Sept. 2, 2013
The recording process for Rumspringa really started when I began writing on the road in 2009. I had been touring with Efterklang and so they were around while I was working on many of the songs. I would play stuff for them in the van and get their opinion on different ideas and that naturally evolved into Casper and Mads coming on to produce the record with me.
From the beginning I was interested in this idea of an electronic record that was played by natural instruments. Like what would happen if you had an album by someone like Cristian Vogel, and took it back in time a 100 years and asked a some traveling folk band to recreate it as best they could. It was a little bit of a ridiculous idea, but it was enough to give me somewhere to start.
Rasmus, who is a member of Efterklang and also runs their label Rumraket, put me in touch with a Swedish friend of his named Petter Samuelson who was studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, Denmark. After a few emails back and forth, Petter agreed to engineer the project as part of his final thesis at the Academy and because of this rather fortunate chain of events, we were able to use the school’s immense studio for free.
I arrived in Copenhagen in January, plunging straight into the overcast slush that is a Danish winter. I immediately set to work with Mads and Casper over at Efterklang’s headquarters on the edge of the city, where we spent 3 sleepless nights honing in on arrangements, mapping out string parts, and refining melodies before entering into the studio to begin recording.
We moved to the Academy studio on my fourth day in Denmark. Back in the 30’s & 40’s the school and studio had been the home of the Danish National Radio station. Because of this many of the studios there had a rather large live room where they used to record big band performances and plays.
Down the hall there was also a large cavernous room filled to the ceiling with different percussion pieces from all over the world. Marimbas, Gamelans, Steel Drums, and a 100 year old celeste among many others.
Petter had a friend named Jakob, who was also a student at the academy and as luck would have it, a percussion major. Every day we’d go down to the percussion room and wheel down some huge instrument for Jakob to play on.
Once the process of recording began it quickly became a very communal effort with people coming in and out all day, dropping by to play this or that or just hang out. I was able to bring in a lot of my friends from Efterklang and a few other Danish bands I had gotten to know. Thomas from Efterklang, Bjorn, Mike & Niklaus from Slaraffenland, Peter Broderick and many others. For me having made my previous record completely alone this was a very new experience and something I really loved. The parts I had written for everyone started to become more of reference point as each person brought in their own interpretation of things to take the record to a new place.
While I had been putting together the Danish recording side of the album, Rasmus had been in contact with amiina over in Iceland about having them play on the record. I had been a huge fan of theirs for many years so the prospect of having them be a part of the recording was very exciting. We finalized plans and booked 2 days at Sigur Ros‘s studio Sundlaugin outside Reykjavík to track the string arrangments that Casper, Mads and I had put together.
It was winter, so the sun in Iceland tended to rise around 1030am and set around 3pm which made for a very strange day. Mads, Petter and I arrived the day before and checked into the hostel before setting out for a walk around town and some food and a stop at the famous 12 Tonár record shop/label that was home to so many of my favorite Icelandic records.
We got back to the room around 9 and set about making the final arrangments for the string sessions which included putting together all the charts for each player for each song, finally wrapping up around 1am.
The next morning we woke up to complete darkness even though it was already 930am. The Studio was located about 30 min outside of Reykjavík in a tiny town called Mosfellsbær, and was a former swimming pool that Sigur Ros had converted into a studio while making the ( ) album. Only the day before the studio had lived up to its origin as the water from the brook below had risen and begun to flood the floor of the tracking room.
We were met by Biggi at the door who co-owned the studio and was also the head engineer. amiina arrived shortly thereafter and we quickly set to work planning out the next 2 days in the control room upstairs.
Its always such a beautiful feeling when you hear string parts played back with real instruments for the first time. amiina have such a distinctive beautiful sound, especially having played together for 10+ years and to suddenly hear that in the context of the new songs was surreal.
We had a ton of material to cover, needing about 8 songs with multiple passes and takes done in 2 days. The main songs for strings were ‘Indian Summer’, ‘Bows & Arrows’ & ‘Velveteenager’ so we began with those and quickly worked our way through the charts with Mads heading up the session and serving as string ‘liaison’. amiina played almost flawlessly and as if that weren’t enough, they were 4 of the most kind and genuine people I’ve ever met.
After wrapping up the session we headed back to Copenhagen where I spent a few more days working with Petter before heading home to Nashville. In the months that followed I stayed in contact with Mads, who was now in Berlin, and arranged for him to mix the album that October. With him having been so involved from the beginning of the record it made a lot of sense for him to see it through to the end. Sascha Ring (Apparat, Moderat) lent us the use of his studio in Prenzlauer Berg in northeast Berlin, where we locked ourselves away and got to work.
The sessions for the record were very dense since we recorded so many extra things (brass, triple stacked string quartet, gamelans, marimbas etc) so Mads had his work cut out for him. I don’t remember there being any sessions with less than 120 tracks, which goes to show how much was involved on a mixing end. Because of this, Mads had started mixing a week prior to my arrival and was already pretty far along by the time I arrived.
Casper was also around and had a few more ideas, mainly choir related, for the record. He brought in a few Berlin friends like Mike Milosh (Rhye, Milosh) and Andreas Pallisgaard and we worked on parts and recorded in the adjecent live room all the while Mads continued mixing. Simultaneously, my friend Kantinka was up north in Arhus, Denmark recording vocals with Efterklang’s FOH engineer, Anders Boll.
Somehow, with all of the last minute additions we stayed on schedule though every night we stayed longer and longer, only taking breaks to have a pizza at the Berlin mainstay ‘i due forni’ around the corner from the studio. The last night was an insane rush as I had a flight to catch at 6am and we decided to just work through the night and finished as the sun was coming up.
Mads and I hazily made our way out of the studio down to street and said goodbye to eachother. And then, just like that this crazy 1.5 year process was over and I quietly got on a train and headed to the airport and back home.
In the end, this record was one I could never have made on my own. Efterklang were the main heroes of the album with Mads and Casper in particular putting in countless hours producing, arranging, mixing, and working on a million other things. It was the most ambitious thing I had ever done and it was only with everyones help that it ever came together. It was quite a humbling thing to have so many insanely talented and gifted people be a part of something I was doing. I definitely didn’t deserve it, but I’m glad I didn’t turn them down either.
Download Rumspringa for free here
Next Week: Creating the Art of Rumspringa