Q & A : How The Outdoors Inspires Songwriting

Questions from Publicist Chuck Whiting to CHAKRA BLEU

 

  1. Tell me about your passion for hiking, climbing and camping in the wild? Why are you passionate about it? When did this become an important pastime?

 

Growing up in the Inland NorthWest, in the climate perfect for outdoor activities, along with growing up in an active Sports minded family, provided a rich environment for me to play softball, basketball, volleyball, tennis, iceskating, snow skiing, water skiing, etc. Though I was dilengently involved in organized and competitive sports through much of my years in school, I started also finding a great deal of serenity, in bicycling extended miles on the Up River Drive bike route, not far from where I lived in Spokane.Congruently, I was most fortunate that our family had a lake cabin, that we’d stay at in the summers. There were hiking trails in the woods, near our cabin, that became another beloved place of serinity. While solo hiking. I was constantly allured by the abundanct Life around me, including various trees, song birds, wildlife, etc. There was an unmistakable Presence of Life that I felt when in the woods, that I never felt in church. Hiking thos trails, my senses were full of wonder, awe and gratitude. 

Exploring the wonders of the lake itself was breathtaking and renewing to me as well. I would often as a yound gal, row to the end of the lake (tulies),and watch the lotus flowers rise up out of the water to greet the morning sun, observing in excitement as their beautiful pink and white pedals opened so gracefully. Meanwhile, the duck families parading in and out of the lily pads, quaking. Fish would occasional jump around my row boat, sending tiny ripples upon the still glass lake water. The utter peace, adventure, and wonderment of the great outdoors calls to my heart and inspires me on so many levels.

 

When I moved to Nashville, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go on my first backpacking trip, which meant, carrying a backpack, full of my clothing, cooking gear, flashlights, etc. That first backpacking trip was ‘Raw’, in that a very bad thunderstorm had us all hanging on to the tent so it wouldn’t blow off; with no time for dinner; red ants and fire ants moved in our tent to get out of the torential rain as well, some into our pants..ouch! Ticks and Chiggers…both of which I hadn’t encountered in the North West. 

 

The desire to know how to backpack more efficiently lead me to take some classes at REI. From then on, I’ve been backpacking in places around Nashville, for 2-3 day trips that would include some of my favorite 2.5 -  3.5 hour drives from here: Savage Gulf ; Fall Creek Falls; Virgin Falls; Frozen Head; Pickett State Park; Big South Fork to name a few. 

 

Several years ago, I added In-Line skating to my list of favored outdoor activities which is also known as roller blading. It’s an invigorating feeling while I’m skating.  Breathing in the fresh air, sun on my skin,  sparkling river beside much of the greenway, passing the greenery, trees while taking in the beautiful scenery off in the distance is a high! It doesn’t feel like I’m exercising. In fact, I don’t walk, hike, scate, climb, bycycle, etc., primarily for the exercise. It’s secondary. It just feels good! Some people enjoy hours of TV and clubbing around. I prefer the healthy feeling I recieve when I’m enjoying outdoor activities. 

 

Hatha yoga and Raja Yoga have been another cherished physical and spiritual practice I now incorporate into my ‘wellness-bath’.  Raja yoga is the meditative, contemplative side of yoga. Hatha yoga is the postures that most people think of yoga to be about, generally in the Western Hemisphere. Both of these practices of yoga have added an overall feeling of wellness, including groundedness/connectiveness in Spirit, and flexibility, youthfulness and lightness in the body.

 

I also mix in a balance of circuit training (weight training) with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine (this applies especially on bad weather days).

 

Several ago, I was introduced to rock climbing. Becoming ‘familiar’ with climbing heights, took some mental and emotional adjustment! Yet, in conjunction to learning how to trust the equipment that allows one to belay and repel up and down heights, I eventually learned to relax and enjoy the challenge and thrill that is required on many levels in this sport. 

The folks that introduced me to climbing, are outdoor climbers.  They had me enjoying the outdoors in a totally different perspective: UP, up and away! 

 

2.What are the benefits? Would you recommend others doing the same thing? If so, why?

 

The benefits of being outdoors is hard to condense into a paragraph! It provides one with an appreciation of Life; breathing in fresh air while moving (whether walking a trail, in the city or otherwise) is psysiologically healthy - that is, that its healthy for your mind/emotions and body!

 

3. Provide a few short stories of your adventures (when, where and what happened). It would be good to include places in Tennessee, Idaho, and perhaps Colorado. 

 

A few years ago, I joined my beloved friends, (who’ve long been mountaineers), in Helena, MT. They met me there, after I attended a joyful family wedding.

 

We traveled in their Mercedes extended van specially designed to travel, housed with all their climbing, and camping gear. The first night, the happily married couple and I camped in Helena Nat’l forest. You couldn’t see or hear anyone for miles around. The campfire was crackling and cozy, while the three of us enoyed plenty of laughter around the fire. The next morning we packed up and hiked the Helena Peak trail. From there we got in the camper and drove to Sun Valley, Idaho, where we stayed with another outdoors lovin’ couple. We rode mountain bikes for miles on a paved bike path, amidst striking mountains all around us. It’s a famous snow ski destination in the winter. We day hiked gorgeous trails, with good elevation climbs that had this gal from sea level, huffing and puffing, despite being in good shape! After a couple days there, we drove to City Of Rocks, Idaho, where we set up camp surrounded by amazing rock formations. This is a well known international destination for rock climbers. 

 

We enjoyed a restful evening around the campfire after a good dinner and a tastey brew.

The next morning the three of us walked in 45 minutes in the playground of massive rock formations. We climbed a rock called ‘Cruel Shoes’, which was three pitches. This was my first multi-pitch climb. The rock was grantite, as opposed to sandstone and limestone around Nashville climbing areas (King’s Bluff, Foster Falls, etc.). I found that my climbing shoes really grabbed the rock. That’s good, because at times the hand holds were sparse, to say the least! Being up that high and learning all the additional multi pitch belay, extended repel, double-rope techniques was thrilling and humbling. I felt confident in the years of experience in mountain climbing my friends had under their belt, having climbed many of the Grand Tetons, multiple times.

 

The next day, we were joined by our Sun Valley friends, one who had been an EXUM guide for years in the Tetons, as well as another former EXUM guide who now works as a ranger at the Grand Teton nat’l Part. We all climbed a multi pitch called Lost Arrow, and later on a rock called Bubbly Wall. It was a full day of rock climbing. Later on we all gathered around our campfire. I sang a set of Chakra Bleu music for them.

The last day at City of Rocks, just the three of us climbed Steinfell’s Domb- a six pitch adventure. Photos on FB. That was intensely fun! An ice cold Alaskan Ale was awaiting us in the camper cooler. 

 

The next morning we drove to the Grand Tetons where we stayed at a quiet and secluded campground near the river. We rode our mountain bikes on a bike path adjacent to the 14,000 ranges. The next day we day hiked Jenny Lake Trail, which was a mountain fed lake. No words can describe the beauty upon the eyes as we hiked this trail in awe.

The next day we drove to Ridgeway, CO, which is where my friends have lived for several years. We chilled out the first evening, watching ice climbing videos of them making first ascents! Meanwhile, they asked me yet again, if I’d like to climb the Teton’s with them sometime. I finally said, “YES!” . Someday soon, I’d like to hike six hours straight up the base of the Grand Teton, and then climb 13 pitches with y’all. “I need to learn SO much more before I can do that, though!” 

They assured me that I could do it. I swallowed hard, as up to just three days prior, I hadn’t ever climbed more than one pitch!

 

The next morning we got up. My long time friend, Kim told me that she was going to take care of some household chores that day. Yet, she and her husband invited me to go on a bike ride 8 miles down from there house at 8,000 feet elevation, to the town of Montrose, where Patrick and I could then take an hour and half level-two yoga class, then pedal back up 1000 feet to their house. She said, “It’s a real bitch peddaling back up,” as she laughed. It didn’t sound like that much fun at first, but when I walked outside their front door, greeted by the fresh 70 degree dry air, sun tickling my skin, and surrounded by snow capped mountains all around, i decided that another outdoor adventure was my cup of tea, even as intimidating it may be on the way back up!

The pedalling down was fun, as was the invigorating yoga class. It actually charged my batteries enough to pedal up from 7000-8000 feet. I admit I got off my bike a couple times to walk the bike a couple times, for a couple minutes, which helped to change up my muscle groups so I could get back on the bike refreshed enough to pedal up more miles up that hill! This sea level, Nashville gal made it up, without my lungs exploding. Lol, and little time to acclamate to the elevation.

We enjoyed some fine coctails on their miranda overlooking the 1400 ft mountains all around. Patrick fixed us all an incredible dinner that night, while we re-capped on all our splendid adventures. They went climbing on Mt. Kilimenjaro the next month BTW!

It was a memorable trip indeed. I’m so grateful for my adventures with them.

4. Do you generally take these adventures on your own? What kind of gear do you need, and how do you pack everything up for your trips?

 

There are so many other backpacking trips I’ve taken. Not enough time to get into.

Yet, I’ve learned that around the South, that to enjoy the backwoods, you can expect to get a few hitch hikers (ticks and chiggers); expect to see a Copperhead on the trail or swimming in the water with you! I’ve been grateful NOT to encounter a wild boar or angry Momma bear, yet. Yet, I hang my food at night and depend on my dogs nose and ears to give me fair warning of uninvited critters coming into my camp. Lol.

 

My trail buddy’s and I have been covered in chiggers, and seed ticks, (literally a couple hundred seed ticks after one day hike and literally scraping them off as fast as possible, once we saw a sea of these things making their way up slowly and surely to the promised land. We were covered in bites, itching messes for days to follow!

 

I love the Southern summer nights, backpacking, when its not too humid…when I’m camped out next to a meandering river, sitting next to a cozy campfire; stars above; cicaedas and crickets singing rhythmically and loudly, while firefires blink on and off all around me. The peace and pure joy I recieve from Mother Nature is truly a Gift, that replenishes me on every level, inspiring me, and allowing me to give more of mySelf that is beyond mySelf…

 

 

I often backpack alone, since I go into the woods to contemplate and ‘ground’ / ‘refresh’ my mind, body, spirit. Yet, I bring along my loyal companion who is also on guard with her keen nose, ears and sixth sense:)

 

When I backpack, I pack clothing, stove, dishes, soap, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tent, water purifier, flashlights, extra batteries, water bottles, hat, bug repellent, tea, freeze dried camping food, dogfood, nuts, dried fruit, a book and journal.

I determine what the weather conditions are for what type of clothing I need, such as warm or lightweight clothing. I count how many meals I’ll be eating and then create a list to make sure these ingredients get in my pack sacks, that eventually all get stuffed real tight and snug in my backpack. It can get heavy. Yet, if you have a good pack, it rests well on your hips and less on your shoulders, so you don’t feel like a pack mule!

I generally prefer to hike in no more than 5-8 miles. I then set up my tent and tidy up the campsite, preparing my fire that I’ll be lighting up later in the evening. Then I take a small day pack out for a much longer day hike which can be generally 8-20 miles.

 

4. When and where do you do most of your songwriting? How do breathtaking, outdoor settings inspire you to write great lyrics and music? Can you share examples of songs you've written in Idaho and other places?

 

I take two writing sabbaticals per year, where I focus completely and solely on writing a dozen songs or melodies at these times. In the fall I rent a cabin in or around Asheville, NC; and in late summer I write at a beach location; one of my favorites being Santa Rosa, Florida. Both these locations are close to a lot of mountains or natural water, be it streams, rivers, ocean,  and have access to hiking trails and greenways.

 

5. What is your work ethic on songwriting sabbaticals? Explain how your day begins, when you write, and how you meet your goals. Do you balance work with rest?

 

On my travel time to my writing locations, I set my songwriting goals. I normally set my goal to write either a dozen new melodies, or a dozen new lyrics that I’ll set on top of the melodies that were created on the previous sabbatical.  I also spend some time in meditation and ask for Creative Guidance on my songwriting endeavors. This clearly opens an amazing Channel. At least it does for me. 

 

Either trip focuses solely on creating full melodies and or putting lyrics to the melodies that have been created already.

 

For example, in several weeks, I’ll be heading off to my summer sabbatical, where on this trip, I will be focusing on creating a dozen or so new full melodies. I chart the melodies and record the ideas as I progress throught the theme, then the verse, then chorus, then perhaps a bridge. I record my ideas on a tape recorder, because, that medium allows me to stay in the right brain. A computer, to me, is too much associated with business dealing, which pulls me into the Biz Mode, which is in the Left Brain…organizing, planning, correspondence, etc.

Once a full melody is written, I label it #1 or #2 and tape record the full melody onto a cassette tape with that corresponding key and #1, etc.

 

Then on the next sabbatical, or while in Nashville, I simply take those charts and cassette, refresh my memory. Then after playing the melody over and over, all the while, asking my self ‘What is this song about?” “What am I feeling when I hear this melody?” Sure enough, I start getting ideas for the direction of what the song is about. Sometimes, I just start hearing lyrics, a part of a phrase. Then I start the process of building a story.

 

The craft of songwriting comes in at this point. There’s a lot of specific skills that go into writing a song, that any serious songwriter should learn, either through

NSAI seminars, hanging around the songwriter nights put on by charting songwriters, reading books about songwriting and putting into practice. Write, write and write some more. 

 

The biggest block any songwriter can do, is to pre-judge a song, and how good it is or isn’t, even before its written. 

Write the story, from a Feeling first; can you relate it to a good cause that connects you to others? Is it meaningful? Does it come from your Heart? Once it does, then you can craft it on solid ground. Those songs last! Willie Nelson, Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks; Dolly Parton; Johnny Cash; Dillon; Annie Lennox; Heart; Loretta Lynn; Phil Collins; Melissa Ethridge; Delbert McClinton: Emmylou Harris (who has always chose to sing ‘songs from the heart/songs of substance’);

U2; Eagles; Lenny Kravitz….there’s so many more influences…yet all these great artists have one thing in common whether they’re pop, Rock, Country, R&B…

They write songs that come from the heart. 

They didn’t care what folks would think about the song when they wrote it. 

The heart leads and the people can FEEL the sincerity and integrity of the song and singer’s honest intention upon the delivery. 

Chakra Bleu writes from these principles!

 

 

Though I also write songs in Nashville, it’s not as conducive, as my focus in Nashville is on editing the new songs, singing/playing, producing the next CD, and hours of business in promoting as well as keeping up the social media connectivity. I wear several hats as a professional Recording Artist: One is a songwriter hat; one is the Editor hat; a singer hat; Producer hat; Project Coordinator hat; PR/Biz hat that handles the game plan with Radio Promoter, Publicist, Attorney;  Administrator Hat-that includes copyrights; setting up the songs with the Distributor; preparing the umpteenth details for the CD details to be sent to the manufacturer; Art Direction hat (coodinating the artwork, photos, and song lyrics to the graphic artist); Artist hat; Stylist Hat- body fitness& nutrition, wardrobe; make-up; hair direction. 

 

I start my morning with mediation. This is like a songwriting Multi-Vitamin! Why? Because it opens ones mind to the Big Mind and makes that connection into the Creative ‘Juice’, All That Is!

Then I eat a yogurt while I refresh my mind with a current new lyric or melody I’m working on, carried over from the evening before. This will only be about 15 minutes. Then I take a short walk about 4-5 miles near to where I’m staying on that particular sabbatical. On that walk I take paper and pen with me as I ponder about the lyrics and ideas about how to expand the story or concept of the songs. If it’s a melody, I just let it replay again and again, loosely in the back of my mind. I don’t get real Left brained about this process. I keep it light and unforced, in my Right Brain, as I keep a relaxed steady walk,all the while, admiring the beauty of nature around me.

Once back, I do 15 minutes of yoga followed by making a nutritious breakfast, while still thinking about the lyrics. (No radio or TV is EVER played while I’m on these sabbaticals. And I try to keep my business intereactions and ‘homework’ from my lap top to a minimum. I do NO surfing or FB chatting. At the most, I’ll do a small post here and there to let folks know what Chakra Bleu is up to in the music world. 

Staying in the Right brain is very important. Being around nature allows me to stay in the Right brain - the receptive and creative side of the brain.

 

After breakfast I work for three to four hours. Then I’ll go for a day hike, roller blading, kyack, swim or float on the lake…all the while….the ideas and melodies are cooking in the back of my mind.

I’ll read an inspiring book and rest my mind. Then I’ll eventually fix a vegetarian dinner, then hit the ‘song bench’ again, full on until 10Pm to midnight…just depends how the creative juices are flowing.

 

6. Are there legendary songwriters or artists (like you) who inspire you? If so, who are they, and how have they impacted your art.

 

I’ll sum it up as such: The singer-songwriters/Artists that write from their heart, are inspiring to me! Artists that speak from their own experience of life; artists who have written about a cause…Artists who choose songs from songwriters who write songs from their Heart/Life experience… Those are the ones that have influenced me…many…

 

Yet, the songwriters/songs that have been contrived from the cookie-cutting publishing machine, to make money for the sake of profit, devoid of the integrity of heart…that does nothing for my taste or inspiriation, whether it be country, pop, etc. I also invite curious fans to get more specific answers on this from my website’s blog section: www.chakrableu.com/blog

 

7. You are also a visual artist. Do your adventures inspire you in that genre? 

 

Yes, the delicacies of nature are so Divine and wondrous. I mean, I actually get ‘into’ looking at the details of a petal of a wild flower…counting its petals; looking at its unique shape, colour, texture, etc.   

I do like to include nature into my paintings, often with symbology woven around these projects. I also like to craft with natural artifacts such as including shells, moss, acorn hats, etc. as well.

 

8. Do you think it's important for songwriters and others to take trips/adventures like yours? For someone "without" hiking, climbing or camping experience, how might they get started? 

 

Well, I think its good for everybody to get outdoors! Every singer/songwriter ticks uniquely. So, as I’ve observed, it is not the norm for most songwriters to get their inspiration from nature. Us songwriters usually like to write about the human experience, whether it is describing someone elses experience, or experiences we’ve also come to know and understand, for which we can then relate a story for there to evoke an emotional connection with the listener. 

 

9. If someone can't travel away from Nashville, are there things they can do at home to foster adventure, free spirit and boost creativity? Can you provide a few tips?

 

Yes, there’s so many day hiking and backpacking places withing 3 hours of Nashville, which a person can make a day or overnight trip. I mentioned some places above. Yet a person can Google, ‘best backpacking destinations near Nashville’, and be shown dozens of choices. Great day hikes around Nashville include Percy/Edwin Warner park trails, Radner Lake trail, Long Hunter State Park, Montgomery Bell State Park, just to name a few.

 

DAY TWO OF THE WARNER/CHAPPEL RECORDING SESSION

 

I arrived at 10:00AM. This day was all about main vocals,  harmony vocals and percussion at the tail end of the session.

I had to squeeze in as many main vocal tracks as possible before the professional harmonist, Kim Morrison was to arrive at noon to record her tracks. She would be singing 3-6 parts on each of the twelve songs, and doubling most of those tracks. Yes, that means three part harmony, with answering parts that also would have another three part harmony. 

The pressure was on me to work fast and efficiently, not losing a hair of feeling or precision on my main vocals. I was able to record four songs before she arrived. It was important to lay down as many main vocals as possible, so that when she would record her harmony's, the rhythm and inflections would be aligned perfectly.  So now I had eight of twelve main vocals recorded. I recorded the most demanding of the songs before she arrived.

I arrived at Warner/Chappel on 16 Ave, in the heart of Nashville's 'Music Row', at 9:00. The musicians would be arriving soon as well, as 10:00AM was recording time.

I was greeted at the studio door by Mark, the studio engineer, who happily helped me in with full load of gear including my two electric guitars; two acoustic guitars, mandolin, amp, gig bag with guitar chords, and effect pedal case. Yes, each instrument was specifically used for certain songs. (In a previous blog I describe that process.) 

Two weeks prior, I already discussed with Mark, the detailed lay out of the session. This included 

I am very happy to announce that I have signed with Spin Doctors Music Group/Next Generation Management. Al Brock and Kristin Johnson will be at the helm, of successfully launching my next album in May!

We kicked off this wonderful celebration atCRS (Country Radio Seminar) last week.

The week before the recording date, is hustle-bustle time for the 'producer's assistant', well yes, in fact this person is Chakra Bleu, wearing yet 'another hat' , which I refer to another job full of a lot of responsibility and planning. 

Chakra Bleu's 'assistant' (Lol) has a two projects which includes finances and food.

1) Finances: She is responsible for writing out the checks and thank you cards for all the musicians, engineer and studio costs. 

2) The day of recording is intense. Every minute is accounted for by having the charts in perfect order in a fancy Bleu folder, provided for each musician. The cover singer and harmony singer will have a folder including lyrics instead of music charts. The engineer folder includes both lyrics and charts. All folders includes a list that has the order of songs to be recorded.

The vibe needs to be professional, fun and laid back. Keeping that mix in order is a minute by minute job of guidance that comes from the producer (Chakra Bleu) .

The 'assistant' has prepared a snack bag in a festive paper bag, for each musician, that includes an envelope with their check and special thank you card, a baggie of nuts/raisons/M&M's, a power bar, a couple pixie sticks, Snicker's bar, and a bottled water.

Each bag has the musicians name on the outside that corresponds to the name on their envelope and music folder. This organisation is very important, because if for example, the lead guitarist got the folder of the dobro player, the charts would be highlighted in a different colour that designates where the musician is supposed to decorate in between a certain phrase of the song. 

If you recall Part One, the producer has made colour coded charts that apply to the lead guitarist,  banjo/fiddle/dobro/mando (utility player), and keyboardist.

This treat bag gives the musicians necessary snack food, that is essential throughout the day long session that includes twelve songs. The focus and energy spent is tremendous, and the GORP (good 'ole raisons and peanuts) and other snacks help keep the musicians attention sharp, as well as their body energised throughout the session. The treat bag is fun, too!

The assistant needs to plan for the lunch menu for the musicians and engineer. The producer has found that it is advantageous to keep the musicians together at lunch time. The synergy would be disrupted if the musicians took off for lunch elsewhere, and the time factor would be longer, figuring travel time to get a lunch a couple miles away, as well as unexpected time and events that may come up in the dining out factor. 

So the evening before the studio day, the 'producers assistant', buys Non GMO bread, sliced beef, ham, turkey, pickles, (personally slices onions and tomatoes); condiments of mayo and mustard; sliced cheese, cheese squares, crackers, paper plates, napkins, baby carrots and hummus; bananas, apples, grapes, pretzels, soda and  (beer which by the way, will ONLY be provided AFTER the session that day is finished!) Another treat for a job well done!

The day of the session, the assistant arrives an hour early with coolers that has all the delicious lunch makings. She places the fruit on the studios kitchen dining room table so the musicians can eat these nutritional  treats anytime during the session. At lunch time, she sets out all the sandwich makings and soda, utensils, napkins, etc. She oversees that all the musicians are well fed and feeling welcome to the food at hand. Even details of refrigeration is her responsibility so that the meats and condiments do not spoil. It is her responsibility to clean up after the session making sure the nice kitchen and dining room is as clean, as spotless it was when she arrived. 

 

It stretches ones ear to ask it to listen to the percussion parts in a song. Surely it is the music or lyrics that draws one into the song first and foremost. Often it is by the 2nd or 3rd time that a person hears  more details of lyrics and or musical nuances. For each person it is a different experience.

Yet, most people aren't aware of how the percussion puts the 'frosting on the cake'. Percussion instruments in pop/rock and country usually include tambourine, shakers and maybe stretching it to add cabasa, cowbell and congas. The sky is the limit really for the artists/producer. 

Yet these spicy percussion instruments add SO MUCH!!! When I put my 'producer' hat on, which means that I totally separate myself from the songwriter and singer, then I am able to shift gears to ASK THE QUESTION: WHAT SONGS WOULD FLOURISH WITH PERCUSSION? OF THOSE SONGS, WHAT PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS WILL BEST BE SUITED AND WHERE?

So again, TIME IS MONEY in the studio. That means EVERY detail must be worked out beforehand. Chakra Bleu plays her own rhythm guitar parts and the mandolin on one song on this album as well. 

First of all, I determine which guitar/instrument is best for each song, which is determined by the particular guitars tone. Some guitars have warmer tones than other, while some are more crisp, having the ability to cut through with more treble tones. On several songs, I'll play two rhythm guitar parts: one which is on the acoustic guitar and another that is on the electric guitar. I also have the option to chose a twelve string, which has rich tones that 'ring out' more, as a result of the four octave strings and two courses of strings that are unison.

If I'm playing one of my electric guitars (which is either a G&L or a Epiphone Les Paul which I've loaded with Seymour Duncan Slash Humbucker pickups), then I determine the specific effect pedals for each and every part of the song. 

The effect pedals I'll use are Digital Delay, Tremolo, Chorus, Flanger of Boss, and the OCD/overdrive pedal by Fulltone. I also determine if the guitar itself is in the low, mid or treble range. And then to add the specific tone on my amp. For studio I use the Fender Pro Junior, because of its straight forwardness, that lets me grab the preferred tones more specifically from my electric guitar and effect pedals. 

Each song may use 1-4 different effect pedals in different places. So for example a song my start out with Digital Delay in the verses, yet then I may add Overdrive on the Chorus and the Tremolo on the bridge.

It is also important that my effects are not 'rubbing' (not audibly cooperating with the lead guitar players tones and effects) *This can get complex, to say the least!

** That is why it is always a good idea to play an acoustic guitar part, whenever playing an electric rhythm guitar part. 

Secondly, I carefully determine exactly what style of strum for each song. Some songs will have a combination of strumming and picking. Some songs have places where the producer has arranged for the guitar to drop out for a verse, etc. 

The parts are most extensive and painstakingly picky! I notate any specific melodic parts as well. I write down what strum/ pick,  effects and dynamics when and where on each song. 

I practice and practice and practice, so that the rhythms and effects are consistent and perfect before going into the studio. 

When recording on the studio date, live with the drummer, bass, keys and lead guitarist, one can expect that slight changes will occur, for improvement is being made on each take. 

Wearing the rhythm guitarist, and producer hat at the same time is not easy, under the head phones, with the loud crash of the drums very apparent in the main room.

Yet it is my job to readily assess if the lead guitar and Chakra's guitar are rhythmically in sync and if the tones are working out. This especially applies, when the effects of my electric guitar and the lead guitarist's effects are in play. Two wave forms will muddy the ear. Wha? The producer (moi) aims to have a CLEAN recording, where there's a pleasing sound to the listeners ear. This happens when instruments are not all fighting it out in the mid-range, or all playing loudly, and off rhythm. Yes, the charts tell the musicians what key, dynamics, tempo and so forth, yet there is so much more going on when the record button is pushed!

Long story short, this gal comes to the studio prepared and then some! 

(I realise that this was way too much detail for many of y'all Lol) .

 

The producer as you have been reading, has been very busy! 

Meanwhile, the lead singer 'Chakra Bleu' (moi) needs to rehearse a lot for this recording session. 

 The best key for Chakra has been determined already. Now it's time to get into the vocal details of each song from start to finish. This is where my vocal training has come in the picture to help ship-shape these songs to the best of my abilities.

I sang my own harmonies on my last four albums. It's a lot of work to arrange three more vocal parts, as well as arrange the time to do it, well after the main vocals have been laid down, so as not to over tax the vocal chords. The advantage of singing all the harmonies myself is that the vocal blend is perfect, for the tone is the same.

Yet, on this session, I had one weekend to record all the parts, not including the 'fixes'. (I'll explain that term later:) 

So the Producer had to figure out the timing of who was doing what, when and how. The where: Warner/Chappel on 16th Ave, Music Row, Nashville, TN.

The game plan is as follows: The musicians arrive at 10:00AM on the Saturday and were scheduled until 6:00PM. After that, the main vocals would begin until 10PM

On Sunday, 10AM-10PM was vocals again.(Main vocals and harmony vocals) This time line meant that I would need to hire a professional kick-ass harmonist! A singer who could make excellent time and get the job done and quickly! With three part harmony's, "Oohs and Ahhs" interspersed as well, this meant a Work Horse, and a vocalist whose voice was well conditioned for such an intensive session. 

I had briefly met Kim Morrison, through Ronnie Godfrey. Her reputation is Wicked Slammin', having sung harmonies for live and studio gigs for countless famous Recording Artists. I've never met anyone who knew how to direct the voice with such precision as she did!

I was nervous when I asked her if she would be interested in singing on my project. To my delight, she was very interested. She was familiar with my music through Ronnie's previous recording sessions with me. She was laid back yet held an air of solid confidence. I already knew of many Nashville Greats whom she had sung with, yet when she told me that she also sung with Roy Orbison and Mose Allison, I almost dropped my phone! Roy Orbison has been a strong influence in my music.             

She asked for a copy of the songs and for me to tell her what I had in mind for the harmonies on those songs. A week later, I sent her a copy of the guitar/vocal demos along with the lyrics for each song. I tend to be a perfectionist of sorts and so sending a simple Garage Band guitar/vocal demo (with its imperfections) to someone, makes my skin crawl! And yet, it had to be done. ugh. We agreed that we would get together a couple weeks before the studio date and go over the suggestions and ideas that we would both be preparing for the studio.

Now, it was time to totally focus my mind on harmony arrangements for the twelve songs. What a job! It's kind of strange. It's sort of like I have a closet full of many fine dress hats. One is the producer; another for the harmonist; another for the key player; another for the guitarist; for the lead singer; the percussionist; accountant; producer's assistant and more. No- don't worry: I don't have split personalities. Lol!

Again, I played the demo's over and over again, while driving or at the gym, until I started hearing the third above the tonic, the fifth below the tonic and then, oohs coming out here and there. I actually really like arranging harmonies. It just takes a moment to 'shift' my focus in that direction. I made notations on my lyric sheets where I would suggest where the harmonies could come in on the songs.  

The evening when I was to meet Kim to share notes on the harmonies, was long awaited. I surely put some time in on the harmonies, and anticipated working alongside her on this preliminary rehearsal of sorts. 

After offering me a cup of coffee, we went into her rehearsal room. I saw that she had already underlined the areas where she heard harmonies. My lyric sheets were similarly lined in those same areas. She played the first song and I sang the harmonies above below and oohs and ahhs. She then agreed on the same parts and then added her points of suggestions, in which I was most satisfied with, to say the least. It was refreshing to work alongside a professional, who did her homework well and then surely had points of brilliance that would bring the songs even into further excellence upon recording. 

It only took about an hours time to go through the countless harmony parts for the dozen songs. Yet, there was one song that she said that she and Ronnie had been working up further ideas together. They were both extremely emotionally charged about a particular song of mine, 'Children Of The Sun' © 2018 Chakra Bleu Music, which happened to be about the atrocities of Native American Indians. (I'll share more about how that song was written later. Let's just say it has been a Powerful, Soulful and Mystifying experience to say the least!) We finished with some intriguing vocal parts to be added in that song. I was game, yet didn't know exactly how it would work out, until the day of, and wow...did it ever work out, thanks to what Ronnie, Kim added, and some unexpected turns in the studio, which actually worked on behalf of that song, in a reverently haunting way.

On parting, she assured me that she would be able to deliver all the harmony parts in ample time. And on that recording date, she surely did! Wow!

 

 

Producer: Chakra Bleu prepares for keyboard flavours: PART FIVE

I was so grateful to have the opportunity to work with Ronnie Godfrey again, for the third time in the studio. Ronnie has played with many greats and his extensive experience over the years provides him with an encyclopedia of wisdom as a keyboardist. He also is visually impaired, which also adds layers of insight to his taste in choosing textures on the keys. 

Because Ronnie cannot visually read charts, I prepare weeks in advance for a 'joint collaboration' in deciding the key parts. Wha?

Now that the charts are written and I know the instruments that go with each song, I can now direct my attention to what key parts I hear for each song. I use the same basic guitar/vocal demo. I'll now drive or exercise to these songs with the question, " What keys are playing on this song? Is is piano, Wurly, synth, strings, etc.? I'll eventually hear what key part would most likely be best. Often there's two key parts. For example, there may be piano with layers of synth or strings on the chorus. 

Meanwhile, I've sent Ronnie the guitar/vocal demo of all the songs. He is coming up with his ideas of key parts as well. 

Finally, I'll give him a phone call and I'll share with him my suggestions of key parts for each song. He then will weigh in with his ideas for those songs. Strangely enough, we will have both come up with the same ideas for the keys! Ronnie then kicks in his mojo, and rehearses the songs well. He also charts the songs on Braille. His positive, laid back energy and preparedness surely add to a nice solid foundation for the intense recording day.

 

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