Breaking the Record with Roan Yellowthorn, Part 4: Aftermath

Breaking The Record 2020
Breaking The Record 2020
Jackie McLean of the indie band Roan Yellowthorn grants us an inside look at the making of an album from start to finish in her ‘Breaking The Record’ column.
Stream: “I Started a Joke” – Roan Yellowthorn

The recording is done. I keep saying it to myself over and over to try to make myself believe it: the recording is done.

Making our initial record, the one before this one, was such a different process. It was so much more uncertain and took so much longer. My partner Shawn literally taught himself how to use music editing software in order to produce and mix it. The production and mixing process for that one took almost 5 months. And we were learning to fly as we went.

Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1 here!

This time, things are so different. So much easier. Challenging in completely different ways. The entire recording process, from start to finish, took eight days. I was in the studio last week, from Sunday to Sunday, for eight days. We recorded for ten to twelve hours per day. The time went by as if we were in a vacuum. That is, the time went by very fast and also, sometimes, it stretched out like taffy, distorting and doubling back on itself.

Roan Yellowthorn's Jackie McLean at the mic
Roan Yellowthorn’s Jackie McLean at the mic

There’s something about being in a studio for an extended period of time that’s sensually very different from existing in the world. For one, there’s no natural light. Therefor, time really takes on a different cast. There are no external markers of passing time. It can feel easily like time stands still. Or else like it vanishes in a woosh. In the studio, it feels like you have all the time in the world. I usually think obsessively about the passage of time – what it will do to my face, how long my life will be, how much time has already gone by. In the studio I don’t think about these things. I exist with no guilt; singing vocals or falling down a Google rabbit hole with an equal measure of existential placidity. There’s no tugging reminder that each moment spent is one I’ll never get back.

The timeless quality of time in the studio lends itself well to making music, to creating art. Luckily, I didn’t really have to be keeping track of the time, anyway, because our producer, John Agnello, had everything organized to a T. All I had to do was sing.

The Studio: From left to right, assistant engineer Jeremy Delaney, me, and producer John Agnello.
The Studio: From left to right, assistant engineer Jeremy Delaney, me, and producer John Agnello.

In the studio, there were charts everywhere. There was a master chart on the wall with all of the song names written in on one side and all of the parts to track on another, with x’s filled in the boxes when the task was completed. There were sheets of paper printed with song lyrics, that John took a ruler and pen to and covered with a grid of squares. For each vocal take I did (up to 12 for each song), John would enter a grade on each line for each take in sharpened pencil point in order to mark down which lines of which takes were the best.

The finished grids, blue lines down and across and filled in meticulously with versions of tidy check marks in each box were satisfying to behold in a way I can’t put into words. They reminded me of middle school grades – a check minus for work that was not yet satisfactory and a check plus for glowing achievement, the plain check living in mediocracy. Seeing check plusses on John’s grids gave me a jolt of satisfaction, like I was getting a good grade.

I asked John if I could keep his grids. He told me that he usually keeps them, but that, since they obviously made me so happy, I could keep these. I packed them into my bag with the kind of care reserved for precious goods. I’ll keep them forever.

Next week – mixing (for real this time!)

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We Just Disagree - Roan Yellowthorn

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