Above: “Spray Vandalism” project file screenshot (click to fullsize)
Although most of the material comprising YOU HAD TO LEAVE YOUR MARK was recorded by me, “Spray Vandalism” is one of two songs from the album that originated elsewhere. The basic tracks were recorded by Mark Haemmerle at Haemmerle Productions and feature the rhythm section of Ryan Tully-Doyle playing the drum kit and Dean Blandton on bass, with me on guitar and vocals.
In this case, all three of us played live together in Mark’s studio. Even the vocals were recorded live along with the band, which in general no one except Neil Young does due to mic leakage. This song was written to be played live, though, and rather than possibly leach the vitality from a track I always prefer to capture the feel of people playing together in a room when appropriate — rock should rock, and it simply doesn’t when everything is tweaked and ‘fixed’ to the nth degree.
Lyrically, while writing I was thinking here about the monotonous nature of the chest-beating threats often found in hip-hop music, which are plenty scary occurrences in real life but as lyrical devices were worn out a long long time ago. I like a lot of hip-hop music but it gets disappointing when you get past the beats and realize someone really has nothing to say beyond making dubious boasts and pop culture references. (Just to be clear, I’m not making a call for ‘positive’ or ‘uplifting’ or ‘conscious’ rap here either, that preachy shit gets tedious fast. If anything, I’m making a call for good writing and cliche avoidance across the board.)
Anyway, the idea here was to try to up the stakes and the scale of the lyrical threat by inflating it beyond all rational proportions and giving it a credible real-life setting. The end result could be taken by the listener either as a more frightening threat or a parody of lyrical braggadocio exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness; either interpretation seems equally valid to me. Of course, none of this is really crucial or even important for listening to the song — I see little evidence that intent makes a huge impact on end results, and I often think authorial intent should be discarded straightaway in interpretation of any text — but that’s what was running through my mind when penning the words.
I believe the vocal mic here was a Shure SM-57, which I generally eschew in favor of the 58 largely because the cylindrical shape feels weird to sing into, but it works fine in this case particularly because I knew beforehand I was going to go for a compressed, telephonic feel to the vocals in post-production. The guitar and bass amps were acoustically separated via isolation booths to minimize drum leakage; while this worked well for the bass, giving it a nice airy presence that’s difficult to obtain recording bass direct, the guitar came out a bit flat and dry for my taste. The basic tracks were recorded in Pro Tools, which I don’t really like to use when I can avoid it, but these days one DAW is pretty much the same as the next as far as the basics of capturing audio.
Later I brought the tracks back to Clairemont Mobile Garage and transferred them into Presonus Studio One, my DAW of choice, and did some slight tweaking here and there to the basic tracks. Fortunately, the basic performances were strong enough to require very little editing or correction, but as expected there was a good amount of drum leakage on the vocal track. Judicious editing removed the majority of it easily (which you can see by enlarging the “Spray Vandalism” project file screenshot above) and once the appropriate vocal effects were applied I was happy enough with the results to proceed.
To fill out the guitar sound I overdubbed two additional guitar lines, using the same Gibson Explorer through Dunlop 95Q Cry Baby Wah pedal signal path as the basic tracking session to maximize consistency and continuity. In order to maintain the live rock feel, the overdubbed guitars were played straight through with very little editing done on the tracks after the fact, but I think I might have recorded them direct through the Line 6 POD rather than micing up the amp in this case. The POD has the same distortion as the Line 6 Spider II amp used on the live guitar track though, and in any case most of the guitar tone here comes from manipulation of the Cry Baby.
Finally I mixed the whole thing down, which here was mostly a matter of adjusting the levels of the vocals and the overdubbed guitar tracks relative to the full-band basic tracks. One benefit of having a group of people playing together in the same room is that good musicians modulate their volumes and performances to fit together — “mixing” the sound in the room, in effect — so a well-recorded live performance often requires a lot less twiddling and tweaking after the fact than one that’s been built up track by track. (This is also why a lot of pre-1980 jazz records sound so awesome). Fortunately that was the case here, and after relatively few back-and-forth tests (taking my mixes between the studio, my car, my ipod headphones, the living room, and the bookshelf speakers in the bedroom) I arrived at a happy medium — which was further enhanced by the great mastering job by Tardon Feathered at Mr. Toad’s.
From near the beginning of this project I was pretty sure “Spray Vandalism” would be at or near the top of the album, not only because it’s a strong performance with good rocking accompaniment but also because it sets a tone and mood straight off. Just as it was written to be played live, it was also written to be a first song in several ways: there’s a sense of something impending in the lyrics and the intro really only has the proper impact when it’s placed as the first song — the track builds from the top to bring the listener into the song’s context. And frankly, this was one I was happy with as far as the track representing pretty much 90-95% of what I’d hoped for out of the recording, so while I kept myself open to different sequences during the later stages of assembling the album and tested out a few alternate sequences just to be sure, I don’t think at any point there was any serious consideration of “Spray Vandalism” not being the first song on the album (“CLMT Nightwalk” being an intro piece rather than a proper song).
Thanks for reading this breakdown of “Spray Vandalism” — I hope you found something of interest or relevance to you. To hear the end result of all this kerfuffle you can watch the “Spray Vandalism” music video now, buy or stream the album via the links directly below, and if you found any of this at all interesting be sure to join me next time for a breakdown of “An Accident Of Birth” as it’ll be something totally different!