A Part – Lo & The Magnetics
Recorded and mixed by Claus Frostell
This was an important record for me to make. It was the third CD that I had done with Lorraine Muller and we’d become great friends which made it that much more fun to do, but also, it was an opportunity to stretch out as a writer. With the Kingpins, I’d begun strictly as a producer, but by the second project we did together (Plan Of Action) I getting involved in the writing process. This CD (A Part) was originally recorded as a Kingpins record and only changed names after it was mastered. The Kingpins line-up had been changing slowly over the years, but by the time we were doing A Part the band was no longer recognizable as such (except for Lorraine). This was meant to be a ska record like the rest except that we weren’t tied to some of the strict conventions of their earlier work.
In the beginning, Lo had spent a week with me in Toronto on a writing spree. It gave us a chance to come up with some solid song ideas to build on, as well as a number of rough sketches with little more than chords and hummed melodies to static loops. On the second writing jaunt Lo brought Chris Raz (guitarist) and we continued the process. This time we filled in the blanks on some of the demos and began some fresh ideas.
I haven’t gone back to those CDs (the original demos) in years, but I’m sure there are some truly embarrassing moments crammed on them. In the end we came out with 5 songs which ended up on the finished CD.
Insult and Battery – this features a bass figure than I’d written the song around. I was thrilled to have Dan Meier play Bass Clarinet along with this motif at the opening of the track, wish we found more spots for the instrument. Originally the lyrics were from a different perspective, but I changed it to first person on t he day she recorded her vocals. The band arranged a pretty clever instrumental break as a bridge based on a series of offset shots. Wish I’d come up with them.
Fool On Impact – this was written a long time before. I’d actually played it on acoustic guitar for Lo when we were working on Plan Of Action. It didn’t make much of an impression (on my publisher either), but my recorded demo did a better job and it fit in with the tone that Lo was aiming for. Dan put together the horn arrangement, something the original demo didn’t have. First time I got to use the Royer ribbon mic. I loved it on the trumpet so much that I made Lo sing the outro figure through it. It was cool, but Claus had to EQ it in the end to make it pop out more.
Out – this one came out of the writing sessions with Lo. Chris came up with the eerie synth figure. We recorded a lot of the dub echo the day we tracked guitar and some when Dan came in to do a couple of passes of blurps and beeps on his synth. The lyrics for this one were inspired by the song, Push, by Dana Baitz from her album, Flower. That was my starting point. The final chorus features a soaring drum line that drives it home played by Mike Gasselsdorfer.
This Town’s Unbearable – this one was taken on by the band while on tour as the Kingpins. Lo contacted me to get the proper lyrics as she was making up lines. There’s a background counter melody “oooo” that Dan suggested in the refrain. It was one of the first 3 that we tracked and completed. I think this may be one of Lo’s favourites from the record. That may not still be the case.
Lude Behaviour – we added in some interludes to thread the CD together. Each member was to come up with one. Three of them managed to contribute. I love pop music, but I was happy to break up the song cycle with material that was more textural than melodic. This was Mike’s which he tracked during one of the later drum sessions.
Pull It All Apart – this is where the CD gets it’s title. Mostly demoed during one of the writing breaks. The opening lines were inspired by an interview with Sheryl Crow. Asked for some songwriting advice, she told the interviewer that you should never write a song with references to card playing as it was such a cliche. I took that as a challenge. This recording features more of Dan’s little counter synth lines. It was tough navigating the split in the band at the time. Dan wanted more Kraftwerk and the band wanted more Costello. Ironically the tide turned after the record was made, so I’m happy we kept as many of these ideas as we did. But I think Dan would have liked more of t hem to have made the final cut. ha. The rhythm section is one of my favourite parts of this recording. Russ Cooper and Mike sit in a special place here. Russ’s sound came from this lovely old Fender Precision bass that went through Claus’ Traynor YBA-3 head then through a small Marshall cabinet (single speaker) recorded at low level. The doo-wap backing vocals were re-tracked through the playback speaker on the 2 track 1/4″ machine at Studio Frisson (the mixing studio).
Party Of One – another from some old demos that my publisher couldn’t care less about. Bitter? Liam O’Neil (the Stills) played the lion’s share of Hammond on this and was given some room to spread out at the fade. Some of Mike’s aux percussion parts were tracked in Chris’ apartment. Gave the cowbell this hard reflective sound which I love. Can’t remember if the neighbors complained or not. I think Dan came up with the organ counter line in the verses. More of the lovely horn section on this one.
Come On, Bring It Home – this song was an older one which originally was only a series of five verses. My publisher asked me to develop it further, give it a B section…etc… so I did. I came up with one, ripped out a demo (twice) and she said “whatever”. Thankfully, the band rearranged the grooves turning it on it’s head. The strings were arranged by Dan who also acted as section conductor for the quartet (recorded at DNA). Mike flips the drum groove in the chorus so that it’s out of step by a beat. Freak. To create greater contrast against the chorus, the band abandoned the ska (verses) opting for droning atmosphere with a pedaled bass line and tom hits.
Fashion Victim – this song began during the writing week with Chris. Sat in the living room and came up with the verse line/ guitar lick. From there we developed the chorus with some melodic direction sketched out just beyond our opening vocal lines. I found it difficult to complete this one. I tried several times. So I sent the demo to Greg Crowe to flush it out. Greg sent back a completed version fully paved with harmonies…etc… He did a great job, but in the end Lo felt like the tone of the song had pulled away from what she wanted on the record. This meant that we had to re-write it again. Or die trying. Greg had filled out the story which began from our origianal lyrics. Now I had to re-write it taking cues from his words. It was very much down to the wire.On the night I should have been writing (as we had to track the vocals the next day) I went out drinking with Lo and Mike instead and ended up waking up with a blinding hangover. The session was postponed until later in the day when “the producer” was fit to show up. I had to finish the lyrics somehow, so when everyone went on dinner break I dug in. The most challenging part was the chorus. Greg was stuck writing lyrics to the plodding melody we’d given him. I abandoned that and chose to use it as a counter melody. I wish I’d thought of that before I gave Greg the task of using those notes. Sorry, Greg. I’d finished the bridge as the band brought in my take out. Just in time.
R2′s Rant – Dan Meier designed this baby. We cut this down on the re-master to keep the flow of the record, but it’s a good example of where his head was at.
Sooner Or Later – I had this idea when we did Plan Of Action, but couldn’t finish it. Lo wrestled the lyrics to the ground. We tried to juxtapose the dreamier vocal delivery with the sharp angular cuts from the ska groove.
Shipwrecked Heart – written as a substitute for You Won’t Say It which I wrote for Lo to sing, but was rejected. I wanted another softer personal number that felt roots-ier, so I demoed this one along with Insult and Battery. This features some Mike G. percussion magic as well as a whole lot of Dan. He plays the bass clarinet mouthpiece using it like a reversed cymbal or suction pump. Listen to it with headphones – right side. On this track Dan played the Rhodes and tenor sax, as well. Originally, he wanted to use the soprano sax, so he took a try. I told him that it was a little too Wayne Shorter for the song, he returned with a “that f——g Kenny G has ruined the soprano saxophone!” That had to be said. The vocal pick-up was a very honest moment of a tired Lo in rehearsal. We kept it there because it fit so well with the melancholic feel of the song. The song title was taken from a fictional song that’s used in a Carl Hiaasen novel, Sick Puppy. During the course of the recording, Lo became addicted to reading his books and ended up writing him a letter while we were on our European tour.
Interruptions – a truncated piece by Lo. An homage to the mechanical noise in the building that would intermittently halt our recording.
Top 5 – one of the first that Lo and I completed. Inspired by the book, Hit Men.
Tachee – The French contender! And the only one I didn’t have a hand in. Perhaps the best song on the CD. We were getting close to finishing the project when Lo called me to say that she absolutely had to have a French song on the CD. The question was what song? I made few contributions to this one, but I can say that I suggested that they do this song (written by Lo and Krista Muir for a project they had called Glacee), I came up with the odd time fill idea connecting the different sections and last – not least – I played the one note piano line. Tracked at DNA. Mike G. used a coat over his snare to give it this near electronic sound. Krista sang on it with Lo taking the higher line.
Never Let You Down – the lyrics were inspired by Lo’s personal life. Nothing like other people’s drama as songwriting fodder. I wrote this as an alternative to Fool On Impact. Something fresher with less of a detailed demo to dictate the arrangement. In the end, Lo wanted both songs. The band was able to infuse more of themselves into this one.
Greatest Hits – Lo had some specific requests with this one and I tried my best to write it in one stroke, but it wasn’t to be. The original lyrics got much darker by the end. It was about obsession, being hooked on someone to the point of losing yourself completely. Lo didn’t want to go quite as far, so we spent an afternoon reworking the words, completely re-writing the last two verses. Dan wrote the string arrangement and he too had to work it over and over until it was right. It was a thrill to play this song live in Montreal on stage with a quartet for the release show. Other memorable moments for me, Mike’s percussion track and Claus’ treatment of the end vocal line which he piped into the stairwell of the studio and miked it up at a distance to capture the reflections.
The mix was done at Studio Frisson. Claus and I mixed Flashlight (Brown) – Running Season there. Lovely studio in Montreal. The tracking took place at Lo’s rehearsal space, DNA Productions, Espace Boomeko and Chris’ apartment.
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