HomeBlogsbillhare's blogClassic Tracks: The House Jacks' "After You"

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In 2002, I had the pleasure of working with the House Jacks in creating their “Unbroken” album. Months before starting to record, we had email discussions about direction, character, and ideas about how to make this album stand out. We talked about other albums, both A Cappella and instrumental. We decided we wanted to make a no-holds-barred classic sounding concept album, and after a lot of suggestions, we looked to Queen’s “Night At The Opera” as a foundation for general vibe.

Now while “Unbroken” sounds nothing like “Night At The Opera”(with the exception of the intro texture that opens the album, madly crescendoing into the first song), it was still a good starting point to look toward an end goal. I don’t know how long the Jacks themselves stayed in this focus, as there are 5 different authors over the 10 songs, but for myself it was a good template to work from while creating something completely new. Songs that run into each other, loosely telling an overall story (though most “concept” albums, including this one, hardly ever really achieve this), lots of soundscapes and “audio travel”, etc that just came from having a pre-existing reference point. From that point, though, we could go wherever we wanted!

Deke Sharon brought in a MIDI track of his new song “After You” one morning, and I set up a microphone for him to sing along to it, just to show me how the song goes. In the studio world, this is usually called a “scratch track”, a template to work with until we record the real vocal. Usually we’ll record and effect all of the other parts so that when we do the real lead vocal the singer can be in the right vibe. This “scratch track”, however, had something special – Deke just walked in there, and knowing it wasn’t going to be the final vocal, didn’t really think too hard about what he was going to do – he just put it out there, softly and beautifully, and 3 minutes and 58 seconds later came out of the booth saying “that’s basically the way it goes, I have a lot of ideas of stuff I want to do in the final take but this’ll do for now.”

I was pretty sure that he had just laid the final take, but didn’t say anything – I loved the song from the start, and from that moment kind of took it under my wing as my own “pet project” of the album.

We had decided that only skeletal arrangements would be put on paper for these songs, and we’d create most of the textures on the fly, in the studio, which is my preferred mode of working – more fresh creativity, etc.

I believe the bass line and arpeggiated main parts were written out along with the basic chord structure, but most of the rest of the texturing just kind of wrote itself as we experimented.

There were several “visions” for this song, but I heard it somewhere between Abbey Road-era Beatles, XTC, and a mid 70’s Electric Light Orchestra ballad. Deke, Austin, and Garth were pretty adamant that they didn’t want and percussion on this one. Wes and I thought otherwise, but we left that decision for later.

One of my favorite parts of this album is the swooping la las, oohs, and ahhhs of the second verse. This is where the Beatles influence was to show itself. I wanted a really tight blended sound, so instead of multiple vocalists singing the different parts, we just sent Garth into the booth and made up some parts as we went along. He’s triple tracked on each part, and because they overlap, we used about 32 channels just for Garth alone during that verse! Even though we burned through a lot of tracks and just made up the parts as we went, I think the whole process took only 15 minutes or so thanks to Garth’s dead-on performances. In the second half of that verse, where Deke sings “And I choose, not to lose” we had Austin go in and sing a couple gentle high notes, which I ran through a rotating speaker effect (A Leslie, for those who know what I am talking about) to simulate a Hammond organ for more of that 60’s love!

In the bridge that follows, I based most of my sonic decisions on the XTC influence, the bubbling texture of the 16th note background that still sounds smooth and slow in the wonderful way Austin and Deke gently sang those notes. Wes completes this effect by making that foaming beach surf wave sound – which is not an effect, but the actual sound that came out of his mouth!

As these parts came together so we could see the big picture, I started pushing for percussion on the track, and finally was able to work with Wes for awhile on it, bringing it in starting at the second verse and building throughout the song. We had trouble figuring out what to do with the bridge – I had an idea incorporating several meters happening at once which would make it appear that the drums were changing time within the same tempo that would build through it, but couldn’t get what was in my head to happen in the real world – at this point Wes came up with the “surf” sound idea and everything else fell into place.

Deke came back to do his final lead vocal, but by that time I’d been telling him how much I loved his scratch track. We decided to try it to see if he came up with anything better, and he did some nice stuff, but it had lost that original intimacy so we decided to go with the scratch (many hit records have used the scratch vocal as well, so this is nothing new!)

As I started to mix the song, I felt we were waiting too long for the percussion to enter, so I took some of Wes’ high hat sound and put it very lightly behind the whole intro, then took one of his rim shot sounds from later in the song and ran it through a really dirty delay effect starting at “What am I to do?” – Wes also added some breaths at this point – soft, simple, yet very effective.

The mix itself was quite quick and easy as everything was already in place, but I still think it’s one of the nicer mixes I have done – there don’t have to be a ton of effects or stuff moving all over the place to make a mix stand out – sometimes just getting out of the way of the performance is the best thing!

P.S. This track is available as a free download for CASA Silver members and above - just move your mouse over the list at left, click on "Multimedia", and find the "A Cappella Originals mp3 Library". If you are not yet a paying member of CASA,please consider helping us grow and thrive by becoming one!