As Live as Possible Keeping the spark of live performances in our next studio release

Alex playing as live as possible - Wildewood - Pyragraph

Somewhere along the road, we grew up a little bit…

Back in the winter of 2013, Wildewood began recording our first album.

The songs came naturally, and recording was straightforward. There were no major hiccups—other than a few days of tension in Greg’s South Valley home, due in large part to tired ears. The album has been out in the world a while now and it stands on its own (I mean that as objectively as possible, honestly). And it stands as a great achievement for the three of us.

Still, though the album represents and reflects a sort of transitional point in the band, it failed to capture the true energy and power of us playing live. In the year since recording it, we’ve readily brought new instruments, writing styles and ideas into the recording studi…I mean living room.

We also hit the pavement hard, and have kept a very steady schedule of shows.

We were even fortunate enough to tour with The Handsome Family. We went to Austin, Texas (managing to somehow eat granola and trail mix, bypassing “The Saltlick” completely). We constantly crisscrossed Albuquerque’s several decent venues, writing new songs, relearning old songs, and always playing together—not just physically together, but growing a sort of synchronicity between us. A sonic weight that has come from playing these songs a lot and putting a lot of thought into our actions. Ultimately our playing has matured a lot over this past year, which has become most apparent in recording our new album.

Should we seek perfection? Well, what’s perfection, anyways?

Some of my favorite albums are the ones that are born in noisy rooms, with hard-soled shoes on wooden floors, creaking and buzzing instruments, lots of bleed, and a rough quality that makes the songs feel like the band is playing in a living room, just for you.

There are some great polished albums out there too, but they run the steady risk of stagnancy and sterility. Without that spontaneity and emotional intent, those songs are just shells and molds; they’re without integrity or authenticity, or those happy little accidents that make you point at your speaker, grinning maniacally. If someone is singing an emotional song, those emotions should be there, even if that means all the notes aren’t perfect, or you flirt with the time a little bit.

The goal with this album was to record everything as live as possible.

It’s not without overdubs; there are too many instruments involved, even if just on my part. Still, we’ve begun recording new songs live. Songs that we’re still learning that offer a little instability and force us to use intuition and take risks together.

In my mind, albums just reflect a short period in time. Sure, they last forever and can always be replayed, and even after they end up in a bargain bin at Savers they can be reclaimed by a new owner and a new sound system.

It’s a strange thought that after the song is recorded, that little emotional spark stays lit even after you’ve sang that particular song to the point of sheer muscle memory. It’s the kind of thought that keeps me up at night. Regardless, I think any band recording an album on any financial or technical scale just wants that moment in time to be properly reflected, whatever the hell that means.

With the current album, we’re embracing this mentality.

You’ll never play the perfect show. The perfect solo or harmony isn’t ever going to be there, and something unexpected is always going to rear its head. This is what art is all about.

How do we respond? Should we seek perfection? Well, what’s perfection, anyways? What if that moment of learning the song is the best that song will ever be? Imagine capturing those first steps and breaths, those creeks and moans, the intimacy and uncertainty.

We’re still in the trenches of this album, but we’re in no rush, really. There’s a steady influx of new songs and ideas keeping us on our toes and we’ve all gotten in the habit of taking notes between pushing up our glasses and taking a hit off our inhalers. I feel like we’ve found a new mode of operation with this album, and as we’ve developed a sound by playing together for over four years, the initial tracks really reflect that.

We get to be flies on our own walls, taking in the strange magic that is a trio of musicians, friends, family and slight lunatics (anti-socialites might be more fitting). Hopefully we’ll release this into the wild sometime this summer.

Photo by Jesse Littlebird.

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Alex McMahon

About Alex McMahon

Alex McMahon is a New Mexico native who calls Albuquerque home. Alex is a professional musician, and a member of Albuquerque’s own Wildewood, as well as a hired gun with various studios and bands around the state. Guitar, pedal steel, dobro and mandolin are just some of the instruments he plays in the eclectic trio, who recently released their first self-titled full-length album. As a UNM graduate, Alex supplements playing music full-time by freelance writing as well as general contracting work. The future for Alex and Wildewood involves traveling out of state to support the new album, as well as writing and recording new material in down time.

4 Comments

  1. The Handsome Family on March 28, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Great article. I know what you mean. Like I always say–leave some holes. The great thing about Pro Tools is that you can fix everything. But the worst thing about Pro Tools is that you can fix everything. Think of it like tape–leave in those musical imperfections It lets the evil spirits out. Some of my favorite records have this live, almost shambling quality–like Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night,” The Beatles White Album too (talk about gorgeous bleed–sloppy and perfect at the same time. Playful.). Let it Bleed. What are some of your prototypes, Alex? Hell, the old Folk Music that influences me (like that in the Harry Smith Anthology) is all rough and “live” sounding. They were cutting that stuff to wax and there wasn’t a chance to fuss with it you got a decent take. I love those records that sound like a band playing in a room. The sound of Dylan’s “Love and Theft” comes to mind. Lucinda William’s Essence.
    Are you guys recording “basics” with all three of you playing simultaneously? To me that’s the secret. I am in the process of expanding my studio to include movable baffling–so everybody can play at once in the same room. Overdubs are very important for me, but capturing that initial “spark,” the magical connection that happens when people are communicating musically, is essential.
    Great article, can’t wait to hear the new stuff. Peace.

  2. Brendan Doherty on March 28, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    click tracks, playbacks, computer multitracking- all of these remove the synergy between players in time- something that drummers before these things used well.

    It is easily understood, felt, heard when a band is playing and recording together- they can feel it- and it’s there- the errant shriek of fingers across wound strings, the odd mis-hit of a rim instead of a snare- while it’s important to get it as good as it can be,m it is also critical to get a document of what the music sounds like when people play it.

    Agreed 100% with Brett on recording basics simultaneous- while tricky with cymbal- happy drummers, and tough to get snare sound and separation of bass/snare, technical perfection can’t cover other issues. I can always tell when the bass guitar is added later, and I think people are generally disappointed when seeing bands in clubs that can’t amass any of the vibe they created on the record. I know how much they can be different, but when playing with elephant, recording with what became the drags, and other bands, the things that sounded the best to me were songs that were captured with just two microphones when there was loads of enthusiasm still about the song. It’s clear- in the Neil Young examples above, much of the elephant 6 collective recordings (another example of balancing tracking and live performance), the catalog of Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, and others, that spark that Mr. Sparks talks about is what musicians and music fans live for.

    I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a couple recordings that were like that, and when I listen back to them, I can remember exactly what it felt like while I was playing that day. To have captured something like that feels as if you’ve accomplished a great deal. All that work toward grasping, containing and sharing that- a very elusive goal. Hard to capture everyone at the apex of feeling in the song, band, instruments. We all have so much going on elsewhere. It is, however, what makes some records singular testaments.

    Also, I have found records of mine in the bin at Savers. And left behind in a rental car that someone else had left behind. it’s an odd feeling, to be sure.

  3. […] As Live As Possible: Alex McMahon writes for Pyragraph […]

  4. Thomas on May 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Very well said, Alex! I agree with the additional comments as well . You’ve got to capture the spirit, emotion and energy of the music and if that takes forsaking the slick technological fruits available to us, then so be it, eh?

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