Music: Norah Jones

Dec 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Chris J. Walker

STEPPING OUTSIDE HER COMFORT ZONE

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Jones, producer/engineer Jacquire King and assistant engineer Brad Bivens at the Neve 8088 in Sunset Sound Studio 2

Jones, producer/engineer Jacquire King and assistant engineer Brad Bivens at the Neve 8088 in Sunset Sound Studio 2

King and his assistant for the past year-and-a-half, Brad Bivens, recorded the sessions to analog tape, and then transferred everything to Pro Tools for editing, overdubbing and mixing. “I think it's more pleasing to everyone and less about making records with your eyes,” he says of working with a traditional console and tape. “There's more attention to what you're hearing; it just feels more real and final.”

Jones concurs and takes it a step further: “Tape is easier, and it's not like, ‘Oh, can we fix this tiny little thing that really doesn't matter, but since it's easy to fix I can fix it?’ [Digital] is that kind of mentality. It's nice to go old-school and get a good performance. If there's a little character or mistake, fine.”

Working at the Magic Shop and for a week at Sunset Sound in Hollywood (an API room), Bivens tracked Jones with drummers Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) and James Gadson (Bill Withers), keyboardist James Poyser (Erykah Badu, Al Green) and guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) and Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer), among others.

Among the mics King and Bivens used on the sessions in both studios were a Neumann 47 on the bass amp, Telefunken Ela M 251 and Placid Audio Copperphone (Jones' personal microphones) on vocals, and Sennheiser 409 and Neumann 67 on the guitar amps; drum mics included a Coles 438, Sennheiser 421 on the kick, Royer SF-7, Neumann 67s and Altec 633-A.

Bivens says of the main tracking sessions, “I had a great time and witnessed inspired playing from the musicians and Norah. She's quick, decisive and knows what she wants to hear, which makes it easy for engineers.”

Much of the overdubbing took place at Jones' home studio. “Working at home can be good and bad,” she says. “It's certainly fun, easy and comfortable. I can cook for the guys when they're doing something I'm not involved in, which I like to do. But it's also in your house,” she chuckles.

There was good chemistry between the players and Jones, and this allowed the group to experiment with arrangements throughout the sessions. King says, “It was really about the musicians learning the songs and then shaping them in the moment/performance. There are a few songs on the record that sound nothing like the demo. For instance, ‘Light as a Feather’ [co-written with Ryan Adams] felt more like country-rock/Americana than it does on the record. ‘Chasing Pirates’ had a slight shift, too, and the way it was to be presented was very important to Norah. We ended up combining a few different looks at it for the final. And ‘Young Blood’ she played for me on guitar when we first got together and didn't have any specific direction as a writing demo to where it is now.”

Mixing was done at King's studio in Nashville, which includes a Quad Eight console, Neve 2254 compressor/limiters and a host of other new and vintage outboard pieces. Jones wasn't on hand for the mixing, which took some getting used to for her. “I'm very involved with the mixing usually, and this was very different for me. But the Internet [sending high-res files] made it somewhat painless. I would listen a few times on my stereo and through two different sets of headphones. Then I would send him my notes and we would go back and forth sometimes two, sometimes five times. I'm pretty in-tune with the way the balances are and very sensitive to brightness. I don't like it with drums and vocals.”

“The producer part of me allows for a lot of input in the mixing process,” King says. “But the mixer part of me has to be the dominant thing that doesn't care what's there as much as the producer would. I just try to take more of an objective look [mixing], and I think that's why I enjoy and want to have an ample amount of time to mix. I also see it as a real opportunity and privilege to be able to mix the records that I produce.” He spent about three weeks mixing The Fall, and notes, “I typically don't mix more than a song a day and don't like to rush through it. I like to take a lot of breaks and get a lot of perspective.”

Happy with the album, Jones looks up the road: “I've got a cool band put together and I'm real excited about that, and it's going to be fun touring. I would love to make a country record, but have never made a real record of that type. Also, I would like to make a real jazz record; I've never made one, really. Those things are on the back burner and I'm going wait till I run out of other ideas before I do those.”






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