RECORDING FM RADIO

I wrote this on April 4, 2011, the day after we finished tracking our latest single, FM RADIO:

Last night I went to the studio to put the finishing touches on FM RADIO. It was the very last recording session. Everyone else in the band had come in and put their parts down, and it was finally my turn to sex things up with some off-the-cuff lead lines.

When I got there, the engineer’s wife was in the studio, and her dog, and another guy, someone I had never met before, sitting at a laptop. They were going to be in the studio all night—they would sit and watch as I played the same things over and over again, sneaking mini-solos into the verses and adding stuff to the fadeout at the end of the song. The extra people were all friendly and supportive, but I knew they were going to see me do some bad takes. Having people see my bad takes is one of my oldest nightmares. I am a vengeful, competitive guitarist. I don’t like showing people something worse than what’s on the record.

After we started rolling tape, I remember getting stuck on one nasty bend vibrato move [possibly the one that occurs at 2:08, in the second verse]. It was a passage I had written ahead of time, and unlike some of the other spontaneous ideas that went into the song, this one move had to sound exactly the way I’d heard it in my mind. The vibrato had to be perfect. Which meant I had to play through some bad takes.

For my money, trying to nail a bend vibrato is the least fun thing to repeat over and over and over again. Trying to wiggle a pitch just right, not too fast, not too slow, not too sharp, not too flat—it becomes a special kind of torture after the first few passes.

The trick is that you have to resist coming to despise the thing you’re trying to play. You have to play it as though every take is the first take, so as to give it that virgin glow. But if you can’t do that, if you can’t love the thing with all your heart, then you have to get so sick of it that it becomes insignificant to you, and then you can dominate the strings and the neck of the guitar without mercy. The hard part is being caught between those 2 things, the love and the hate, while you try to hit the greatest bend vibrato of your life.

Add to this the superstitions guitarists have about each other’s vibratos. The bend vibrato is understood to be a window into the guitarist’s soul, a cheesy idea that is not altogether false. The bend vibrato is a feel move, a passion move. The sort of thing you pull out in order to sexualize your playing. A good bend vibrato is the only thing that can distinguish an electric guitar player no matter what style he plays. Whatever you’re going for, if you can wail on a bend vibrato, you’ll get attention.

Add to this the chauvinism of lead guitar players. Guitarists who have taken guitar lessons are most likely to be criticized by their self-taught peers for having a limp vibrato. This is the guitarist’s way of saying that you’ve got a weak handshake.

And since I am a guitarist who took a lot of guitar lessons, I did not want to surrender in front of the producer and the small crowd in the studio. Did not want to confirm the widespread misconception that getting an education weakens one’s ability to make sex moves. I started to bite down on that. Started to play with newfound fury. Somewhere in the oblivion of take 27 or take 28 or take 29, the producer said to the engineer “Mark that one.” I knew then that the next couple passes would give birth to the keeper. I was in range. The baby was coming now. The contractions of my vibrato were getting bigger, and I felt my tits engorge with milk. PUSH! I was doing it. Even the dog heard it. I was nailing it.

Then it was time to record the next thing.

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