In the swing of “God” songs, including dueling versions of “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, and by Aqualung, the latter when the Hales brothers stopped by the WTTS studios in October 2005. I remember that session very well: Paul was on the other side of the board to interview them, very generously handing the live mixing over to me. Talk about being in the hot seat. (For the record, there has never been any post-session doctoring of performances done in any WTTS studio – what you hear in the sessions produced by Chris Wodock and myself on our Collector’s Edition CDs is exactly what went down at the time, no post-performance fixing or overdubbing, nothing faked, which is more than you can say for a startling number of live albums.)
The band did “Brighter Than Sunshine” first, as it was their single at the time. After they finished, Paul talked with them for a couple of minutes, at some point asking a question about favorite albums. Both Matt and Ben cited the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as a significant influence, and then scrapped the next song they were going to play in favor of doing “God Only Knows” off-the-cuff.
I still remember being stunned at hearing them do the song, the Hales brothers closing their eyes while harmonizing, Paul’s mouth dropping open in astonishment as they hit the instrumental section, and the overall vibe of the thing. We must have caught the boys at an impressionable moment – Laura just reminded me that they hadn’t slept before the WTTS Morning Show appearance, having come more-or-less directly from their show in Louisville the prior evening.
It’s those times that take your measure as a producer/engineer. Beyond remembering those images of what it was like to be there, I can’t tell you precise details about mixing that session. It was like an out-of-body experience…I had to have been working on autopilot, checking levels, adjusting slides as a force of habit and not as an active concern.
There was a comparable moment when Bruce Cockburn came by in 2003, performing three songs during an in-depth interview with me. When he went to do his song “Wondering Where the Lions Are” (originally on the 1979 album ancing in the Dragon’s Jaws), we were in a smaller production room with one microphone. To figure out where to aim the microphone (fortunately we were in a room with an omni-directional mic), I asked him whether he sang louder than played guitar, or the reverse…he said “aim it at the guitar; I’ll compensate.” And boy, did he ever. The space we were working in was so small that his guitar was literally a foot away from my head, and he projected his voice and NAILED it, not wearing headphones (I had the only available pair) and yet effectively mixing himself by instinct.
There’s the still-unknown Sara Bareilles doing “Love Song” for us, Nickel Creek stopping by to crowd around two mics in fine bluegrass style, Matt Nathanson cracking me up on-air between songs, Amos Lee cohosting OverEasy one November a few years back, Jennie DeVoe and Carrie Newcomer working out a version of “Down to the River to Pray” before a live performance in one of our production rooms, and so many more – I don’t think I’ll ever shake off my amazement from all those times.