Back in HCMC, time to record (5/1/2011)

Today we started the first day of recording at the home studios of local Jazz Saxophonist Tuan. Tuan is an internationally touring artist who also owns the “Sax’n’Art Jazz Club” in Ho Chi Minh City. His home is amazing. In typical Vietnamese style, the home doesn’t have a large footprint, but has 5 stories including the under-house Garage (which is also the recording studio). The studio itself is filled with all sorts of instruments including a grand piano, a quality drum kit and a separate room where the engineers do their stuff. Tuan took us for a tour of the house later; his wife designed it with a mix of contemporary ‘Euro’ and traditional Vietnamese influences. Around the house we counted six pianos of various shapes and sizes, as well as a pretty impressive water feature running down a stone wall to a gorgeous fish pond and a special meditation spot.

The idea behind the first few days recording was for me to just sit in and do a couple of guide vocals so the rest of the band knew whereabouts in the song they were. Just the drums, guitar and bass were going to be recorded initially as ‘bed tracks’ with the horns and vocals to be added later.

Patrick was in fine form, with a very clear idea of what he wanted from the recordings, and I was happy to just sit back and look good 😉 

The recording studio below Tuan's house

Tuan's Studio

Although it’s difficult to do sometimes, it is more effective to stand aside and give others free rein rather than pushing your own ideas too hard if there is someone else with a drive to get things done a certain way. This is especially true if you are on a very limited timeframe. So I’m ‘picking my fights’ in this case and just concentrating on what I need to do for the final vocals and on the live show.

My guide vocal contributions were not as lightweight as I’d hoped; the multiple takes while Patrick directed the rest of the band on what to play meant I did multiple instances of the vocals. It wasn’t until we got to a point where the format was correct (we’d run the whole song through from beginning to end) that I could say “OK, keep that vocal as the guide”. The rest of the band could then fix the problems within that framework without me having to re-sing it.

By the end of the day I was getting quite tired, vocally, and we had a full gig that night as well. Luckily, all the hard work with Catherine (Lambert) during the year was paying off and I am singing a lot more correctly now, meaning less strain and quicker recovery. At 4:30 a couple of us left the recording to go and check out how the gig was set up, and to let the rest of the band know whether or not a sound check was required. Another tiny stage; we decided that we should put the horns in front of us so that we could all fit. So the drums were at the left (looking out), with the bass to the left of them, against the wall. It is an indication of the depth of the stage that I said the drums were on the left; there was no ‘front left’ or ‘back left’. John had a small Fender amp set up against the back wall, and I was about a pace to the right of him, plugged direct into the PA.

We returned about 8pm, an hour before the gig to play and it looked like a couple of the guys were looking a bit worse for wear. Walter was looking unwell and kept running upstairs to the toilets. Rob was also spending a lot of time with his head in his hands. Both of them were deteriorating with every minute closer we came to the start of the show. About 20 minutes before we were due to start, we decided that we didn’t think either of them would be able to play. John suggested ringing Thao (the Saigon based drummer friend of Peter’s who sat in with us for a couple of songs last year). The call was made; Thao would be available (bless her), but not until after 10pm. Walter said he thought he could make it through one set and so we woke Rob and launched into it.

The first set break came around quick enough and Walter disappeared. John and I drew up an emergency set list of covers and simple-format PlanB songs and Thao was amazing; picking up the beat and tempo from Pete’s stage-left prompting, plus the occasional fill thrown in. We didn’t play all our originals, but Pacharan, we rocked your socks. Thao, you rocked ours.

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