For their third full-length release, Daybreaker, Nashville-based rock 'n' roll band Moon Taxi has expanded their sound palette and their view of the recording process. Working with producer Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, Tom Waits) in Music City's high-end Blackbird Studios, the bandmembers—singer/guitarist Trevor Terndrup, guitarist Spencer Thomson, bass player Tommy Putnam, keyboardist Wes Bailey, and drummer Tyler Ritter—blew up their sound with synths and percussive elements that they found immensely inspiring.
Keyboardist Wes Bailey took time out to tell Keyboard about Moon Taxi's process and instruments in the studio.
What was it like working with Jacquire King at Blackbird?
It was amazing. We'd never really worked with a studio-minded producer. In the past we worked with people who weren't as hands-on and knowledgeable about the gear. Jacquire not only produced the record, he also mixed it. He's so knowledgeable about every aspect of recording and working with a band. That really appealed to us—the ultimate package that he offered. We loved the records he'd done before with Kings of Leon, and the James Bay record that he put out. The whole time we were in the studio, he got us even more excited about his ear for recording live bands.
How was working with him different from making your previous albums?
In the past we'd done most of the tracking—guitar, vocals, keyboards—in an apartment, for budgeting sake. We wanted the freedom with our schedule to knock out a lot of that stuff, and then we'd go track in a studio for just two or three days and get drums and bass and some more guitar. So this was an interesting transition for us, because Jacquire doesn't do things like that. He's more into recording a song a day.
What was a typical day like when you were in Blackbird?
He had an interesting system. He wouldn't tell us what song we were doing that day. But it was cool. We were able to have a sense of spontaneity and an element of surprise. We had prepared—we practiced with Jacquire there—but we left things very open. At first all of this terrified us, because studios are very expensive. You want to have everything pretty air-tight. But he wasn't like that. He's very: "How are we feeling today? How does the flow of the record feel? What elements are we using in other songs that might change the course of how we're going to record?"
One of his best friends and colleagues is Eric Darken; for many years he has been the percussion player for Jimmy Buffett. Jacquire would sometimes record us in practice to a click, and he'd send those practice recordings to Eric, who would come up with percussion parts on top of our practice recordings. We would get back to the studio and listen to those [percussion tracks] first thing in the morning, and they were amazing. Eric has a really fresh sense of sound and groove, and it changed the course of the record, and inspired so many new parts of the songs.
That was just one of many amazing things Jacquire brought to the project. His engineer Lowell Reynolds was amazing— just incredibly quick and helpful and has had such good ears.
What keyboards did you play on this album?
Blackbird has an amazing collection of gear and Jacquire rents a room in Blackbird to mix and do some vocal tracking. In that room is also a slew of old keyboards.
One of them is a Lo Duca from Lo Duca Brothers in Milwaukie. Jacquire said that those keyboards were made for students to take piano lessons, and he bought his in 1997. It was something you could fit on a desk, and it has a sort of accordion sound—a really cool neutral sound that we ended up putting a TC Electronic bass pedal on, and that gave it more of a modern pad with some reverb.
Then we'd add different effects to songs that Jacquire would toy with. You can hear it on "Always," and it's the pad on the song "Run Right Back." It was just perfect—a modern pad sound that still had this old tone to it. It was very analog—not too electronic.
I also played an old Juno 60 that Jacquire had bought years ago. There's a song "All Day, All Night" where there's a low, growly synth bass. I took just a synth lead and put some distortion on it and added a sub offset pedal to that, to give it a bass-doubling effect that was really crunchy. That really made that song.
I also provided my MicroKorg on "All Day All Night" during the verse, and on the song "Savannah," I used the same MicroKorg patch, which was an electronic organ sound with a bunch of reverb on it.
We didn't want to make a classic rock record in the sense that there was piano and organ on every song. We wanted the sounds to be interesting. We wanted to tastefully slip in acoustic instruments and mix in our own electronic tinges.
What did give you the more conventional piano and organ sounds?
There was a Hammond B-3 organ, and a Yamaha C3, and I think the piano was a Baldwin upright.
We recorded live, but I didn't play any of the acoustic instruments while we were live tracking. Those parts were overdubbed. When we were tracking live, I would actually be in the control room playing the Juno or the MicroKorg; a lot of what I played live, I thought would probably be fixed later. Typically, you would overdub a pad or overdub some of that synth bass stuff. But I figured, I'm not going to just sit here. I might as well use the energy that we've got going on and be a part of the conversation and performance. And when we got into the overdub phase, we found that and a lot of my synth stuff was done. We just had to pick the best performance.