Being Kevin Bowe: Inside the IPR Sessions – The Dirt Road Ramblers

Award winning singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist and IPR Instructor Kevin Bowe (photo: Darin Back)

Award-winning singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist and IPR Instructor Kevin Bowe
(photo: Darin Back)

This blog is part a series of entries from inside the production mind of Audio Production & Engineering Associate Program Chair Kevin Bowe. Kevin will detail the audio production sessions that he and his Production Portfolio class run during the course of the term. This term, Kevin and his class are working with artists like Hot Date, Alexander Young, Jonah Marais, Batteryboy, Hot Date, Maudlin, Jake Ilika, and Communist Daughter. 

11/11/2015, Mastermix A

Well, I woke up in Nashville this morning questioning my choice of hotel. This place feels more like a penitentiary where people are sent for the crime of writing songs. That’s okay though, you can’t really question the price point and Tom Waits usually chooses to stay in fleabags; he says the songs come out better. Although I wonder if at this point in time Tom still stays in the cheap joints. Time changes everything, I remember touring with Paul Westerberg (who wrote “treat me the way you treat ‘em up in first class” in his song “Waitress In The Sky”). But nowadays the day you see that guy fly coach is not soon in coming. So it goes.

The funny thing is yesterday in Mastermix we were making music SO COUNTRY that it would send full grown men in Nashville crying to their mothers. Probably more real country than anything I’ll do here in the next few days. But that’s okay. Quality trumps authenticity in my book- there’s plenty of great music that’s not “authentic” and plenty of hideous music that is.

The Dirt Road Ramblers, led by Joe Hysell, just happen to be both quality and authentic. I’ve had this outfit in Mastermix many times and each is better than the last. Like many bandleaders, Joe has had a revolving door of players, but his current line up is really interesting… more so if he could find a bass player! Last session he showed up with no bassist so I filled in and I’ve got the tendinitis in my left arm to prove it. So this time we did without; I’ll overdub the bass later. With my little arm brace on.

Our goal was to cut basics for two songs and we did! His drummer is amazing, I love this guy. He looks exactly like a drummer should look and plays that way too. We used a very typical mic’ing set up, adding a Shure KSM44 way down the hall for spooky ambience, Coles on the overheads, blah blah. The students did 99-percent of everything today including positioning the mics. Doug made some interesting choices for mic pre’s that ended up working really, really well. Instead of the good old Neumann TLM49 for a room mic, we used the stereo Royer which turned out to be our new best friend. Since the piano (played by Myra of “Myra and the Moonshiners” who are coming into class next quarter) was tracked live in the same room as the drums, we used the PZM’s and shut the lid, adding the piano blanket on top for more isolation. Some kick drum leaked into the piano but nothing we can’t deal with using high pass filters. Joe played acoustic guitar and sang in ISO room #1, we used my favorite mic, the Neumann KM84 on his guitar, took a DI feed as well and the trusty SM7 on his vocal.

After Joe showed the other players the song form (see picture) we easily got both songs in just a few takes a piece, no click track needed. Or wanted! We kept all the takes so we could use some pieces to paste into the best take if necessary. The drummer’s time was easily good enough to make this possible, even with no grid. The Beatles did it, you can do it too.

The other highlight of the day was my friend Patty Lacy, a great gospel singer who is in “Sounds Of Blackness” and toured with Luther Vandross for many years (may he rest in peace). She’s a treasure and added about eight tracks of layered churchy goodness, all recorded and produced by the students. I kept my snout out of it because that’s what week six is all about- people learn by doing and these students are definitely ready, willing and able to do it.

I will end up doing some more overdubs on this stuff at my studio, probably playing bass, definitely playing some guitar and maybe replacing a vocal and/or acoustic guitar track with Joe, then it’s ready to mix. This kind of music is more “captured” than “built” or else it just doesn’t sound right.

PS- in a footnote to the “Communist Daughter” blog….. Johnny Solomon took that session home to his studio and layered on the weird stuff that defines his sound; then we mixed it in my studio. It’s been mastered already by Bruce Templeton at Magneto here in town and hopefully you’ll hear it on the Current all throughout the upcoming holiday season.


Previous Posts in this series: 
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