Evolution of a song. Or well, evolution of this particular song, "Unbelievable Truth"

We were asked by our good friend Brian Wooldridge if we'd have interest in covering a song from his band, the Wooldrige Brothers, for an album of upcoming covers album by Milwaukee artists. Brian was nice enough to still consider us Milwaukee-enough to be part of the album even though we don't currently live there.  Brian played bass and toured with us, played on our albums, and we like his band, so of course we wanted to contribute!

When we lived in Milwaukee, our first home studio equipment was slow, but we had a lot of time, so we churned out a lot of songs. Now, we have much faster equipment, but the element of time always feels really compromised, so the recording process ends up being slow. Weeks may go by between recording vocals and bass, organs, etc. Given the slowness of this current recording, I had a lot of time to think, which led me to convince myself that it might be interesting to put up the evolution of this particular song as it went from the original Wooldridge Brothers song, to a new basic arrangement with just piano and vocals, to finally, a more realized version with bass, organ, harmonies, etc. 
The WB's song "Unbelievable Truth" immediately appealed to me because it's a cool pop song with a catchy chorus and great guitar lines. I didn't ask what the WB's were writing about when they wrote this tune, but I like the way the "unbelievable truth" lyrically lends itself to a slower, slightly less happy version of this song. 

Here is the WB song:

I started the process of writing the cover song by arranging a new version of the song on piano. Sometimes I start to arrange on guitars, sometimes Scott and I collaborate, sometimes it's all Scott, but this time it was me on piano. The original version of the WB is guitar driven, so for me, starting to think about the song in terms of a piano arrangement was more appealing. Changing up some of the chords and adding some minor elements to it seemed like a good place to begin. For this particular track the vocals have some minimal effects and there were some overdubs. I record the lead vocal for the song about 5 to 10 times, and pick, or comp, from those tracks the vocals that have the best sound and feel. There are some pops, clicks, and dynamic and performance imperfections on this track which I didn't bother to fix until later on. (Apologies to my engineering friends for my lazy crossfades)

Arragement: Piano & Vocal only:

Once Scott added a bass line, we decided the version of the song we were working on was too fast. At a faster tempo (83bpm), the bass line didn't move the song, but instead felt rushed. An alternate, more rhythmic but less melodic, bass line felt too static. The tempo didn't work with well the minor tone of the song. I didn't post that version of the song...it's somewhere, but the point is that Scott had already come up with a cool bass line that worked well at a slower speed, so it made sense to scrap the first version and go ahead and re-record a new version with vocals and piano. The track above is the re-recorded piano/vocal at a slower tempo (71 bpm). This tempo really allowed the bass line to move more in the measures, and you can hear the warm, thumpy sound of the La Bella strings and opened up the song to other instruments. Scott played a really cool lead guitar line on a Guild guitar and the amp sound he used makes me think of Minneapolis where half of the WB are now based. That guitar line was followed by recording acoustic guitars.

For the acoustic guitars, I used a Gibson that I think has a warm yet brilliant sound that records really well. Three tracks of acoustic guitars were recorded doing variations of the same progression in the verses to lead to a more ethereal sound.  The intro was changed to include simple acoustic guitar picking. Harmonies were added in somewhere during this time. From the second verse on, there are anywhere from 3 to 10 harmony/background vocal tracks.  

Version with guitars/bass/vocals (no piano/organs on this track)

The track below is one of a few final versions. It's not mastered yet, and it's possible something could change on it. This track includes the addition of organs and keyboards, and a complete change up on the original piano. The original chord-based piano track is gone at the beginning song, but makes an appearance around the first chorus and off and on throughout. The dominant piano sounds are now more note and melody driven rather than the original chord-based version. I used a Korg SV1 for all the grand piano, organ and electric piano sounds. I love the Korg  - it records really easily, and I think it's one of the most realistic sounding electric pianos that I've heard. Recording it is easy and the controls and effects can be configured on the actual instrument before ever arriving into the pre, avoiding the need to add lots of "stuff" on the pianos during mixing to make them sound more realistic.  I still love my grand piano, but recording an acoustic piano can be kind of pain if it's not a freshly tuned piano in a studio room (which ours is not) so I don't use it for recording unless there's a lot of time. 

All in all, this was a fun project to work on!

 Another "final" track:



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