When I was looking for places for the band to rehearse in Chicago, a friend was nice enough to connect me with the owner of the legendary music venue, The Metro. He has a private space above The Metro that is a pretty well-kept secret in town. Before he bought the building, he heard the space was used by a theater group that included the yet-to-be famous John Cusack and Jeremy Piven. Once he opened The Metro, the theater upstairs was only used a handful of times. Rumors say Guns N’ Roses wrote Use Your Illusion there, and the Smashing Pumpkins used it as a rehearsal spot. The only time it’s been opened to the public was for a private Beastie Boys show. Other than that, the owner says it’s his little secret.
The room was all black with a high ceiling and a couple of chandeliers. There were only 3 or 4 rows of seating that arched around the stage. Unbelievably cool. It was a great place for us to begin our rehearsal process. We worked really quickly, covering a lot of material and making a ton of progress. The music was coming together very naturally, helped by the vibe and it being a real venue versus a stale rehearsal room. It was a perfect way for the recording process to originate from a “live” place.
The band came to Columbus in late January after spending the previous week in Chicago. The beauty in this city-to-city experiment the band was trying for the first time was that each city and rehearsal space had something unique to offer. While in Chicago we practiced in a hidden gem of a theatre, the Columbus session took place in a brand new studio complex called 1305. The studio sits tucked away in a part of town called Grandview. It was built from a utilitarian frame of mind by hard working artists for hard working guys. This mind set poured into the band’s music and pace. We probably were the most productive in Columbus, and we created some of the most ambitious music we’ve done for the record. Comfort and familiarity still run deep with the band when working in Columbus. I think the boys enjoyed being back in the town where we had so many good and important years. It was great to have them back in my stomping grounds, not to mention being able to put in great days in the studio and still being able to sleep in my own bed at night.
After scoping out numerous locations, I decided that Inner Ear Studios would best suit our needs for our D.C. rehearsals. Back in the 80′s Inner Ear Studios played a vital role to D.C.’s legendary punk and alternative scene and it all started in the basement of founder Don Zientara. That probably explains why out of all three sessions this one felt the most familiar. It reminded me of our basement days. When we would set a time, hop in our rides, and meet up to play our music. It was incredibly nostalgic. Even though we now live in different area codes we still have our family here. We had the best of both worlds.
Recording King throughout the country was amazing this time around, but in particular, our time in NYC was an especially great experience. Since I moved to the city six years ago I’ve often found myself saying that my favorite days are ones spent taking the subway to work; whether that’s to the studio, our management’s office, or Madison Square Garden.
Avatar Studios is most certainly a historic recording space and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to record the foundation of our album there. The room we recorded in was set up for our type of band, enabling us to track the majority of the music live, isolating each instrument for optimal conditions. This was similar to our first studio recording experience for our 1997 release The Wanderer. I recorded my parts in the same room as the drums, plugged in direct to the mixing console as there were limited iso-rooms and my instrument does not require isolation. Needless to say, after full days in the studio, my head was thumping from all of the booms and crashes around me. The energy from those sessions is most definitely translated onto this record.
During the recording process we all made welcome sacrifices to spend a little time in each person’s respective city (Columbus, OH, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and NYC) so we could all spend just a little bit more time at home. I have to say I have never been more impressed with Marc’s vocal delivery on a record to date. The fact that the majority of the actual recording of the vocals happened while in NYC, close to his home, no doubt had a lot to do with the comfy close coolness of his voice on these tracks.
We were lucky to have the influence of New York City on this record. The city has an energy all its own, just like our new music.
We’re writing you this letter for a few reasons. First, we want to thank you for your patience as we’ve been working on our new album for quite a long time. Since we started off selling tapes in high school we’ve had an audience that felt a lot like family, so we thought we’d fill you in on what’s been going on with us. I think once you know our story you will understand where these songs came from and what this album truly means to us.
When we began work on it we thought we knew exactly what we wanted to say, how we wanted it to sound, and how long it would take us to get it done. We spent a week at each of our respective home cities arranging songs all day and plotting the album’s story and sound at night. Album titles got thrown around, interlude ideas were talked through, and we looked to fill in parts of the story we thought were missing. We thought we had all the makings of a great record and could have it out by summer. Last summer. But, we also promised each other that no matter what, we would not settle. We wouldn’t finish the album until the story was told. Period. We wanted to, for the first time, take it easy.
So for the next few months we went from weeks in Chicago, Virginia and Columbus to recording songs live off the deck at Avatar in New York City, out to LA to cut vocals and overdubs, then back to Columbus for the horn section. It sounds like a lot of locations, but it seemed completely appropriate and the songs went along for the ride. But as we closed in on finishing the album we realized we hadn’t told the entire story. We had more living to do and more songs to write. So we went off on tour that summer, planned on finishing the album along the way, with no idea that the next year of our lives would be one giant test.
We parted ways with Atlantic Records. While we had great success there and we all remain friends, we got to a point where it didn’t feel like their system and our system were going to continue to fit together in this ever-changing music business. And we are thankful for all we accomplished there. Yet even without a label, we kept working on the songs and trying to put together the album we’d dreamed about. As the summer came to an end we felt real close to being finished but we still didn’t have what we were all looking for. So we continued to write, got to planning a fall tour, and really just looked forward to time off.
Then everything changed.
In late September my wife was diagnosed with cancer and a tumor had to be removed immediately. Suddenly life became a lot more real, turned us inside out, and focused everything on the family. I think we seldom understand what we have until it is nearly taken from us.
Our band is a family too, so when one of us is down, we are all down. Music could wait. I can’t imagine it was easy on anyone, but it was time to be there for one of our own. I have never in my life seen someone jump into a tough fight with such courage. I’ll always admire her for that, and so much more. She is doing very well now, I think because she decided it was just going to be that way.
I finally understood what this life and this album was really about. At some point we have to realize all we have is right here and we can either own it or let it own us.
As 2011 moved along things got better every day. And as the world started to make sense again, we decided as a band that it was time to brush ourselves off and finish the album. We revisited some of the very first songs written for the project. “Back To One,” “Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes,” and “Taking on the World Today.” They all made a lot more sense now.
But it wasn’t until we wrote the very last song that the entire picture snapped into place. It’s always funny how that happens. We knew we had one more spot to fill and it needed to be the one that summed up everything we’d been through. I remember the first time I heard the beat for “Heaven.” It immediately spoke to me and the song came together quickly. It reminded me of all that confidence and hope we had in the very beginning of making this record, positive energy jumped off the track. We finished “Heaven” and the album was done.
Then we signed a deal with Wind-up Records. I’m glad we spent the extra time finding the perfect home for our band. Wind-up has all the things we want from the major label system along with that burning independent spirit we based our entire career on. It’s a place where we can do what we do and have an entire staff of people focused on helping us do it better.
And in the end, the hardest year of our lives delivered us every song that was missing from the record and our story. So, thanks for listening to our music and coming to our shows. We are so proud to have made this album for so many reasons. We hope you enjoy it.
We call the album King.