How did the creative process with the singers vary? Who did you work with first‚ and how did the whole process go?
I think the first person I recorded with was Justin. We actually did two sessions‚ because we did one session and we didn't get that much done‚ or we'd got a couple of songs down‚ and they sounded so beautiful with all the different harmony parts…. That's the crazy thing about working with him; it's not about just getting a good take‚ it's getting like ten good takes. [laughter]
You've got to get them to mix.
Right‚ although he's remarkably efficient. He's got a system down for how he records himself.
And then I think I recorded with Ani‚ and she was really the only person that had listened to the songs in advance before the session. She listened to them‚ and learned them‚ and she even had done some recording before I got to the studio to be like‚ "What do you think of this?" The other guys were like‚ "So‚ what are we doing here?" That was cool‚ too. They brought their freshness to it.
The one session I wasn't at was the Haden Triplets. They recorded out in L.A.‚ and Slim [Mitchell's manager] went there. But I was sort of "on call." They would send me what they were doing‚ and they were great. They sing all these crazy harmonies‚ and those were arranged by Petra Haden‚ and we just sort of said‚ "Do what you want." Not going to tell Petra Haden…
How to arrange your parts? [laughter] What was the recording process like working with Todd [Sickafoose]?
Todd is amazing. We're so lucky to have found him. We communicate really well‚ and Michael and Todd communicate really well. It was sort of cosmic that it worked out that way. He actually played bass in the orchestra during the second version of the live show [in 2007].
Rob [Morse‚ the original Hadestown bassist] had moved to New York City‚ and he couldn't make it back for the rehearsals. I was playing a show in New York with Michael‚ and Todd came out. I had just gotten back from an Ani tour and had sort of bonded with Todd. So Todd came out to the show and bonded with Michael. We went out for some Thai food afterward‚ and Todd and Michael were just like WHOOOM! -- their minds were synced up. It was great. We were in the middle of that dinner and Michael said‚ "Todd‚ you should come to Vermont and play bass for us in this orchestra…." I had thought of this‚ but I was just like‚ "Oh my God‚ we can't afford Todd … he can't take time off the road … he's‚ like‚ Todd Sickafoose." And he's like‚ "That sounds good."
Because of that‚ he had a really strong understanding of the piece as a live show. Being a part of it was the only way he could know where the piece was coming from. So that was really great. When we went in to make the record‚ we recorded the orchestra parts‚ Michael's score‚ over the course of just a few days in this really nice studio in Brooklyn [Brooklyn Recording - Ed.]. We had to record everything fast. We weren't rushed‚ but we were like‚ "Okay‚ we have 20 tracks to lay down…."
Was it the bass‚ drums‚ strings‚ horns--everything?
It was drums‚ bass‚ Michael's guitar‚ cello‚ viola‚ and trombone.
All the other stuff like the piano‚ the pedal steel‚ was added later?
Right. Although‚ that same first session is when Ron Burger came in and recorded the accordion‚ and he also recorded the piano for "Chips." That was kind of like 11 o'clock at night‚ and there's Ron Berger. He came in‚ and we're all taking a break‚ and Todd was in there with him‚ and suddenly that piano part existed. Then Todd laid down some piano as well‚ I think because the mics were so good‚ and the piano sounded beautiful‚ and he wanted to take advantage of it. So he laid down a lot of stuff that night‚ sort of after the band had left. Then Todd took it back to his apartment. He's just got this little studio in Brooklyn‚ and he brought in a bunch of people to overdub stuff‚ and it was a lot of unconventional stuff‚ like the Glass Orchestra.
What's that?
You know‚ wine glasses with different water levels in them‚ and the guy who plays them?
No shit. What track is that?
I think that shows up at the beginning of "His Kiss (The Riot)." I think there may be some organ in there as well‚ pump organ. He recorded that‚ and he recorded a trumpet player‚ but the trumpet was mostly used percussively. It wasn't playing lead lines…. Then there were some noise tapes that he played forwards and backwards. Todd's brain is so wild….
I bet.
It's funny‚ he's so far out sometimes. His thought process is that he's already come to the conclusion that the rest of us would come to‚ and he's moved onto the next thing. Occasionally‚ when I was touring with him and Ani‚ we would play this word game‚ and he could not really play the word game because his mind was associating words that none of us would ever associate.