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19-Year-Old Bay Area Native Demos in Raunchy Bathrooms to Inspire Dusty, Vintage Sound
What was your pre-production like on this project?
Not very structured at all. Much like the last release, several songs on this album I recorded demo-style in a variety of bathrooms (including this real raunchy one in a basement of a building in Boston which produced “Nightmares Pt. 17”). But in studio it’s all natural. We build a track like a house or something, one by one, we’ve done it a lot so not too much thought comes before a track is laid down.
How did you choose the studio?
We had used it for Doldrums work [editor’s note – ASJ’s previous album]; it being local had much to do with it. That’s Jim’s space [producer Jim Greer], so naturally working with him is best when we’re posted at his spot.
What kind of sound were you looking for and how did you achieve it?
Many of my recordings feel very dusty, vintage in a way. We like to mix that with a newer edge to it. We achieve through using a random assortment of vintage gear we’ve accumulated. Or maybe just in the demos (that end up on the album) I only use a single microphone and record in spaces that have their own different room sound. We mix that with some more produced tracks and we get that Andrew St. James Sound.
How does it compare to your last release in terms of style and the creative process?
Almost exactly the same really…these songs and recordings just kind of happen, almost like a stream of consciousness.
Did you use any special gear or recording techniques on this one?
We used a bunch of vintage gear. Jim has a room full of random and rare instruments along with the standard guitars and keys. We usually start with acoustic guitar and then build from there. If we think we’re going to make it a little more produced/processed, then we’ll use a click track. Then Jim starts linking up beats and making loops out of drum machines and stuff we record into the microphone. The idea is to be real honest on some songs – just good vocals and representing the lyrics. Other times it should be sonically fresh and different. Mix a little 2014 and beyond into it. I think we achieved that on “Cold War,” “5 Years,” and “Despite All Good Intentions.” We used tablas and weird pocket pianos and things to create atmosphere. Usually the song just keeps asking for stuff and then it’s like, “OK, that’s good.” Then we stop and edit that. We keep it really spontaneous; it’s pretty raw in a way.
What was your philosophy on live, full-band takes versus individual tracking?
This album was all individual tracking, as most of my songs are. We are totally down with the live tracking stuff, we did some of that on Doldrums songs but for this release we stuck it to the Andrew+Jim in one room approach.
Any special guests?
Ralph Carney (local SF horn guru, uncle of the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney) played sax on “5 Years.” We had the spirit of Mark Foster from Foster the People on this album too; he came by and we worked on another song that might end up coming out sometime later in the year. That was a real special experience, and we put “Despite All Good Intentions” together the next day, channeling him a bit.
What did you try to accomplish in the studio that you’re not able to do live?
Live I just play solo at the moment. So in the studio it’s like having fun and layering songs, which is just the best way to spend time. So I can do anything in the studio, but only solo live for now. Know any bass players???
What were the toughest challenges you faced?
Choosing which songs were meant for The Shakes. Over the last year or so since Doldrums was finished, and even before it was released, I wrote and recorded demos and studio versions of many songs. Sitting down and weeding them out was very hard. For a good couple of weeks there we thought we were going to release an Elvis Costello-esque 25-song album. And that was after the initial cut!
Any funny stories from the session that you’ll be telling for a while?
Hmm, at one point we were filming and we ended up having all the lights off, wearing goggles, with a cameraman flashing red and blue psychedelic lights all over us while we pretty much played avant-garde drums and synths. It was like Syd Barrett at 5:00 in the morning or something. That might have been the point we realized we had enough stuff for a record and we were just getting crazy.
How did you handle final mixing and mastering?
Jim and I sit throughout the process listening to mixes. On the last record, at one point we took a break, then just sat for a day and visited each tune fresh, made final tweaks, and we were done. It’s not good to overthink this stuff. Jim will be working on stuff, too – he kind of takes it in the car and is always making little adjustments. He does the mastering himself at the moment.
What are your release plans?
Gonna be doing some shows around SF to promote, then just playing regionally and anywhere I can. Last year I got out to Boston, NYC, and Nashville for some gigs, so hopefully I’ll be everywhere I can be!
ALBUM INFO & CREDITS
Artist: Andrew St. James
Album: The Shakes
Recording Studio: 9th Street Opus
Record Label: Island Jar
Release Date: October 21, 2104
Produced by: Jim Greer & Andrew St. James
Engineered & Mastered by: Jim Greer
Artwork by: ASJ and Veronica & layout by Cyndi Harvell
Neumann U87 Mic
Gibson J45 Custom Acoustic
Martin Acoustic Hi-Strung
Moog Cordovox Combo Organ/Synth
Echoplex Tape Delay
Critter 7 Guitari Pocket Piano
Moog Little Phatty
Boombas (German percussion instrument)
Wurlitzer Electric Piano
Follow Andrew on Twitter @_AndrewStJames_
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