It's a quintessential problem for bands that evolve around their energetic live performances. How do you translate that energy into a finished album? It's not as simple as just recording a live performance at a festival, or going into a studio and recording a jam session. There's a myriad of issues to contend with -- tracking, mastering, mixing and arranging the album all require careful thought and attention.
These are some of the issues that Victoria's The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra recently dealt with. The band has structured itself around a grassy-rootsy folk that sees them singing songs in Spanish about the victim hood of Mexican drug culture or their homes on Vancouver Island. Though they recognize their first album (The Double EP) had a raw "live off the floor" feel, they've recently been working to hone their presence in the studio.
"The Blanche Album was the first time that we really experimented with recording as a medium for creation," says Ian Griffiths, lead vocalist and accordion player. "For songs like 'Breathe In, Breathe Out,' which is a song on the second album, we tracked everything on that song, which was the first time we'd done that. We invented parts in the studio, we wrote stuff in the studio, instead of having it all pre-written, which was new."
The band has been sequestered in the snowy B.C. interior recording a yet-to-be-named double (two songs, one on each side of a record), and it's been an opportunity to further improve their studio craft. They've implemented a new technique where two or three instruments will play the song at once and they'll track the other instruments as needed.
"That way, you capture the live the sound when you have the three of us or the four of us," says percussionist Paul Wolda. "That's the benefit of recording live off the floor -- you capture that energy. That's one thing that we wanted to do with this last recording and all our recordings. The last recording has really captured the energy of our live performance, which is something that is really tough to achieve."
"It's definitely true," adds vocalist and guitarist Kurt Loewen. "This last experience, for me anyway, was the first time I felt fully comfortable being in a performance mind set inside of a studio. It's more a pressure cooker situation, where it's like, you have this time frame and you have to adhere to it, and so you better get this stuff down otherwise it's not going to get finished."
The band is known for its eclectic sound. Genre labels can only provide a hint of their unique musical styling as the band's diversity is the result of the many different backgrounds that members can boast.
"We all come from different musical backgrounds, from Jazz School, to studying Flamenco for two years in Spain, to playing in African hand-drumming groups to playing in reggae bands and punk bands," says Griffiths. "I was in a screaming punk-metal band when I was in high school, yelling vocals with my shirt off and blue hair."
That being said, an eclectic style like Tequila Mockingbird's can be a barrier for potential listeners. It's not easy to characterize and it generally requires attracting and appealing a certain crowd who are more open to music outside the narrow confines of what is considered mainstream. But the band embraces their diversity, arguing that instead of limiting their audience, it serves to expand it.
"We play for everyone, we play for two-week-olds and 90-year-olds," says Loewen. "Paul's grandmother came to a show on the island and she's 93 years old. She enjoyed our music and I don't think it's just because she loves Paul. It's super, super wide appeal as far as demographics are concerned. There are lots of people our age, mid- to late-twenties, who are totally grooving on it. If we're aiming for people like us, then we've accomplished that as well."
That thought aside, even their frequent collaborator and producer Zak Cohen has questioned how radio-friendly the band is, but in their nonchalant way, the band takes it in stride.
"Zak thought we were folk music because we wrote songs that were, in some cases, way too long for the radio," says Griffiths. "Pop music is great. But that's not at all what we do. It's almost intentional that there isn't wide pop appeal. If we wanted to be a radio band, we'd come about our song writing in a completely different fashion. We'd write a hook, and write a three-minute catchy tune and then get it on the radio. Not to say that we could just do it that easily -- but it's just not part of focus."
That focus was solidified when the band spent four months touring together in Europe in 2008. Despite lacking solid plans or any guaranteed method of transportation, the trip was a great success.
"After having just a backpack, your buddies, and your instruments for four months, and you manage to live off making music on the street everywhere, you can pretty much do anything," says Loewenm.
The band is firmly back on the continent now. Though over Christmas their focus was firmly set on mastering the studio, the band is in the midst of touring the dense forests of interior B.C., before singing west, through the Rockies to the wide open spaces of rural Alberta.