NORAH JONES RECORDING SESSIONS HISTORY: June 28, 2009 - July 2009

Magic Shop Studios, New York, NY

Band members: Norah Jones (vocals, wurlitzer, piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar), John Kirby (tack piano, piano, synth, casio, string synth), James Poyser (wurlitzer, organ), Smokey Hormel (electric guitar), Frank Swart (bass), Marco Giovino (drums, percussion), Robert DiPietro (drums), Peter Atanasoff (electric guitar), Dave Wilder (bass, 6 string tick tack bass), Pete McNeal (drums), Sasha Dobson (acoustic guitar), Tony Scherr (bass), Mark Ribot (electric guitar, banjo)

Producer/Engineer: Jacquire King

Additional Recording Engineer: Brad Bivens

Assistant Recording Engineer: Brian Thorn

Set:

  • [X] It’s Gonna Be
  • [X] Chasing Pirates
  • [O] Even Though
  • [X] Even Though
  • [X] Even Though
  • [O] Light as a Feather
  • [O] Stuck
  • [O] You’ve Ruined Me
  • [U] Chasing Pirates (instrumental)
  • [O] Chasing Pirates
  • [O] It’s Gonna Be
  • [O] Man of the Hour
  • [O] Can’t Stop
  • [?] others

Guide:

[X] = confirmed to exist, unreleased
[U} = Unofficially released
[O] = officially released

Best available sources:

The Fall

  • Chasing Pirates
  • Even Though
  • Light as a Feather
  • It’s Gonna Be
  • You’ve Ruined Me
  • Stuck
  • Man of the Hour

 

Released in November 2009 on Blue Note Records.

The Fall (Amazon.com Exclusive Release)

 

  • Can’t Stop

Available as a 320K MP3 on Amazon.com’s MP3 Store

The Fall EPK outtake

  • Chasing Pirates (Instrumental)

This portion of the EPK was given to Parlophone Records, an EMI subsidiary, to put on their YouTube page. In the background, and sometimes prominently, an instrumental version of “Chasing Pirates” plays in between breaks in the interview.

The Fall EPK

 

  • It’s Gonna Be

A brief 3-second clip (with audio overdubbed of the complete song) is shown of Norah recording vocals for this track, followed by another 3-second clip (in this case, without audio) of Norah recording the Wurlitzer part for this song.

Notes: The first official set of sessions to record songs for The Fall.

In the invaluable interview Jacquire King gave to the Universal Audio Webzine, he said “We went to the Magic Shop in Soho for two weeks, and recorded three different rhythm sections with four different configurations. Guitar players would come and go, keyboard players would come and go, and sometimes that would overlap rhythm sections. So we were at Magic Shop for two weeks, which has a really cool-sounding live room, a great new desk, it's just a good vibe. Norah had worked there before, so she felt comfortable. It was my kind of gear there.” (1) Specifically, Norah had recorded demos for Not Too Late, as well as the El Madmo release and the first Little Willies demo at this studio. It had also served as a recording headquarters of sorts for many of her collaborators, including Amos Lee, Richard Julian, Jesse Harris, and Sasha Dobson.

 

Wouldn’t it have been easier and lighter on the budget to record at Norah’s home studio, though? King disagrees. “She has a very nice studio in her home. But it presents challenges in terms of all the new musicians—we didn't record with anybody that she's recorded with in the past. She had a wish list, and I had a wish list of the people that we thought would be good, based on our conversation. Without really counting them, maybe 25 to 30 musicians. And there was a lot of changeover. You go into the studio, the first days are fun, because there's a lot of anxiety and excitement, but you also look forward to when things settle in, and you kind of get into your groove. We weren't really going to be able to have a whole lot of that because we used five different rhythm sections, there's a lot of changing. So working at her house felt better for pre-production, and overdubbing, like if we were having one or two musicians over at a time, or she was singing or playing something as an overdub.” (1)

 

Prior to starting recording, Norah created a Twitter account. The intent was to be able to share with fans the progress of recording the album in the studio. However, things didn’t work out. As she told Contactmusic.com, “I stared at that web page for about two weeks, every few days. I feel like a total dope. Everything that I want to say sounds dorky, and everything that I don't want to say sounds totally contrived.” (2) The account is still open, however, and can be viewed at http://www.twitter.com/norahjones although to date no activity has taken place on it.

 

In terms of technical notes, again we refer the reader to the incredibly informative interview Jacquire gave to Universal Audio Webzine. Although King is a huge fan of ProTools and eventually did invoke it for this record, “I always record to 2" first. I always do that. Mike Spitz at ATR had given me a reel of 2" to check out, and I used it on—I think I might have used it on Landon Pigg's record, and I really enjoyed it. So I used all ATR service tape for Norah's record. I always record to analog. I usually keep it to 16 tracks. I usually use a 16 track if I can get a 16-track head stack. Even if I have a 24-track head stack, I still just limit myself to 16 tracks when I'm doing the basic tracks. I monitor through Pro Tools, the whole time. So the output of the tape machine goes directly into Pro Tools. So I'm hearing the sound of the conversion, and what's going to happen when I actually put it into the computer. Once I capture the basic takes, have a master, I transfer in. Sometimes you have to assemble a master, a multitrack master, and I do that in Pro Tools. It's funny, the last time that I actually did a 2" edit was on the Kings of Leon record, on the first song that we recorded, which was “Use Somebody.” I did the edits to make the master on the 2". I could just tell everybody was going to get really bored with Jacquire spending that time editing 2", so I was like, "OK, we'll just do the rest of it in the computer." So now I just transfer the masters in and do the edits there.” (1)

 

For miking in this session, King used “the converters that were with the Pro Tools system” although he would change his approach slightly in the subsequent sessions. (1)

 

And regarding equipment used, King commented that “Instrument choice really helped that out. All the Wurlitzers that are on the record—none of them are clean. There's nothing that's really clean, no pristine recordings. Even pianos, I was putting pianos through delay pedals, or miking them distantly, just trying to create more of an atmosphere in the sound.” (1)

 

The first session’s players were provided copies of stripped down demo versions of “It’s Gonna Be,” “Chasing Pirates,” “Even Though,” “Light As A Feather” and “Stuck” in order to give them ideas about what to do when tracking began. On June 28th, Norah, Pete McNeal, Dave Wilder, John Kirby, and Peter Attanasoff officially kicked off the recording session by tracking versions of “It’s Gonna Be” and “Chasing Pirates” that remain unreleased. After dinner, the song “Even Though” was discussed and according to Pete, they started “shaping/jamming on it. It sounded pretty cool quickly, so we decided to cut a quick version before calling it a night.” (11) Norah concurred, stating that “we recorded Even Though at night, we were just trying to learn the song for the next day and then we were going to go to bed, but we played it once and it was really good so that was the version we used.” (4) Indeed, the next day a few more passes were made at the song but McNeal mentioned that the version tracked the night before “just made everyone’s head bob...[it] felt fresh and groovy.” “Even Though” also marks the first song appearing on one of Norah’s albums that was written by, or co-written with, Jesse Harris since Come Away With Me.

 

Over the next few days, this band tracked a few more songs (11). “Light As a Feather” was the second high profile collaboration between Ryan Adams and Norah. While Adams did not perform on this recording, the two dueted together on “Dear John” from Adam’s Jacksonville City Nights release in 2005. Regarding the writing of this song, Jones remarked that “"I had a song I hadn't finished. I was stuck on it. I couldn't come up with any lyrics. I really liked the musical idea and the melody. However, as I said, I was stumped. We were hanging out. I played it to him. He came up with the lyrics. He's so quick in terms of writing that he is someone I would have a hard time writing with from scratch. It would be difficult keeping up with him. I'd just end up watching him write it." (6) Keyboardist John Kirby made some quirks to his keyboard setup to produce interesting results. According to King, “[there are] some of the parts… like on “Light as a Feather” where John took a Casio SK-1—which is basically like a little toy keyboard from the '80s, that has a little sampling function—and John sampled a pump organ that was in the studio, ran the SK-1 through a Memory Man, and then we ran it through a Leslie speaker cabinet. And that was the organ sound that's on “Light as a Feather.” Just really taking the time to look at a tune, and create a sonic backdrop and a texture that really formed the mood of it.” (1) Norah also added that this was done by “taking the guitar out [temporarily] and really letting the musicians be creative around a stripped down track.” (7) "I wanted to keep my country side away, so I needed to figure out how to make this song work and tie it in with the others. We did it by taking the guitar out, and there was this crazy organ sample and it sounded like a razor blade underneath everything. It was this cool moment where I realized that you can just strip away some of the elements and you can get something totally new." (9) Sasha Dobson, the singer/songwriter who played with Norah for years in a number of her side projects, also makes her first guest appearance on a Norah album on this song, contributing acoustic guitar.

 

“Stuck” was recorded next, and this recording is notable for featuring the electric guitar and banjo work of Marc Ribot, best known for his collaborations with two of Norah’s favorite artists in Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. This track is also notable for being co-written with Will Sheff of Okkervil River. Like “Light as a Feather,” this was another song that was incomplete which Norah had the co-writer help her finish. On her songwriting: “Now I feel pretty confident – I know my process. You go through spells where you are writing a lot for a year or longer and then other spells when you’re not. The songs I wrote with Ryan and Will, they were ideas I had that I couldn’t finish. I have a hard time putting lyrics to music after the fact. I can put music to lyrics, probably because I am more of a musician then a writer. One thing that I have learned with songwriting is that it is better to not self-edit when you are writing, it is better to write it all and go back through it later.” (4) According to Norah, this song was “recorded…mostly live and it has a good band vibe, we really got the feel down.” (4)

 

After “Stuck” was recorded, the band configuration changed.

 

“You’ve Ruined Me” was probably recorded next – another re-do from the 2008 scrapped album and once again, Ribot is featured on electric guitar. In terms of the actual recording of the song, Norah ended up coming down with an allergy attack the day of the recording. She later joked that it caused her to sing “really husky. It worked out for a few songs.” (10)

 

“Chasing Pirates” appears to have deviated the most from its original structure, based on comments from Jones on the demo she recorded in 2008. This was also one of the oldest songs that made it to the record. Presumably not too keen on the demo version tracked in 2008, Jones stated that this song “kind of helped shape the whole album, actually. It wasn’t [initially] my favorite but once we recorded it, it was one of my favorites. It’s funny what an interesting arrangement can do. It can turn a good song into a great song—or it can turn a great song into a bad song!” (3) She also added that “It wasn’t one of the really special songs until we added the drums and the keyboards and then it became one of the favorites.” (4) According to King, John Kirby, who played synth and “tack” piano on “Chasing Pirates,” made some interesting adjustments to his instrument. “The sound of that piano, it sounds a little bit odd, and what it is—is there's duct tape that's put over the strings, where the felts hit. So it's the opposite of attack piano. It's sort of a muted sound…John came up with that, and gave that to the record. So we'd just do things like that, things that felt inspiring. Like…on the chorus there's kind of a clapping sound that's actually a metal washtub that Marco [Giovino, who played drums on this song,] went to the hardware store and bought, and he was banging some chains against. So it's not like a super-effected clap, it's a washtub with chains. Just doing stuff like that, just trying to be creative and have fun, and create something inspiring. That's what we were doing.” (1) Smokey Hormel, a renowned local guitarist, contributed electric guitar to this song. Of note is that Lee Alexander joined Hormel’s band “Smokey’s Round-Up” in early 2008 to help record an album and played some shows to promote it as well, so it is entirely possible that Smokey may have been introduced to Norah by Lee.

 

While hosting her album premiere on Smooth Jazz 94.7, Norah remarked that “It’s Gonna Be” “was a fun one to do. It took a long time to record it correctly though." (8) Stylistically, this marked the biggest departure from anything she had recorded in the past, with aggressive drums and an almost “angry-sounding” Wurlitzer performance from Norah herself. She credited DiPietro for bringing this song together, with the drum parts that would have sounded out of place, even on an El Madmo song. “That one has a swingy sound, a lot of words…it could have been really hokey. But the drummer, my friend Robert DiPietro, came up with a part that was part Gene Krupa, part Adam Ant, and that just made the song something completely different. The rhythm really dictated the sound on that song." (9)

 

To close the album, Norah chose “Man of the Hour,” continuing her tradition of ending with a solo piano track—this one in particular being about her dog. "His name is Ralph and he's a poodle. [But] I like to say that he's a scruffy, manly poodle. Because you say poodle and people start rolling their eyes… My dogological clock started to tick. So I got a dog [and] it's great. I'm madly in love with him." (3) While it would have been easy enough to use the demo recorded in 2008, it would have likely not have fit presuming it was recorded without any effects, just on a standard piano. So instead, Norah re-recorded the song, using the same piano that John Kirby had “duct taped” for “Chasing Pirates” and it made the song fit right in with the rest of the album. (1)

 

It is uncertain if “Can’t Stop” was recorded at this session, but due to the Wurlitzer being used and the aggressive drum sound matching that of Robert DiPietro’s, we conclude that this bonus track was indeed recorded here. The vocal effects on Norah’s voice are much more pronounced than on any other song in the standard album, where her voice sounds more “spacey” than ever. The band configuration is unknown at this time beyond the likelihood that DiPietro was on drums.

 

After this session, Jacquire and Norah spent the next week at The Coop, her home studio, doing additional tweaking to these recordings before flying out to California to finish recording.

 

References:

1. Universal Audio Webzine – Marsha Vdovin Engineer/Producer Jacquire King Holds Court with Norah Jones, Kings of Leon, and More
2. Contact Music – Norah Jones embarrassed about Twitter silence
3. American Songwriter – Norah Jones: Friends in High Places
4. Music Week – Christopher Barrett – Norah Jones – The Fall Girl
5. New Zealand Herald – More Than Meets The Eye
6. Irish Independent – Ed Power – Wide Awake: Norah Jones
7. EMI - Norah Jones – The Fall – EPK
8. Smooth Jazz 94.7 The Wave – CBSRadio Street Date World Premiere of “The Fall”
9. Norah Jones official biography (2009) – EMI Music
10.
NPR Morning Edition11/4/09 Interview
11.
Pete McNeal – Private Correspondence


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