chriswilliams.com

presents SIMPLE HAPPY DREAM

Recording Process

Click on any song to read a little about each recording & what instruments I used.

  1. remember me
  2. letdown girl
  3. screwface
  4. clear and present need
  5. can't take root
  6. winter will be warm
  7. eerie ashiko
  8. be your everybody
  9. rock steady
  10. simple happy dream
  11. sunday morning
  12. no good
  13. follow
  14. refuse to promise
  15. in secret tonight
  16. eversweet
 

Remember Me

description

I decided to start the album off with in a hazy state - an nice, slow kind of awakening - and try to tickle the ear with some of the album's softer sounds. At the time of recording, I would have never considered this somewhat tentative performance as an album opener. Its double-tracked stereo acoustic guitars, mellow bass and warm harmonies are an honest introduction to my sonic tendencies, though.

As rarely as I practice, this chord progression was hard to play without my hands cramping. I was going for a supremely relaxed, beatific feel, but the tension in my hands by the end of each full take made it hard to avoid rushing. The change is a recycled progression I wrote when first starting to learn chords at age 17-18 or so.

The solo was done in a take or two. There's a particularly timid note right at the climax - a sure byproduct of making things up as you go along.

instruments used

  • Alvarez Regent acoustic guitar, L&R
  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Peavey Patriot bass
  • horrible old cymbal
  • Busch Gardens ceramic/skin drums
  • Tom's tambourine

recording notes

Recorded in the spring of 1998, this was approximately the third song recorded with the VS-840. I had a ball editing the effects - timing the delay and tweaking its nuances just right for the cymbal track... carefully exploring and adjusting the COSM guitar effects for the solo... looking for just the right sheen on the vocals when in fact I could not comprehend the 840's EQ section...

I recorded an abominable old cymbal with the brand new C-1000S microphone, chuckling to myself at its awful timbre and sustain. It was the only real percussion instrument I had in the apartment (I found it in the outside storage closet along with a convenient cymbal stand, and was just itching to record something percussive with the brand new mic). I played it with brushes through a timed delay, trying to get some expression out of its dark metallic trashiness, while still marveling at the VS-840's versatility compared to my years of four-track limitations.

favorite part

I was immediately very fond of the six-Chris-chorus (three harmony parts with each doubled) at the end. I heavily considered releasing the soloed stereo track as a hidden outro to show off my newfound "Wall O'Vocal" ability.

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Letdown Girl

description

This was inspired when I purchased the Zombies' boxed set in 1998 (?). I've always considered this recording as barely demo quality, as evidenced by the uncertain ending and overall tentative feel. I always planned to replaced the "woh's" with sexier "mmm's," or just rerecord the song entirely, but decided to include this on the album for innocence's sake.

Charlie Boone let me record the drums at his new place (see No Good for more of Charlie's generosity) and his friend implored that I write, record and release a whole EP of this kind of stuff.

Well, it took awhile, didn't it?

instruments used

  • Alvarez Regent acoustic guitar, L&R
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (harpsichord and organ)
  • drums

recording notes

I remember playing the "harpsichord" part, my fingers tripping all over each other, though feeling lucky I could play it that fluidly. The organ was more fun: my best "Mr. Kite" imitation. My apologies to all actual keyboard players... have I let you down, Eben?

favorite part

...adding the harmony vocals to the bridge in 2003 - and finding they were just what the song had lacked all along.

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Screwface

description

Written on a scrap of paper in Clearwater, FL, this tiny tune was barely a minute long when sung all the way through. Excited about the new VS-840, I recorded the "definitive" version of "Screwface" before bothering to write any other parts!

I doubled it in length by tacking on an instrumental reggae segment. This was really an excuse to try to play and mix several reggae instruments - something I'd never been able to do with my aging Porta-One four-track. ("Refuse To Promise" got the same treatment a few months later.) This and "Sunday Morning" were recorded on the same ZIP100 disc; they were the third and fourth songs I made with the VS-840. When I remixed them in Dec. 2003, I was amazed to find they'd been recorded in LV1 mode (instead of MT2 as on all later songs).

Though "Refuse To Promise" was written a year before, I consider "Screwface" my first 'real' reggae song. The flatness of the delivery is intentional: a perplexed and defeated shrug of resignation.

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Peavey Patriot bass
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (organ and Clavinet sounds)
  • drums
  • Fender Champion 110 amp (used only for that spring reverb click in the intro... aren't I the rogue experimenter?)

recording notes

I recorded the rhythm guitars first, but like on so many of my early VS-840 recordings, I bounced them together in a haphazard stereo mix with poor clarity. The drums were recorded in the same remote session that produced the drums for "Sunday Morning."

favorite part

...making up (and trying to competently play) that faux-Clavinet part on the keyboard. Listen to the Wailers' Burnin' album to hear this style done correctly.

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Clear And Present Need

description

Despair met singleminded determination in this recording: one of the more primal in the collection, and the sequel to "Rock Steady." Mistakes be damned - this was recorded as pure catharsis on a miserable summer day. I had written this several sweltering nights before, but with a faster, folky strummed rhythm. When I sat down to record the new ditty, I did several takes before realizing I could sing it more accurately over a reggae rhythm. The loose roots-rock style that resulted was far from my first intention, but it did convey the frustration better.

instruments used

  • Alvarez Regent acoustic guitar
  • Gibson Les Paul Studio
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • drums

recording notes

I knowingly, uncaringly committed the cardinal sin of recording the lead vocal at the same time as the acoustic guitar, on the same track, with the same mic. I also did the vocal/acoustic guitar FIRST before laying any of the rhythm tracks! This was not only difficult to play drums and bass to, but well-nigh impossible to mix properly later.

Essentially I played acoustic and sang the vocal "live" into a mic, as though it were a one-man concert for myself. I tripped over a lyric here and there, and fudged another... but this was soul therapy, not a hit record session, and I saw no reason to "fix" the vocal performance.

favorite part

...the bass sound. This was the second song I recorded through the JoeMeek VC3Q, and I craftily set the attack/release timing to ebb and flow with the the tempo somewhat. It's probably my favorite bass tone on the album.

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Can't Take Root

description

I remember making up the melody "I caaaaaaaan't take root in emptiness" while driving around Plant City on lunch break in 1992. Had I finished the song then instead of 1998, it might have been forged in a sludgy, squalling metal style with molasses-thick vocals. I could scarcely have envisioned the "more is better" production I tried on the eventual recording, or the reggae/drum machine parts I ended up using.

It felt right (if commercially suicidal) arranging Can't Take Root to have two verses/two choruses and then just jam on the progression forever.

instruments used

  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (various sounds)
  • Boss DR-660 drum machine

recording notes

So many tracks, such bad bouncing... This one was hard to mix and EQ because every frequency has instruments vying for attention. All the tracks were recorded with some custom-adjusted, inserted effect... usually saved with a clever name then never used again. This was one of the first recordings made after I learned to tempo-sync the VS-840 with the DR-660.

I experimented with the possibilities of syncing the drum machine to the recorder via MIDI, allowing me to layer other drum patterns in time and (as it turned out) put them through a gnarly, customized low-bit downsampling effect.

The backwards-guitar sequence before the drums kick in was created and appended during final mixing sessions in 2003... five years after the actual song tracks were recorded (and 11 years after the title melody was improvised).

favorite part

I enjoyed recording the rhythm guitar part that mirrors the bass line during the reggae chorus. It's one of the very few moments of perfectionism on the album!

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Winter Will Be Warm

description

This was written pretty spontaneously during a creative bumper crop in 1997, but never improved from its embryonic state. I've always assumed I'd re-record this one after strengthening its lyrics, arrangement, or both, but here's the only version so far. The sound and sentiments remind me of endless childhood yearning.

instruments used

  • Alvarez Regent acoustic guitar, L&R
  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (organ sound)
  • V-Drums (TD-8 module)

recording notes

Here are more of those double-tracked acoustic guitars... I'd never owned a condenser mic before that year, and I was making up for lost high-end!

I had done an incredibly sloppy job with the acoustic drums when recording this in '98, so when I got the V-Drums in 2000, I replaced those tracks.

favorite part

Recording the bass... or maybe the surf-influenced guitar bends.

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Eerie Ashiko

description

"Eerie Ashiko" is my sonic caricature of driving through the dark streets of Port Tampa on a summer night.

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • Boss DR-660 drum machine
  • Boss SP-202 sampler
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (creeping ghost sound)
  • plus homemade samples of:
    • 8" ashiko drum
    • Busch Gardens ceramic/skin drums
    • tambourine
    • grand piano chord
    • nylon string acoustic guitar

recording notes

I got a used sampler and took it to Greg & Cynthia's house, showing it off then walking around sampling everything I could find. Hear the finches? I didn't have any particular song ideas in mind but was convinced I should take advantage of their grand piano whilst I had a chance. I sat down, found a dramatic chord, and sampled me striking it. That random piano sample was fated to determine the key of the entire song!

Back home, I sampled a nylon string guitar chord to contrast with the piano sample so they could alternate. Then I recorded four tracks of hand percussion into the VS-840, mixed them as best I could and sampled the best few measures. Erasing the percussion tracks, I started a new song and "played" the other samples over this homemade drum loop. The drum machine pads were played fingerstyle in my Apollo Beach tradition, and the bass was slightly overdriven through an ART Tube Mic Preamp.

favorite part

With no intentions nobler than to use the new sampler, I had a thoroughly good time throwing together this whole mess. The first rough mix was an immediately likable result. Though I worked much harder on most of the other songs, this is one of the few recordings I vowed to include on the album immediately after creation.

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Be Your Everybody

description

Gee, can you guess my favorite band of all time?

This was written and recorded the same day, and I never attempted a tighter version. This song continues the shameless, romantic, goofy lyrical approach that I gravitated toward starting in 1997 - in stark contrast to the terse, mechanical style of my early writing.

instruments used

  • Alvarez Regent acoustic guitar
  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Danelectro Hodad 12-string
  • Carlo Robelli nylon string electric
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • V-Drums (TD-8 module)

recording notes

The lead vocal on the final version was my first take (after several false starts). I was reading the words from the notebook, trying to figure out how to phrase the new lyrics (I didn't know how they went yet!) No matter how many times I rerecorded the lead vocal later with perfect pitch, I always preferred the raw version with less accuracy and more heart.

favorite part

I threw the song together one evening after work, recorded it, burned a CD and drove across the county to play it for a friend who remarked, "you made this TODAY?"

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Rock Steady

description

In the early spring of 2001, I had just gotten my old snare drum back and finally had a house to record drums in. I built this song around an improvised beat in the Jamaican style called rock steady (hence the name and lyrical reference). I recorded a drum beat (with fills wherever felt good) for a few minutes and endeavored to build a new song around it.

I assumed the new song would be in a minor key until writing the guitar and bass parts otherwise, then making up a melody to sing over them. It was fun recording the vocal harmonies... Bob, Bunny and Peter obviously inspired this one!

instruments used

  • Gibson Les Paul Studio
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • drums
  • cowbell

recording notes

This is my first recording with the Joemeek VC3Q compressor/EQ/preamp... I put every instrument and voice through it. (Mr. Fletcher, if you're reading this, can we work out some kind of deal?)

favorite part

I love taking a random drum beat and contriving song parts around it. It's like a guitarist and bassist playing with a drummer who isn't listening to them... and, as in real performances, they must steer clear of his transgressions. (This philosophy is the basis of my entire next album... beware!)

I like hearing the change near the end - sometimes I wish it did that earlier and more often. Well, there can always be another version.

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Simple Happy Dream

description

The sound of my new nylon string electric inspired this one, and the new V-Drums made a bigger sound possible. I drew less inspiration from my favorite reggae recordings than before, coming up with a slightly more original sound and structure. I made a brief, one-verse demo the day before with very unsure first-take vocals (but an arguably better instrumental sound).

instruments used

  • Carlo Robelli nylon string electric
  • Danelectro Hodad 12-string
  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • V-Drums (TD-8 module)

recording notes

That's not a rainstick... there was a summer downpour raging while I recorded the harmony vocals, so I tilted the mic toward the open window in between takes in order to record a bit for the interlude.

favorite part

Making up and recording all the harmonies at the end! I don't know music notation or theory, so basically I'm just stacking the parts as I see fit - a bit crude, I'm sure, but pleasing to these bucolic ears at least.

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Sunday Morning

description

After years of writing epic sludge-rock in six·of·one, I surprised myself one day by finding two sweet, simple acoustic guitar chords that alternated well. The guileless groove that resulted, and the peaceful song that came out of it, felt very lightweight then - but it remains one of my favorites today. A super-tight remake is always a possibility...

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • drums
  • Boss DR-660 drum machine

recording notes

This recording was made the same day as "Screwface" and features essentially the same drum sound. My old Slingerland snare turned in yet another dutiful performance.

favorite part

Listen for the unsteady finger snaps near the end (hee hee).

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No Good

description

...one of the only songs on "Simple Happy Dream" that even hints at my heavier musical past... with a semi-psychedelic drum outro as a bonus! This version was made not long after getting the VS-840, using Charlie Boone's drums (thanks again, Charlie). A 2001 version appeared on the Groovy Tuesday EP, "Five Song Teaser."

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • drums

recording notes

Charlie's kit had a deeper-sounding snare than my Slingerland. It was a sound I didn't capture too well. Overall, this was a ball to record, however... the guitars and vocal are first attempts, and the "owwwwww" before the guitar solo captured the one time my voice has ever made that particular sound!

favorite part

obvious drum edit / obvious drum edit / obvious drum edit /

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Follow

description

In spring of 1998, I had just purchased the VS-840 and had painfully managed to record one song with it. I rushed home one night after work, dead set on recording one of my old songs as a stronger second attempt. What came out of my voice and guitar, however, was "Follow." I wrote the song in a few minutes and immediately recorded it in an unexpected race of inspiration.

I fearlessly (and perhaps tastelessly) stacked on the tracks, well before I gained even a basic understanding of the unit's EQ or gain structure. The rhythm guitars - all with painstakingly tweaked effects from the 840's built-in library - came out indistinct and overbusy. The triangle and tympani were equally gratuitous; I had never been able to arrange so many instruments going at once! As usual, though, I didn't sweat the performance, and the thin earnestness of this vocal performance still makes me smile.

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Peavey Patriot bass
  • drums
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (triangle, tympani)

recording notes

I was intoxicated by the potential of EIGHT WHOLE TRACKS and (seemingly) lossless bouncing. I needed no excuse to include multi-tracked backing vocals. Typical of my early VS-840 efforts, I ended up with all the rhythm guitars in an indistinct stereo mess.

favorite part

Right before "this is living..." there's an instrumental section whereupon the rhythm guitar reminds me of the first Beach Boys record.

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Refuse To Promise

description

This is my first reggae song - not that it's reggae all the way though - and was written before I became interested in Bob Marley and the Wailers. It's probably me imitating what little reggae I'd heard at that point. Along with two other four-track originals, it was released as "Three Under The Tree" - an extremely limited edition cassette that I gave to family and friends for Christmas 1995. This 1998 eight-track remake features the same arrangement with arguably higher fidelity.

In 2001, I became aware of a Dead Kennedys compilation called "Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death." Aside from a great title, it sports a live song that I found (to my amazement) has the exact same chord progression I wrote for "Refuse To Promise!" They even played it in a reggae-then-rocking fashion, just like I did. People will probably think I ripped East Bay Ray off, but I never heard their song until years after writing, recording and re-recording this. I do remember writing the bass line first, which is fortunately very different from theirs.

For the record, their song does pre-date mine, and I very belatedly became a huge fan of their music. Their debut album, "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables," was great therapy around the time I wrote "Rock Steady" - a scant 21 years after its release.

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Peavey Patriot bass
  • drums

recording notes

John Palumbo played the cymbal swells during the would-be trippy interlude. The phasing on the guitars was part of the effects patch I lovingly crafted (those digital "amp models" sounded fine to me then).

favorite part

In simulated dub fashion, I dropped out the rhythm guitars for a few measures toward the end.

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In Secret Tonight

description

This was written in the same spurt of creativity that produced "Winter Will Be Warm" and many others that will probably be released someday. They're all characterized by a simpler musical approach and shamelessly romantic lyrics. Once I got over the initial hesitation of producing such lightweight material, the floodgates opened - and this was one of my favorites. I sing this much better live than you'll hear here, fortunately.

To give you a sense of this album's perspective:
When recording this version in 1998, I felt that the original needed an extra verse to make it longer. By that time, I had been playing the song so long that it felt wrong to add to such a "classic." Rather than try to match the style of the existing verses, I took a different tack to write the third. That snowstorm scenario stretched the imagination, considering I wrote the lyric in humid 98-degree Florida weather.

This song was eventually axed from the lineup because I knew I could do a much better job performing and recording it someday. When assembling the final lineup in spring 2003, I decided to add it back - largely because of the sloppy but expressive guitar solo, and because it contributes one different rhythm to the album.

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Alvarez Regent acoustic guitar
  • Carlo Robelli nylon string electric
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • Boss DR-660 drum machine
  • Busch Gardens ceramic/skin drums
  • tambourine

recording notes

This is one of the few songs where I used the nasal bridge pickup characteristic of a Jazz bass... usually, I opt for the neck pickup. As is often the case, I played the drum machine live, fingerstyle. The overzealous pitter-patters are me on some not-very-resonant clay drums.

favorite part

I still enjoy the guitar solo, much of which had been played on acoustic guitar in the original four-track recording. If I record this song again someday, I'll use my new Telecaster for the lead.

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Eversweet

description

When I wrote and recorded this, I felt I was hitting my stride with the VS-840. It was possibly the sixth or seventh song recorded with the new machine. This is one that I listened to lovingly for the next few weeks, marveling at all the sound one guy could make in a bedroom studio.

This is another track where I kept one of the first lead vocal takes, because every remake I tried had better pitch but less character. Parts of the guitar solo show evidence of me hurrying through the instrument tracks so I'd finally get to sing the lead! Needless to say, discipline rarely reigns when recording songs that are meant to be "just demos."

instruments used

  • Yamaha RGX-612A electric guitar
  • Fender Am. Std. Jazz Bass
  • Yamaha PSR-220 keyboard (harpsichord sound)
  • drums

recording notes

I recorded the drums in a friend's record store after hours, playing along to the rhythm guitars I'd done the night before. All the original backing instrument tracks (drums, bass, harpichord and rhythm guitars) were then bounced onto a stereo pair of tracks and erased!

favorite part

Easily: the wall of vocal harmonies. This is the only part of the album where I sought outside help with the vocals. As I made up the harmony parts track by track, John Palumbo sang each part in unison with me. It was chilling afterward, playing back our voices all stacked together like I'd never been able to record before. I think there are 12-16 voices, not counting the lead or the harmonies present throughout the verses.

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