this with albums where if you pick up a guitar and you try to play along with your favorite record and you just cannot get your guitar in tune with the album, it is because in the mixing of the album the band turned the Vary-speed and put the tuning of the song somewhere in between, so it is not ever going to be in tune. With cinnamon John turned the the pitch up a little bit when mixing the song and for some reason he felt obligated to put a capo on the first fret in order to have their live rendition of the song be closer to the sound of the album.

It makes John sing higher, which is harder, and it makes it a lot harder for the bass player because it puts it in this place where the piano now is up on the Black Keys, although although there is not piano on that one in the same way. It makes it harder on everybody, and it was an attempt to reverse engineer and John did that for years until eventually he wondered why he was doing this. He just started to play Cinnamon and G.

Scared Straight John plays with a capo because he wrote the song on the piano and certain piano keys are very pleasing to play in, he is just letting his hands walk around the piano and they find things and he puts chords together, and all of a sudden he got a song and he takes it to the band and the bass player is like: ”Really? F# or B? I don't want to have to play in that, it is just like so much less fun and easy than to just play in G!” Eric Corson loves a challenge, so he never complained, but other people would. John wrote it on the piano and then it made sense that he would play guitar live, but he wanted it to sound like the album, so he had to put a capo on it because that was the actual key that he played the song in.

The song Seven John uses a cape on because he discovered / invented a thing where he put the capo on at the second fret on every string except the low E, which creates a drop-D situation, but it was done with a capo rather than by dropping the low string, and that means that John can play chords with a droning E in the low end that he never has to fret, but the cable lets him play chords up in that second position. He gets to play an open D shape, but it is actually in the key of E. John liked the sound of it, and it was a surprising discovery and he hadn't seen a lot of people do it. That was a neat use of a capo.

New Girl and songs like Honest John put the capo on the 5th fret all the way up, which lets him play open shape chords, but get that middle-of-the-neck power chord tone and do these songs in D-A-E, but they are not power chords, they are open chords because, and he can pick through them and do all this stuff. When John first learned guitar he was trying to play Metal and all those guys just use 5ths and just play the most basic bar chord. They never put the 3rd in, the chords are super-ambiguous, whether they are even major or minor, and it is just heavy 5ths with a lot of distortion.

Omitting notes in chords, different guitar recording techniques (RW193)

When john joined Harvey Danger as the keyboard player, the guitar player Jeff Lynne said every time: Never play the 3rd, just played the 5th, even though it so boring on the piano, and if John slipped a 3rd in when he was playing the piano parts, at the end of the song he would come over and say: ”I heard that 3rd! Leave it out!” because he was a piano player. John gets his guitar and explains how he can play either a 1-5, a 1-5-8 chord, or a 1-3-5-8 chord.

John’s guitar is a cheap 1960s Japanese thing called a Musician that he got for $50, but it is extremely beautiful and he actually went to a custom guitar maker by the name of Saul Koll in Portland who has made a template of this guitar and they have been working on building a really nice guitar that looks like this really cheap guitar.

If you are putting down multiple guitar tracks and every guitar has the third in it, it is one more place where guitars can be out of tune with each other and create a disharmony with another instrument that is maybe playing an interesting or thoughtful thing. A bass line can do a lot of interesting, thoughtful things that aren't in the major chord and those interesting things introduce tension into the song in ways that don't necessarily change the key of the song, but if you got all your guitars playing these big bright chords it limits what the other instruments can do in terms of really get creative and get outside of the thing. If you are just playing 5ths, you can imagine that it is still in a major key and it feels that way, but the bass can dip into other things.

John always felt like he has six strings on the guitar, so play them all every time you get a chance! It took him a long time to stop trying to play every note and to realize that if he is going to double or triple this guitar and this is going to be a rhythm guitar and there is going to be piano and horns and all these other things on this song, maybe he should just play some basic chords. With distortion, if your amp is loud enough, you only need to play one string and you double or triple it and it sounds super fat, way bigger than if you had all six strings going.

As a younger player John always sang at the top of his lungs, but that doesn't sound any louder and in some cases it doesn’t sound anywhere near as loud as somebody who is singing quietly, but imitating the sound of a loud voice. Every time John got in front of a microphone he sang like he was in a church and didn't have a microphone, and he assumed that that made it sound even even louder, but the microphone can only do so much and it is only going to be as loud as the speakers, but it really compressed his dynamic range and he was just singing everything really loud, he never…

Tom Petty talked about right around the making of Full Moon Fever, where he was sitting in the studio, showing the producer how he wanted a song to go, and the producer said: ”Well, this is it. Let me just set up a microphone here!” - ”What are you talking about? I am just sitting in the studio humming it to you!” - ”Yeah, that is it! That is the sound!” and from that point on Petty realized he was working too hard and he did all his vocals in a very conversational voice and that is what we think of the great period of of mid-career Tom Petty.

John never learned that lesson, although Aimee Mann tried to teach it to him. She goes out on stage and plays and he looks like she is sorting coins because she is not screaming, she is not jumping around, she is just playing her songs and singing in a comfortable range. By the time John started to put all that together he was in his late 30s, deep into his career, and had established his sound and it sounded weird if I he sang differently. Even now when he thinks about finishing the songs that he has got laying around, and thinks about singing them in a conversational voice, which is even more his voice, and he is far enough away from whatever the last Long Winters record is that nobody would be surprised if it had a very different sound.

When he was finishing the Western State record, there were some backing vocals or something that he wanted to add to a song, and he was able to at 50 sing so that his voice was indistinguishable from his voice at 30. His voice thus far has maintained its tone. Realizing that at 30 he was singing like had sung at 25, which was all the way out, originally because they had shitty PAs and he was trying to sing over the band. If John was making a record in a studio right now, he would play much reduced chords, but I would layer them.

There is a famous story about Mutt Lang recording the Def Leppard record Pyromania. Their producer encouraged them to to push themselves, encouraged the singer to sing higher and bigger, and he made the guitar players play all their guitar parts one string at a time, so he got this perfect separation of the chords. John can't imagine doing that, primarily because he just pull all his strings a little sharp, but John is not a super-technical guitar player. But apparently in doing that he was able to get these really clean, big, dynamic, Heavy Metal chords because he had the perfect note on every string in a chord. John used to laugh at that because that doesn't sound fun, but nowadays he would definitely record some guitar parts that were just one string. Having done it at home for several years he realized it ends up sounding fatter and that is what we are all looking for all the time: Make it fatter!

A capo was one of the things when John was learning to play guitar that somebody showed him how it worked, it seemed cool and he adopted it as part of the five things he knew how to do. For instance John never really learned to play slide guitar. He played it on a couple of songs, but he was just playing chords and never did anything especially interesting on slide guitar. It was just something that he watched somebody do and wondered what would happen if he did that? But it is not like he then sat down with them and said: ”Show me how to do this!”, but he would take the thing and and sneak off and monkey with it and get get an ability to do one or two things on it and then be like: ”Great, now I can add that if I need it!”

Dan trying to learn video editing on YouTube (RW193)

Does Dan watch YouTube videos of people doing things and try to learn from those? Not the skateboard tricks that John is watching, but other things. Most recently he was watching a video talking about how to make an animated Subscribe button in Adobe Premiere Pro, he looked at a video ”Scorpion vs 1000 cockroaches!”, ducks annihilating a bowl of peas, he watched a video of The Cranberries performing Dreaming My Dreams in 1994, but that didn't really teach him how to do anything. There are lots and lots of videos about video editing recently, because that is the thing Dan has been working on a lot.

Ducks annihilating a bowl of peas taught him something, kind of. When he was in college, behind the building he and his roommates lived in there was a ”lake”, a manmade reservoir type things that are all over Florida because they get so much rain and the soil is just sand, so the runoff fills up parking lots and other things, so they would just dig these randomly placed ugly pits that would fill up with water and become a lake and they used to have ducks living in it, and any time that they didn't finish some food they would go out back with the container that the food was in, no matter what it was, and the ducks would consume it and they loved to watch them eat.

Dan also watched a video about how to install a lift kit on a Ford F-150, which is a lot of work because you basically have to take off the entire assembly for the wheel and the shocks and everything. Dan has probably the tools he would need for it and he has the space for it, but it is probably a day’s work, while the guys who know how to do it probably get it done in an hour and a half.

Dan watched a video on how to install a range hood because they get a new range hood, and he was going to install it, but then he realized that it was going to require a lot of cutting and he needed a sawzall or something that he doesn't have, so he decided not to.

John knows that people learn a lot from YouTube, but he never got… he watched a YouTube video once explaining how to take apart the carburetor of his lawnmower and he followed the instructions of this person and successfully took apart the carburetor of his lawnmower and put it back together. It was mostly one of those things where he said: ”You have to take this off before you take that off, otherwise you are either going to break it or you are never be able to get it back together!” If he tried to just look at it to take it apart, he would have screwed it up completely.

There are so many things John could learn. Just during this pandemic he watched a couple of YouTube videos about guitar, like ”Here is how you get fast on the guitar!” and then do it over and over to play really quick scales, but John just doesn’t have the fingers for it, so he ends up walking away before he really learned anything.

All knowledge has gone to YouTube. Dan talks about how he switched from Final Cut Pro to Adobe Premiere because he was pretty competent with Final Cut Pro 7, but they completely changed it and it is really different. The people who have stuck with it after it changed have said that once you get it, you really get it, and then you are really fast and it becomes a time saver, but it is so fundamentally different, if the gas and the brake in your truck were now operated by buttons that were connected to the sun visor and you were now steering the car with a little joystick, that was where the lock on the window is on the left hand side, and you operated your turn signals by coughing, one cough for right, two coughs for left. Eventually you might say this is much, but when you are first learning it it feels really alien.

Dan’s goal isn't to become a video editor. He might edit videos as a part of what he is doing, but he is not going to be in Final Cut Pro full time. He bought a class with 6+ hours of videos teaching how to use Final Cut Pro, and he tried to actually do the project, but after having spent two days on it, he had almost the same thing that he started with and it was not happening. He asked some friends on Twitter and they all said that after Apple's fucked up Final Cut Pro they switched to Adobe Premiere, and one friend said that Premiere is basically Final Cut Pro 7, just very modern and very good. Without watching any videos, without paying any money, he was able to download Adobe Premier and edit the video and produce the video and launch the video in two hours. He only had to watch that one video about the Subscribe button, everything else was just natural.

Arguably people who went along with it did say that it is faster and better, but if something is fine, just leave it alone! That is Stockholm syndrome, it feels like! If people say: ”I invested nine weeks in learning this new thing and it is amazing!”, they probably liked Phantom Menace, too!

John being frustrated at not being better at recording software (RW193)

John is so bad and so frustrated at being bad at following through on any recording program long enough to be good at it or even remotely competent at it that he always ends up falling back on GarageBand, a product that he doesn’t really understand either. He has spent so much time in recording studios, he knows how things work, he knows how to look at a mixing board and make it work, but with computers it is all on pull-down menus and key commands and all that stuff is like playing video games, learning some combination of left click, pull down, cmd-opt-A is this, and John never learned it, and the machines continue to be mysteries.

He knows what he wants to do. He wants to mute this part from here to there, and the hard way to do that is go into the volume track and create a place where the volume drops out by putting two dots in and dragging them down, but that doesn't seem very efficient, it feels like he should just be able to ghost that section and have it be a mute, but he can't figure it out and so he doesn't want to go in and do it the other way for some reason, because it feels inefficient and wrong. Also he wants to cut these four bars out of this and put that over here and have it be a crossfade, but in GarageBand he can't figure out how to do it.

In Pro Tools and in Logic he has watched people do it and they are just flying through it, they got all the commands, they are moving really fast, but in GarageBand he can't even figure out how. The only thing he knows how to do is go into those weird volume tracks and make things go up or down, but when he cuts something and tries to graft it together he is manually dragging it and trying to drop it right where it belongs, and it is not automated. Maybe he expects things to be user friendly and processes that you use over and over and over would be automated with a quick thing, but he goes to all these menus, pulling them down, but he can't figure it out.

If you look at a YouTube class or something they want to explain what the record button does. If he is looking for how to do a Crossfade in GarageBand, the Q&A section of the program tells you nothing and it seems like if there were an answer to it, it would be there in the help function, but it is not. Crossfade is such a universal term in recording and the fact that in the GarageBand help it does not recognize the name is crazy!

It is a real frustration being 50 years old, having spent months in recording studios since he was 21 years old, sitting over someone's shoulder and saying: ”Okay, I want to take this part, crossfade it into that part, and then I want the trailing note here to just fade into that note coming up the other side!” and the people that are sitting at the console are like: ”Roger!” John just wants to be able to do it at home, he is not trying to make a gold record here, he just wants to get his ideas down, and he can't. His friends do! Ben Gibbard makes a basically ready to go records in his basement studio just by himself, and then he hands those records to his bandmates and says: ”Here are the parts!” and they are fully realized. Ben's demos sound as good as people's records.

John keeps thinking GarageBand is not enough and he needs to buy Logic or Pro Tools or something, and then he gets into that whole world of ”What is the best weed whacker?” Put that into your URL and spend an hour reading the results and tell me what the best weed whacker is! All those all those websites are about: ”Here is the best weed whacker if you want to whack weeds, here is the best weed whacker if your weeds aren't whackable, here is the best weed whacker if you want to whack weeds, but you want to weasel out of the wind…”

Just have there be one thing! That is an old man thing, that is some grandpa shit right there, just go down to the hardware store and buy the Craftsman of everything or the Black and Decker of everything, and eventually that is what will happen to John in his curmudgeonlyness. John will be the one that says: ”Everything I own is made by Makita, and I never have to think about it ever again!”

John really wishes he could learn to use Logic. For Dan GarageBand is unusable because it feels like for kids and comical and cute, and there are people who are doing amazing stuff with GarageBand and they are deeply offended by what Dan just said, but it just feels like something his son would have on his iPad to make like beats and cool stuff and funny sounds and little things like that. Dan explains how he was learning Logic and how he didn’t want to use Pro Tools because of the USB dongle required for the licensing.

John should fly Dan and Haddie up here at his own expense, put them up in a very nice hotel, take them out to dinner every night at a different, expensive, but COVID-free restaurant, and then all Dan would have to do is give him 20 minutes of instruction on computers and Dan could teach John how to really use Logic. They could do a screen sharing too, that would be much less expensive than flying those Jamokes all the way up here!

Back in the old days slurs (like Jamoke) just seemed the way we went. The lyrics of Parents Just Don't Understand by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, which was considered a feel-good teenybopper song in the summer of 1987, tell a harrowing and sordid tale. There is child abuse, teen runaways, and car theft, the whole thing is sung from the perspective of presumably an incel, there is police brutality, but in 1987 that was considered kid’s music. You hardly use slurs against anybody anymore except nerds, incels, and computer people.

John’s Echo being called Computer (RW193)

John’s Alexa just replied ”Hmm, I don't know!” when John said ”Computer”. He uses the word computer for their Amazon Echo because the neighborhood kids would come in playing with his daughter and they would have it play Old Town Road over and over really loud, so they changed it to computer. John doesn’t use it and never says anything to it, but it is just down here because the ladies in the house use drop-in to talk to each other, like an old fashioned intercom. John just forgets it is there and the only time he remembers it is there is when he says the word C.O.M.P.U.T.E.R. and all of a sudden it is talking to him.

In Dan’s family the Echo is not allowed in the house, but he has one at work and he does use it sometimes. He is not allowed to have anything cool in the house, but why would you? You are going to end up like Matt Haughey with your garage door going up and down without you even knowing it. He can't get into his house because his garage door is on his computer or phone or something. Alexa just asked John if he wanted to make an announcement. He doesn't even know what to say. Maybe he does?

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