the making of…
i had been recording billie burke estate demoes for about six years at the time, and i decided i wanted to make a real solo album. i enlisted my friend zak schaffer to produce, as i had no real idea what it would take to elevate my songs to a ‘professional’ level. zak was like a musical swiss-army knife, playing drums, some guitar, engineering, coaching performances, arranging; in short, producing. i found the recording process to be stressful, as i was overly aware that everything was being recorded ‘for posterity.’ ten years later, i look back at that nervous (old) kid, and thank him for taking the hits so i could get to where i am today, having created a process whereby i record pretty much stress free.
i learned a ton during this period. it was similar to my time working with chris arvan on the walrus record. i knew pro tools at this point, but there were plenty of shortcuts, processes, plugins, that i had no idea about. the years between ‘give it all away’ and ‘let your heart break’ were spent getting a lot better at the tools, often based on specific lessons learned in this process.
we were shooting for a stripped down, loose sound, like lennon’s ‘plastic ono band,’ though not quite as dark. we had one long tracking week where we got about 80% of the work done, recording in my basement, in the tiny room i used as a studio. the fact we got excellent drum sounds in there was a small miracle. at the end of this time we wrote arrangements for string quartets, horns, etc. this part of the process was probably the most fun i had, listening to our ideas back in digital performer, tweaking notes, trying to out-clever each other. zak led the way on some cuts, i led the way on others. all the string and horn tracking was done a few weeks later in la, with zak leading the sessions. the string quartet was just lovely, playing with precision and feeling. the horns worked well in some areas, but were a bit too loose in others. note to self: if you want to sound like the beatles, better to get classical players than jazz players. still, the looseness ended up making things sound more real, less controlled.
i spent a week in l.a. at the end of november ‘o4, where we tracked the final elements, including some organ, wurlitzer, zak’s energetic solo in ‘sunshine smiles,’ and then we headed to arrowhead to mix. this was another intensive lesson in how to make music. evan frankfort was a pro and a lot of fun to work with, and it was during the mixes where some of the stuff really came together, like the choruses for ‘gay’ where we had overlaid electric piano and acoustic piano and after a couple deft cuts, an effect was created that made the piano chords really pop and the section super-dynamic. one of the longer mixes was ‘last time (to start again),’ and zak and i spent hours into the late night panning and arranging all the vocals in the outro. it was also during these sessions that i was introduced to the proper use of auto-tune and ‘fixing’ the occasional odd beat to remove distraction. since then, i’ve been leveraging those skills, which are a key to working fast. at the end of the mixing session a few feet of snow dropped, and we were snowed in a few extra days. heaven.
the cover photo, as with all the photos on my solo albums, was taken by me, in this case with a camera on a tripod using a timer. i’d set the timer, to ten seconds if i recall correctly, jog out to a spot in the u.w. field that was down the hill from our house, and then jump, trying to nail the timing so i would be weightless hovering off the ground. i took about thirty or so of these, and the out-takes are hilarious. (i’ll post them as a gallery at some point.) i wanted the shot to be barefoot, as i felt the vulnerable/jesus vibe matched the album’s title. this detail is made more interesting by the fact that these shots were taken on december 23rd, in the morning, in seattle. it was very cold. when i walked home, i could not feel my feet.
as a special note, two days later i’d capture the picture of maude with the servant’s bell from her tea set she got on christmas morning (above), to this day one of my favorite photos of all time. i used it on the back cover.
the billie burke estate is
andy liotta vocals, keyboards, bass, guitar
zak schaffer drums, guitar, percussion, vocals;
jessica cheng violin; sakura tsai violin;
jeanie lim viola; joe mendoes cello;
matt demerritt alto and tenor sax; william artope trumpet;
dan osterman trombone
strings and horns arranged by andy liotta and zak schaffer
produced by zak schaffer
engineered by zak schaffer and andy liotta
recorded oct/nov 2004 in the basement, seattle, wa
additional tracking at the clinic, west hollywood, ca,
with some help from luke adams. thanks, doc dauer!
mixed, mastered, and edited by evan frankfort
at would work entertainment, lake arrowhead, ca
released march 15, 2005
all songs written by andy liotta (ASCAP)
cover photos and design by billie burke
layout by andy stoller
this album is dedicated to kristin beck, the love of my life.