Let's Keep It Groovy From The Start

looking into the new year like "What the fuck is that? Is that you, 2016??"

For first-time visitors, welcome to my website. I launched this site a few months before graduating college in 2014 in a last minute effort to look presentable to prospective employers and freelance clients. Luckily, I had some help from my multi-talented friend/roommate of two years Stephen Thunder Nixon who created the spectacular branding you see at the tops and bottoms of these pages and on my business cards. 

 

Now that I've been out of school for almost two years, I'm trying to take advantage of all the things I spend precious money on. One expense is this website; $96/year to the web savvy folks at Squarespace. It's certainly not my biggest expense (and I'm very pleased with Squarespace products), but as my site sits quietly in the ether, I realize I'm coughing up a generous amount of coin for a mere digital business card.

 

Until now, I've kept no central log detailing my recording work and music adventures, just sporadic Instagrams and Facebook posts, content that is briefly showcased and quickly forgotten. Though this may sound stale, I truly love my work and naturally, I want to keep track of it and hopefully stir up some more business in the process. Two birds, one blog. Welcome to my first post: a fashionably late recap of my 2015.


time for a good ol' fashion highlight reel


Photo taken by Jaak Jensen at a rehearsal for Toby's piece

January

My Indian-German drummer, friend and roommate Toby Ramaswamy (the one and only) received a grant to compose a piece for 15 electric guitars based on Indian Classical music. I was hired to record the only performance at the Cedar Cultural Center. It was incredibly difficult to capture a piece that unique, even after sitting in on a rehearsal. It's not just a matter of close-miking 15 guitar amps. No single guitar is really that important; it's an orchestra, not a Saturday at Guitar Center. It's all about room mics and I didn't have them quite where I wanted them due to lack of snake and limited flexibility from front-of-house. Even so, how do you capture a space you've never recorded in before? Many times you don't find out until mixdown when your EQ curves start looking like seismograph readings. I know I could have done better, but I was still really pleased with how the final mix turned out. More importantly, I found out that I've been living and performing with a bonafide badass composer. Toby, I love you.

 

April

I had the privilege of opening for veteran folk singer Mason Jennings at Coffman Memorial Theater. I’ve played The Whole and The Great Hall (both in Coffman Memorial Union) several times before but never the Theater and never with such a reputable headliner. Mason’s management requested we play a stripped down set since he was flying solo that night, so it was just me, my violinist Derek Rohlf and my bass player Matt Blake in front of an attentive seated audience. I realized how badly I want to tour on a theater circuit one day. The attentiveness of the audience, the acoustics and the overall ambiance make for a much more intimate, detailed performance. I rarely find that in clubs and bars.

 

May (and the 30 months before it) 

It took six studios over two and a half years but my band, William Within, finally released its sophomore record. The title we slowly agreed upon was “Lost In Writing”, pulled from a lyric in the third track “Narrate My Nights”. It just made sense given how long and difficult the recording process was for our overly-ambitious 20 minutes of original music. I almost scrapped this record several times out of frustration, so it nearly was lost in writing.

Tracking basics for Lost In Writing at The Terrarium, September 2013

 

We tracked basics for all five songs at The Terrarium in Northeast Minneapolis in September 2013, keeping only the drums, double bass and electric guitar. The plan was to record the remainder of the instruments at Essential Sessions (where I was interning) and Radio K’s Studio K (where I was working) to save money. We certainly kept costs low but at the expense of my sanity. There was a lot riding on me.

 

When you transfer large session files from studio to studio, back and forth, for months at a time, as your band knocks out bits and pieces of songs, your Pro Tools sessions get messy...really, really messy. My string players wanted to recreate an orchestra between the two of them, which meant those two alone had an average of 10-15 tracks each (many parts were double tracked). That’s a lot of CPU, jumbled I/O, labeling and color coding, levels to balance, and a lot of headaches. But I went with it. The overdubbing dragged on, following me from internship to internship.

 

When it was finally time to record my vocals and guitar (the two instruments I write all of our songs on), there was barely any room left and I struggled to record after the arrangements had been built around what was then my year old scratch tracks. Tons of people record themselves (I still do), but when you’re making a formal full-band record with a complicated mix, it is incredibly difficult to give a compelling musical performance when you’re wearing multiple hats in the studio. This is why a good engineer is truly invaluable; they allow you to focus on making a great performance.

 

It was clear if we were going to finish the record, I needed to hand the faders off to someone else. That someone was Neil Weir, owner/engineer at The Old Blackberry Way. Hilariously enough, I used to live three houses down from his studio and had no idea until Neil trained me in at Radio K. Neil’s calm demeanor and extensive knowledge of recording was exactly what I needed. The dim lights and exposed wood in his cozy live room provided the perfect ambiance for the parts I had in mind, too.

 

Holding the masters for Lost In Writing at Magneto. Phew.

Not surprisingly, we were done with tracking and mixing in a short two months and the record was sent over to Bruce Templeton at Magneto, a mastering suite housed in The Terrarium (it has since moved). In April 2015, I walked out of the same studio door I walked into two and half years earlier, 20 minutes worth of mastered WAVs in hand. How's that for coming full circle?

 

WW Lost In Writing release show. Photo by Darin Kamnetz

We brought on a cello, viola, trombone and trumpet for the release show at Icehouse on May 31st. It was stressful and crowded on that proscenium stage, but the show was a huge success and nearly everyone walked out with a copy of the record. It was worth the long journey to get there.

 

September

Photo by Benjamin Mueller at Colle McVoy. This was our second show with the new lineup.

WW acquired two new band members: Mitch Schumer on electric bass and Mark Engelmann on rhodes.

 

Thank you, Matt Blake, for all you have done for me and the rest of the band. We continue to wish you the best on the road with Davina and the Vagabonds.

 

October

My studio at Audio Ruckus

This month marked my first work anniversary with longtime Minneapolis voiceover studio Audio Ruckus. Though I struggled to bring in much business, I grew a lot as an engineer. People tend to think recording voiceover and mixing commercials is just a dumbed down version of recording bands. Sure, you are dealing with fewer mics and fewer tracks, but you have an entirely different set of variables, constraints, clients and audiences. You need to be just as organized and precise (if not more) than a music engineer. You need to be able to slice the tag from take 16 onto lines 4 and 5 from take 8, then export that and splice it onto the remainder of the script recorded two years ago by a different engineer in a different room, all while a small crowd of advertisers and their corporate clients watch your every move. What happens if you can’t find a take? What happens if the voice talent won’t stop ruffling their shirt during takes? What happens if your ISDN patch with a major agency in New York has too much line noise? This is why Audio Ruckus exists; voiceover is not as simple as one mic, one take.

 

Aside from learning from my rookie mistakes, I got to perform and record an original jingle for Holiday Stationstores’ “Get Happy” coffee campaign! You can hear it all winter long on various commercial radio stations in the Twin Cities.

 

November

I had the pleasure of recording, mixing and mastering the new Straya EP to be released in January 2016. My band has played a handful of shows with them over the past year (and now we share a keyboard player) so we were all friends before we hit the studio. I did basic tracking at Secret Stash Records in Loring Park, my first record in their new space. The analog focus of that studio really brought out the grit of Straya’s sound; I was super pleased with the tracks we got there. We did overdubbing and mixing at my place. I’m excited for everyone to hear the results!


Yeah, so that was my 2015. I could probably find more to write about but I haven’t written anything this long since college and I’m starting to scare myself.

 

I will add that 2016 already looks promising. WW recently sold out the Entry with help from our friends in Tabah and General B and the Wiz, writing/arranging for our next record is well underway, and I have the pleasure of working on the next Grape Whales record in the next few weeks too.

 

I’ll be posting more regularly as projects develop. Shoot me an email if you want to work together!

 

Peace and lots of love! 

Alex