I have been trying to interview Don Falcone from Spirits Burning for weeks, but every time I tried something happened. We had technical problems, health problems, family problems and even times when I needed to be dealing with various arcane animal related issues from my day job, but eventually we got together through the magick of those jolly nice people at www.recordyourcall.co.uk but for whom I really would not be able to do a lot of what I do.
If you missed part one, check it out HERE
JON: Back in the old days, when anybody was recording in a studio, you would always start off with a bass and drums. Is this how you work?
DON: Not necessarily, and it is a good question. It would be good for me to try to do that more often. I’m mainly a keyboard player and although I was a bass player years ago, there is a tendency for everything that I start to be done with keyboards.
Long ago, before I got into the bars and beats side of things, I would just play and you’d have this keyboard passage and people would start playing on top of it. The change to bars and beats meant that — OK, I have a digital workspace and that could make sure that from start to finish you’re playing in 4/4, 6/8, or whatever, but you could actually, if you wanted to, play a quick track.
In the last few years, there are better drum machines, or electronic emulators of drums, which really sound like drum kits. You can actually feel like you have a drummer in the room, and you can have this MIDI-triggered drum kit playing from start to finish, so that you stay in time.
What tends to happen now is I will start with a drum kit and then play an organ line or a piano line, or a synth or arpeggio line, and then at some point bring in a real drummer. The ideal would be to have the drummer come in next. What happened with the Clearlight CD was that there were a few pieces where the real drums were the last thing added. Paul Sears is a good example. He was actually building his studio, so he wasn’t able to record for me for about a year, so I just hung in there because I really wanted him on the CD, and I knew he would be a good fit. Eventually, he built his studio up, and was able to record at his home in Arizona. I am pretty sure he was either the last or next to the last instrument on the pieces that he’s on.
JON: So he actually did the drums in a separate studio?
DON: Yes, yeah.
JON: That’s amazing.
DON: Drummers tend to be the most difficult part of the equation. It’s easy for people to have a little home studio and plug in a keyboard and plug in a guitar, but drums… I’ll be honest, I do like the sound of a real drum kit rather than a drum machine or even a good drum plug in. I will use those on occasion, and I am real intrigued with the combination of both — I think that is always kind of intriguing, and there is some of that on the new CD, but I do like acoustic instruments a lot, especially when it comes to the drum kit. And for a drum kit, you really do need multiple microphones, a good sounding drums, a good room, although I’ve probably recorded a drummer in this house once, and where we used to live in the late 90s a couple of times.
That place was a little better, at least for recording, because there was a solid underground. Here the drummer makes the room bounce and I get nervous that my little workstation — the equipment and the cards in the computers — are going to come out. I don’t have that many microphones anymore, so it’s not really the best place to record a drummer. It really makes sense for me to find drummers who basically have something a bit more than a home studio, that have maybe a whole garage set up as a studio.
There has been a couple of other people, like Kevin Carnes of a local band here (Broun Fellinis), who did drums on two pieces — he actually has an engineer who he works with who has a proper studio. When I invited him, part of the deal was to set it up so he could go to that studio and record.
JON: Because this is a very 21st Century way of recording, isn’t it?
DON: It is. But I guess for me it’s: How can I create a virtual band so that you have something that is new performances and brings together people?
On the last 8, 9 releases, everybody on a piece get credited as a composer. I learned long ago that each person brings in their little element, so even if I start the chords or there is a basic riff, no matter what somebody does, they are bringing their compositional skills forward to make the piece become a new whole and hopefully make it something more special.
JON: Do you ever miss the synergy though? I have been a musician both pre- and post-digital, and sometimes, I miss having the synergy of just having four sweaty bodies in the same room playing off each other.
DON: Yeah at times I do. When I was a bass player, I played heavily off the kick drum, especially a couple of years in the mid-80s. There was a drummer I played with, and I basically watched his foot a lot and found it inspirational, and then really played off of what he was doing. He actually made me a better bass player and drove me to play harder, more intriguingly. There was a guitar player who I played with in the mid-to-late 80s — in fact a couple of guitar players — who probably inspired me to be more melodic on keyboards.
In the early 90s, I used to be on a label called Silent Records, which did ambient music, and the guy who headed the label (Kim Cascone) really influenced me heavily to start listening to and thinking about sound. For instance, I remember we would get together almost weekly, mainly him, I, and another keyboardist, and part of these sessions would be him recommending we take a listen to Miles Davis and Bitches Brew or take a listen to the first Eno ambient albums, or listen to African Head Charge — and what was going on with the sounds. Sometimes, the interactions were playing, and sometimes the interactions were just talking.
The one thing that has happened with long distance — both with Cyrille Verdeaux with the Clearlight CD and it actually probably happens more often with the Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart stuff — there is a lot of conversation long distance as the pieces grow and I send mixes to them.
Maybe I can back up here a little bit... The tendency for most people involved: I invite them, they work on a part, they may ask for some direction, they may not, they may ask are you OK with what I’ve done so far? But for the most part, most of the people on the CD don’t really hear it until it is released. However, if I’m doing something where it’s not just Spirits Burning — say it’s Spirits Burning & Clearlight, which is Cyrille, or Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart, which is with Bridget — we are in contact a lot. For example, the Bridget Wishart CD — where we are about 75% percent through what is going to be the third one coming out maybe mid-to-late this year — we are in contact sometimes almost daily, where we are talking about a piece. Do you like where it is going, who should we invite for the next part, what type of guitar sound do we want, what type of drummer do we want?
What is happening here is a way of getting from the sweaty bodies in the room experience to something where you are still communicating and have a dialogue.
That being said, there are things I miss and there are things I don’t miss. I don’t miss paying for renting a studio and I don’t miss band arguments <laughs>. Bridget did an interview recently for Positive Creed magazine, and she said working with Spirits Burning equals freedom. I think that really captured it —it’s not 100% every moment, but we can kind of do anything. We can try anything and we can kind of go at our pace and we can invite whoever. If they say yes, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s fine; even if they say yes and it doesn’t happen —because that occurs. Sometimes you go long periods where you don’t hear back from somebody, or you need to nudge them a little and make sure they really want to do this. So there is a lot of patience involved, but I think it gets back to the possibilities, and then seeing where it goes and taking some risks, taking some chances. Hopefully, what you heard when you listened to the new CD.
And this seems an appropriate place to break. We will be back with the third and final part tomorrow.