SUNSET PARK, BROOKLYN: Even the most natural talent needs some nurturing. And when an emerging songwriter crosses paths with a label that understands the strength of artist development, very good things happen.
The very latest evidence of this is in with Morning Void, the new album arriving this month from the captivating NJ-bred artist Fleet Walker. A record as explosive as it is fragile in its raw expressiveness, the release holds 12 beautiful tracks for those seeiking the same emotional high they drew from the likes of Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith.
Walker’s label, 825 Records, did more than just upload the record to iTunes and call a couple of radio stations. After captivating the ears of 825 founder Matty Amendola (profiled in-depth by SonicScoop in June, 2010), the producer/drummer/multi-instrumentalist put his heart and soul into advancing Walker’s instinctual songcraft.
A highly accomplished session player and songwriter in his own right, Amendola partnered intensively with Walker in pre-production and in the studio, then brought out a highly organic listening experience with a mix executed 100% in the box. For up-to-the-minute applications of some wonderfully old-skool wisdom, read on about 825’s approach to filling out Morning Void.
Where are you as a producer and label owner today? Let us know where your head is at.
As a label “From the Studio To the Masses” has been our motto since day one and it always will be. We’re a label that wants completely raw, natural, and honest talent to develop, get them in the studio, put out a great record, give them publicity, marketing, promotion, and help them towards the goal of getting an incredible jump-start into the industry that they deserve.
As a producer and session musician I just have to go with the flow. (Outside of 825) I’m very lucky to have the amount of work that I do. I believe in every single project I work on, but the industry is in a fragile state. It’s constantly changing. Since our last interview I’ve developed 7 artists, produced a little over 20 projects and played on approximately 131 recordings. It’s sad that half of these records will never see the light of day just because of the shape of the industry, but it’s all about going with the flow and hoping for the best.
From that, how did you get introduced to Fleet Walker? And why did you both agree that you would be a good match?
Fleet contacted our Head of A&R Matthew Kruszelnicki, and he forwarded me the stuff to check out right away. He had a MySpace page with 3 or 4 “bedroom demos.” The first demo I listened to was a song called “Faro” and I dug it before the vocals even kicked in.
I heard a really simple-sounding, yet complex picking pattern between a couple of 7th chords which was all psychedelic, enigmatic, melancholic, happy, bubbly and unique and interesting at the same time. The vocal melody, lyrics, and tone of his voice when the verse came in matched all of the same emotions. And even though the lyrics were somewhat abstract, they were creating a clear visual and intriguing story.
I was a fan within 40 seconds. It was music I wanted to listen to, it was music I wanted to write, and Fleet’s approach to tone, sound, and his writing direction really seemed to be similar to my own.
Nice when that happens! That makes me interested in your definition of a “song” and how your approach to songwriting clicks with Fleet’s talents/capabilities?
In my opinion it’s an emotion adapted into sounds, words, melody… I’m only a fan of honest music.
It’s a magical thing when an artist can portray a sometimes-indescribable feeling into “sound” organically, naturally, and honestly. That’s when music really connects with the listener. It’s something in my opinion that Fleet does so effortlessly.
You said that this record was an interesting project, starting with the pre-production. What did Fleet bring in to pre pro, and how did the two of you collaborate from there to bring the songs for Morning Void?
I called Fleet to come into the studio to do one song before committing to anything else, and he walked in and started playing me a song called “In a Dungeon at the Bottom Of the Sea.” It was dark, yet catchy in a weird way. He approached simple things uniquely.
The first thing I did was address the “standard producer duties.” All he had was an acoustic guitar part, lead vocal, two verses, and two choruses. I immediately suggested he play the song a half step down for his vocal tone to be warmer, add an intro and a bridge and write new lyrics for the 2nd verse.
In a collaborative effort we completed all of that in about 20 minutes — we worked incredibly well together and thought very much alike. I had him record a scratch guitar track and vocal to the click and sent him home, because I knew the hard part was on its way.
For the next week I sat in the studio listening to that scratch track — it was up to me to develop his overall sound practically from the ground up. I listened to a lot of Radiohead, Elliot Smith, Jon Brion, and Jeff Buckley for production ideas, artists we both love. When I decided to dive into it, I dove into it… In my mind I had three possible drum parts for the entire song i.e three parts that could bring the song in a different direction. I recorded all three of them separately, and then listened to all of them on at the same time. BAM! It took off from there.
Sounds like a good start. What did you do with the drum tracks you recorded?
I love Wave Machine Labs’ Drumagog software – I replaced some drums with different sounds and cut up certain sections between the three drum parts. I had something very, very interesting: I put a very Beatles-esque bass track down, a ton of distorted ambient guitars, feedback, and noise, programmed some subtle Radiohead-type samples and prepared a mix for Fleet to come back in and sing on.
I’ll never forget the look on his face when I played him the track. I didn’t know if he was gonna punch me in the face or hug me. He was speechless. He loved it and after we finished the track, I handed him the label contract on the spot.
Good timing with the paperwork! When it came time to record the rest of the album, you said that this record was done all in the box, yet in your opinion feels “live and raw.” How did you go about achieving these sonic characteristics during tracking?
The whole record was done at the 825 Records’ facility, it’s become such a great space. When we started recording Fleet’s record we were still in the process of construction. We were expanding, building a lounge room, conference room, vocal/iso booth, buying new gear, so I think I was already in an experimental headspace.
I made sure every instrument we used had character, too. His acoustic guitar was all beat up but sounded good under mics. We used a ‘59 Danelectro for a lot of electric guitars and that brought some twang and grit compared to the other cleaner strat and tele sounds. There’s also nothing like a violin bass, which is what I used on the whole record.