Zen of Recording

Tim

It’s late April, several years ago, and I can remember it seeming a little like Christmas. It’s a no moon night and, at times, my breath is all I see. I stalk purposefully through San Diego’s frosty, darkened streets that wind down from my super-secret parking spot toward that ubër oasis of all things musical of the indie moment, the Casbah. As if the cold slicing through my coat seams were not lending enough layers of discomfort, each step carried with it a subtle cacophony that jingled and or jangled with a timbre halfway between Santa’s sleigh and the chains of Jacob Marley but almost whispered, as if to avoid detection…shiennng…shiennng…shiennng.

Surely, the large and kind doorman must have heard the bangle of my now newly-ripped coat lining as I greeted him.

“Hi, I think I’m on the list.”

“Cool. What band?” he asked over the opening blare of the opening artist’s first salvo.

I leaned in so he could hear me better and, in doing so, Donner and Blitzen’s specters were once again evoked…shiennng, “Via Satellite.” I said and, as always, with pride impossible to mask.

“Yeah man, come on in.” He nodded as he held up a rubber stamp, whose mark I knew would still be on my wrist in the morning. Ink was transferred to skin and I headed in… shiennng…shiennng…shiennng.

“Hey, man” came a soft, cool familiar voice from the darkness. “You got what I want?” he broke character quickly and chuckled as he draped his long, slender arm across my shoulders.

“Yeah, man. I got the stuff,” I said with mock-shifty eyes, as I produced the concert sleigh bells I had been unwisely (and pretty much unsuccessfully) concealing in my coat pocket.

I vividly recall the first time I’d heard these bells, but context would probably help. In 1999, my son Drew Andrews brought over some friends that he had been playing music with at their church in El Cajon, after hours. He wondered if I could help them with the mixing of some material they’d been developing and recording under the name Static Glaze. I did, and a short time later we decided to record together. The end result was an album called Wake Up Heavy, which was the first of several we would end up making together. It was during this time that they changed their name to Via Satellite.

Sessions had been going great. An uncommon sense of focus stretched itself taut throughout the entire process, with more creative ideas per measure than any project I’d worked on before or since.

One day, however, things were coming together a little more slowly than usual for a song called “New Day Sun.” We were trying to get the arrangement to build to a climactic intensity both grand and majestic, but still delicate enough to offset the walls of guitars we were building around it. While the band got much more dynamic in the performances, we still couldn’t find it.

“Hang on a sec.” said a distant voice that bled into the room mics. “Yeah. Okay, set me up with a new track and let me see.” I hit “Record.”

After almost 3½ minutes, we heard it.
shiennng…
    shiennng…
    shiennng…

“I turned to Drew. “What is that?”

“That,” he laughed, “is some Tim magic right there, dude.”

And magic is something my dear friend Tim Reece brought so very often.

The perfect feel for the moment.

That exquisite, deep, open tone from his drums. That quiet, confident cool. That hard-won performance he challenged himself to find from within. Time and again he would ask to do “one more take.”

He knew what he wanted and he needed to hear that manifested, because he was an artist.

Tim’s drum grooves were often solidly influenced by soul music and he often landed on the late side of the beat “where all the good gravy is,” we used joke. This often imparted a deeper, more three-dimensional connection between the space and the song’s emotional thread, which he paid particular attention to.

This sensibility was often coupled with his constantly forward-thinking attitude toward exploring new sounds and technologies and, as a result, Tim employed some very innovative and, I believe, influential techniques. The first session we did together I remember asking over the talkback mic if he could check the snare, because it sounded… ummm… boingy. Turns out he had turned the snares off and was going for that sound on purpose! After I realized and accepted that, I came to love that sound, especially when Tim did it and asked for it on multiple occasions. We hung little beaded chains on his ride cymbals, so they would sizzle in the background like the riveted rides favored by jazz players. One day he came in and said, “I want to do this kind of jungle thing,” referring to a house music offshoot that features loops of syncopated, funky beats that are sped up to impossibly fast tempos. So, the song starts and instead of playing the “easy” human part of the beat, which is half as fast, he started laying down all the crazy fast stuff instead! He would play with felt mallets a lot, which could emulate more orchestral-sounding percussion textures. Tim painted with sticks, brushes, even his hands in service to a profound, intelligent, and insightful artistic expression.

Tim was also an incredibly talented visual artist, whose original artwork adorned all of Via Satellite’s CDs, LPs, EPs, and digital releases. His illustrations were at once primitively child-like and strikingly direct in their sensitivity. You felt what the pieces were about before you could thoroughly process them in their entirety. I was proud to hang his work in my home.

Mere months ago, Tim learned he had cancer. Tim, Drew, and Scott Mercado went into the studio where I recorded what we now know are Tim’s last sessions. These 15 or so songs will be made available over the span of two releases and represent some of the bands finest work. Once again, Tim fought to find and deliver those definitive performances, even as his body was failing him.

While in the studio, he showed us the solo album he’d just completed. It is absolutely amazing, and I hope to have a copy when it’s released.

A few weeks ago, he presented us with his own book of poetry. I didn’t even know that he wrote poetry!

I do know he was a bona fide Rock Star. Calm, casual, and matter of fact in his shades, fur collars, and cowboy hats, Tim oozed a soft but worldy charisma. Whatever he chose to do, he rocked it, he owned it, and when it came to the spoils of being a rock star, he always shared that experience with me. Whether pulling me backstage to teach me how to open a beer with a lighter or plucking me out of a long line out in front of the theater or calling me from the jacuzzi of some swanky European hotel, Tim always broke a piece off for me to enjoy and always responded to my thanks by saying, simply, “Yeah, dude, come on.”

In the song I mentioned earlier (“New Day Sun”), Drew and Tim are reading aloud from some of their favorite books, weaving in and out of focus in the mix. As I listened to it I realized that Tim was heard asking the question over and over: “Am I not in heaven now? Am I not in heaven now?”

Yes Tim, I believe you are.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer with over 460 credits, including Via Satellite’s SDMA-winning Wake Up Heavy.

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