Under Mics with the Oranges Band #2

Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry

PopMatters has had plenty of nice things to say about Baltimore’s The Oranges Band (specifically here and here. When the band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings. Over the next several weeks, Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler will write in with updates from the sessions for the band’s third full-length. Here’s part two…

Jon Langmead

It’s a maze of equipment in the tracking room. Doug emerges from the “amp cavern”. I’ll admit to being slightly confused and just a little overwhelmed here.

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Going into the studio kind of reminds me of going on vacation with my family when I was young. You’d look forward to the time when you were “on vacation” but until the day or so before you left, you’d forget that in order to get there you’d have hours of packing and organizing and driving to get there. And in the minutes before you left — the kitchen would get shoved into a box, you’d gather up every towel you could find and, for some reason, you’d pack four pairs of shoes when the goal was to not wear shoes at all for the whole week.

Because the studio offers “infinite” possibilities, you pretty much have to be prepared for anything, right? What if you needed the guitar to sound like that lead in that Steve Miller song? What do I need to make that happen? This song should have John Bonham drums, this one should have Talking Heads drums, and on and on. Well, after a week at the beach you’d pack to go home and realize that you didn’t need the collared shirts you brought, that one pair of shoes would have done the trick and “who brought a jar of pickles?”

Doug’s starting line-up.

I wish I could say that I learned something from those experiences, but here it was the day we are going into the studio to do our basic tracking and I am running ALL over town picking up this amp from this friend and this guitar from this guy. Everyone in the band has somebody bringing something over… you know, “just in case”. When all is said and done, we have three bass amps, about eight guitars and ten guitar amps, three different Fender basses and at least four snare drums. We have effects and cables and power supplies and “did you remember to buy picks?” All this prep and I haven’t finished the lyrics for half of these songs. One thing at a time, I guess.

Doug laying it down.

The funny thing about us gathering all these options is that our goal on this album was to sound like ourselves! Oh well, maybe a more stylized version of ourselves then. In any case, the approach on this album was to be considerably different than on our last, “The World and Everything In It.” That album was tracked rather carefully over the course of a few months. The songs, while rehearsed, were works in progress gaining much from studio embellishments. On this record we wanted to track live as a four piece, playing together in order to highlight the strength of the instrumental composition. That sounds more high-brow than it should… it just means that we were rocking out these songs and wanted the record to sound like the practice room. One other interesting decision on this record, no click tracks! If you don’t know, a click track is a pulse or click or something that goes through the song that regulates your tempo. It has the benefit of making sure the speed of the song doesn’t drop, losing momentum but can effect the performance of the band, especially when trying to play together and not track separately. I’d say I was trying to preserve the inherent qualities of the songs but the real reason I didn’t want to use a click track was that I read an interview with Nick Lowe who said that “music should speed up and slow down.” That was good enough for me.

Adam Cooke at the helm of the spaceship Lord Baltimore.

So now we have our instruments and our methods and we load all our crap into the studio and set it up. We have recorded a lot of times in a lot of situations but somehow you’re never quite prepared for how the songs come back from the tape the first time you hear them in the studio. Putting microphones on your instruments and amplifiers is like holding a magnifying glass up to a pencil drawing. It’s a level of detail that you didn’t really know existed. And we’ve got microphones all over the place! The drum set has about eight mics, the guitars both have two and the bass only has one.. but he gets a direct line in addition to his mic just to keep things even.

You know I don’t think that I mentioned that we are recording at Lord Baltimore Studio in Baltimore. It is a new-ish, high end-ish studio here in a town that has always needed one, especially one that is affordable and reliable. Adam Cooke is our engineer and co-producer. Adam and I have a very long history together that started in a band called Roads to Space Travel (look it up, yo!). Since then we have worked on tons of projects-mine, his and others-as well as working together at the Talking Head Club and oh yeah, I lived in his house for a couple years, too. Hey, that’s Baltimore style so, you know, to quote myself, “everyone knows everyone.”

Pushing the levels on the two-inch analog tape.

Ok well… we’ve got our stuff mic-ed up and we are rolling the tape. (In the digital vs. analog debate… we are definitely analog. Digital has it’s place and we will transfer the tapes eventually to mix but when recording, only analog tape!) I’d love to say that tracking is incredibly interesting or that we have some special way of doing it but I don’t think that is the case. Like every band has been at some point we’re in the tracking room, deciding which songs to do and how fast to do them and, in some case, how should they start and, in other cases, how should they end and when we finish a take we mosey into the control room to listen to it. By now we are sort of used to the tracks being detailed all under the magnifying glass so we are listening to our performances individually and, for as long as I can remember, there have always been two answers when deciding whether to keep a take or to re-do it. It’s either “We can do it better” or “It’s good enough”. Can’t you see it now… John Lennon looks at Paul McCartney after they hear “She Loves You” recorded for the first time and says, “It’s good enough.”

Roman and Doug, checking the tracks. “Uhh, it’s good enough, right?”

One thing that is really going for us on this session is having Doug there tracking with us. Dave and Patrick and myself have been kind of flogging these songs for about a year, really working them over so, for the most part, they are a little old to us. But having only played with Doug a handful of times and in some cases, really hearing his parts for the first time in the studio, the songs are feeling fresh and the dynamic between us is new and exciting. Recording is really a mental exercise because it is such a different way of playing and everyone’s interaction is essential and totally audible!

Well after a couple days of monkeying around, we got our nine “good enoughs”. It was painless and without incident… we’re pros- or old, either one. The end of tracking is a relatively strange point in the process because you feel as if you’ve finished something, laid the groundwork for your entire album but somehow, you are about 25% finished. I guess I’d better get to writing those lyrics…

Roman Kuebler