Though the Rebel Lovers have been a band together for more than a year, we don’t have an album yet. The only place you can currently purchase a Rebel Lovers recording is on the Accordion Babes 2015 CD, which features our song “Wolves are Cool”. We’ve spent lots of time traveling, and doing photo shoots, and building a cartoon video for Wolves are Cool, and (in my case) editing and producing the Accordion Babes Pin-Up Calendar; and this has gotten in the way of producing an album together. So, it’s great that we have tons of work… but as 2015 dawns upon us, the thing this new band really needs to do is record! There is only a little problem… we have no gigs booked for this season. So we needed to find friends who would work for cheap/ or on a “pay me later” basis.
Our friend Mike Langer agreed to our pitiable terms, and convinced his buddy Danilo to help us record at Mike’s rehearsal studio/recording studio in Meiningen. Meiningen is a four and-a-half hour drive from Rebel Lovers headquarters in Hamburg. (Also, it’s in the region of East Germany where Ingo grew up.) So, this last weekend we had a lovely road-trip, and family visit, a recording project, and a chance to see what Carnaval is like in a couple of towns in East Germany. I got a few photos for you, it’s easier than describing it…
As an American I’m always interested by the caricatures of Americans that you find in other countries. At Carnaval, just like at Mardi Gras, the parade floats can be pure fun, a simple party theme (e.g. let’s all dress like rabbits!) or the floats can be used as form of joyful political mockery. So there were a few floats and crews which had airline strikers (lots of people are pissed off about the German pilot strikes.) There was also a group of kids dressed up as Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty… and another group dressed like the cast of Grease… and there was a San Francisco-themed float… they were smoking giant fake joints, and wearing huge wigs and dayglow costumes, and one of the paraders was carrying a yoga mat. (That was my favorite detail in the California-mocking crowd. Generally I was happy and impressed that my beloved San Francisco got a shout-out from the middle of a teensy German townlet! But this also made me sad, because the people that these Germans were glorifying/caricaturing couldn’t possibly live in the new Google-fied San Francisco.) There was also a Steampunk float which was being pulled by a tractor which ironically would have looked a lot more steampunk if the painted cardboard cover had been removed from it. But then it probably wouldn’t have been brown, so it wouldn’t have matched their outfits. There was a baby there who won my “most Steampunk” prize because he was in a 100 year-old perambulator and he looked cute bundled up in his aviator outfit. There were also witches, wizards, devils, angels, animals and fools; and country themes, e.g. a group of kids dressed in the plaid outfits and Tam-of-Shanters representing Scotland. The temperature was just a few degrees above freezing so the tropical-themed and sexy-cut outfits were pretty funny, as they have to be worn with winter-ready outerwear so the effect is ridiculous. It seems like there’s an industry here that sells pre-made costumes for people to attend the parade in… just like Halloween in the U.S. Some groups clearly had homemade costumes too, I liked those the best. (There was a particularly inspired group of sea creatures who had fabulous home-made costumes, and who were dancing in a conga-line, rather than just walking. They won my “most enthusiastic” award.) I loved the live musicians, the local brass and drumcore bands…there is a nice photo of the Metzels Blas Orkestra with their Mexico-themed outfits. The bands were sadly outnumbered by folks with giant PAs blasting bad party music that sounds a lot like disco, but with all the real instruments removed. About ten different floats won my “worst music” award, it was quite hard to choose which set of blown-out speakers was playing the most banal party music. Carnaval! It makes you want to drink alcohol, a lot. So I got some Gluhwein from a street vendor, and Ingo got a Thuringer Bratwurst which is probably his favorite food in the universe. (Contains sausage and bread. Win-win!) This was a good idea. I can get down with the party when I add the Gluhwein. Maybe that’s an insight into the primal origins of Carnaval. Anyway….
Back to discussing U.S. caricatures… I’ve been wondering what the foreigners think of us, given that we pretty much created the first round of movies stars and rock stars… and also given our propensity to bomb a new country every few years, creating refugee immigrant crises in lots of European countries. My impression from Carnaval is that the Germans still think we’re cool, especially the U.S. Americans who happen to also be Natives who get a double-plus cool in the German cool-score book. And some of the Germans absolutely nailed the rock-themed costumes, there was a group of girls who were dressed like me! They were hanging out with a group of boys who were dressed like the Blues Brothers so I thought they were pretty classy. Some, (ok, many) Germans also seem to feel a bit sorry and worried for us U.S. Americans, that we have such a profoundly corrupt government which starts wars all the time and doesn’t even have the decency to provide healthcare for all its citizens despite the large amount of wealth it has. (Unlike every single country in the European Union.) In other words, the worldview I already had was pretty much confirmed by my observations at German Carnavals… so it’s ok if you’re suspicious about my conclusions. Maybe if you went to these parades yourself, you’d have a different impression. If you decide to visit Germany for Carnaval season, bring a silly Halloween costume piece to wear over your warm winter garments… and plan on drinking. The costumes are so silly… the music is so… sometimes great sometimes bad… it’s so cold…. you pretty much have to drink. And to leave you with a final impression of the seriousness of Carnival, and random weird cultural impressions, here is a man in an Eskimo-themed costume with an NSA pin, drinking Jagermeister. (That’s our friend Oliver, and it was his birthday!)
Carnaval was the theme for our Valentine’s weekend days, recording was the theme for the evenings. We have not much time, and not much money, and high standards so Ingo wisely decided to limit the project to two songs for the weekend. I spent most of our 5-hour session on Friday evening finding a nice accordion tone through the recording gear. The process takes a while because first I have to let the engineer put the mics where he wants to… then I have to record something. Then I have to listen back and tell him that the microphones are distorting the signal. (Which happens every damn time I walk into any studio, from the fanciest ones to the remodeled closets.) I can’t just walk in and set up the mics where I think they should go because a) every accordion, microphone, and every room has its own sound and b) no one ever wants to work with you for cheap on a project if you don’t listen to their ideas. In fact, I think most professionals who get paid a lot of money also hate it when you don’t listen to their ideas. So every recording session starts with me acting really humble at first, and then listening… and then trying out 20 different mic positions until the distortion goes away, and so that the tone I hear back sounds sweet instead of harsh. Ingo’s drums had more mics on them, and his soundcheck took a quarter of the time that mine did. C’est la vie. I’m really glad that Mike, Danilo, and Ingo were patient and trusting throughout this ritual. It’s a lucky thing for our group that we were all interested in getting a really nice sound; and that the he-wolves were patient with the she-wolf. Although Mike did compare me to the Princess and the Pea at one point… and I can hardly blame him. Being a perfectionist can get you some cool, awesome creative achievements; it can also totally annoy and alienate people. So, another awesome thing Ingo did was to bring beer, vodka, and snacks for the session. We needed all three. (Ingo on drums, me recording a stomp track, Danilo and Mike in the control room.)
It’s hard to record a live band when you don’t have endless amounts of time and focus to redo takes. I’m very happy when I record something that has no distortion in the sound, a clear representation of both the treble and bass side of the accordion, and a fun, interesting vibe in the overall performance. I can (and must, really, given my budget) live with musical mistakes in the final version. Many recordings that people do in small/or home studios sound really dead to me. Sometimes when you try to interpret a song, your quest for perfection, or your serious, workaholic vibe in the studio kills the energy of the performance. So after we did this 4 hour sound check, we did about 20 minutes of recording! In this time we got the drum track for our new song “That Kind of Lovin” and a scratch track for the Bessie Smith song “Send me to the ‘Lectric Chair” that we didn’t end up using. And then it was after midnight and we were done.
The next two days were great… adding parts, piece by piece. Yes it would maybe be possible to record everything live but we chose the overdub route because in the end it’s faster than trying to record every part perfectly at the same time. The trickiest part with overdubs is keeping the energy of the song alive. The result, well… we haven’t mixed it yet… actually Danilo still has to edit out the pre-roll and the bad takes and mail us the project. But, if you check our Rebel Lovers site soon, we’ll update it with some cool new music tracks which we laid down in Meiningen last weekend.