Page McConnell: From Studio(s) to Stage(s)
AAJ: I was just going to say: were there any points during the course of the project when you took what you had at any given time and played it for somebody to say, "What are you hearing here? "What do you think? "Where should I go?
PM: Yeah I did. I played it for a couple of friends; I played it for some people that work for me, my brother maybe...
AAJ: That's what I was thinking of: perhaps non-musicians or individuals that couldtalking about fresh earscould give you really fresh perspective.
PM: Yeah, and it was generally encouraging. And Bryce liked it and that helped because I've like working with Bryce [who produced Phish's Farmhouse (Elektra, 2000) and Round Room (Elektra, 2002)]. And the process that happened down there at his studio was a lot different; we ended up doing some tracking with all four of us: that would be myself, Adam, Mike Gordon [Phish bassist] and Jim Keltner all playing live in a room together for three songs, a more traditional way of recording a record than overdubbing with basic tracks.
AAJ: I was going to ask how you went about arranging the material especially insofar as people like Keltner and Gordon were involved: did you play them a basic track?
PM: I played them a little demo with me singing. With "Rules, there was a basic track with myself playing Wurlitzer and singing with a drum track I sort of edited together of Fish and myself playing drums; I was able to play that for Jim Keltner, which was kind of humbling.
AAJ: Is Keltner pretty open to suggestion? He's got a lot of experience...
PM: It may have been the greatest joy of the entire experience playing with him and it was a pretty joyful experience all the way through.
AAJ: How did he come to be involved in it?
PM: It was when Mike [Gordon] got involved and he played on three tracks there at the end of the session. Trey happened to be in Brooklyn when I was working on "Back in the Basement, the only track I was still recording on, and he wanted to play on it and he was a couple doors away. Unlike everyone else on the album, Jim was the only guy I kind of reached out to. He's always been one of my favorites and "Why not? So I made the call.
AAJ: Interesting you mention "Back in the Basement," because the second or third time I listened to the CD that really caught my ear as a song written for more open-ended improvisation than some of the other tracks on the album. Is that how you envisioned that or did it just evolve that way?
PM: Well a little bit of both. I wrote it a few hours before we recorded it [laughs]. I wrote the first part the night before and then I wrote the second part, the "B section, before he [Keltner] arrived in the studio. I thought at the very least it could be a little groove with a piano solo.
AAJ: Well, that's what I thought when I first listened to it and then it went on and on and I am checking the credits: eight minutes!
PM: It really did get going. That and "Heavy Rotation are sort of the two more extended songs. When he [Keltner] came into the studio to recordI'm jumping around a little bitwhen he came into the studio to record, we sat down and I played him this little three-minute demo of "Rules I Don't Know. I had already been working on earlier in the day with Adam and Mike playing the song and gotten the arrangement down. We sat down and the first take is what is on the album. We sat down and played it top to bottom. On the time changes in it, we were dong visual cues: we were flying by the seat of our pants a little bit and we finished the take and Jim was like "It's not supposed to be that easy!
AAJ: [Laughing] He would know, I guess, wouldn't he?
PM: If he thinks it's OK...We did a couple more takes of that song but take one is the one that ended up on the record.
AAJ: I've heard that a lot. Musicians no matter how predisposed to careful arrangements get caught by surprise by things that just seem to click in for everybody in the group and they finish and then step back and say, "Can't beat that. And they never do...