On the heels of an incredible collaboration and pleasure of participating in both the audio and visual mediums on Totem’s Pride EP earlier this year, our tiny 4-person team [Totem, myself, Kyle Dreaden and Cal Matthews] immediately got back to work following Pride’s release with a renewed sense of creative purpose for the next project.
Before I delve deep into the Echoes EP creative journey, I can’t continue without mentioning the thrill I derive from working with a true artist like Totem. His skill is effortless, his passion is paramount and his work ethic is unmatched, both as a songwriter and a vocalist. One of the kicks I get is simply reading his lyrics off paper prior to the recording process. In a current climate and genre where we’re often subjected to songwriters cranking out trite/generic pop lyrics in assembly line-fashion with perhaps a clever line here or there, Totem deviates; drawing mostly from personal experience and raw emotion. This rare artistry inspires and informs my process of crafting mood, pulse and soundscapes around his melody and lyrics.
Before the Pride EP dropped, me, Totem and Cal (Totem’s manager) had several long distance conversations relaying our collective vision for this next EP. Among the ideas, we chose to combine some of the progressive elements and vibe of the Pride EP with T’s more natural and exoteric writing sensibility. We began by sifting through nearly 15-20 song ideas Totem roughly recorded over various bass lines or skeleton productions. Being the executive producer as well as the record producer of this project, one of my jobs was to assist with the seemingly impossible task of shrinking this list of 15 songs down to 6, and eventually even further down to 4 songs.
The new Echoes workflow was far different on this go-around. We chose to track all vocals and instruments in East Nashville at Petti Sound with my long-time friend, engineer and musical confidant, Kyle Dreaden (who had mixed Totem’s previous EP). Kyle has been my exclusive mix/tracking engineer for the past 7 years. The guy just gets it. He possesses the creative energy and know-how of a perfectionist artist with unyielding passion for the craft. Through process of elimination, we locked down our vocal recording chain for Echoes (Sony C800, Neve 1073, Tube Tech CL1B). Once the first takes were recorded, we were off to the races to hit our ambitious deadline to close the EP by mid-summer.
When day 1 of recording arrived, Totem flew down from New York and I made my monthly pilgrimage to Nashville, tracking vocals for 6 songs in 4 days and all instruments (guitar, piano and drums) in 2 days. The very first song we tracked was “All Falls Down”. This breezy and feel-good mid-tempo record really set the tone for rest of the EP. My creative process for Echoes involved initially producing a rough skeleton instrumental with just enough vibe for T to record his top-line, and then build the production around his lead vocal.
Due to some scheduling conflicts I had to squeeze the postproduction stage of the EP into a single week in order to finalize the songs that made the cut. Failing to finish all of the records by the time our mix dates approached, I drove back up to Nashville with my laptop and midi controller to produce the two remaining records in my hotel while simultaneously mixing the EP with Kyle. We essentially turned Kyle’s home studio into a production sweatshop for 10 days before sending the EP off to Sterling Sound for mastering with Joe LaPorta. The emotional rollercoaster that comes with creating art under a tight-deadline; happiness, inspiration, frustration, anger, bliss; it was all worth the toil and sleep deprivation.
Producing the Echoes EP was one of the most intense and gratifying experiences of my career. With momentum palpable and continuing to grow, Totem and I are currently back in the studio writing and building upon the bodies of work this year and continuing our efforts to push the envelope and make the music we love.