“Are You With Me Now” by Cate Le Bon:
“Are You With Me Now” by Cate Le Bon:
Leslie Stevens of Dear Lemon Trees shares all about her experience singing with the trio and her work as a backup singer. She also talks about providing backup vocals for Father John Misty and performing as part of the annual fundraiser The Merry Minstrel Musical Circus.
After The Show: How do you split vocal duties with Kathleen Grace and Jamie Drake in Dear Lemon Trees?
Leslie: When I sing with Dear Lemon Trees, I sing the melody sometimes and backup on other songs and it’s planned and arranged and rehearsed so that we know what we’re singing before the show or before a recording and we can be pretty precise and controlled with one another.
Singing back-up on a record or live are both a bit different than being in a set band act or show, although singing in a rehearsed band can be one of the best ways to acquire the skills to do back-up live or in the studio.
What differences are there between singing backup live vs singing backup in a studio?
When I sang on Father John Misty’s record Fear Fun, I was not given the songs before the session, so Josh sang the harmony parts to me through the headphones from the studio control room, and then I would sing them back while it was recorded.
So in that situation you are kind of practicing right to the record the first time you sing the line and you are really concentrating and your vocals are under the microscope. Sometimes singing live with someone you can’t hear yourself onstage at all and that is another kind of challenge.
I have had the honor of singing back-up as a part of The Merry Minstrel Musical Circus fundraiser each year since it began and I’ve had the experience of being onstage with artists I admire and respect greatly and even after a great soundcheck something just isn’t quite right during the show despite an amazing sound crew, and it doesn’t go the way it should have.
But I will say, there are also the times that the band will play a song out of nowhere and you get to sing the hell out of the harmonies because you happen to know the artist’s work and that is the greatest feeling to me. That happened once with Jeff Lynne, John Fogerty of CCR and also once with Joe Walsh of The Eagles. Live is live and anything can happen kind of…that’s what makes it so fun.
Is there anything that you think non-musicians would be surprised to learn about backup singers?
You don’t have to even think about hearing yourself in the studio. You have complete control compared to a live scenario. I think non-musicians are surprised to find that recording a voice or any instrument is almost a different skill from playing live. Studio recording of any kind puts you under a microscope and that takes a good amount of precision and technique from the player. In the studio you hear every little detail. Your voice is…naked.
Many singers get into the studio to discover that their vocals aren’t quite where they had hoped.
Has singing backup improved any aspects of your musicianship?
To celebrate the release of her new album I Do, Jill Hennessy talked to After The Show about the lyrics in her new songs, the music on Crossing Jordan, playing Springsteen songs, and her LA show next week at The Mint.
After The Show: For the set list for your LA show next Thursday, can you share what you’ll be playing in terms of newer songs vs older songs from Ghost In My Head vs covers ?
Jill Hennessy: Good question – I’m going to be focusing mainly on the newer songs but as far as the older songs, a little bit of “4 Small Hands” probably, maybe “Oh Mother.” You know, some of the bigger songs, possibly “Erin” just because I love the story of “Erin” and I love revisiting those stories.
On your new song “Real,” I like the lyric “Sing and don’t be afraid – angels talk in music anyway.” What does that mean…what was the inspiration for that line?
Okay, first of all I’m really touched that #1 you listened to the lyrics, and #2 that’s a really meaningful song for me because it’s about the tragedy of so many people whose voices were never heard…because of the color of their skin or their gender or their religion or just their circumstances in life, and how sometimes all we have is our voice to make change, to express ourselves, to send our love, and help other people to get out of their difficult circumstances.
“Sing and don’t be afraid” is something I try to follow myself – you can live in fear and be inactive, or you can just let go and create.
I know “Something’s Comin’” is the first single…did you consider filming a music video for any of the songs on I Do?
I’m thinking about it, man. That’ll be the next phase because right now we’re kind of focused on touring and promoting the album. We actually shot some guerrilla-style footage in our red ’66 Cadillac convertible all around the Jersey shore. My nephew (a screenwriter/producer in his 30s) was doing the camera work and my little 7 year old son was hiding in the back with me on the floor of the car.
We drove all over Monmouth County just getting all these iconic landmarks like The Stone Pony…it was an homage to Springsteen land which I find very inspirational. My 7 year old is in the video strumming his little ukulele, but my 12 year old was like “no way.” But it ended up being really cool, so that’ll probably be on the website at some point. Finding time in the schedule is kind of difficult at this point, but probably in 2 months there’ll be some time to breathe, and we’ll look into doing more videos that are story driven.
I think “I Do” is the best, catchiest song you’ve ever written; I really like how you traced a journey about marriage specifically, from meeting to “pretty words and roses” to “pain and joy” to getting married to having kids. I like how that song is a more comprehensive journey/story rather than just a snapshot or moment in time.
Yeah that totally is it, and it’s also about how relationships change or perceptions change – what you perceive “this is what marriage is gonna be” – it’s always evolving and shifting, from the time you’re a kid to when you get older…it ain’t black and white. Those are very specific images in my mind that to me are very tangible and representative. Sonically I tried to write something more uptempo, and it’s got that Buddy Holly influence.
Crossing Jordan was so strong in music: from Wendy and Lisa, to you playing guitar and singing, to the T-Bone soundtrack with your two cover songs, and the original opening credits showed you carrying your guitar. Did you have any input into song selection or was that mostly done in post-production?
It was my suggestion to have her carrying the guitar and the creator, Tim Kring, is a music lover himself…He and I always bonded over artists like Springsteen and Patty Griffin, so we’d talk about music all the time. He had the final call as to what music was put in, but music was very much a character in the show, and that’s how we both felt.
YouTube has some great videos of you singing “Galileo” and the solo verse on “Closer To Fine” with the Indigo Girls at concerts. How did those opportunities come about, because I know you love that band (and on Crossing Jordan, Jordan’s apartment even had an Indigo Girls poster on the wall!)?
[Laughs] yes. I met the Indigo Girls when we did Mountain Stage – that was I guess 4 years ago – and it’s a great festival presentation radio show out in Virginia. They were playing that night and I was playing before them, and at soundcheck I got to meet Amy and Emily and I was just blown away. I was afraid I would be rendered completely speechless. I was very kindly introduced and we just kind of hit it off and luckily I didn’t get down on bended knee and bow before them.
So then they started to tour around New Jersey and New York, and I opened for them a couple times and sang with them. We even cooked them vegetarian pasta, because they’re vegetarians – it was delicious, man. Peas with red sauce.
You’ve covered a bunch of Bruce Springsteen songs like “No Surrender,” “The River,” “Thunder Road,” “Atlantic City,” and “New York City Serenade.” What song of yours do you feel would be best suited for Bruce to cover?
That’s probably the best question that anyone’s ever asked me. Oh my God, girl, that’s a tough one. “I Do” sounds like it could be kind of a Bruce style. “Something’s Comin'” would be cool. “Save Me” would also be really be cool…though I can’t see him singing the line about makeup.
I know you performed the Harmonium cover “Pour Un Instant,” but have you ever considered writing and releasing a song in French (or Italian or Spanish)?
Definitely. On the Canadian release of Ghost In My Head there was a verse in Italian. I actually wrote a song in French for a Canadian TV movie called Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town. It’s scary to write a song period, but it’s even scarier to write a song in another language. There’s always that fear of ‘Maybe I don’t know what the colloquialisms are, or maybe there’s a double meaning I’m not aware of.’ But yeah, I’d love to write a song in either French or Italian.
Bo Boddie is a music composer, mixer, producer, recording engineer, and instrumentalist.
After The Show: What’s your schedule like lately? Do you spend more time composing vs mixing vs producing?
Bo: Busy. These days, almost all of the work I’m doing is for film and television projects. I’ve been doing a lot of work for Craig Wedren for the past few years, and that involves wearing a lot of different hats depending on the project. We’ve just finished two shows, Wet, Hot, American Summer (Netflix), and Blunt Talk (Starz). With Blunt Talk I was the score mixer, and with WHAS I mixed all the score and songs (about 25-30 of them). I also produced and co-wrote a song (“All Time”) as well as a bunch of miscellaneous music production and guitar playing…[I] will soon start working on the 2nd season of Fresh off the Boat (ABC), which involves a lot more cue writing. It looks like I’ll also be mixing a rock record that James Iha is producing as well.
What software and hardware programs do you use on a daily basis for composing and score mixing work?
At this point it’s about 95% Pro Tools, which I’ve been using pretty much daily since 1998. However, I also love using Logic and Reason, although, since time and compatibility with others are such a huge part of my job it’s hard to go out on a limb and use something other than Pro Tools.
What personality traits would you say make someone a great recording engineer?
Other than having great technical skills and know-how I think it’s really about being prepared for any request and staying in the service of the artist/project that you’re working on. It’s about staying humble, making everything seem smooth and easy, and of course making sure everything sounds great. An engineer’s role can be very small or large, you just have to know how much you need to put in to grease the wheels and when to just get out of the way.
When you’re working with artists from different genres (Santana vs Korn vs indie pop), how do you adapt between such stylistically dissimilar sounds? Do you approach each project with the same general mindset or is there a mental switch you have to make?
With such stylistically divergent projects there’s definitely a mental shift that has to happen. However, it doesn’t usually take long to establish a style of working that people are happy with, and from there it’s just about continuing in that vein. Obviously, to some degree you have to be a fan of what you’re working on as well. In my case, there aren’t that many kinds of music that I’m not interested in, so I look forward to working in different styles. There’s so much to learn about the subtleties of different genres, and when you walk away from each project you take something away that will help you bring insight to the next one.
You recorded, mixed, produced, and played bass and guitar on My Rocks Are Dreams by Psychic Friend — what was your favorite part of that process? How do you feel about the licenses/placements those songs got?
That was one of the first projects I worked on when I got to Los Angeles. Patty and I are friends and one day she mentioned she was working on a band with Will as a duo. They came over one day and we recorded some stuff. The songs were great, and I was really excited about working on the material. From that point on we got together whenever time allowed and filled everything out. I think the first song we did was “We Do Not Belong” and that established the overall tone of everything that came after it. Patty and I worked on 8 songs, and then Will and Tripp did the last three together at Dangerbird, although I did end up mixing “Quality Control.”
It was a great experience and I’m really proud of what came out of it; especially given that it was almost entirely recorded in a converted bedroom. All the song licenses were an added bonus. Of course I thought that the songs were great and lent themselves to that kind of use. However, once you start submitting songs to different music supervisors you start to realize how difficult it can be to get placements. I think it’s quite a testament to the quality of the songs!
You contributed articles and interviews to Sonic Scoop. How did that opportunity come about, and did you like that writing experience?
That came from my dear friend Janice Brown, who co-founded Sonic Scoop. We first met at Chung King Studios in Manhattan in the very early aughts. I was an intern and she was working a few nights a week as the receptionist; we became good friends and have always kept up with each other. When I moved to L.A. about five years ago she called me up one day and asked if I’d be interested in doing some gear reviews and interviews for the site and I took her up on it. I haven’t had as much time for it lately, but it’s a lot of fun to get out there and meet different people and play with new gear. I actually just wrote a review for them which should show up one of these days.
“Runaway,” “No Matter What You Say,” “Don’t Know How You Do It,” and “It’s You” are such great Imperial Teen songs. What was your experience like working on Feel The Sound?
It was a lot of fun. I love everyone in the band and it was easy to hang out with them and get things done. With that record they had done some of the basic tracking before I started working with them and they needed a place to do overdubs and record all the vocals. My family and I had just moved to L.A. from Brooklyn and I had a little studio in the back of the house we were renting, which I was thrilled about since, coming from New York, we weren’t used to having so much space. At any rate, the band would all come into town once or twice a month and we’d spend a day or two tracking vocals and other instruments. I’m not sure how long that went on for, maybe four or five months. Midway through we actually did end up going to another studio for a day to re-record drums as well as a couple of the newer songs…it’s a little fuzzy at this point which ones, but we did a lot of tracking that day! The album really came out amazing, I just listened to it the other day and it’s even better than I remembered.
That’s cool that you worked on the Reni Lane album — probably not many people have heard it though. How did that opportunity come about?
I actually only worked on one track on that record: “Ready.” That came about through my friend Sam Bisbee. He’s a great songwriter and performer and at that time I think he had just landed a publishing deal so he was working with all kinds of different artists, writing tons of songs. I had recorded and mixed a lot of his records so he was always hiring me to work on different projects with him. Reni had just landed a deal with Custard and Sam had a bunch of tunes on the album. “Ready” was actually one of Sam’s personal songs; Reni really liked it and wanted to do her own version. Between Sam and I we put together what’s on the record‚ and I programmed drums/percussion on it, played bass, and some keyboards as well.
Thanks for sharing Bo! Keep up with Bo’s work at BoBoddie.com
“Consolidated Identity” by Sandy’s (based in San Francisco):