The Making of FORCE
(Notes by Evan Kimble, with additions by Brian Couch & Ted Ford)
There's never really room, and I don't even think it is quite right, to put lots of production notes on the insert that comes with a CD. Unless it's an old jazz album, of course. But I've been re-telling some facts and stories about the making of Force of Nature, and thought that the website would be a nice place to post this information for a digital age. So here you are:
About the First Session: In December of 1998, we set up the band for a weekend in the studio, played songs in an intense but informal manner, and captured our basic sound. All the drums, most of the bass, the rhythm guitar and lead vocals from these sessions are the ones you hear on the album. Several lead guitar tracks made it from these original takes as well. Backing vocals were recorded later, along with some flute, some extra percussion, some Hammond Organ (louder than God) and a bit of synthesizer and other flavors. We had no specific list of songs that would comprise the album. We just played all our current favorites, and let the performances dictate which would make the album, and which would wait for the next time.
Hurricane Bob: This song basically wrote itself. For
a year or two I had thought about how "Hurricane" and
"Bob" didn't go together. So unthreatening. I guess
I hadn't considered "Sideshow". And then eventually
there was a Hurricane called Bob. But I'd already written the
song about a storm that none of the official sources worried about,
but its effects were still powerful, just not in the usual ways.
Bonnie is the name of our friend Elizabeth's dog, in Colorado.
"A bone through her nose" was a nod to Richard Thompson's
terrific song by the same name, and a phrase to mean she was on
the scent of a bone. She shed her human rules back at the house
(clothes at the factory) and revealed herself in all her animal
honesty (scars that she once concealed). The rewards of this action
are, of course, blessings by the earth mother, and the liberation
of all those touched by her energetic release (screen door singing
making whoopee). Also one of the few satisfactory rhymes for "guadeloupe"
I could think up.
Anyone convert knots into mph? Not a big ratio, it turns out. Ted's solo is an original first take.
Falling up to Venus: Over the years I've had dreams like this. I start to float up above the ground, falling up ever faster, as the earth starts to resolve beneath me. Once I got so far up that the continents resolved themselves into words below. There's some Hammond Organ in the background of this song. That is one incredibly loud instrument.
Purple Skies: (note from Brian) During high school years in Upcountry Maui, there was frequently a late night movement to drive up Haleakala for sunrise. These trips often involved a bottle of some sort (for "warmth"), or not, and a carload or two of friends. My constant companions and jamming buddies were Jerry Knight and Pat Madden. Gathered on the edge of the crater, or sometimes in the shelter (if the tours hadn't arrived yet to crowd us out), we would sing, talk and marvel in the beauty of this magical place as the sky slowly began shifting colors. As dawn approached the sun would sometimes seem to rise up from beyond the Big Island, glorious in oranges and yellows. Behind us the West Maui mountains would still appear almost black.
In between, there was a kaleidoscope of different shades of color. These experiences always left everyone with an overwhelming feeling of completeness, and you could not have a bad day after doing the Crater for sunrise. We were blindly writing songs left and right at the time, reveling in Crosby Stills and Nash style harmonies and early 70's style hippie lyrics. It was inevitable that the sunrise trips would find their story in song. After joining Grasshopper I went back through my old songbooks and took a fresh look at old material I had lost interest in. Purple Skies jumped right out at me as fitting the mold. I was pleasantly surprised at how it's held up over the years.
About the recording: it's actually pretty close to the arrangement we used in Minus One back in '82. Ted's lead is eerily similar to the work Pat did. Evan and Lael really nailed some harmonies, and Thad's drumming is, as always, inspiring. Evan played Hammond Organ on this one as well.
Only One in this Life: This song was born out of an improvisational jam on one of the first nights after Lael and I moved into our first home. An arabesque is a ballet move, and also a parabolic curving spiral. A fine metaphor for my one and only. I love the effect we found to lace on the vocals of this, a delay with some crunchy flanging, so that each repeat of the words crackles into a weirder beyond. Guy Staley, our engineer, chose which phrases to emphasize with this effect. If you listen closely you can hear the craziness. Brian wrote some very apt additional lyrics for this song, and sings them at the end. They're printed in italics in the liner notes of the album.
Forecast: Original guitar lead on this too. Ted only writes very simple or very complicated songs. For me, this one somehow manages to be both. (note from Ted) This was a song I originally wrote and recorded in late '92 to be included on Brian's Street People compilation, which was a collection of tunes produced by Couch and written and performed by friends who frequented a certain Seattle bar at the time. The original 4-track version was recorded in an open tuning; it is played in conventional tuning here for simplicity's sake live. The song is about my first winter in Seattle - how hope and music hasten the light and rebirth of spring.
Twister: I empathize with people who are drawn to tornadoes. We feel alive, we use all our senses. We love to be in the presence of something more powerful than ourselves. We crave to come to each other's rescue. We get to see the core vitality in each other that usually lies hidden. The wild force of nature can be just like a woman. By the way, have you noticed that the chorus is in 5/4 time? Neither did we till Chris Orsinger pointed it out to me after the album was finished.
About the recording: A dichotomy--the least and most produced song on the album. The least: we did only one take, with original drums, bass, Ted's lead guitar and my vocals just as they happened. The most: the only track with sythesizer--three different sounds, two and the beginning and the end (one was called "Tundra Vox", I recall), and a warm string section throughout. These overdubs were recorded very late at night. I also completely reworked the rhythm guitar tracks, to accomplish what I can't live--alternating between finger picking and strumming. Brian contributed an additional, haunting, electric guitar track. It reminds me of whale song, and the voice of the wind. He used a bunch of delay, his "Electric Mistress" flanger, and an e-bow (with the bright blue light) to vibrate the guitar strings. He ran two takes through the song, and we picked our favorite moments from both takes.
This song was hellacious to mix.
We started the mixing around 8pm one night. There was lots of
unfinished business to figure out at we went along, and a huge
windstorm built up over Seattle, as we listened to this song over
and over again. We realized around 2 in the morning that we weren't
going to get it done for several more hours, so we all went home
to sleep. We came back early the next morning, after a fitful
night of gusting wind. We had to get the mix done before the studio's
next client of the day arrived. Thanks to the persistence of Guy,
our intrepid engineer, and with a nod to the nature spirits, we
finally got the perfect mix. The windstorm outside died away about
20 minutes after we finished.
Comme La Mer:
"Like the Sea"
This night on the beach
I see you for the first time
And our lives together
I see it come toward me like the sea
And I close my eyes
so that the light
disappears from my sight
but even then I find you with me
I close my eyes
to go somewhere away
but even in this solitude
you are with me
It was a night filled with stars
one skin, one sea
We are all of this-
and everything, everything
is a part of us.
Another lovely tune from Lael in a foreign language. We tried a faux French accordian solo on the synthesizer. Was too cheesy. Went for flute instead. Much better. Those choir boys worked out too.
Stonemon: In 1988, Lauren Smith, Kate Seidl and I climbed to the top of Yushan ('Jade Mountain") the highest peak on the island of Taiwan, about 12,000 feet. The climb starts sub-tropical, passes through fir and taiga, and reaches bare hights and dangerous slate at the top. We didn't bring nearly enough warm or waterproof clothing, nor did we pack enough food. Some ginger tea from strangers in a wooden shack at 10,000 feet definitely saved me from hypothermia. We spent the night at the shack before climbing to the summit the next morning. Stonemon was a rap I made up to feel tough, and to keep my feet going. It came in handy on the far side of the mountain too. We thought we'd find, just a few miles down, a road where we could hitchhike. Turns out the road was a meadow in a wilderness. 20 miles later, at last, we slid on our asses down a long steep slope into a village, for fried rice and a long soak in natural hot springs. Stonemon has the endurance. Thanks to Matt Dahlquist for urging us to include this on the album.
About the recording: This is the second time this song has been recorded in the studio. First time was in 1991, with Prime Weirdz. At the time, Clayton Park played a killer fiddle solo. This time was Ted's turn, with the album's only electric guitar lead, on the Les Paul. Brian provided the Basso Profundo singing here and there. I'm proud to say that I moved the faders on the mix of this one. It's like sitting in Captain Picard's chair. The Hendrix-esque moment of stereo panning at the end of Ted's guitar is just a taste of the madness I'd love to do more of. Electric Ladyland on headphones was ultimate inspiration, back in 1983 (yeah, a merman I should turn to be...).
Gimme Good Light: Sometimes we have to get back on the path. Even if it's only our thoughts that have gone astray. And there is nothing in this world that sustains and heals us like good friends. "And if I don't meet you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one, so don't be late." -Jimi
Bang On Your Drum: (note from Brian) Early 90's, Seattle. I'd been seeing a bit of this gal who played conga. This was a thinly veiled attempt to get her attention. She just played along, smiling. Didn't catch it at all. This was a standby in Lost Cat, and has proven to be a crowd-pleaser in Grasshopper to boot. We did two takes of this the weekend of basic tracks, and the drum solo on Take One was better. Classic Thad.
About the Title: Never mess with
an 8/8 green trampler. Happy listening!