Jon Cooper and I met when we were twelve years old, the first day of sixth grade (my first at a new school). When we were thirteen the very first day I got my gold top Les Paul I took it to his basement to play and he dropped it on the concrete floor. No harm though. A few years later he brought a girl he thought I should meet to my birthday party (a girl I ended up dating for years). A few years later he was the one I called to record my first songs, which we did in a little basement in Boston, where he was attending and not attending Berkeley School of Music. He was also the one I called to produce my very first record Cellar Into Eaves by The Darrows. To say he’s always been there for me would be a vast understatement. It would kind of be like an offensive lineman saying the quarterback had always been there for him. When Jon comes into a project it’s almost silently but wow does he bring game.
I was in the middle of making what was to become The Electric Wire Bird, I had just broken up my band (in a very mutually loving way) with its last record Echoplexed still floating in space. So, the only thing to do was start yet another record. Actually, while making Echolplexed I realized that much of the material wasn’t fitting in with the rest of the record. It was quiet and extremely intimate, but I thought they were still good songs. I also thought I needed to start playing out again and needed a quick demo so I could hit the local coffee house circuit. Just me and a guitar – no fuss, no mess, and down to the bones of a song.
Something in me was saying you need to record acoustically too. With this idea for a demo to get gigs, I arranged for a recording on location in VA. The same place I had recorded Flinty Loam with my band a few years before. It is a magical place. No other way to describe it. I wanted this incredibly loose feeling. I wanted it to be candlelight and all vibe. I convinced Tim Reeder of my former band to come and play drums. Tim and I had played for what seemed to be forever together and when I say we know each other musically I mean when one breathes in the other exhales – we are just always locked in. Chris Seidel, who had also been in my band but only for a brief time before I put the burden down, was to play bass. Who would work the control room?? But who?? I called Jon.
Tim and I had recorded so much together, our first record, Alright, which we recorded at Prince’s
Paisley Park, to remote on location recording. It was always intense and fairly thought-out. This was not what I wanted this time. I really only cared if I walked away with one good take on two songs. On purpose I didn’t let anyone hear the material before we were recording. Literally. Some of what you hear on the record is the band hearing and playing the song for the first time. It was instinct. This is what I wanted. I’d been listening to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and I wanted that same feeling – of being able to hear the musicians breathe, on the edge and responding emotionally to what they were hearing instead of thinking about what they were playing. I also knew I could count on these musicians to not sound floundering, wasteful, or jam-y. I relied on the musicians that they are to interpret the material from the heart. No one worked out parts beforehand and the material didn’t feel stale by the time we recorded it. We were in the moment. I went down the day before to set everything up so there would have to be no draining, soul robbing sound check. Tim and Jon arrived the next night. The living room, a big cathedral ceiling, marble floors, windows all around, candles burning everywhere, was where the drums and bass were set up. I looked in from another room through a glass door into that room so Tim and I could see each other but have a little bit of sound isolation for the mics. Gear was set up and ready to go. He walked in and picked up his sticks and we were recording. Don’t Wait and Come With Me were recorded that night. We felt a little drunk. Yes, we’d been drinking but that’s not what I’m talking about. It was pretty heady and emotional stuff. It was kind of like what we’d always wanted recording to be and it was a present to each other for being such good friends and having traveled so long through the music industry together. It could have been a “Oh no, here we go again” but it was the opposite – it was the culmination, it was a little personal victory lap for us. Chris joined us the next afternoon. By the night of the next day it was over. A total of 24 hours in one place all together, then back to Philly. I wanted a tight schedule because I wanted it to have a definite end while being happy if we only captured one moment. It surpassed my expectations.
Early in the morning, after Tim and Chris had gone to sleep Jon and I were listening back to the takes of the day. Jon said, “You know this is a record don’t you?” It was all of a sudden, an extremely frightening thing for me. Oh, God, NOT ANOTHER ONE! I’m stretched thin and behind schedule on the one I was already making! But I also thought he was absolutely right. It was not the demo I’d planned. No, it was to be its own and fully realized, and it was screaming that to both of us through the speakers. Jon had been quiet at first but by the end of the sessions he was a commander. A producer with a total vision beyond what we were hearing. He moved players subtly into different approaches without them ever feeling that he was telling them what to do or ruining the vibe. Somewhere along the way he became Fred Astaire to our Ginger Rodgers. It was only at the end of the session that we realized how much Coop had been essential to those tracks. Quietly he entered.
Jon and I returned to Barn Studio where we edited together the best moments of each song from numerous takes into one take. I’d like to say, this was not the case for Huntington – it was one take and Come With Me and Don’t Wait – each two takes. We fixed some vocals and then Jon began to write the sting arrangements. We were really concerned that whatever we put on the tracks would take away from what was already there so it was with much caution that we both proceeded. It took a painfully long time, constant and unending amounts of work, trial and error, rewrites but finally the day came when the scores were ready to send to the string players and book session time for the horn players.
The stings were played by a husband and wife team, friends of Jon’s in Madison WI. Jon sent the charts and they would record and double their tracks building into what would normally be an 8 or 12 piece ensemble. Chris and Mary Wagner quickly became not just players but integral to the record. They were getting under the music’s skin and both Jon and I loved them loving it.
So, with all parts assembled and some parts left out, (many of which were played by the great Ivan Stiles and he’s gonna kill me that I left all his amazing Hurdy Gurdy parts out), we proceeded to mix. It didn’t give up without a fight. The simpler it is the harder it can be.
I listened to the first mix – Huntington, a deeply personal song, a requiem to my father, and I knew I lived up as much as I could to the record. Everyone gave it their best and their all – I could want no more. The rest is up to you. As for me, I am profoundly honored to have been a part. I hope how special it was to the musicians comes across in the tracks and you feel them breathe a little bit.
Produced and Mixed by Derek and Jon Cooper
Engineered by Derek
Assistant engineer Joanna Justice
Basic tracks recorded on location in a house in Ospriala, VA.
Additional recording at the BarnSound, Media PA
+Recorded at the BarnSound, Media PA
Mixed at the BarnSound, Media PA
Mastered Peter Humphreys at Masterworks, Philadelphia PA
Strings recorded at Studio Strings, Madison WI
Photography Joey McLaughlin and Alex Lowy
Music by Derek (except Sweet by Derek and Dave Lenat)
Lyrics by Derek
String Arrangements by Jon Cooper (except Sweet by Derek and Chris Wagoner)
Derek Chafin: vocal, guitar, programming, bass and drums on May
Be Hours, cello on Even Though
Tim Reeder: drums
Chris Seidel: bass
Chris Wagoner – Violin and Viola
Mary Gaines – Cello
Doug Shaffer – Trumpet on Huntington
Larry Toft – Trombone on Come With Me
Jim Stager – Upright Bass on Huntington
David Lenat – Guitar sounds on May Be Hours
Ivan Stiles- String Tree on Come With Me
Joanna Justice – Piano on Twist