Behind The Scenes Of Jubilee (an article by Grant Lee Phillips, 1998)
As always, a record begins with certain obsessions that call out to be exorcised. The song is the most obvious form of these obsessions. A song can take on so many shapes and in fact, for me, the adventure of songwriting has been in discovering new ways to go about it. Instruments are one form of obsession and it's pretty easy to guess some of ours. There's always been a love of the archaic. Along with the more basic batch of bass, drums and guitar, we've typically seasoned our mix with pump organ, slide, dobro, kettle drums and other antiquated instruments. It's the juxtaposition of these archaic sounds interwoven with more contemporary elements that's typified Grant Lee Buffalo. One thing I've always been drawn to in an instrument is personality. This is frequently a synonym for disposition or unpredictability. I tend to find this more in older instruments that through aging have adopted some unique ailment whose symptom is a peculiar voice. I look for a certain wheeze from the bellows of the organ or a guitar amp with a specific sizzle. Any of these factors might facilitate a conversation (however argumentative) between myself and the instrument. My sheer ignorance of modern digital tools has at times produced a similar effect, but I'll admit that my superstitions are richer when it comes to instruments crafted by human hands or at least passed through human hands over time.
Jubilee - A Carload of Scenic Effects
Obsessions aside for a moment, the challenge of creating Jubilee was to capture the music in a new crystalline way. There was a desire to bring new elements into play in the form of rhythms, tones, instrumentation and lyrics in addition to the pallet that was already common to us. While there was no desire to work within the boundaries of a theme, the title Jubilee had been with us throughout the recording process. I find it stabilizing to suggest a title, usually by the mid point of recording.
In the case of Jubilee, the title first appeared alongside Grant Lee Buffalo in April of 1997. It was a live performance at Largo in Hollywood that was conceived as the mingling of music, film, comedy, and all things exotic. The tone for the evening was set with frankincense and theremin in the air. Jon Brion would often kick off the evening at the piano, performing a ragtime overture of Buffalo songs as well as his own compositions. Carlos Grasso, who has directed the majority of our videos, would premier an experimental film followed by dancers who would move about the crowd. Anything could happen. "High jinx at every turn" promised the handbill. Largo provided a testing ground for much of the new material. Jubilee set the stage for the album to come.
The Grand Production
Sometime in spring, Joey and I began speaking with various producers. It was a new world for us having worked in such an insular fashion up until then. After a number of discussions, which involved weeding through piles of resumes, and listening through stacks of CDs, it was suggested that we meet with Paul Fox. He had shown interest in working with us quite early on but had been under the impression that we weren't willing to work with an outsider. This presumption would have been correct a few years ago. However by the spring of '97, Joey and I were embracing what we saw as a new frontier.
Our first meeting with Paul Fox took place shortly after he had attended one of our Jubilee shows. This was a good introduction to the band, which at this time consisted of Joey, myself, bassist Dan Rothchild and Jon Brion, often improvising on piano and chamberlain. With Fox we discussed the previous albums of which he was a fan. This did not stop him from also offering his more critical thoughts on how we might approach the next album . Actually his thinking was not unlike our own. We discussed a new sense of presence, a bolder kind of record which would capture a living performance. We also agreed that this record should represent the brighter, optimistic side of our music. This first meeting went long into the evening.
After settling on Paul Fox we entered a rehearsal studio where we could begin working through the new material -- "pre-production" as they call it. This went on for about a week and a half solid. Fox would make a suggestion about adding another chorus or something, I'd think "No way", but then I would try it with my own little spin and fall in love with it. It was pretty intense, like training for the big match, but it was extremely valuable. I tend to write a lot of songs and a lot of them get left behind because I can't always find the time, let alone the nerve, to let them out of the bag.
Once we got to A&M Studios, Fox exposed us to his own methods of recording which combined traditional on-the-floor performance with state-of-the-art studio technology. To his credit he possesses a respect for all good things, including the organic, the analog and the vintage, but he doesn't allow that to prevent him from trying something new.
The first phase of the recording took place in late July. This was when the basic tracks were laid. We often got on a roll around midnight and a majority of those takes turned out to be the keepers. Perhaps our body clocks were still on club time. The overdubs would be recorded later in November. This gap in time was due to a dilemma in scheduling, but in retrospect it provided us all with a perspective that we rarely have enough of while in the studio. It gave us time to live with the record, and when we did return in the fall, we recorded three additional songs. One of them was "Come To Mama, She Say" which was written one evening, shortly before returning to A&M.
Overdub Sessions - Icing the Cake
One of the first overdubs to be recorded was by Wallfowers' Organist Rami Jaffee. Paul Fox and he go way back while Joey and I had met Rami a year or so earlier at a practice room in North Hollywood. Rami offered a distinctive character that seemed to glue it all together. During the overdub session the studio became a revolving door of friends and musicians who, in stopping by to pay a listen, often found themselves put to work. E from the eels, happened by the studio and soon found himself on the mic for "Come To Mama, She Say". Michael Stipe was another one. Michael and I did a lot of singing around pianos during after hours, while on tour in '95, but we never managed to record any of it. I crossed my fingers he'd be in town while we were working and as fate would have it, he was. Michael can be heard harmonizing and chanting on "Everybody Needs A Little Sanctuary." Phil Parlapiano, who you'll be hearing a lot more from, provided accordion on that song as well. Andrew Williams was invited to add some additional vocals to the songs ,"8 Mile Road" and "Truly,Truly". Our old friend Robyn Hitchcock was in from London, recording some new material with Jon Brion about a half-a-mile away. We managed to trade licks in separate studios as I added some guitar, bass and vocals to a few of his songs, while he provided both harmonica and vocals to some of our's. His wild blues harp playing can be heard on "My, My, My" on which he also provides additional vocals. Robyn, along with Dan Rothchild, is among the cloud of voices which bring the album to a close on " The Shallow End". Jon Brion, laid some of the album's most exotic tracks which includes tack piano, chamberlain, vibraphone and pump organ. He also turned us on to some great Indian food. Exotic musicianship and exotic cuisine -- Jon Brion offers it all. Lastly, Greg Leisz provided his incredible pedal steel playing on the songs "8 Mile Road," "Change Your Tune" and "The Shallow End."
Mixing it up in Miami
In December we brought our rough mixed diamonds to Tom Lord-Alge. Tom has a well-earned reputation for making great recordings sound even greater when he gets through mixing 'em. He really is exceptional in his field. Being a first-rate mixer has also given him a certain power of persuasion. He easily convinced Joey, Paul Fox and myself that Miami, rather than L.A., would be a more conducive location to work in during the chilly month of December. What's there to argue over? It was quite an experience to work (if you want to call it that) in South Beach. It was truly the cherry on top of what was already an incredible banana split of a time.
Source: GLB WB Site