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Friday, February 24, 2006

Dyan's Studio Diary, Installment #3: Dyan records piano, eats doughnut; Doug Messenger is in heaven when you smile

For the past five days, I've been sitting at the bench of a beautiful baby grand piano behind nine-foot tall sound baffles (movable walls that shape the sound) in a large soundproof room. The baffles blocked my line of vision to the control room, so my headphones were my only link to my bandmates and producers. At first, it was a little strange getting used to being so isolated from everyone else. I'll spare you the details, but after hearing the conversations of five guys stuck in a small control room for long periods of time, I decided I was on the right side of the double-paned glass.

All in all, it was a pretty great experience. The most painful part was my being forced to eat a chocolate doughnut. I've always hated doughnuts and only consented to trying one because Ariel and David stopped the recording process dead in its tracks and refused to continue until I tasted what they swore up and down was the "best doughnut in the world" (something about trust and teamwork? I don't know), but if having to eat a deep-fried dessert was my worst moment of the last five days, I can't really complain.

Now that I'm done for the moment, we've moved on to recording guitars. Zebastian was in the brightest of spirits when I arrived this morning, glowing with excitement about the guitars, amps and pedals he had carefully chosen to rent. We jumped right in, and for the first time we were able to hear the drums, keys and guitar together--it was very exciting to hear.

As Zebastian was recording, Nathaniel and I were treated to another firsthand account of rock history from Doug Messenger--the wildly eccentric and brilliant owner of the studio. Doug, who was once the guitar player and arranger for Van Morrison, told us the story of the song "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)."

According to Doug, Van Morrison was a somewhat impatient musician--he constantly churned out songs, and if something didn't seem to work immediately, he would simply throw it away. He presented the skeleton of "Jackie Wilson Said" to Doug and the band while in the studio. Van wasn't satisfied with how the song sounded, so he left to take a break, intending to come back and work on something else. Doug, who immediately realized the brilliance of the song, frantically told the musicians that unless they figured out a way to turn Van's rough sketch into a song, it would be lost forever. Over the next 20 minutes, Doug scrambled to arrange the guitar, bass, drums, saxes and piano into something that would convince Van of the song's merit. His telling of the story was full of suspense and pressure--there was no time for uncertainty or failure. He had to act quickly and with confidence. When Van returned, Doug presented him with a hastily thrown-together yet inspired arrangement of the song, convincing the singer to try recording a take. Doug's eyes lit up as he told us how the barely-rehearsed band put in a supernaturally great performance, at one point following Van's ad-libbed lead to continue a refrain longer than they had planned without missing a beat. After just one take, the song was done.

Nathaniel and I were astounded--had it not been for Doug, the song would have been tossed aside. An amazing song! A song that Nathaniel never fails to open every jukebox set with! And the person who basically created it was sitting next to us on the couch sipping a Diet Coke and wearing shorts.

-Dyan Vald├ęs

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