Thursday, January 31, 2013

Song #326 of 9999 - Eyes That Say "I Love You" by Frank & Jeff

Song #326 of 9999 

Title: Eyes That Say "I Love You"
Artist: Frank & Jeff
Year: 2013
Album: Beck's Song Reader, Songs 1-10

Tonight, we wrap up Side A of our Beck Song Reader extravaganza with a creepy little track ironically entitled "Eyes That Say 'I Love You'." I remember learning this song and not really paying much attention to the words when I gradually started to realize this pretty little tune was about MURDER. Or revenge. Or both. But it wasn't pretty anymore.

This is also the first of the sheets that includes very specifically notated melodic lines, beyond the normal piano roll accompaniment. In fact, the piano accompaniment is quite spare. The arpeggio that dominates our recording is mine—not notated in Beck's score. But the vocal melody is true, including the persistent Bb in the chorus (you'll come RUN-ning with EYes) which acts as a blue note against the G and A Major chords. I had to practice it a lot to get it right.

Jeff's contribution to this track is enormous. I suggested he do some distorted guitar over top of the whole thing to texturize it and he knew exactly what to do. Later, he upped the creep factor by adding that super-low vocal on the chorus (Jeff: "I just tried to sing like Stephen Merritt.") and transposed my piano line in the last verse. All of these touches save the song from becoming overly long or repetitive. And of course the mix is superb.

That's it for what I'm calling "Side A." I'll be back Sunday night with Track 6 of 10.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Song #325 of 9999 - Do We? We Do by Frank & Jeff

Song #325 of 9999 

Title: Do We? We Do
Artist: Frank & Jeff
Year: 2013
Album: Beck's Song Reader, Songs 1-10

So much musical collaboration these days is done across great distances over the internet. One of the absolute pure joys of this project for me was being in the same room with such a good friend and musician and collaborating in a face-to-face setting. Bouncing ideas off each other in real time, reading each other's facial expressions, playing music side by side. It's just such a rare experience in my pop music circle. I only hope that Jeff felt the same!

At some point, it dawned on me that we ought to do a duet and "Do We? We Do" seemed to suggest itself as the right choice. A series of questions that always ends with the titular refrain, it seemed obvious to me that the questions could be directed at one another and then agreed upon collectively.

One aspect of this song that I find intriguing is the harmonic dissonance created by the half-steps in the melody. We were very careful to perform the rhythm and melody exactly as it was inscribed by Beck to exploit these tonal clashes. (That accuracy helped when it came time to sing the last verse in unison, which comes off really well I think.) I think we created a good stylistic atmosphere with this song although it's worth noting that the chord diagrams in this song (and many others) are written for the ukelele! So perhaps Beck had something a little lighter in mind.

Tune in tomorrow for the final song of the week and the closer for "side one" of our little album. Track 6 will be presented on Sunday night.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Song #324 of 9999 - Saint Dude by Frank & Jeff

Song #324 of 9999 

Title: Saint Dude
Artist: Frank & Jeff
Year: 2013
Album: Beck's Song Reader, Songs 1-10

"Saint Dude" is one of three or four songs from Beck's Song Reader that really stood out for me. When we got to this track, I realized we were working with some really special material. A few of the songs started to remind me of stuff from Mutations, still my favorite Beck album.

Marked with a tempo marking of "Abiding," the song has a reverential feel to it. The lyrics struck me as equal parts apocalyptic and futuristic. I suggested to Jeff that we try to incorporate a backward vocal flourish on the chorus, kind of hinting at the vacuum of space and he nailed it. It's a great mix. The keyboards (also by Jeff) add a bit of contrasting warmth to a cool musical environment. One of my favorite recordings from this session.

As an aside, our first track caught the attention of a blog devoted to Song Reader recordings called Fax Machine Anthems. You can check it out here:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Song #323 of 9999 - I'm Down by Frank & Jeff

Song #323 of 9999 

Title: I'm Down
Artist: Frank & Jeff
Year: 2013
Album: Beck's Song Reader, Songs 1-10

Yesterday, I delivered track one of the ten-track recording of new Beck songs Jeff and I produced over the holiday break in December of 2012. Tonight's track features Jeff on lead vocals and guitar while I am (happily) relegated to backing vocals and organ.

One of the things I found interesting about this ten-song collection is how well-suited the songs were to our respective styles and how easy it was to figure out which songs were "Jeff songs" and which were "Frank songs." Which leads me to more discussion about the process we used for learning the songs. 

Before we recorded a note, I spent the morning making reference recordings of each song on my iPad. In most cases, this involved me singing with an acoustic guitar, occasional keyboard lines where they were written and working out backing vocals specified by Beck. Even at this stage it became obvious to me which songs were suited for my voice and which were suited for Jeff's and it also appeared there was some real thought put into the order of the songs by Beck. (I encourage you to listen to all ten songs in order once they're posted—it works really well as an album!) It was at this point we made the decision to record the songs as they were presented in the book and it became apparent we would likely be alternating lead vocals throughout.

"I'm Down" presented the first musical challenge as almost all of the keyboard lines you hear are scored in the sheet music. What made them particularly challenging is that I was using a two-octave keyboard and had to keep adjusting the octave setting! Regardless, the focus of the song should be on Jeff's great lead vocal track and Beck's fine lyrics.

See you tomorrow with track three!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Song #322 of 9999 - Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard by Frank & Jeff

Song #322 of 9999 

Title: Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard
Artist: Frank & Jeff
Year: 2013
Album: Beck's Song Reader, Songs 1-10

So.....have you heard the new Beck album? Probably not! Because Beck decided to do something very unorthodox and release his latest collections of songs as sheet music only. Published lovingly by McSweeney's, Beck's Song Reader is a beautifully crafted collection of twenty new songs intended to be interpreted and performed by amateur musicians the world over. (If you'd like to know more about Beck's experiment, check out the Song Reader website.)

Over the Christmas break, I visited my good friend Jeff Fal of Add Music in Denver, CO. A brief discussion one night led to the topic of Beck's experiment, spontaneously prompting us to hit a local bookstore with the intent of buying Song Reader and recording it in its entirety over the next two days. Very quickly, we realized twenty songs in two days was impossible and set our sights on recording the first ten songs.

Tonight, I'm sharing the first of ten songs Jeff and I recorded across 36 hours on December 27-28, 2012. Since then, the songs have been enhanced with additional edits and expertly mixed by Mr. Fal. But the initial recording session was exhilarating and so incredibly gratifying. For two days, we were sharply focused on making music and, while the work felt demanding at the time, it now seems effortless in retrospect. We followed some pretty basic rules: 1) both of us had to be involved in the performance of every track; 2) we would share the lead vocals as evenly as possible; 3) we would stay true to what Beck put on the page in terms of rhythm, harmony, meter and song structure. At one point, when it didn't look like we were going to get through all ten songs, our friend Jake showed up and played bass on several tunes, allowing us to move quickly through a couple of the tracks. Through it all, Leah kept us well-fed and offered encouragement when we needed it most. It was probably the most fun I've ever had making a record.

So tonight I give you the first song in Beck's collection, "Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard," which features me on lead vocals and bass and Jeff on guitar, synthesizer and drums. There's not much to say about this slice of indie pop and I've already written a lot tonight. Come back tomorrow for more!