In April of 2020 Which Way to the Starlite was titled When You Let Go. I had an idea, musically, how I wanted it to be. I even went so far as to design the cover art for an eventual CD release, but as I continued recording on a daily basis throughout 2020 and well into 2021, I realized the vision wasn't quite complete.
The whole idea was to record a Jazz-style album - upright bass, piano, drums - and write lyrics loosely based on someone's discovery of self and even professional standing. Heady stuff, right? But, I was serious about it and was experiencing, from the upper deck, those very things happening in someone's life I love dearly; my wife, Claire. So, yes, in fact When You Let Go was going to be a love letter, of sorts, to Claire (who I had never written a song for...).
Recording began in April of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up quickly and we were all facing drastic and at times harsh changes to our lives. I took the opportunity to dive back into music in a big way. As much as I knew what I wanted to do with an album project, I had no equipment to accomplish this in a quiet manner.
We were living in a townhouse community a bridge away from the city of Pittsburgh and the last thing I wanted was to create any noise of any kind (who wouldn't want to hear me playing? Right?) so the research began into how I could record the music I was hearing on a daily basis without being heard. In all honesty, it wasn't that difficult. I know exactly what I needed to do because a lot of what I'd recorded throughout the 2000's was done with many virtual instruments and drum programming. I decided to seriously expand on this concept.
So, the studio was built in a matter of days. Pro Tools was once again activated on my Mac. Audio Technica was always my headphone of choice. Universal Audio's Apollo Twin | X would be my interface. I would be using Native Instruments Piano Noire. Ample Sound's Acoustic Bass Upright and ToonTrack's EZ Drummer2 to generate the "sound" I was looking for.
It worked out beautifully! The neighbors didn't hear a note and Claire, who had set up shop downstairs in the townhouse, was able to carry out her work without my interruptions (and, in fairness, she never once interrupted my progress). We made it work - as we often do.
Within the first month of recording, I had 28 songs. These were not snippets or ideas or riffs. These were complete songs and they sounded fantastic to my ears. The first batch of songs were indeed Jazz. Session 31 (all the songs were referred to by their session number) was one session that changed my musical course. Session 31 was a cover of Paul Williams' What Would They Say (track 11 on The Starlite album). As soon as I recorded the piano part for that track, I knew it would be on the final album. We'll get into that more later.
Some might be wondering: "Why Jazz?" I heard The Esbjorn Svensson Trio in April of 2020 and one piece in particular - Seven Days of Falling - changed everything for me. That was the sound I was looking for. The sad part about this discovery was finding out that Esbjorn Svensson died, tragically, in June of 2008. I had started compiling everything I could find of his only to find out he was no longer among us. That certainly gave me pause, but it was his compelling style of Jazz that truly lit a fire in me. And that fire kept burning for the next two years - without fail.
It's interesting how something new to you can influence steps forward or even backward. Due to listening to The Esbjorn Svensson Trio, I found the courage to record a song that had been in my mind and heart since I was a kid back in the early seventies. That song was Paul Williams' What Would The Say. In some odd way, a circle had been formed between EST and Paul Williams - in my musical heart. Instead of pushing that down and putting it away, I let it out and I'm glad I did.
I will also mention that as the musical styles began to change, the need for other instruments became necessary. Usually, I'd record acoustic or electric guitars directly into the audio interface and add a plug in here or there. I also had the option of using a Kemper Profiler, but I chose to stick with Native Instruments' Komplete package. Every single instrument heard on Which Way to The Starlite is a virtual instrument. Every. Single. Note. Every. Single. Beat.
To say I had mixed feelings about this would be a gross understatement. I struggled with this - a lot, but I couldn't deny how great the songs were sounding by using these newly-discovered tools. What's more, it was contained; in-the-box. That containment of the sound was crucial and I achieved that by using plug ins. It worked out incredibly well and I couldn't be happier with the results. Not to mention the workflow that fell into place allowed me to boot up and get to it, daily. It was fantastic.
For those who might say, "It's fake!" Well, I respectfully disagree. Let's leave it at that.
Part Two soon...