We recorded and produced an album. It’s not perfect. It’s a little messy. it was built in a million tiny segments over 6 months. There were weeks where progress didn’t seem to happen. There were late nights where we sang quietly so we didn't make the neighbors angry. There were times when it seemed stupid to keep trying, but we eventually created an album. My colleagues, complements & patriots to the Settling Houses flag, helped me turn it into something. They were my wife, Jenna and good friend, Lincoln helped wherever they could, they sang and played along with me. We made an album. Here’s how it happened:
How We Made Spaceship:
I want to avoid diagnosing too much of the songs' meanings and just talk about how they were made. Quickly: I believe the initial concept for Spaceship came from reading Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Spaceship is a song about two people who are unclear on how to escape.
The first time I played the chorus for my wife, she was in school and the first iteration of the lyrics looked like this:
I’ve been up all night building a spaceship
I’ve been up all night building a spaceship
let’s start a colony
on the moon
and maybe later move on to mars
let’s invent jetpacks
we’ll have great big graveyards
full of our old cars
They’re a bit clunky, but I don’t hate them. No matter how long I worked with them they never went anywhere & seemed to always be trying a little too hard.
The next day Jenna messaged me and said:
After that, the other sections of the verse were written while I was a work. Fiction is a reinvention of real life.
The first recording I made of Spaceship was written inside a gutted camper, while I waited for my friend to pick me up before work. It uses some Apple Loops, type-keyboard synth and a hell of a lot of autotune. You can hear that attempt below:
I tried to write a second verse and chorus to the song, but again, nothing ever felt like it went anywhere. I thought the character's development was carried enough in the just the 1 chorus and 1 verse. I don’t seem to have a recording, but one point I remember the characters successfully reaching Mars & dealing with the lack of oxygen. (I would define this as a Quality Narrative)
Here are a couple cut lyrics and takes:
Jenna’s observations would prove to be precise & accurate.
The Final Version (technical stuff):
To record the drums on the version that appears on the album, I used a beat maker and cut out everything but the kick and snare. I then used my MIDI keyboard to fill out the rest of the beat and used an old DTXpress drum pad to map the cymbals.
I copied the synth from the very first demo, extended the notes out and switched the vst. The other synth parts at the end were recorded at my desk during my lunch breaks (I promise, Steven).
The office had emptied for lunch and I was using the type-keyboard, I was frustrated with how a project had gone and how long it was taking to finish the album. After I had finished the noodle-y synth that closes out the song, I finally felt good about it. I felt fantastic about it. So, like John ascending into heaven to receive his visions I got up and bought myself a danish from the vending machine to celebrate.
Our first vocal take was recorded in an empty room at my office after hours. With permission, we snuck in on a Sunday and did a run through for about an hour. Eventually we rerecorded all of the vocals, because it feels a little odd (Disrespectful to the American Work Ethic? Or, more likely, it felt like breaking and entering), so vocals felt pretty restrained. I think the vocals still feel held back, but we managed to feel a little more comfortable and a little stronger as well.
Jenna actually recorded a floating segment after the 2nd chorus, but it felt like there was too much going on with it. All of my vocals were recorded in our car, while we finished her vocals in our apartment living room. This song had the fewest amount of vocals takes out of all.
The bass was recorded by my good friend Lincoln, alone in his apartment with no one to consult but his pet ferret. You can hear the ferret’s influence very distinctly.
The final mix was brought to you by Dalton Attig, alone in his dorm room with no one to consult but his pet rock. The rock gave some pretty terrible advice.
And that is how we made Spaceship.