Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ukuleles Aren't Cool

Or so Joe "Covenant" Lamb says. But yet... wait... Joe! What's that on your Song Fu #5 round 1 entry? Could it be... your friend Paul playing 3 tracks of ukulele? And a few more tracks of 12-string guitar?

The uke is an Applause model, Ovation's lower-end brand, made in Korea. I have it strung up with Aquila "Nylgut" strings that work great, although like all nylon strings they stretch, and stretch, and stretch, and so have to be constantly re-tuned. It's a tenor-sized instrument. They are tuned the same as a soprano, but with a longer scale, which means higher string tension, but also wider fret spacing. That's a bit plus for me since I'm so used to playing guitar; I have a hard time playing on the tiny fret spacing on my soprano uke. But the real feature I like best about this uke is that you can plug it in -- it has a built-in piezo pickup and EQ. So I was able to record both the 12-string and the uke direct.

The back story -- I collaborated with Joe on the Mandelbrot Set's version of Skullcrusher Mountain. He lives in Dundee, Scotland, which makes it a little tricky to organize a jam session, but I've been trying to find a way to collaborate with him on one of these songs for a while now; usually I've been unavailable in time, since the Song Fu entries always have a short deadline.

On Saturday I chatted with Joe online briefly about this track -- he was having trouble getting a harmonizing guitar part that really worked well. He sent me a track with his vocal plus drums. After the kids were asleep I hauled out my tenor uke and came up with a track to go along with the song's melody, and then a couple more tracks to harmonize with it. The song really called for a mandolin. I don't have one of those, but after this experience I might consider getting one.

Recording this was complicated a bit by the fact that Joe's vocal seemed to be in Eb; I'm not quite sure how that came about. So I had to play the uke melody and harmony parts in Eb. It also just never seemed 100% in tune with Joe's backing guitar, so I was messing around with tweaking it by a few cents, and wasted some time with that. It was getting pretty late, so I very quickly bashed out some accompaniment chords on the 12-string guitar too, again playing in Eb with a bunch of barres that didn't sound very good, partly because my hands aren't really strong enough to do good barres on the 12-string, at least not after all the playing I did on Friday night.

Anyhow, we got everyone up and out, took the kids to dim sum for lunch, and then were planning to go up to Saginaw to visit Grace's mother. I left everyone napping in the car and came in to see if there was anything else I could help Joe with, since I think today was his deadline. He asked me to re-record the 12-string, so I spent about an hour getting something better recorded on the 12-string. Ten minutes of that was retuning it to Eb. Fortunately the Adamas has extremely stable tuning so I was able to retune it and quickly lay down several tracks without worrying that it was going out of tune while I played. I recorded chords for the choruses, then a sort of harmony line, and then realizing I was very short on time, one more track of little scraps of harmony, in the hopes that Joe would be able to find something usable. I uploaded those, shot Joe a quick note, and we headed out.

We got back late, and I saw via Facebook that Joe had posted his song, and really made my guitar parts sound great. I think he used both the original and new 12-string chords, judiciously edited and doubled. I'm pretty sure he used at least some of almost every one of the seven tracks I sent him -- maybe even every track. He did some editing that is so tight I'm not even sure exactly what he did. Even some of the bits and incomplete phrases that I left on that track of "extra scraps" made it in there. It gets doubled and then doubled again and pretty wild, but it all somehow works together, with only some minor timing flaws. With more time I could have done retakes or time-aligned the attacks, but given the material he had to work with, I'm very impressed with the way he put it all together!

It helps that the song is so funny that I nearly wet myself when I first heard it. I hope you will listen to it, and more importantly, as soon as voting is open, vote for Joe!

See the Song Fu page round 5 page here. Check back to see when voting is open.

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