David Winogrond has always been an important figure in the Disaster Amnesiac experience. I first interviewed him several years back, and since that time he's kept me abreast of his ongoing musical pursuits, especially with Youth Chairs, his sweet Pop Rock group.
A month or so back, David sent me a copy of their most recent effort, the song A Million Pieces of Glass. With its Laurel Canyon chorus, Mod Beat ending section, and poignant lyrics, it should be a radio hit single. It's that catchy, and all the more so for its intelligence and craft. Disaster Amnesiac wishes that that would be so.
David told me about the method of Glass's production. Not surprisingly, it was put together by the members of Youth Chairs at a distance. This method obviously is not new, but, seeing as that it was for most of this group, Disaster Amnesiac was pretty curious about how their experience in doing so went. Questions were emailed to David, who in turn distributed them to his band mates. Answers were forthcoming. They are here now. Most of all, I love their witty take on the experience, and respect their flexibility within a new group learning curve.
Photo taken and provided by David Winogrond.
Q: I'm assuming that Youth Chairs have never produced music in the way that A Million Pieces Of Glass was produced. How did the decision to do so come about?
David: The pandemic. We wanted to continue recording new songs but rehearsal & recording studios were closed. Basic song demos in the past were also done like this, but with basic drum machine parts just to help establish a feel and I'd take it from there. But in this case, we decided to turn this into a more elaborate demo. It got more interesting from there, so we decided to release it. In early versions, I was playing my knees with my hands. That wasn't quite cutting it, so I bought some midi drum pads and learned how to use Garageband.
Kim: In the past I’d sung musical ideas into my iPhone so that seemed like an option for recording for me given that the rehearsal studio was closed. Necessity is the mother of….Zappa?
Once the decision was made, what were the logistics like? How did all the parts fall into place?
Jon: Did you see the cover photo?
Q: Did any funny occurrences take place during the production of A Million Pieces of Glass?
David: It was all kinda funny.
Larry: Mostly the gongs. Also David’s knees.
Jon: My cat could be heard meowing on some of the discarded takes. She cannot carry a tune.
Kim: the bathrooms.
Q: Are new works using this method being prepared?
David: Yes. We have one more that just needs a mix. And as long as we can't record in a studio like we usually do, we'll continue with this method. Making it up as we go along.
Kim: It’s a very different style! And a cover, from one of Larry’s fave bands. That’s all I can say without violating client-attorney privilege.
Q: What are some upsides to producing music with the distance method?
David: Cheaper! And we can work on it whenever we want. No scheduling. More individual control before a recording gets added to the master. I don't have to set up or move or tune a drum set... not my favorite things to do.
Larry: More time to play with the song, and more opportunity to try different things, since we’re not always watching the meter. (You should hear some of the stuff that didn’t make it into the final mix…)
Jon: Wardrobe choices were easier for sessions, as I was freed from the occasionally withering disapproval of band mates. Also, what David and Larry said.
John: it was, in fact, a relief not having to cope with Jon’s fashion faux pas.
Kim: I think we all talk more now than ever--albeit via zoom where I can show off my latest virtual backgrounds each week - gawd, the pressure’s intense. And with the rehearsal/recording cost savings we can now pour our monies into the mega marketing budget. And less lipstick on the microphone.
Q: How about some downsides?
David: There's no replacing the feel of playing a real physical drum set. But I did play the midi drum pads with real drum sticks. That helped with feel. The cymbal sounds suck, so I used almost no cymbals. I used Steve Lillywhite's production (Siouxie & The Banshees, XTC, Peter Gabriel) as inspiration, as his productions that I'm familiar with used no or almost no cymbals. Also Maureen Tucker was inspiring my approach, as she tended to stay away from cymbals, as well.
Larry: It’s not as much fun to bicker online as it is in the studio, but we’ll just have to make the best of it. Also, less spontaneity.
Jon: It was more of a challenge to hear how parts were blending until a mix could be made/shared, and the interaction in a live rehearsal was not available to shape the development/mood of the parts.
Kim: In-person kibitzing is more fun, but in some ways this song creation method (from the singer’s perspective) is super convenient. I grab my phone and head to the loo.
Q: . I know that David had to essentially learn Garageband from scratch... a new type of drum set..... How about the other members of Youth Chairs? What were some learning experiences that you had to go through to get A Million Pieces of Glass done? Were there any specific instrumental/vocal challenges or tweaks that you had to make in order to get your sounds recorded?
John: I had already recorded bass tracks for another band using GarageBand so I was sure this would all come together-somehow. Larry (possibly naively) took on both the producer and mixer roles, which just about caused him to put his law practice on hold while he dealt with multiple gripes from the band and a large number of remixes. He handled the pressure admirably, at least until the gong tipped him over the edge.
David: Well, there was also the gong! We were wanting some sort of transition part in the song and Larry thought a gong would work! Sure! Why not? I actually had a gong many years ago and loaned it to someone but never got around to getting it back. Not really something I used a lot. I found a gong sound in GarageBand, but it sounded more like The Gong Show. Kinda clangy. I was thinking something more like J. Arthur Rank would be better. So I searched for public domain gong sounds and found three I liked. I think Larry ended up using all three!
Larry: Yeah, it was hard to get David’s knees to sound like a gong.
Jon: Our vocal approximations of the gong also proved wanting.
Kim: I exclusively used my iPhone7 to record all the lead and background vocals, spoken effects…..and I used 2 different showers in my home as ‘sound booths’….cool acoustics...I hope Tim Cook reads this interview because I ignored my nice Sennheiser microphone and used all his products…..I would play a track on my MacBookPro (2017 issue, Tim….and my keys are rubbing off and my 3-year MacCare just ran out...wink, wink)....using headphones whilst singing into the iOS Voice Memo app....then I’d email it to Larry. On weekend evenings when I was enjoying a nice Chardonnay, Larry got even more recorded ideas and BG vox. Really he’s a saint for putting up with my gazillion layers.
Q: Any closing thoughts?
David: Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.
Larry: Next time, we’re recording everything in Kim’s shower.
John: I’m packing a towel and my Soap on a Rope.
Jon: It’s the future of performance art.
Kim: Luckily, my showers are quite roomy.