Last week, I reviewed the debut album by Identical Suns. But I found their songwriting and recording process so fascinating that I had some follow-up questions. Below is an interview I had with Rene Rodriguez and Todd Stanton, the core members of the power-pop group.
1. How did the recording process work?
Todd: For the recording process, Rene would send me a demo, or me to him. We would tool around with it individually, sending it back and forth until we felt it was ready enough to record.
Rene: Todd had a slew of demos and I basically picked through the ones I liked. A few of them immediately inspired lyrics so that was easy – most notably, “Nothing I Can Do” and the song that became the “Day In The Life” section of The Turn.
Todd: A song like “Baby I’m Down,” or “Nothing I Can Do” turned about almost exactly like the demos we made.But a song like EMILY was fun to see it grow. It started out with me playing the Rhodes. I thought maybe this was going to be a Maxwell’s Silver Hammer type song. And I liked the feel of the word “Kerosene”. So that became the working title for a while. Rene even started writing lyrics to it with a story of disaster as the theme. Then we did an electric acoustic version, and at that point we thought maybe this was a girl’s name instead. We looked and looked for a 3 syllable girl name that flowed well. EVERLY became the new working title for a long time.
Then one day, we tried it full electric. … and that worked well!! EMILY was the new name and she was a beauty. :-)
2. Did you try to use the same recording equipment to make it sound consistent?
Todd: The first song we started recording was “Baby I’m Down.” I did it myself basically using Adobe Audition. Andrew was just learning how to record properly. (I’m from the old PortaStudio recording days, so doing it all on my computer was new to me, though I knew the next album I would record would be done that way). Andrew started with Audition… then, inevitably moved to ProTools. How can you not?
Rene – well, I don’t even really know what Rene uses? Rene? ;-)
Rene: I use GarageBand, pretty much exclusively.
Todd: The short answer is that we really didn’t concern ourselves with the same equipment.
2. What are your strengths, and how does the other person offset your weaknesses?
Todd: Rene is really good at writing lyrics… or many times, just getting the lyric process started. I’ve never really felt like starting with lyric writing is my strong area. But I can take lyrics and mess with them and get them to work well. Rene starts in a direction I would have never thought of, different subjects, different moods. I like to take his lyrics then and rework them, maybe come up with a stronger hook, or fit the syllables to fit the melody.
Rene: I agree with Todd. Initially I felt a little bit of pressure writing the lyrics but I found that Todd was really good at revising or editing my lyrics. I found that to be really liberating. When I wrote the initial lyrics to “Common Ground,” it was about a specific memory for my wife and me. Todd was able to take that specific memory, and make it more generic, accessible to the listener, which really worked. Todd is great at that.
Todd: With music, I can sit down and write something right now. Pick up a guitar or piano and just make up something right now. I’ve never had a problem with that. Getting more creative over time becomes an issue. Making sure you didn’t just write a song you did 10 years ago, it just has a different melody.
One thing I have noticed about many of the older songs I have written was that the melody tends to stay in (what I like to call a) 5 note region (exaggerating). I’ve then noticed other beginner song writers do that too. It must be a comfort area to stay in. With this project, I didn’t want to stay there. So, whenever we started a song, I looked for ways to bring the melody out farther. Hopefully I did that successfully and not just think I did. :-) So … I guess I’m saying I have a strength in writing the melodies. Rene always says “Todd, crap out a melody!”
Rene: I expect Todd to come up with a good melody to work with and he usually comes through. So I do say, “Todd, crap out a melody” and he does, haha.
3. I loved the “Day In the Life” nod in “The Turn.”
Todd: Yeah… that was intentional. I think Rene refers to it as the “Mr. Blue Sky” part, but either way, yes. That song was a bunch of little demos laying around for years that we pooled from to write other songs, but we thought it would be cool to just stitch these little pieces together and make some Frankenstein monster song, or an Abbey Road side two. I’m really happy with it. Especially lyrically. That was fun to write.
Rene: I thought that either we would work on the complete song (we still may) or we would use it once we thought of this melody idea. Todd initially thought it would be a “Band On The Run” type thing.
4. Todd, your whole family is musical – was it a given to include them on this record?
Todd: This originally was just going to be Rene and me. And I figured we would include Andrew along the way. When Andrew became more and more interested in recording and producing, then that was a no brainer. (Less work for me, haha)
Kim’s mostly about playing live, but she was willing to play on the album, which I’ve never worked with actual strings before. For “The Turn,” we recorded about 30 different stringed instrument parts, all played by Kim. She is referred to as the Kim-chestra there in the credits.
5. How did you guys get Scott Bennett (Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys) to help mix the album?
Todd: That is all Rene!
I just have to add…he was great to work with. Very willing to deal with our picky little changes.
And in the end, he really REALLY dug our music. He called me up one day to discuss a few things, and he said, “I just want to tell you guys, these songs are really well written. I find myself singing them throughout the day.” THAT was a huge complement! He didn’t say, ‘oh that’s recorded good’, or ‘nice lyrics there’… he said “well written“. Only a person who really knows music knows what that means to a songwriter. Needless to say, we were on cloud nine.
Rene: We are friends on Facebook, and one day I got a private message from him. He said that he was looking for bands to produce and we were a contender. I was sort of taken aback but we started talking, and I started discussing it with Andrew and Todd. Then we decided to give it a go and see what happens. It worked out well.
6. Any chance of recording another album?
Todd: Oh yes! We play our annual show in Maumee (August 8 on the MaumeePalooza stage), and this album will pretty much be put to bed… for us. We have demos already bouncing around. So I am looking very forward to seeing what brand new stuff emerges.
Rene: Yes. We are definitely moving forward to work on more stuff. I’m excited by what might be coming.