JERSEY CITY: Writing an album isn’t the only thing that takes creativity these days – funding it requires some inspiration as well. The NYC rock outfit Telling on Trixie arrived at a way to get their fans to pitch in thousands of dollars to help make their latest release, Ugly, Broke and Sober, and feel happy about doing it. ToT’s guitarist Tommy Kessler, who helms a tight home recording setup in Jersey City, and also plays in Blue Man Group and the now-on-Broadway show Rock of Ages, told SonicScoop how to make a Plan like that come together.
Q: Tell us about this “Band with a Plan” concept – what made it work?
A: The “Band with a Plan” idea came from (Telling on Trixie vocalist) Derek Nicoletto. We wanted to involve the fans with the recording process – most of the fans would love to be on the album, or play a musical instrument, but they don’t have the time. They love Telling on Trixie, so this is a way to get them involved.
Depending on how much money they donated is how much involvement they got. Whether they donated a penny or a thousand dollars, they got a login on the Website http://www.abandwithaplan.com, where they got behind-the-scenes footage, some demos, and there was constant blogging. Derek is a huge blogger, and he tried to make people feel like they were with us the entire time.
So rather than buying the CD for $10 and that was your input, the fans paid in and actually got be a part of the whole process. Derek is a lyricist, but some of the fans got to put in words for a song on the CD called “Crash Me Up”. The lyrics are made up of all the words he got from the fans. He loved it – it gave him a new route for writing lyrics.
Q: Kind of like improv comedy?
A: Yeah, only it’s set in stone on a CD! It gave people a sense of accomplishment, that they were a part of something, and that was what we wanted: to bring them together with us. For something like this to work, I think you have to have excited, loyal fans and stay in contact with them: constantly give them a blog, a video, a demo.
Q: Let’s talk about your home studio setup in Jersey City. What does it allow you to do?
I’m a classically trained guitar player/string player. I can play anything with strings: pedal steel, violin, 12-string, nylon…
In my studio I run Pro Tools 8.0 on an Apple G5, with Apogee Rosetta 200 converters, API 512c preamps, an Avalon 737sp, a Presonus Central Station, and Mackie HR824 monitors. It’s mostly set up to mic guitar cabinets or acoustic guitars. I have a million and one pedals – in the last few years I’ve become quite a pedal person. For the album Ugly, Broke and Sober we did the bass tracking and almost all the guitars at my house, and one of the vocals here as well. The drums were recorded at (drummer) Andrew Frawley’s house. What we couldn’t record ourselves, we recorded at Jamie Siegel’s place in Manhattan, and all the mixing was done at his studio.
Q: What pedals are you using a lot these days?
A: I moved to NYC from Dayton, Ohio four years ago. When I came here, I got involved with Blue Man Group, and Jeff Gersh there got me started with guitar pedals – got me going with that poison! Because it’s gotten out of hand, really.
The pedals I like now are the Keeley Time Machine Boost from Robert Keeley Electronics. It’s four boost pedals in one: a 1966, 1977, modern and warp/futuristic. We put it in front of the amp, and it gets classic sounds, vintage sounds, and it just pushes it in a way that fills it out harmonically. Another pedal I really like is the Seymour Duncan shape-shifter, an analog tremolo pedal. You can tweak the wavelength, make it choppy or smooth, control the swell of the attack, the length of the decay – you can do a lot of things with it. The Electro Harmonix POG (polyphonic octave generator) is all over the album.
And I use the Vox V847 wah pedal. I bring that wah pedal to every session now, and people are blown away. I can’t use it live, because it runs on a 9-volt battery, and I like power jacks live. In the studio, the 9-volt is the way it used to be done. I like that, because I don’t get any dirty power – when I plug something into a ground unit, I might get that hum.
My guitar is a Schroeder, made by Jason Schroeder in California, who’s an up-and- coming builder, and I use Taylor guitars for all my acoustic tracking and live. The amp we use most is called a Toobz Amp from a guy named Harry Sullivan, in Freehold, NJ. It’s handmade for me – I just wanted a Marshall JCM800 with everything, using nice, top-of-the-line parts.
Q: Do you feel like this hybrid of home recording and studio mixing is the way most recording is taking place in NYC now? Is this the ideal situation?
A: I don’t know if it’s ideal, but it’s what music has come to! Ideally, we’d rent Avatar Studios and do the whole album there back to back. That way it’s all the same and consistent, so whoever gets to mix it has something that’s all linear.
But these days, it’s so easy and cheap to get a pro sound out of a home studio. If you know what you’re doing, it’s easy to record the parts in your house. I can’t do drums, so we do it somewhere else, then we load it all into the same Pro Tools session and mix. I think it adds a different level of depth to everything. Maybe you’ve got an analog sound at Exhibit A studio, and then Exhibit B studio doesn’t have a peep in the ultra-clean digital signal. You put those two together, and you get a nice blend. – David Weiss