Sam Arjes is absolutely killing it with the super catchy single release, “Maryanne.” I’ve done a bunch of IG & FB Live Feeds that you can check out to see some in depth process work, but for now I’ll cover some basics of the whole production. Sam brought me this tune with a basic drum loop, doubled vocals, acoustic & electric guitars that provided the rhythm and the wonderful hook. It really stood out to me and I couldn’t wait to knock it out.
First and foremost, the drums needed to be re-tracked and it was not very complex because the beat needed to stay really simple to provide the motion for the storytelling. After that, I re-tracked the acoustic rhythm guitar to be completely locked into the groove. This is always super important. Groove is in the heart!! Acoustic guitars always seem to be somewhat problematic due to the string noise. This was not a factor very much in this song due to the nature of the strumming patterns plus, as always, I use the Royer 121 to get the nice warm butter tones.
The hooks came afterwards because I thought that they could use a tiny little touch-up. I sketched out 3 intros before deciding on which would be the perfect length and add to the motion of the verse when it came in. The middle hook breaks were nearly identical to Sam’s except for the final note that went down instead of up because when his vocal comes back in, it created a more desirable melodic line. Finally, the outro hook which, on the original was non-existent, needed a feeling of finality that would land on the Fm. To do this I altered the hook to impose a C7b9 and capitalized on it with a doubling of the bass later on.
I sent the proof to Sam and he loved the direction it was heading so I proceeded to slay the beast of bass. The song is fairly simple but the arrangement was extremely dependent on the bass. Sam has a really low voice on this tune and with the acoustic guitar the sonics can get really muddy really fast. So after studying the ranges and the vocal melody a ton, I set out to mimic his melody higher up on the bass and be super judicious with my lowest bass tones. Using my short neck Fender Mustang Bass, I picked the hell out of it ala Carol Kaye, but I palm muted at the same time. Attacks needed to be heavy, but not super bright or plucky.
I’ll say this about bass, though it applies to all musicians and their respective instruments. At a certain level all musicians can make things sound nice and passable. This is not enough!! This is not why we love music. Passable does not create hope, or deep reflection, and a need to experience something cosmic and greater than yourself. Quincy Jones says the “Melody is God!” I for one feel that completely. Bass lines must be completely custom made for a song and not represent some rote pattern that you add like you’re reading from a recipe book. Too low of tones can make your song sludgy and slow. Too high and it can feel like it’s oppressive. Too many notes … you get the picture. The melody, the story of the song, must be taken heavily into account before you start battering away at something that merely reflects the harmony and rhythm.
So … after I killed my hands writing and recording that bass part, it’s party time! Layers of guitars using the capo all over the neck to get a bell like ring from it that only open chords can do. Octaves and doubles every which way. Everything from arpeggios to connective tissue that sweeps in between vocals. And waaaaay up on the neck to especially towards the end. After this, Sam was super pumped which is exactly how it should be working with an artist. You are enhancing their vision. A producer sees into what the artist communicates and is able to make it High Def.
Finally, our vocal session came, and Sam was, like always, super prepared. These sessions, are always very fun because you get to really philosophize about the songs intentions and the depth of the lyrics. It’s not enough just to give directions like, softer, louder, better pitch … for instance this song needed to vocally sound extremely conversational and lazy because the lyrics need to come from a very natural place of delivery and the juxtaposition of that laziness goes great with the upbeat and continuous grooving motion of the beat and chord changes. He killed it quick and then we started in on the percussion.
Claps, shakers, tambourines, vibraslap … you name it. All toys and varieties of sound really make the song sonically interesting to listen to and adds a lot to a lyric or section. At the bridge into the outro I added some really high B-3 organ sounds just to add a tiny bit of upper sonic excitement. Afterwards, editing them all so they all sit right in that pocket took some time. Often these slight nudges are really helpful and you gotta go through them with a fine-toothed comb.
I re-recorded my backing vocals that he really loved. Difficult & tight fitting harmonies that added a really nice darkness and melancholy to the overall snowy vibe of it. Very representative of those great harmonies in The Shins’ “Phantom Limb,” which is a vibe that we were really remaining conscious of. Then comes Melodyne to everything to make it super tight. Not much, but a little really goes a long way as it did with this track. Suddenly everything just feels so much more glued together.
After printing all virtual instruments and tuned vocals and guitar sounds, getting everything nice and pretty for mixing, we took it to Justin Mantooth at Westend Recording just like we did with Sam’s previous tune “Where I Have Been.” Justin always has a ton of good ideas and is an incredibly focused presence in the room. It did not take long for it to start sounding really clear and big. Later we would go back a couple of times to focus on the drums to get them a little less punchy because the vocal and soft mysterious nature of the lyric really needed to be felt more so than the drive and motion since there were so many elements that were already pushing. We needed some pull-back.
Check it out now wherever you stream. Click here if you spotify and look out for the in-studio video soon. Sam and Chromatic are really working well and we are proud to put him up in our Artist roster.