the making of…
though based on an unconnected set of billie burke estate demos, as ‘give it all away’ had been, this collection had a through-line i was conscious of from the beginning of the recording process: the backstory helping me make decisions on order, pacing, instrumentation, etc. the plot is in no way obvious, and it’s not essential to the enjoyment of the album, but i’ll share it here, as it’s what i was thinking about when i made it.
- ’99 liberty lane’ introduces a set of characters, many of which reappear in later songs, with bailey evans and the ‘keyboard player’ (aka ‘billie shears’) being the main points of focus.
- ‘i want u’ is sung from billie’s point of view about bailey, a relationship that lasts until bailey has to move away.
- ‘everybody’s gonna die’ is inspired by the funeral for louise, who dies during the last verse of ’99,’ and reflects a conversation bailey and billie had after the fact.
- ‘perky muscle girl’ is bailey’s mom, as seen by the doorman.
- ‘hold on’ is the story of bailey’s mom’s affair…
- …and ‘like i see you’ is the affair seen from her father’s side. soon after they break up and bailey moves away.
- cut to ten years in the future, and ‘i can float’ is a hit song by billie shears’ band, oswald’s gun, mentiontioned later in ‘dreams come true.’
- ‘skin’ describes hipsters danny dillon (bailey’s now ex-boyfriend, who sang with her in ’99’), bailey, and billie in verses one, two, and three, respectively.
- ‘dreams come true’ opens with danny dillon and ends with billie’s death by overdose. also making appearances from ’99’ are louise’s daughter, samantha, trying to get a break in the ‘movie’ biz, and the star-crossed athlete, curtis cole, who is marvetta’s son, the one who learned to operate a bong at an early age.
- ‘little maisy’ is billie’s dad mourning. billie’s real name is willa mae charles (she’s from alabama after all), but he calls her maisy, and willa charles later morphed into billie shears.
- ‘goodbye’ is billie’s mother elizabeth, mourning and contemplating suicide. she was the self-conscious religious woman living below bailey and dan in ’99.’ billie lived with her, which is why she was carrying the keyboard up a flight since the elevator wouldn’t come.
- ‘let your heart break’ is elizabeth’s salvation, though it’s a mishearing of the original lyric dan and bailey sang in ’99’: they sang ‘bet your heart breaks’ and she heard ‘let your heart break.’
all of this info is hinted at in the ‘want to go deeper?’ section of the album art, though that info was purposely vague. to me it’s more important that the songs mean something to the listener, but it can be fun to put the story to the songs, sort of like running ‘the wizard of oz’ against ‘dark side of the moon.’
this was the first time i ever mixed an album. i’ve learned over time that the main things you pay a mixer for is (1) speed and (2) an ear that knows what sounds ‘right’ to the commercial audience. after ‘give it all away’ i decided that it was worth the long hours and weeks and months to make things sound exactly the way i wanted them to, since the way i like things sounding has little relation to ‘right,’ as defined by modern commercial standards. it’s a painstaking but ultimately rewarding process. i think it took almost six months for me to finally get everything the way i wanted it.
a quick note about the cover photo. we were playing hide and seek in our house and cormac (age 7) hides. we look and look and after five minutes we ask where he is. he comes out from behind the drapes at our back window. he had pressed himself against the wall so the drapes hung flat, making him invisible. maude (age 4) wants a turn. we count and go look, and the cover photo is what we see. we pretend to look around while i get a camera to capture the overwhelming cuteness of childhood. finally we ‘find’ her and go on about how hard we looked. she says “you should have looked at my feet.” even at four, nothing got past her.
the original album name was going to be “you can run…” with the photo offering the second half of the aphorism. as with many ideas you have at the beginning of a project, their main purpose is often to take up space so you obsess about other things. it’s like reading books about childbirth – they occupy your mind, and are immediately rendered meaningless when your first child arrives. for me, the answer arrived when i stretched out the intro of ‘let your heart beat,’ and the album tracked so well against the painful and slow transition between hitting bottom, and slowly climbing to your feet. the original idea had served its purpose. since then, ‘let your heart break,’ like ‘give it all away’ before it, have become like zen koans that strike me again and again as i make my way through life: deep open truths that you can’t quite pin down.
some background on the dedication. sacha was my brother’s six-month-old son who died of sids in february 2005. i was lucky enough to meet him on my trip to los angeles mixing ‘give it all away.’ he was a very sweet kid, and i had never seen my brother and his wife so proud and in love. helene was my wife kristin’s mom, who died of cancer in 2006. she was a great friend and an irrepressible spirit, with a smile that could light a small city. and marija was our best friends’ daughter, who died of the flu at age nine in feb 2007. i didn’t know anyone died of the flu anymore. she was my son cormac’s oldest and best friend, and they were in the same grade in laurelhurst elementary school when she died. except for a few moments of brightness mostly near the top, this album overflows with the grief that defined much of these years. they are all dearly missed.
the billie burke estate is
andy liotta vocals, keyboards, bass, guitar, percussion
zak schaffer drums and advice; kristin beck as bailey evans
produced, arranged, engineered and mixed by andy liotta
recorded from jan to aug 2007 in the basement, seattle, wa
mastered by ed brooks at rfi mastering
released january 15, 2008
all songs written by andy liotta
cover photos and design by billie burke
layout by andy stoller
thanks to zak schaffer, thomasa eckert, larry carlson,
robert scherzer, geoff stanfield, ed brooks, nathan brackett,
dave benson, marty riemer, haley jones, sean nelson, mj bishop,
chris knab, andy stoller, matt bruno, kevin mathews, alan haber,
lazlo’s den, my family and friends, my wife, kristin,
and our beautiful kids, cormac and maude
for sacha, helene and marija