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Burning Hearts & Bleeding Stars
Produced by AURA // Engineered by Hall Cantrell and Joey Ayoub (Sound Salon Studio) // Assistant Engineers: Kristen Smith and Mike Eckes
Singer/songwriter Maura Murphy has been performing under the AURA moniker for ten years. Her musical aspirations took her from her NYC home to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, to her new haunts in Los Angeles. 2002’s Running Yourself Against Nothing and 2006’s Between Reality and a Dream showcased her strong vocals and knack for writing hook-laced rock anthems about love, innocence and finding oneself. Now a little older and a lot wiser, she and her bandmates have taken AURA to a new plateau with their latest effort, Burning Hearts & Bleeding Stars, an album that Maura says, “Sounds like Nine Inch Nails, Evanescence and Radiohead with my voice!”
MAURA: I’ve been performing under the name AURA since I recorded my first album in 2001. The producer, David Giangarra (CHEECH/Dank Records), put Warren Johnson, my current drummer, in my band and we recorded the first CD, Running Yourself Against Nothing. Jon Chi (guitar), Hall Cantrell (programming), and Marcelo Feldman (bass) also went to the Berklee, but we didn’t meet until I moved Los Angeles. I have seen musicians from my band tour the world with famous artists. I have to work around that schedule sometimes, too. I also have James Emley playing piano on the CD, who has been on stage with AURA before. A couple years ago I met an amazing songwriter, Brian Blake and we wrote four of the songs on this album together. This CD is a collaboration of a lot of amazing talent! I’m really proud of it.
What’s the story behind the album?
MAURA: Burning Hearts & Bleeding Stars comes from the stories I’ve lived for the last four years. I write songs like these when something happens in my life that makes me absolutely have to make it into a song. Some of the stories are very sad and some are really powerful and uplifting. It’s the struggle and the absolute devotion to never, ever give up on yourself or your dreams!
How did the material for the album come to fruition?
MAURA: We started recording this CD in the summer of 2010. The songs are about living in Los Angeles, the friends, the crazy and sometimes unbelievable things that happen here, and the people I’ve known, some who are becoming very well known, some who have almost not lived through the experience. I wrote many songs and chose the best ones for this CD.
Did you learn any lessons from the last album that you wanted to change with this session?
MAURA: Every time I listen back to [2006’s Between Reality and a Dream] I wished we had waited, added things and spent more time in the small, yet important details like we have with this album. I always wanted more atmospheric sounds and beats added. Hall and Jon have really added that part to the music.
How did you choose the studio?
MAURA: I sang on a CD called Dream Vampires that was recorded at Sound Salon, owned by Joey Ayoub, who was also the engineer and a great producer/drummer himself. Joey has his studio set up perfectly for drum recording, so I knew it would be the perfect atmosphere for the AURA album. It’s right in the heart of Hollywood.
What kind of sound were you looking for and how did you achieve it?
HALL CANTRELL: Maura’s voice is so powerful and unique I wanted to use sounds that no one had heard before to compliment that. I did a lot of field recording in unusual places, like close mic’ing a heat vent, tapping stacks of quarters…Using these sounds as a source for processing yielded some interesting results.
Can you describe the guitar work on the album?
JON CHI: My main goal with the guitar parts was to create an emotional backdrop for the stories in Maura’s songs. I was constantly seeking a balance between melody and atmosphere. I love adding subtle textures to songs and a lot of the flavors that I love are a perfect compliment to Maura’s vocals and songs. I used everything from Lap Steel (a 1950s Fender), to an EBow, to an Angel Hair (high-strung) guitar. For more atmosphere, I often employ a volume pedal for swells.
For most of the melodic and solo guitar parts, I played a Paul Reed Smith hollow body through a Budda Twinmaster Ten, and sometimes simultaneously through 1970s Princeton Reverb. My favorite delay pedal is the Maxon Analog Delay, and I used that quite often, typically dialing it in by ear to be a dotted eighth note delay time. The dotted eighth delay works to create interesting harmonies between the direct signal and the delayed signal. I also typically had both a close mic on the amp and a room mic to capture ambience that we could blend into the mix. I’m a firm believer that capturing ambience is a huge part of making a record, and I think we were able to achieve that and create an emotional backdrop for her stories.
What did you try to accomplish in the studio that you’re not able to do live?
MAURA: The best part of the studio experience is the layering of guitars and vocals. We sometimes use three guitars on stage, but never 5-7 and that’s how many intricate parts are played on most of the songs. Live, we also don’t have a back up singer and I sing anywhere from 2-10 vocal harmonies on the CD. Hall told me Trent Reznor does this and I love it!