Let's Jump into the Fire: Recording Cottage City Firehouse
Rich Eckhard shares studio tips from the recording of his latest album
I recently recorded a new CD, Cottage City Firehouse, and wanted to share some of the experience and inspiration with the readers of Premier Guitar. Most guitarists dream of putting in studio time, if they haven’t already done so, so this month I’d like to talk a little bit about how these songs were written and recorded and the gear I used to create some of these tracks.
On this project I stretched out in a lot of different directions musically. I covered rock, jazz, country and even—dare I say it—hip hop! I recorded this album over a two year period and ended up learning a lot about problem solving. The direction I wanted to take this venture changed a number of times in the 24 months that passed since its inception. But the most important thing I relearned from this process was that there’s nothing more gratifying to me than writing, recording and performing my own music.
One new thing I learned is that not everything you write or record is going to make the final cut. Have you ever wondered while listening to some of your favorite albums if there were songs that didn’t make it on the disc? Do you speculate over whether you would have liked those songs if they were there, or did the artist just not think they were good enough for you to hear? Now that I’m on the other side of the thin cellophane wrapping that separates the music makers from the listeners I have a better understanding of why some songs make the record and some don’t.
I wrote a song with my long time friend Bill Russell; I slaved over it for months. He had this amazing percussive acoustic riff; as hard as I worked trying to make a song out of this intense guitar progression, I couldn’t pull it together. I never found the inspiration that I needed to turn that monster riff into a completed song. Any one of us may be sitting on a guitar lick that’ll make us famous someday, but we’re not ready for it to turn to gold. I have a feeling that the song will make it on to the next attempt.
I’m sure many readers would think that because I play with one of country music’s top artists I would lean strongly towards and dig deeply into my country boy roots on my solo projects. Not so my friends! I didn’t grow up with much twang in my life. I was a rocker from the word go. However having worked in the country music field for as long as I have I’ve picked up a few things and more or less out of necessity learned some of the tricks of the trade. I’m sure you all know that the style of playing that incorporates double stop lines, impersonates pedal steel guitar and uses a nearly squeaky clean tone is called chicken pickin.’ Not being much of a chicken picker, I don’t have all of the standard equipment used by the specialists of this technique, but I did what I could using my U.S. Masters Super T plugged into a Kustom Coupe combo. The Super T is equipped with humbuckers, unlike the traditional Fender Tele’s single coils. Since I tracked my album at the house I was feeling no pressure to get it right on the first or second take as I often do tracking at the big studios downtown. I was able to experiment with different things and do as many takes as I wanted. One of the coolest things this allowed me to do was to change between two guitars throughout the piece. In addition to the Super T, I used a PRS McCarty II with the coil tap pulled to single-coil mode. The tone differences are very subtle, but it was enough to keep it interesting to listen to. It let me sound almost like two guys riffing back and forth. I even went as far as to track one guitar with the delay going to tape and the other dry so I could add a different type of delay later.
On a record with all instrumental songs, you have to use these tricks to keep listeners engaged. Without a vocal story line to follow you have to give them a reason—besides burning speed and boyish good looks—to want to hear what you have to say. Attention to detail will draw them in and keep them interested.
Okay, I’ve gotta talk about the hip hop. I found a great hip hop groove on Acid Pro. If you’re not familiar with Acid, it it’s a loop based recording program that’s very simple to use. I got it years ago and it gave me the confidence to attempt to jump into the world of Pro Tools. I practically built the entire song called “The Hudson Strut” around this beat. One unique thing I did on this piece is pull the strings with my thumb and index finger like a slap bass. It gave me a very percussive attack. It was partly influenced by the funky beat and partly by Jeff Beck’s no pick approach that he’s developed over the last 10 or 15 years.
I’m sure I’ll touch more on this project over the coming months—and I know that we all feel kinship in knowing that there will never be anything better in our lives than creating music.
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought after guitarists in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing lead guitar with Toby Keith. His new album Cottage City Firehouse is available at his website and CDBaby.com