Lockdown Diary Hub
Norwegian Soft Kitten
December Recording Sessions Diary
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Alan and I are knee deep into recording our new material. We have 52 new songs we want to get recorded, and over the last few days we’ve knocked out some of the easier, shorter songs – those songs that are under two minutes in length with simple guitar chord structures. This includes the three Devo-like songs we’ve come up with that will be synthesizer driven.
To lay a foundation for how Norwegian Soft Kitten records, since we’re a two-man band, we record one instrument or vocal at a time. As the guitarist in the band – with Alan playing the drums and bass while also handling the keyboards – we record my tracks first. Alan and I live two thousand miles apart, so we aren’t able to get together too often – especially with the COVID-19 situation. So after we both got tested negative, Alan made the three-day drive to my house, and we set up shop for recording.
Since we were on a little bit of a schedule, we had to make sure we got all of the guitar parts recorded as well as my vocals while Alan was in town. We also wanted to try to get Alan’s vocals recorded as well if at all possible.
The reason for this approach is that Alan then can fill in the drums, bass, and keyboards once he gets back to Los Angeles and as his schedule allows. Alan does it all for NSK, not only playing and singing and writing songs, but he produces, engineers, and mixes our songs as well. So really all I have to do is write some songs and spend a week and a half recording my parts, then Alan gets to spend the next couple years playing all of his parts and mixing the albums together.
We’re mostly recording my songs at this point. This is because I already have all the guitar parts down, so the recording of those parts goes pretty quickly. When we start diving into the songs Alan wrote, the process will slow down a bit as I need to learn the songs, plus, Alan uses some pretty intricate chords.
Today got very interesting in one regard. On our debut album, “Sunshine on Lava,” that was released in November, there isn’t a single solo on the album by any instrument. As we were recording this afternoon, however, Alan thought that a short guitar solo would work well on the song we were working on. I consider myself a rhythm guitarist and only occasionally practice solos, but I told Alan I’d play something, and we’d see if we could find a section from the solo that sounded appropriate for the song. Five minutes later, we were fired up. Not only did I come up with a solo that Alan loved for the song, but I did some other solos that we both were digging and realized would fit in well with some of our other new songs.
But it didn’t stop there. I was in the groove, but it was getting time for supper. Now, the deal we made for Alan driving most of the way across the country was that I’d buy the food if he prepared it. I’m a vegetarian who can cook fairly well, but I’m a very lazy chef. Alan, however, is a vegan who is fantastic in the kitchen. On the day of Alan’s arrival we masked up and went out shopping and picked up many bags of food. So Alan set it up for me to solo as long as I wanted to while the recording equipment recorded what I played, and he moved the necessary twenty feet to get into the kitchen to begin making supper.
The next half hour was bloody awesome. While Alan went about making a vegan Indian pizza (we both love Indian buffets, but the Indian pizza Alan created from scratch – including making the dough from scratch earlier in the day so it had time to rise – was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever eaten, Indian or not), I soloed for the entire half hour, and it sounded incredible. Alan kept egging me on as he was totally into it, but I didn’t need any egging as I was totally into it as well. I worked the entire range of strings and neck of the guitar, and we both loved it.
After half an hour Alan had the pizza in the oven and my fingers were starting to tire, so I wrapped up the solo and Alan stopped the recording. As we discussed and dissected the solo we realized we had the material there for a fantastic instrumental song. We threw some ideas back and forth and decided the title of the song will be “Synapse Death Knell,” and the song will end up around ten minutes long. We’re really excited to hear the finished version of “Synapse Death Knell.”
We wrapped up our recording for the day at that point and settled in for supper and what had quickly become our nightly ritual – watching multiple episodes of the TV show “Drop Dead Diva.” This started as a joke. On Alan’s second night in town he mentioned he had years ago seen an episode of “Drop Dead Diva,” and that in that episode the premise of the show was barely alluded to, making the show rather peculiar for someone who wasn’t familiar with the show. So we picked a random episode from season four of the show (they did six seasons of it) and watched. We had a blast watching it. The episode was silly and fun and interesting and ridiculous.
The next night I suggested we maybe watch another episode, this time focusing on the first episode of the first season so we would know just what was going on. So we watched it. We were hooked. By this night we were watching two, three, or four episodes a night before crashing for the evening. We’re deep into season one at this point, and we’re digging “Drop Dead Diva.”
Friday, December 18, 2020
One of my rituals each weekday morning is to pull up Pluto TV and watch local CBS News broadcasts from around the country. I find it interesting to see what’s going on at the local level in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, etc. So I frequently hop around from one city to another during the mornings and sometimes into the afternoons as I keep up with what’s going on around the country.
One of the drawbacks to this is that these stations show many of the same commercials, and they seem to have a rotation of about eight commercials they play over and over. While I’ve gotten used to this, it’s starting to drive Alan a little bonkers, even with the volume muted most of the time because we’re recording. I’ve decided that today will be the last day I play the local CBS News shows, for Alan’s sake.
We’re nearing the end of recording the guitar and vocal parts for the songs I’ve written. This afternoon I laid down the vocals for the song “Copper Harbor.” This is a long song, and the song is about a Civil War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His struggle deepens late in the song, and as I was singing the song for the first time, I had to fight back tears to finish the song. I was really caught off guard by this. I knew the words to the song – I had written them – but singing it straight through from beginning to end for the first time really hit me hard. I got through the song, and I loved the way it sounded, but I still sang it one more time to make sure we had plenty of coverage for the song.
Alan is fantastic when we record lyrics. He’ll typically have me sing songs over and over, having me emphasize, not just different words, but different syllables even in various takes to see how they sound. While this takes extra time, it’s worth it in the end.
Aside from me holding back tears for “Copper Harbor,” Alan and I have a blast when we record. From the beginning of the day as we’re eating breakfast (I’ve been eating pounds of dates and figs since Alan arrived) and getting the equipment ready to record, throughout the afternoon, then through the evening, we just laugh and carry on pretty much non-stop.
The laughter continued over dinner. Alan and I met in 2006 when we were both living in Denver. I had just begun to make some films, writing and directing them, and Alan was one of the very first people I brought on as a crew member, serving as a cameraman and editor for quite a few of the films we ended up doing. One of the films we worked closely together on is our feature film “To Die is Hard,” an action/comedy. The film was a blast to make and turned out to be a fantastic film that I was able to get screened in a number of theaters around the country. “To Die is Hard” was also the first time that Norwegian Soft Kitten made an appearance as we wrote and recorded the theme song to the film, which came out in 2010. So over dinner tonight we watched “To Die is Hard,” laughing and laughing for an hour and a half straight. While this cut into our “Drop Dead Diva” time, we still squeezed in two episodes of that show before crashing for the night. Tomorrow night we should be able to complete viewing season one of DDD.
Saturday, December 19, 2020
We’re digging into the songs Alan wrote. On some of them we’re working out the chords as we go. Alan always has the drums worked out in his head and the rhythm of the songs, but we still have to work out the chords. I get a little frustrated at times as I can’t find the chord Alan is looking for, but those moments are fleeting and rare. Mostly it feels like a very cool challenge as Alan and I try to make sure we get the song right, and we both embrace that challenge.
We’re doing more of Alan’s vocals at this time as well. Since Alan has more of a metal background and affinity with my tastes leaning toward the rock and pop of the late-’60s through early-’80s, Alan’s vocals tend to be a bit more aggressive. This has resulted in the hot water pot churning way throughout the day with Alan constantly sipping hot tea all day long. I am not a tea fan (unless it’s chai tea latte, which I drink by the gallon), but with all the vocal tracks I was laying down for a week, I drank more hot tea than I had ever consumed in my life. Now it’s Alan’s turn to be constantly toting a mug of tea around with him.
We’ve been staying in my house almost non-stop, but this afternoon we masked up and walked over to the grocery story to pick up some food. Alan wanted some cilantro, zucchini, mushrooms, and other fresh veggies for this grilled-up awesomeness poured over olive oil-brushed toasted bread meal he prepared. It’s become a running joke that every night Alan is worried that he made too much and we’ll have a ton of leftovers, and every night I see to it that every bit of what he makes gets consumed. Every night is a taste sensation.
We finished off season one of “Drop Dead Diva” tonight and got started on season two!
Sunday, December 20, 2020
As Alan needed a lengthy stretch of quiet time today to work out some sections of a fantastically intricate song he’s come up with, I sat on the sofa and noodled around on the guitar for a while. An hour later I had a new song, which we recorded a couple hours later when we were done recording the guitar and vocals for the song Alan was working out.
It’s interesting to me how some songs seem to spring up magically while other songs take weeks and weeks to figure out with little snippets of the song being dragged out of the mire, piece by piece, then slowly folded into the growing song.
I am totally digging Alan’s songs. Alan and I are very different in our songs, in general, as the songs I write tend to be more straightforward with a couple musical changes while the songs Alan writes often have six, eight, or ten musical changes as they go along. It’s always a complete treat for me to hear the first full edit of a song Alan has written.
This seems to be what resonates with Kitties – the fans of Norwegian Soft Kitten. They like how we are unpredictable. That’s what makes NSK a gush band, that we play all kinds of music. With our album “Sunshine on Lava” we have rock, metal, pop, Western, country/punk, a Capella and instrumental songs – we make whatever kind of music we want to make without worrying about the songs falling under a particular label. That’s also part of what makes recording with Alan so much fun because we put no limits on what we write and record. It’s quite liberating.
Friday, December 25, 2020
Alan just left. We ended up with 52 new songs recorded, so that should fill up three albums over the next couple years. We like to make sure that we give those people who purchase one of our albums their money’s worth with plenty of songs and a large number of minutes of music on the album. “Sunshine on Lava” consists of eighteen songs spanning 71 minutes.
We ended up watching every episode from the first three seasons of “Drop Dead Diva.” I still can’t believe Stacy cheated on Fred. That was a kick to the crotch.
I’m already antsy to hear our new material, but I have to remind myself that the process has only just begun, that Alan has years’ of work ahead of him. The tentative game plan is for NSK to be able to release a new album each of the next three years – it might take a little less time than that, it might take a little more. But I’m convinced our fans will be thrilled with new material as it will be very gushy and unpredictable – just what they expect from us.