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11/9/17 – An Interview With Veronica Ferraro, Mixing Engineer For Murmuration Nation
Nov 21 – Mod Club – Toronto, ON
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An Interview with Veronica Ferraro, Mixing Engineer for Murmuration Nation
Do you know what a mixing engineer does in the process of making an album? The mix makes or breaks the entire thing! For a closer look at why I chose Veronica Ferraro, please enjoy Adrian Carter’s insightful interview with this world class mixing engineer.
Murmuration Nation is the most recent credit for French mix engineer Veronica Ferraro, widely renowned for her work with pop superstars like Pink! and David Guetta. Backstage at Emily’s recent show in New York City, Ferraro agreed to sit down and share some of her insights into her creative process, digital vs. analog, and mixing Murmuration Nation.
“When you work on an entire album like Emily’s, it’s a different vision. It’s going to be a story. It’s not just a compilation of songs. It’s a whole thing working together, written at the same time. That takes a whole other approach.” – Veronica Ferraro
A: How did you get into the mixing and engineering world?
V: I started over thirty years ago actually in 1986 because of my family. My parents were musicians and my uncle was an engineer. I knew really young that I wanted to play with buttons and lights and music. It’s a long story, but I started working exclusively as a mixer maybe twelve years ago. Before, I was doing production work: recording, some mixing, some music—really all the stuff an engineer can do. Then I decided to focus on one thing only and try and do it the best I could possibly do it. To me, mixing was the most exciting. So, I started to buy some equipment—I’m a big fan of equipment—compressors, EQ—that’s my world.
A: So, you’re an analog fan? You like having all the buttons and knobs.
V: Yeah, exactly. When I started out, it was all analog, so tapes—no digital. I was in the middle of the transition to digital so I have those two worlds in me. This knowledge is good for me because I can handle both sides. I work with some analog and some digital; I think that makes the difference. If you are only in the digital world, you are restricted in the way that the production will sound. Most of the big artists go to studios to try and get this analog feeling, this real feeling. But it’s something else happening that they’re missing.
A: Speaking of big artists, 2010 was a big year for you.
V: Yes, in 2010 I had a Grammy nomination with David Guetta for the song “When Love Takes Over” featuring Kelly Rowland. Since then, I do a lot of mixing worldwide, a lot of American stuff. I also met Billy Mann who is my manager at MannCom Creative Partners. Billy actually introduced me to Emily so that was the beginning of this project. Emily called me about a year ago now and we began just talking on the phone. She said that she wanted to do an R&B style record. She loved hip hop, folk, and real acoustic music and she wanted to mix those flavors. So, she wanted somebody who could handle all of those styles of music but keep their feet in the real, acoustic world. I was that kind of person and I was really excited to get to work.
A: How does your approach change when you’re mixing a solo acoustic performance versus a large-scale pop production?
V: The approach is the same, but the way it sounds—to get the result you want—the way you go about it will be different. If you’re working with real instruments, like what’s happening on Murmuration Nation, real instruments and real musicians in a real recording studio, it’s much easier. This mix was fantastic because they originally recorded in a real room with a real engineer making the sound great at the beginning of the recording process. That is not the standard these days because people are recording at home by themselves or they are just replacing everything with virtual instruments. When it’s a real recording and it’s well recorded, it makes the mix a lot easier and better, obviously. My work today as a mixer is kind of difficult because most artists don’t go to real studios anymore. There’s no big budget for that. So many people are doing records, I mean, everybody’s doing a record today. But when they want to step up, when they want to be played on radio, they need a good mix. You can’t really do that on your own on your computer. It works for EDM music to a point, but when it comes to real recording with singers and stuff, you need to go to a mixer. On Emily’s record, because it sounded incredible sonically from the start, I was able to just say, “Ok, where are we going artistically?” It’s not like I had to fix it before I started the mix. That was the very cool part of this project.
A: It’s a nice change of pace from performing surgery on people’s Soundcloud demos.
V: Yeah, that’s always a problem. When you work on virtual stuff, laptop kind of stuff, it doesn’t sound real. It’s hard to get something that’s not there out of this fake sound. It’s like a hologram. When you see it far away, you say, “Oh, this person is there.” But when you come up close and try to touch it, there’s nobody there. It’s the same for sound and it makes my work more difficult. But sometimes you get a great album like Emily’s to work on.
A: Emily came to visit you at your home studio outside Paris during the mixing phase; how did you work together?
V: She came to visit me at the beginning and I was honestly surprised by that at first. Usually, I mix on my own first, but she came right at the beginning of the mixing process. Usually, especially when you’re just starting on a mix, you don’t want the artist to be behind you for many reasons. You need to start working. But funnily, that was the best thing that could have happened because this album is so intense. She could tell me about every song herself and in-person. We spent time listening to every song together, listening to every drum pattern. Emily explained each song like, “I wrote the song because of this, this is the atmosphere I’d like to have, this is the vision I have for this song.” We just started to figure out how she wanted it to sound as a complete thing. And that was really nice to finally have that approach with the artist at the beginning before going into the mix. It’s rare.
A: So, you usually work something up on your own then go back and forth with the artist?
V: Yes. It depends though. If an artist comes to me to do a single because they want to be played on Top 40 radio or whatever, they’ll send me the stems or a rough demo and I’ll do what’s expected to be done on this kind of song and send it back to the artist or the record company. We’ll exchange emails or stream live and go back and forth for a bit and that’s the way it works. When you work on an entire album like Emily’s, it’s a different vision. It’s going to be a story. It’s not just a compilation of songs. It’s a whole thing working together, written at the same time. That takes a whole other approach. How will this sound in its entirety? What are the singles? Maybe, let’s make more of a radio mix for those…It’s a different approach.
“To me, the vocal lead was the key. Emily’s vocals were the central thing that would not move on this record. Everything orbited around her vocal.” – Veronica Ferraro
A: What were some of the challenges for you as a mixer in telling this story?
V: The challenge was that not every song sounded the same; there was a lot of difference. It needed to tie together. To me, the vocal lead was the key. Emily’s vocals were the central thing that would not move on this record. Everything orbited around her vocal. That was quite important. There are so many things happening everywhere, but you still have Emily in the center of the mix singing the song. Each of the song itself could be played with only a guitar and vocal. If you imagine that and build on top of it with all the other instruments, you have a foundation to work with.
A: Do you like to mix in a sequence? Do you completely finish one song before moving on to the next?
V: Usually, I’m doing work on three or four songs at the same time. I’ll start on one and once I don’t have any more new, fresh ideas, I’ll jump to a new one, then come back. I like to do that. It’s really cool to be able to do that because when you’re working, you’re working only when you have new ideas and you’re feeling inspired. Otherwise, you can spend hours doing not a whole lot just because your mind is not focused on the song. You’ve been listening to it all day so you’re done with it. You want to move to something else.
A: What was your favorite song to mix?
V: Probably the first song that I started to work on, “Ok Corral.” I spent a long time on it because it was the beginning and the beginning is always a longer process. You’re looking for what’s going to work, what will be the central ideas on this album? The further you get into the album, the more you mix, the better you understand—you’re building—“Ah, now I understand, this goes there, that goes here, that makes sense!” “Fly” was my other favorite to work on. Those were the two songs that I was really focused on. And then the last one I did, the duet, “Long Haul.” That was a mostly folk song which was cool. It was a little different from what I usually do.
A: When your working day is over, are you still able to listen to music for fun? Do you even want to by the end of the day?
V: There are two ways of listening to music. When I start working on an album I like to listen to stuff that is in the same field just to get in the mood. Like, if I do an EDM track or if I do a folk song, I won’t be in the same mood for both. So, I try to put myself into the right musical style. In the studio, I’m listening to the way it’s mixed, but at home, I don’t do that. At home, I want to have another world when I’m out of the studio. I don’t listen to the mix. But then usually I’ll have crazy ideas outside the studio; I’ll hear a song while I’m shopping and suddenly (snaps her fingers) “Oh! That’s the idea I was looking for!” You know? Your brain is still working even when you take the music away. You need to rest your hearing and your mind, but it’s still processing constantly until the end of the album.
A: A lot of people have this notion of mixing as a purely technical endeavor, but it’s very much a creative process.
V: Exactly. I’m constantly asking questions. I’ll think, “I want to use this reverb. Why am I going to use this reverb? Because this reverb is going to provide that natural space. What is that space for? It will speak with the lyrics, with the music or style.” You’re constantly asking questions and staying creative.
A: Do you have an all-time favorite record, a perfect mix in your mind?
V: It’s hard to say. I actually wouldn’t say that. I’m always listening to new music. It goes from a Norwegian pianist to EDM to folk. So, no. It’s moving all the time. I hate putting a stick in something. I change. Whatever I’m doing, I myself change. So, I can’t be like, “Oh, I used to love this mix or that song.” Maybe, it won’t be fantastic ten years from now. The way we listen to music changes. The style evolves. I don’t like to be stuck in something. I try to be very, very animal in the way I mix. Stick to the feeling only. I think technically after forty years, I know how to do things, so what’s left is just being creative. Being creative is based on being inspired. I try to keep instincts first.
A: Was it harder to trust yourself when you were first starting out, or was that natural instinct in place from the beginning?
V: Oh sure. When you first start working on mixing, you’re very technical. It’s a lot to learn. You go back and forth a lot. But the more you know what to do, the more you can dig into the perspective of the music. The more I mixed, the more it became about the philosophy of the music and not just technical mixing. It’s easier now. I take longer too. I have a much longer process. I used to work like, one day, one song, ok, it’s done. Now, I like to take my time. I like to dig and try things. Sometimes they are crazy, sometimes really shitty. But, I like to go there! I like to push it, push it, push it. There’s a point where it’s too much and you need to come back. But I don’t want to leave a mix without having explored all of the options.
A: For someone so focused on the present in their work, do have a hard time going back and listening to your old work? Do you want to change certain things?
V: Well, there are always things you could have done differently. I don’t really play back my mixes. If I like an artist personally, I listen on my Bose headphones in the lounge and not really in the studio. I don’t want to get into, “Hmm, I hear this EQ’ing issue, maybe I should have…” No.
A: That’ll drive you crazy.
V: Exactly. But some of the work I do listen to. I enjoy listening at home with my husband and with my friends. But mostly, I try not to play the music back. Or sometimes, again, when I’m shopping, I’ll hear a song I worked on and I’ll be thinking, “Oh, I like this song.” And after a moment, I think, “Wait, did I do this song? Oh yeah! I did.” It’s quite funny, because I erase it from my brain. I’ve mixed it. It’s done
A: Do you remember the first time you heard your own work in the wild or on the radio?
V: The first time? No. But I do remember what I really think of as the beginning which was “When Love Takes Over.” That song really turned me to another world. It changed so much for me—the Grammy nomination, the U.S. manager, mixing worldwide. Before, I’d hear some of my work on French radio or whatever, but it’s really a different world now. That song means a lot to me. It changed my life. It’s like that [Indeep] song, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.” Except the DJ was Guetta and the song changed my life. I can really say that—last night a DJ saved my life!
A: So, I have to ask you about the Murmuration Nation bonus track, “J’aurais Voulu”—how did Emily do with her French?
V: (Laughs) The French was great! It was very poetic. But, American accent. Of course. But the way it is written, it’s very interesting. You can tell it is not written by a native French speaker. A native French speaker would organize the words differently. But it turned out in in this really great, poetic way. I was like, “Wow, I’ve never heard French like that.” And that’s great. The language itself makes more space in the spectrum of a record than English so you can’t work the same way exactly too.
A: Tell me about your home studio.
V: Well, I wouldn’t say home studio because it’s a real studio, but it’s “at home” (laughs). My husband and I made it together. He is a mastering engineer. He has his own mastering room and I have my own mixing room. We decided to have it at home. We bought a big house in the south of France. It’s separate—my house and the studio. It’s really cool to have this. You’re not creative ten hours a day, all the time. I can use my creative time only and only mix when I’m really feeling it. I can switch. I enjoy being at home. It was a great experience to have Emily there too. I don’t have artists come to my home very often. It takes a lot of budget to fly from America, but Emily did. I really enjoy receiving people in my place. It’s more like a friendship and a sharing moment when an artist is in your place with you.
A: Do you and your husband work together? Does he ever master your work?
V: Oh yeah. Mostly. But I’m really cool if someone wants to have someone else master my work. But he knows me. He knows what I’m doing. And I learn from him. I listen to what he’s doing and learn so I can say, “I’m doing this in the mixing phase next time so you don’t have to do it later.” We know each other so well, musically.
A: No fighting like cats and dogs? You’re able to work together as husband and wife?
V: No, no. He’s mastering and I’m mixing. It’s completely different. And we work separately; we have separate rooms. I don’t like mastering. It’s like, “Ok, this is not my job. Please, go and do your shit. It’s not for me.” And he doesn’t like mixing. But sometimes he’ll just come to my room and we’ll have a glass of wine together and we’ll listen to mixes. He’ll say, “Oh yeah, that’s great or…” and he’ll start to offer ideas. And if he starts to give ideas, it’s usually because I’m stuck in something and I’m asking his opinion. Sometimes, I say, “No. I don’t like what you’re saying. I don’t want to do that.” Or, I say, “Maybe, I’ll try…(shrugs) Ok, I’ll try.” He doesn’t do it often, but when he does, it’s nice to have another person coming into the room with very good intentions who can give you very good ideas. Sometimes, I take his idea and go back to my mix and it’s like, “Ah, he’s right!”
A: Does mixing get lonely?
V: No. I hate working with other people to be honest. I like to work alone. First, because it’s faster. Second, I’m moving from my technical side to my creative side, back and forth, at all times. I need to be alone for that. But to be honest, it’s good to have somebody come in at the end with new perspective. During the mix, when my brain is listening to technical and creative at the same time, that is a lot for one person. At the end, someone can come in and say, “Ok, now it is my turn to finalize this.” I can step back and say, “Yeah, that’s great. I love it.” Or, “Ok, I have one more note of my own.” But really, I like to explore on my own.
“… I like to take my time. I like to dig and try things. Sometimes they are crazy, sometimes really shitty. But, I like to go there! I like to push it, push it, push it…I don’t want to leave a mix without having explored all of the options.” – Veronica Ferraro
10/18/17 – Meet the Murmuration Nation Touring Band
Emily here – writing to you from the green room at City Winery in Nashville, TN. I want to express my thanks for all of your involvement in my solo tour so far! It’s been wonderful playing live for you, and I’m blown away by how you’ve been spreading the word about the tour and the album on social media. It’s exciting, and a rare opportunity, for me to get to bring these songs on the road with a full band. You are what makes this dream a reality and I’m so grateful!!!! Speaking of the BAND, they are world-class musicians, and I’ve been loving spending time with these humans! I thought y’all might like to get to know them a bit, and so my friend and journalist, Adrian Carter, sat down and interviewed the band so that you could get a sense of the people behind the music. Check out his interviews below when you get a chance!
Anyway, thanks again for supporting this new music. Here are the rest of the Murmuration Nation tour dates for 2017 – if you haven’t made it to a show already, hopefully we are coming to a town near you soon – and if not, let us know where you’d like to see us play next!
Oct 20 – Haw River Ballroom – Saxapahaw, NC
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Oct 21 – Buckhead Theatre – Atlanta, GA
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Oct 22 – Mountain Stage – Charleston, WV
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Nov 4 – Troubadour – Los Angeles, CA
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Nov 5 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA
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Nov 7 – Chico Women’s Club – Chico, CA
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Nov 8 – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA
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Nov 9 – The Aladdin Theater – Portland, OR
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Nov 16 – Stone Mountain Arts Center – Brownfield, ME
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Nov 17 – The Strand Theatre – Rockland, ME
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Nov 18 – The Met – Pawtucket, RI
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Nov 19 – Infinity Hall – Hartford, CT
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Nov 21 – Mod Club – Toronto, ON
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Meet the Murmuration Nation touring band
“Some people haven’t heard the album and hitting them over the head with something completely out of left field is fun for me.” – Lyris Hung
Lyris Hung – violin, musical director, producer on Murmuration Nation
A: Can you tell me a little bit about your friendship with Emily, how touring with Indigo Girls and bonding over shared music tastes manifested into making Murmuration Nationtogether?
L: Well, we met at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival quite a while ago. I was playing there with my group Slanty Eyed Mama and she saw me play. During that performance, I was doing a lot of programmed beats, guitar-type stuff on the violin, non-violin-y stuff on the violin. She was interested by that and we started talking and became friends. It wasn’t until a couple years later that, from the way Emily tells it, Amy actually suggested that I sit in for some Indigo Girls shows and that progressively grew into playing consistently with them. We first started bonding on music, beats, hip hop—stuff like that.
A: Murmuration Nation is a sonically rich record, there is a lot going on, what are some of the challenges in converting this record into a live show?
L: The biggest challenge is picking and choosing what to represent live. You do have to leave stuff off and make decisions when you have eighty tracks of drums and things like that. Thankfully, we have an amazing group of musicians here who are sensitive to the music and really listening. They were able to pick up on a lot of stuff naturally and then we just honed it in at rehearsal. They are really sympathetic musicians. In rehearsals, they were listening to each other—giving and taking a lot. We worked out a bunch of stuff over the phone too—talking about “Oh should I pick up this line or that line?” “Can the violin cover that or should the keys pick up those lines? Or maybe Emily can do it on guitar?” We picked what we liked best and then assigned it out to whomever could most accurately and consistently do it while they were doing whatever else they were doing.
A: As far as the fan experience, what makes this a different experience from an Indigo Girls show?
L: I think it’s different in a few regards and similar in a few others. Obviously, there are a lot of Indigo Girls fans out there. They are a loyal and devoted group of people who are really caring. They care deeply about Emily and her music and supporting her. So, there’s that through line. The venues we’re playing on this particular tour are smaller than the normal Indigo Girls venues so the intimacy factor is much higher. The audience can actually talk to us a lot. We do get a lot of feedback! Also, we don’t have a guitar tech on this tour so Emily’s tuning a lot of her own guitars so there’s a lot more of that middle transitional time that we’re using to interact with the audience which they seem to be really enjoying and we certainly are too. They’re asking a lot of funny questions and shouting out their compliments which is a really great feeling. Especially last night in Chicago which was only our fourth show together. All the audiences have been great, but I would say Chicago was the most enthusiastic—I mean, last night was just ridiculous, they were very, very effusive and giving. That sort of feel is the same. As far as the difference though, there are a lot more people on the stage, more production with the video component running behind us on the screen, a lot more technical things going on, Emily’s switching a lot of instruments. There’s a larger variety of sounds going on than the average Indigo Girls show. So, the complexity factor is a lot higher but overall, Emily is still Emily. She’s delivering the songs the way that she would deliver a song; there is consistency in that regard.
A: On that complexity factor, this is an abnormally musically educated group of musicians for a pop outfit. Every member went through some period of classical training in their lives. In your case as well as Brian Lawlor’s [keyboards and synthesizers] we are talking graduate level, conservatory training. Is there a different feel to working with musicians who have that grounding vs. self-taught artists?
L: I would definitely say the way you approach musicians, for me anyway, is the same regardless of what their background is. If you’re good at what you’re doing, you’re good at what you’re doing and it doesn’t matter how you got there. There is one thing, however. A lot of times, if you’ve had a lot of theory lessons or ear training you may have a little bit more of a vocabulary when you’re talking about chordal structures or passing tones—things like that. But in terms of what the music comes across as or how we get to interpret the music, the vocabulary is still the same. You’re still trying to all do the same thing. We don’t treat each other differently at all.
A: Is there a moment in the set that you’re finding yourself looking forward to each night? One song that you’re really proud of?
L: I particularly like the songs that are really different from the sort of Indigo Girls stuff that people are familiar with. The really crazy ones like “I’m High I’m on High” and “Spider,” the first track on the album. We’re starting out each set with “Spider” so far and I like that sort of build into something very, very different right from the get-go. People don’t know what to expect. Some people haven’t heard the album and hitting them over the head with something completely out of left field is fun for me. Combined with the video component and the band, it’s so different from what people are used to and that’s exciting. And then there’s some sort of transitional stuff—beginnings and endings of songs—that are a bit more improvisational. Not meandering, but there’s some improv involved. Everyone does something creative and different each night which is fun and cool.
A: Indigo Girls have never really toured with an elaborate video backdrop.
L: That is also a lot of fun, the videos are great. They’re not very literal but there are some kind of suggestive things for each song that paint a backdrop literally and figuratively for the song visually-speaking. And there’s some stuff for the Indigo Girls songs that we throw in there. Scott Bozack, our tour manager and front of house tech is also awesome and creative and he’s created some more video designs to complement those songs too. We haven’t done anything like that with Indigos on stage—that abstract video component. It’s fun, you know? People like to watch T.V! Their eyes get entertained by something and their ears get entertained by something which creates a bigger picture.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it came together. I was a bit trepidatious about the minimal rehearsal time, but everyone is super solid. The arrangements and playing gelled well. – Brian Lawlor (piano)
Brian Lawlor – keyboards, synthesizers
A: How did you come to the project and meet Emily?
B: I was called in last December by Ryan Kelly, the engineer for Murmuration Nation, to record some additional synth textures and lines for a few tunes on Emily’s record [“Spider,” “Fly,” “Serpent Love”]. Ryan engineers and mixes all of my own music as well and he also frequently has me come in and play on studio sessions for other people he’s working with. I’m ridiculously thankful for that.
A: You had a tight rehearsal schedule and then went straight into your first couple of gigs? Did you lock in as a group quickly?
B: I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it came together. I was a bit trepidatious about the minimal rehearsal time, but everyone is super solid. The arrangements and playing gelled well. And the first couple shows have been great. I tend to overanalyze my playing and definitely felt some minor flubs the first night on my end, but yesterday’s show [Day 2] was locked in.
A: You have a master’s degree in music. When did you first start playing, what instrument did you start on? Do you have an earliest musical memory?
B: When I was around 7, my father brought home an old Lauter-Humaña player piano. You’d put in the rolls, set a tempo mechanism, and pump the foot pedals to make the tunes play. I remember hearing Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” and immediately falling in love with the melody. I started to slow down the tempi of different pieces and started to learn a bunch of Joplin and other ragtime tunes via the player piano. After a couple months of that, my parents got me lessons with a local stride pianist and that’s all I wanted to play—ragtime, stride, boogie-woogie, and other barrelhouse novelty tunes. Because it was an unorthodox start, I could pick up things very quickly, but had no real solid formative foundational skills. I knew nothing about sight-reading and proper technique. My teacher, Bob Hallet, would mostly just play pieces for me and write it out in an archaic notation system and I’d learn that way.
A: So you were stretching yourself into other genres and disciplines from the start…
B: As a younger child in a large family full of musicians, I was exposed to a large variety of music. I can remember much Duran Duran, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Irish folk tunes, Queen, and other things floating around the house. However, my world changed in 5th grade when I first heard Rush. I was obsessed with them. I bought all their vinyl, cassettes, CD’s, and any other paraphernalia I could find. I taught myself guitar and bass, learned their music, and formed a band that wrote original tunes and covered a lot of Rush, Jane’s Addiction, Tool, and other early 90s rock/grunge/metal. In middle school, I also became entrenched in the punk and ska scene and had an 8-piece band with my best friends that wrote a bunch of music and played out semi-regularly. Not until about 8th grade did I start to get into classical—mainly staples like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. But then that spiraled out of control pretty quickly and I fell deeply in love with the 20th century Russians (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Stravinsky). I became a bit of a classical music nerd and started composing and notating more music in a classical, then modern vein. I’m constantly stretching into other genres and have never really been a one-style dude.
A: Performing pop music having had classical training, do you find yourself having to “unlearn” what you’ve “learned” as some people say, or do you feel more grounded and able to push yourself because you have the skillset?
B: I would never think of myself as a “classical musician.” I’m more of a musical mutt that can and does weave in and out of many roles with a variety of musicians, instruments, and genres. I’m by no means a specialist in any area and would never think of myself as having one particular strong point. I wasn’t concerned about the pianistically technical adaptation of playing with Emily because I believe I have the skill set, but I am definitely pushing myself every day to adapt into this role to make her live show the best it can possibly be.
A: You’re playing keyboard, and synthesizers on this tour; how would you describe your role in these songs? Are you creating soundscapes and foundations? Harmonizing melodies?
B: I’m doing a little bit of all of that. I had to think hard about how to approach these songs. There is so much cool shit going on musically on the record and I had to think of a way to duplicate as much of that as possible. I have the obvious piano roles—playing chordal and melodic things on Wurlitzer, Rhodes, clavinet, and pop piano sounds. But the biggest challenge for me was successfully trying to program synthesizers to recreate a lot of the textural things in the pieces and then figure out how the hell to play them live. I’m normally a huge advocate of hardware synths and love playing with a ton of gear with a bunch of knobs. I knew that wouldn’t be possible or practical here, so I had to learn MainStage software on my computer then program sound sets for each song and figure out the logistics to cover as much sonic ground as possible. In keeping with the analog synth aesthetic, I brought along a Korg Minilogue as well for additional programming and a little more warmth. I also used that synth on her record. So far, I still make minor adjustments every day and am constant tweaking modes.
A: Do you have a favorite moment or song in the set so far?
B: Most definitely. “Spider,” “Ok Corral,” and “I’m High I’m on High” are ridiculously fun to play. They are such cool tunes sonically and I feel good about the sound patches I made to correspond with the record. I feel like a flailing puppet sometimes because it’s constantly “bling blang, wOOt wOOt, rrrrRRRAAAwwwr [beautiful chords], space….” all over the place. That’s totally up my alley.
A: You teach at an arts academy as well. Do you find that teaching informs your playing?
B: Absolutely. I’m lucky to have a regiment of about forty private students in a week on various instruments, ages, and genres. That kind of schedule exposes me to new technical problems, new music -what are the kids listening to these days, and creates a nice logistical challenge in trying to efficiently help them overcome their obstacles. Being able to verbalize your abilities and successfully communicate and instill it in students is really important. It also parlays itself into helping me connect with any other new musicians I’m playing with, particularly in a tight-schedule, band environment like this tour.
“On songs like [“Sad One”] it’s all about the mood; you have to play it perfectly. Every notecounts in that situation.” — Reade Pryor (drums)
Reade Pryor – drums, percussion
A: How did you come to the project and meet Emily?
R: Juan, the bass player, I think he had gotten a call from Tim Lefebvre [bassist onMurmuration Nation]. Juan was interested in doing the project but also wanted ideally to play with a drummer that he knew already and felt comfortable playing with. He told me about the project and it sounded interesting so I listened to the record and thought it was really great and thought it’d be really fun to play live. I told Juan I was interested in doing it and we just went from there.
A: So you and Juan have played together before?
R: Yeah, we haven’t done a whole lotta stuff. We’ve just done some kind of random gigs together in L.A. Some pretty weird stuff, actually. We played with a celebrity at her friend’s wedding—nothing huge, but we’ve jammed a lot and we’re always on each other’s radar. I’m glad that this worked out because it’s a great pleasure playing with Juan.
A: Juan is not your typical bassist. What’s it like forming the rhythm section together in this band?
R: I’ve been familiar with his playing for a long time and we’re just homies too so that always makes it easier—when you actually know the person, not just their playing. Juan spent a lot of time learning Tim Lefebvre’s bass parts—they’re pretty wild, a lot of the bass on the record is really intricate and unique and interesting. Juan and I actually got together several times before the rehearsals started and played along with the record together, just the two of us. That helped us vibe everything out. Juan got really familiar with Tim’s parts and then started making them his own in certain ways. He does a great job of capturing the sounds on the record but then also bringing his own spin to it. A lot of that comes from hispart choices but also his pedal choices. Juan is a genius when it comes to pedals. His studio is insane. There are just racks, floor to ceiling, of different pedals (laughs).
A: You’ve spoken about the musicality of drumming, serving the song, and being aware of your choices. Can you talk about how you’re applying that philosophy to Emily’s musiclive?
R: Most of what I do these days is studio work and in that world, well, I guess really in every situation, it’s all about serving the song. But particularly in the studio, the unnecessary becomes really obvious. When you record something then listen back to it, you can say, “Oh, this doesn’t need to be there; why am I playing this?” It keeps you aware. In general, as a freelance musician, someone is hiring you to make them sound good or complete their vision. Completing their vision might also include you bringing your own musical values to the table or it might not. They may have something already there that they just want you to play. But regardless, your job is to serve the artist and serve the song and make everything sound good. That’s the role of drums. But honestly, I think everyone should have that as their goal to an extent. This project is a cool balance of the two. Emily is a joy to work with and she is very encouraging if I add something of my own that I think fits well in a live situation. You also have to keep in mind that live things are going to be a little different from what they are on the record. If I play the record note for note, it might sound great; but there are certain things you can do with production that you can’t really imitate or fully capture live so you have to adjust your concepts accordingly. I’ve been doing a bit of that but also staying faithful to the recorded parts. But Emily is super cool and if something works in rehearsal that wasn’t there on the record, she tells me that it’s cool. In general, my number one thing is just to be sensitive.
A: Quite a few tracks on Murmuration Nation have really intricate percussion parts. Were there any songs in particular that were a challenge to get into a live configuration for you?
R: Oh yeah. Percussion plays a huge role on this record. It’s crazy because you don’t necessarily notice it. Particularly as a drummer, when I listened to it the first couple times, I didn’t even think twice about the percussion, I was just listening to the drums. But if you take the percussion elements out, it’s like whoa, it can start to feel naked. So yeah, I’m incorporating the percussion where I can. I’m playing a lot of shaker. I have a big table next to me with a bunch of toys on it for the live shows. I feel like I’m constantly picking things up and throwing them down and hoping that when I throw them down they land on the table so I can use them again.
A: On the table and on the beat.
R: Exactly. Those transitions can get a little tricky. I’ve got some cowbell set up. For “I’m High I’m on High” there’s a really cool cowbell thing in the chorus that I wasn’t even planning on playing because there’s a beat going there too that requires many limbs to play. I went into rehearsal just thinking I was going to play that beat and no cowbell. We started rehearsing it and it just sounded super naked without the cowbell, so I got two cowbells and mounted them in a way that I could play the cowbells with my right hand and then cover the hi-hat and snare with my left. It’s still challenging a few shows in. I have to think about that one when I’m playing it. But it sounds cool. When Lyris heard it, she thought it sounded great.
A: You studied Jazz drumming at USC but in your professional career you’ve worked mostly in rock and pop. Do you find that your grounding in jazz theory has informed your playing in across different styles or is it something that you’ve had to clear from your head space?
R: No, the jazz thing is really important to me. I think it’s really foundational in my playing. I mean, it’s funny, I sort of had to unlearn a lot of that. But then there are many other aspects that are just crucial to my playing. I remember, I was a couple of years out of school and just young and cocky and thought that I was amazing and no one could tell me that I wasn’t. I was doing a gig with a singer whose music I didn’t particularly love and the bandleader of that band told me, “You know, you need to play the bass drum harder.” And I was like, “No. There is no way I’m not playing the bass drum hard enough. That’s ridiculous!” So I told him, “Ok, sure, yeah whatever.” And sure enough, I was. All of those years of lightly playing the bass drum, I didn’t think of it that way because it’s not the focus of jazz, but it is absolutely the focus of rock and pop music. That was a real lesson for me. Once I figured that out and figured out which other elements of jazz education don’t necessarily apply for rock or pop stuff, I was in a better spot. But the jazz thing is crucial because of dynamics mostly and Emily’s music is very dynamic. We’ll be playing full out one second and then I’ll be playing super light brushes two seconds later. So, for this gig in particular, my jazz training really comes in handy. Improvisation is also where my jazz training comes in. Doing it in a way that’s musical is necessary in jazz. You have to play drums melodically to some degree. At least the good jazz drummers do that. And that really helps in any genre because that’s always going to be more interesting to an audience than a drummer just playing all the licks he knows.
A: Do you have a favorite song or moment that you look forward to each night?
R: The songs that I like tend to be the lighter ones. “Train Inside” is incredible. There’s barely any drumming on it but it’s just so beautiful. I love playing that one even though, like I said, I hardly play. “Poethearted” is amazing. “Sad One” might be my favorite though. Melodically, it’s just amazing and the lyrics are incredible. There are these really great highs and lows and swells that happen throughout it. Those are really my favorite ones to play but they’re also the ones where the drumming is the least active but that’s hard! On songs like that it’s all about the mood; you have to play it perfectly. Every note counts in that situation. If you play one hit that’s too loud or too soft it just throws off the whole vibe. When there aren’t millions of notes happening, each one matters more. I really love that. I love the challenge of it.
“There’s something about fretless bass and a woman’s voice that’s just magic. It’s like the salt and sweet of caramel. It’s one of those combinations.” — Juan Alderete (bass)
Juan Alderete – bass
A: Can you tell me a little bit about how you met Emily and came to this project?
J: I came to this project through Tim Lefebvre. Tim played bass on the record but he couldn’t do the tour because of his touring schedule with Tedeschi Trucks so he offered it to me. I think the reason is that Tim did a lot of effected bass on the record and that’s my thing too. I agreed to do it because it was with really cool people and everybody has been great but also the songwriting is just amazing. And it’s a challenge for me. I’ve never done music like this in my life. So, it’s learning which is always something I need.
A: This project brings together a lot of different sounds and you have experience in a wide range of styles, but you’re saying this is unlike anything you’ve ever done before. What makes this a unique challenge for you?
J: I think a lot of it is in the dynamics, really. These pen-dropping moments. You have to be incredibly aware of what’s happening when it comes to that. I think the songwriting is not songwriting that I’m accustomed to playing on. I learned Tim’s parts pretty damn note for note because his playing was beautiful on it so it wasn’t even difficult in that sense—it’s very hooky— and then the effected stuff was really fun. But, I think the biggest challenge has really been the dynamics.
A: You got together with drummer Reade Pryor several times before the full band rehearsals.
J: Right. I have a studio in L.A. and I got Reade in this gig actually. I asked Lyris if I could pick the drummer because I just wanted it to be comfortable for me because I knew how much traveling I was going to be doing before this and if it’s somebody I know and that I’ve played with before, there won’t be that other additional complication of getting to know their playing. So, Reade and I got together a couple times and locked in our stuff and I was like, “we got this.” And, you know, you’re still nervous for rehearsal and you still have to make some adjustments, but it was way easier than it could have been for sure.
A: Do you have a go-to process when you have to learn a ton of new material all at once?
J: Yes. Memorization. Constantly listening to it. More than playing along to it you have to memorize it so when the changes come up, whether they’re vocal cues or whatever, you know something’s coming up. Memorizing, playing along to it—you have to just burn it into your head. That’s how I did the Mars Volta. I burned that first record into my brain for that first tour. That was the only way I could have done it. I don’t sight read and really my biggest weakness I think is in sight reading and chord chart reading. In the kind of music I do you just don’t have to. Well, maybe some chord chart reading but that’s not that difficult. But I just don’t do sight reading so I had to really just burn it in. I just listened to it everywhere. I was listening to it on planes constantly, riding my bike, working out, going to bed. Everywhere.
A: I see you’re wearing your Earthquaker Devices hoodie; your legend precedes you in that you’re a pedal connoisseur, to say the very least. There’s the age-old argument of tone chasing being a distraction from musicality or practice but you’re a musician who really uses effects to further their creativity and musicality.
J: Bingo. You articulated that perfectly. I mean, I really just play straight bass a lot. Maybe on stage I’ll have a little bit of compression—that’s probably a majority of the songs. But then I also flip it. The flip side is that I’m trying to articulate a whole new sound of music. I’m trying to construct a whole new concept of what is bass. I have now left traditional bass and I’m trying to create an element that’s something new—somewhere between the lines of synth bass and my own instrument. So, you know, if I ever do get any kind of heat from people it’s usually because of that. They’ll say, “Oh you don’t play traditional…blah blah”—Yeah, I do. All the time. I do tons of hip hop gigs where I’m only playing straight flat wound bass. But when I do this, I am getting away from the traditional. I mean, some of the songs I add subtle effects like vibrato or chorus or something. Some of the songs I’m playing what Tim [Lefebvre] actually did on the album so I’m just following him in manipulating the instrument to give it a synthetic sound.
A: Are you playing a lot of fretless bass on this tour?
J: On a couple songs. It’s different with fretless. This material is so subtle that I’m having to slowly bring it in. Your intonation and everything is so valuable and I brought a bass that I’m not totally used to out on the road. They actually just brought me another one tonight. So, I’m trying to get used to it. Maybe in L.A. I’ll swap to my old original. I think once Emily hears me on it, she’s gonna say, “Will you play that more? Or, all the time?” That’s always what happens to me. As soon as I break it out, they always want it full time. Nothing sounds as good as it.
A: On that fretless note, you’ve cited Jaco Pastorius multiple times as an influence of yours. Obviously, he made those great records with Joni Mitchell who is one of Emily’s main influences…
J: I have definitely made that connection, too! I was super stoked. I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of the movie that Robert Trujillo (Metallica) made on Jaco’s life. And my quote was what really got me into the movie. I said he was the Hendrix of our instrument and he really was. The thing that really put him apart though is stuff like what he did with Joni or Ian Hunter. There were just certain situations he played in where you’re like, “whoa, Jaco played on that?” And that to me is really, really valuable. Really musical. I have a band called Big Sir that I play in with my songwriting partner Lisa Papineau and it’s always had that kind of element to it as well—the kind of Joni Mitchell-esque vibe. There’s something about fretless bass and a woman’s voice that’s just magic. It’s like the salt and sweet of caramel. It’s one of those combinations.
A: Is there a point in the set or a certain song where you and Emily are creating that combination? Or just a favorite song?
J: I’d say “Sad One.” I actually emailed Lyris and I told her that was my favorite. I just lovethose really ballad-esque kind of things because the bass really gets musical with the vocal. I do like the electronic, effected bass stuff too, but I’d say the hi-light is being able to play fretless and hear what it sounds like with Emily’s voice. It’s really fun.
A: You’ve run the gambit of venues over your career—the Sunset strip with Racer X, arena tours with the Mars Volta, intimate gigs; what’s your ideal live setting?
J: Theaters are really nice. They always sound really good. You can really hear the playing. Arenas are usually the worst. They’re cold, they don’t sound good. Outdoor venues can be really cool. The Greek Theater in California is great. But I have to say theaters. They’re so majestic and historic; they just give you this vibe. I really am not a fan of festivals. You get tossed up there and unless you’re the headliner you’re just giving the audience about a third of what you can do if they saw you in a real venue.
Lucy Wainwright Roche – background vocals, opening act
A: When did you first meet Amy and Emily?
L: I was about eight-years-old. Amy and Emily were doing shows with my mom’s band the Roches; they had all gathered in New York to rehearse in a hotel and my mom brought me with her. I was never allowed candy out of the mini bar but Amy and Emily gave me a Snickers bar out of one of their hotel room mini bars and that really stuck with me.
A: The friendship was sealed.
L: (Laughs) Exactly.
A: Were you already playing music at that age?
L: Not yet. I was around it a lot but I was not at all a musician on my own yet.
A: Your parents cast a large shadow that you had to come out from under; when did you start developing your own career?
L: I played a little and wrote a couple songs in high school, but I did it kind of secretly. And then in college I did a little bit too, but mostly I was not interested. I went to graduate school for teaching and kind of rebelled by getting a regular job. And then somehow around 2005, I got sucked back into the family business a little bit. In 2007 I left my teaching job and started doing music full time.
A: You have two solo records under your belt: Lucy (2010) and There’s a Last Time for Everything (2013) which you made with Jordan Brooke Hamlin [producer of Indigo Girls’ 2015 album One Lost Day] On this tour you’re performing these songs completely solo acoustic.
L: Yep, except for one song where Lyris comes up and plays violin on one song called “Open Season” [Track 2 on Lucy] at the end of the set.
A: You contributed background vocals to three tracks on Murmuration Nation but live you’re singing background vocals on all the material including a couple Indigo Girls tunes. Which songs did you enjoy learning? Any favorites?
L: It’s been fun to get to learn other people’s parts. I love the ones that I sang on [“Fly,” “Sad One,” “Slow Down Day Friend”] because I knew them already, but in terms of the ones that I’ve gotten to know, the newer ones for me, I really love singing “Ok Corral” and “Poethearted.”
A: Harmonizing with Emily must be a treat. Do you usually take the lower parts, the quote unquote “Amy” parts?
L: (Laughs) Not really, because my voice is pretty high so a lot of Amy’s parts are too low for me, actually. When I sing with Amy and Emily, I always sing above Emily. But on this tour, I’m trying to sometimes sing below Emily when it’s possible but it’s certainly not—well, I’m a sorry replacement for Amy (laughs). But the parts on this record are challenging for a singer like me. They’re different from what I normally sing and it’s been a stretch for me to learn them—that’s been good for me.
A: You’ve toured with Indigo Girls and now with Emily solo; how does this show differ from what audiences might expect?
L: Well, for one thing, Emily is not traveling with a guitar tech which means she’s tuning her own guitars so there’s a longer amount of time between songs. During that time, she’s very open to the audience talking to her and answering questions. I’ve heard her interact way more during this tour than I’ve ever heard her do before. There’s definitely a sort of relaxed environment. She’s exploring that way of interacting with the audience in a new way, it seems.
A Chance to Hear Emily in an Intimate Setting
November 19th @ 4:30PM, Emily will be performing at Druid Hills Preschool, Atlanta, GA – A Benefit Concert to Raise Funds and Awareness.
Tickets and Info Here.
Eric Peterson of NBC News Interviews Emily
Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers on Debut Solo Album, LGBTQ Activism – NBC News
Read the interview here.
what’s in a song? pre-production due diligence!
My gratitude is BIG. together, we are getting closer to the goal of solo record numero uno! thank you so much.
I was in Nashville last night singing “This Kiss” with Pam Tillis and Kim Carnes. We were there to honor our friend Beth Nielsen Chapman who was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The experience made me think about songs, how they are put together and what makes them resonate. While some of my songs on the solo album are written in my usual manner (ala acoustic guitar on lap, scribbling ideas, finding chord progressions, looking for puzzle pieces), others are not.
Lyris wrote the music tracks for a couple of the songs, and I filled in the words and some of the melodies. She and I have spent many hours poring over songs/tracks with the ultimate goal of weaving musical commonalities in and out of the songs.
Will that thread be Lyris’ violin parts? The mandolin genius of Sierra Hull? The classical guitar (which is showing up in several songs)? My electric guitar sound? How big an influence is Yelawolf?
Wanna know who’s playing drums? Will Calhoun and Sput Searight. You might want to look them up on YouTube. I did! (even though I knew who they were :)) And Jennifer Nettles is set to sing.
I can’t give away too many secrets or there won’t be surprises left when the record comes out. But, it’s going to be a feast. The question is, how much will the musical arrangement inform the crux of the song? In order to find out, we do our pre-production due dilligence. It’s like making models before you build the building. more video/audio updates soon!
Emily on City Lights with Lois Reitzes
Indigo Girl Emily Saliers Goes Solo For The First Time.
Listen to the interview here.
Thank you for a great beginning!
My heart is full of gratitude! Thank you to all who pledged on the first day of this campaign, and thank you for your warm wishes.
Just tonight I found out that a very special friend and guest will be singing on my record. More to come!
y’all are the BEST.