Wednesday, January 15, 2014

McKayla Is Not Impressed

(Third of a ten-part series on The Unsinkable Nino Blankenship)

Three-chord riff rock! Six words total used in the song! Vocals recorded in an automobile! Basically, McKayla Is Not Impressed is Nino Blankenship at its most foundational, right?!

Sometime in fall 2012, when the album was still more of a plan than a reality, I was contemplating potential titles for the record. In the wake of that year's Olympics, the "unimpressed McKayla Maroney" memes were EVERYWHERE and I ended up really wanting to run with that concept.

Eventually, those memes would fade out and really remain an artifact of that era, and this ended up not being the title of the overall project. Not before we had a song to go with it though...

I want to say it was around October or so, attending a concert my friend Megan was performing with her then-band...amplifiers all the way up for every single act. It might've been one of the openers that was up at the moment it hit me, "Hey, take three chords and run with it and you've got your McKayla song."

Certainly the concept existed by the time Nino Blankenship had its sixth ever show - though it had yet to be rehearsed outside of demo form. It wasn't performed due to time constraints but I never forgot about the tune and its spartan lyricism.

Once 2013 came along...I felt a little urgency to make sure McKayla Is Not Impressed wasn't left by the wayside - the rest of the album was emerging with its definitive piano-driven groove, and I sought to guarantee at least one harder-edged piece on the record, another wrinkle in the genre diversity that drives this band. I had crafted an quiet/loud arrangement not unlike 1990s alternative, and with my Rhodes piano, demo'd that and left it there for several months.

By the fall months, I got back to working on McKayla (along with several other songs that were in the pipeline then). After several takes one Sunday, I managed an in-your-face drum groove with marching sticks, a little bit of Keith Moon freeform, a little bit of mid-70s sludginess. An awkward combination on paper for sure, knowing that The Who was way more about either swirling around faster tempos, or holding steady at a pace a bit slower than this song ended up. But hey, a drummer's gotta be who he is, and I'm never going to be mistaken for Phil Rudd.

When we finally got to recording the vocals - in my car in the parking lot of an IHOP! - Joanne had suggested a bit of a layering effect, with a solo vocal in the first chorus, and then a building of layers and layers of singing for choruses #2 and #3. We ended up taking this to an extreme, with a relatively casual first go-around (aided by that sort of "interviewer with a hand-held recorder" vibe) and then brassier sections afterward. In mixing, I made sure to take the multiple takes and combine them to the point that by the third stanza, we got it to sound like a choir of us two, brattily standing in the way of convention.

I had imagined this to be the guitar song of the record (and at least for now, we'd probably end up doing it live that way) and was going to ask my best friend Dan to provide it. Time constraints though led me to take the original Rhodes piano track and distort it, thus allowing me to actually fulfill a dream I had had for 12 years: electric piano-based hard rock, as inspired by the defunct Detroit band 500 Ft. of Pipe. And when I found myself dissatisfied with the original bass guitar line I came up with, I cued up my inner Ray Manzerek and provided a second Rhodes piano part for the low frequencies! Maybe someday this is how it'll be concocted on stage as well.

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