Saturday, January 25, 2014

These Donuts (Are Making Me Cry)

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

The most popular song in our band's repertoire so far, These Donuts represents another style shift in our debut album...this time to something approaching 1950s doo-wop. (Well, minus the backup vocalists). So why is this goofy composition about stale confectionaries so popular?

It's true: I was munching down on the last of a box of donuts one afternoon, dismayed by the sheer staleness of the day-old pastries. I said to myself quietly..."these donuts are making me cry."

And right then and there I was like..."That's a great song title."

Much of the rest of the song - and the slightly modified 1950s progression - emerged within the next half hour of creative activity, followed by workshopping with Joanne later that night to adjust a few of the original lyrics, add an introduction akin to vintage rock melodrama, and finally install a predictable modulation at the end. The reference to Canadian donut outlets in the second stanza? That was from my initial brainstorming!

This is one of two recordings on the album that were concocted in 2012 (as opposed to the series of 2013 sessions recorded with my Zoom H4N portable recorder that comprise the majority of The Unsinkable Nino Blankenship) - back when my primary device for capturing sessions at home was my ART USB audio interface, and a single condenser mic. In particular, this track was recorded about a week or two after I wrote the song that May (and about a day after it was first performed), a request from fellow musician Mike Ramos. So the emotions and concepts were still extremely fresh in my mind when I set out to finish the track.

I forget the exact order of whether the piano or drums came first...for the drumset, I was at the time using a micing style that my best friend Dan Belcher had showed me via Youtube: condenser mic placed between the bass drum and floor tom. Also, I was months away from getting my trademark see-through acrylic kit, which is tuned way more open than my original drums from back then were.

End result? A relatively muddy bass sound, hyped toms, and (more related to the microphone location) somewhat thin snare projection compared to later tracks, though probably acceptable for a low-budget vintage atmosphere. At the very least, the different production style for my 2012-era drum sound offers a contrast to the newer tracks' more overt percussion

Back in those days, I had to run a fifty-foot cable from the audio interface all the way to the piano, followed by carefully placing the microphone within the piano's soundboard case, between a wood panel and the soundboard itself. Not the easiest procedure but one I would use many times over the year for demos and such. (That technique, using a different set of microphones, was later replicated to a degree for The Darren Criss Halftime Extravaganza)

Unlike my usual bass guitar recording style - direct input to interface/recording device - I wanted something with a little more "air" and livelieness to it, and thus mic'd up my bass amp and played it that way. I was going for vibe a little more than clarity and I think it overall mixed in well with the other instruments.

The evening after those raw tracks and the vocals were completed, I also made sure to add a bit of Rhodes piano in the background, for some auditory thickness. It kinda serves as a substitute for the classic 1950s rock and roll guitar sound, since I can't play guitar at all, something to provide a little electric texture to the overall track.

Now that I have a nicer drumset and a better recording device, I've thought of re-doing These Donuts at some point to incorporate full band backup vocals, and maybe some organ (like we've used for at least two of the live renditions). That might have to wait until we're all in the same place at the same time again...and if that same place is a Winchells, I'll guffaw.

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