Recording The Sloe Way

Notes from recording our EP

Posted by Travis Hanna on November 22, 2015

Nate Jones and I met while playing together in the now defunct Rust & Whiskey. In fact, we were preparing to record a Rust & Whiskey album when we started recording the Sloe Sippers EP. I don’t think either of us expected it to be nearly a year in the making.

After a Rust & Whiskey rehearsal at Soundwave in October of 2014, Nate and I did a late night recording session in my garage (which Nate has referred to as “The Whiskey Shack” ever since). For me, the recording was a chance to test out equipment and skills that I hadn’t used in many years before starting the Rust & Whiskey album. For Nate, it was a chance to record some tunes that we were unlikely to ever perform in that band. On the first night, we recorded Nate singing and playing acoustic guitar on “The Devil Looks Upon You”, “Richer Than Gold”, and “Train To Tomorrow”. Later, we would end up redoing “The Devil Looks Upon You” but the other two tracks made it onto the final EP.

There were some technical setbacks early on. I used a stereo pair of small diaphragm condenser mics (Audio Technica 4041’s) on Nate’s guitar during the first session. Unfortunately, one of them was fried and producing a nasty hum which I didn’t notice until the next day. Luckily, the other one was fine but it made for some challenging mixing because the working mic wasn’t pointed at the most pleasant sounding part of the guitar and there was tons of bleed between the vocals and guitar. This meant that making extreme fixes to the guitar sound tended to make Nate’s voice sound funny. For later sessions, I picked up a used pair of large diaphragm condensers that could do a figure 8 pattern on eBay. I would turn them on their sides and angle them so that one was picking up the guitar and rejecting the vocals while the other did the opposite. It’s shocking how much isolation you can get that way. There was only a small amount of bleed between the two tracks. If you need to record somebody singing and playing guitar at the same time, do this!

The biggest technical setback came later when my primary audio interface died shortly before we recorded drums. I called the manufacturer but the interface was old enough that they no longer had the parts to service them. I had a backup but my backup only has two microphone inputs. So we were stuck with two microphones for the drums on this one. From an audio engineering perspective, this is probably the one thing that really bugs me when I listen to the recording (there’s always something). I would have liked to have had close mics on both the snare and kick.

For each tune, we started by recording Nate playing acoustic and singing simultaneously. Next, I would usually layer in bass followed by lead guitar. Dawn hadn’t been roped into the band yet (honestly there was no band to rope anybody into when we started!) so I played bass on the EP. Eventually, we would approach Dawn about recording backing vocals. Finally, we brought in friends to play and sing the other parts. Most, if not all, of the additional instrumental parts were improvised on the spot. Eben, who plays fiddle, lives across the street from me. I play in The Jilters with Chris (keyboard) and Chuck (drums). Dawn also plays with Steven, Chuck and Eben in The Saloons. The local music scene weaves quite a tangled web!

Scheduling all of the required sessions around other bands and busy lives took a long time. This was probably the thing that limited our progress the most. Sometimes it would be more than a month between sessions. Overall, I think we’re all happy with the outcome though. It’s a flawed recording, there are technical glitches, timing imperfections, and occasionally the sound of children playing or a plane departing the Oakland airport in the background if you really listen closely. However, there were a ton of great musical moments captured.

Track by Track Notes

Lori Lee

Chris’ electric piano part was the first thing we recorded after Nate on this track. I’m really glad we happened to do it in that order because he came up with some great lines and having them down first allowed me to avoid stepping on them too much with the guitar and bass. I used my 6 string bass on this one, mainly for access to the low notes on the ‘B’ string. For the guitar, I used a volume pedal pretty heavily and tried my best to weave my way through the electric piano without ruining it. Chuck added drums to this track near the end, which is not ideal but he’s super talented and managed to work through most of the wrinkles. Travis playing 6-string bass

Richer Than Gold

This one has always reminded me of Nick Drake for some reason. I added a Nashville strung guitar on top of Nate’s and played fretless electric bass on this one. Chris came up with that amazing little organ hook that ties it all together and Dawn dropped in the harmonies to wrap it up. We briefly had a fiddle track on this one from Eben which takes the song in a totally different direction. It was a tough call but in the end, we decided to drop it and make the organ prominent. Maybe sometime I’ll do a remix to show what might have been had we gone with violin instead of organ. Chris playing Nord

Dead Of Sea

For this one and the next, I used a uke bass - partially for its sound and partially for the convenience of being able to record at night without disturbing the whole neighborhood. This one is the same cast of characters as above - Chris on organ, Chuck on drums, etc. I think this may have been the first song we had Dawn in for but I can’t remember for certain. Nate and I had a lot of fun figuring out the electric guitar sound on the verses. I used the whammy bar and a volume pedal to emulate a pedal steel in places. Eben playing fiddle

Under The Montgomery Moon

Nate kicks this one off with harmonica. He’s also playing banjo in addition to acoustic guitar. This is the first track on the EP featuring Eben on fiddle. It’s also the very first recording I ever played drums on. I decided to take a crack at it for fun and managed to get something serviceable. That being said if you listen carefully at around 3:14, those strange noises are my 4 year old daughter singing while I’m trying to record the drum part. For the chorus vocals, we had just about anybody and everybody sing a take. We tried to get a rowdier, less sing-songy sound by having people record without hearing each other and without a lot of preparation so that they’d be just slightly out of time. Nate playing banjo

The Devil Looks Upon You

We ended up recording this one twice. The first time, Nate dropped the tempo way down on the choruses. It sounded cool at first but later we decided it would sound better to keep the same tempo through the choruses. Unfortunately, when we re-recorded it, we lost some backing vocals that Nate’s mum sang for us on the first version. Luckily Dawn aptly replaced them. In addition to fiddle, Eben also plays mandolin on this track. I played upright bass on this tune and the next. Travis playing upright bass

Train To Tomorrow

This was the other track that came out of our first night of recording in the whiskey shack. I knew I wanted to capture a train sound evocative of the industrial revolution and heavy machinery. I think I made a fairly decent show of it by “chopping” double stops on the upright bass along with a shaker. This was also my first ever attempt at slide guitar. It came out great but it took a crazy number of takes. Thank god we weren’t paying for studio time. Eben’s fiddle made a great compliment to the slide guitar when panned off to the other side. Travis playing slide guitar

What’s Next?

We’ve been playing shows around the San Francisco area - mostly new material which does not appear on the EP. We’ve added Dawn full-time on bass and vocals (yay!). She’s even bringing some of her own originals to the band. We also have a great fiddle player named Oliver who we’ve been playing with. We haven’t forgotten about Eben though - hopefully we’ll keep working with him when his schedule allows (dueling fiddles anybody?). If you want to hear more, tell your friends about us, come see a show, stream our album on Spotify/Apple Music/etc, or buy the album. It’s available for purchase in most online stores and at our live shows. We’re not really expecting to make money on this recording but even doing it ourselves is expensive and the sooner we break even, the sooner we can get the next one started! For the next album, we’re going to try to capture as much as possible live in the same room with minimal overdubbing. Hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long to produce. Maybe the next one will be named “Nate Jones and the Fast Shooters”.