How We Made The
Record is a new feature on
Radio Free Silver Lake. Each week we interview bands about the back story of
their new album. We talk about the process of putting an album together:
generating creative ideas, writing music, financing and production (recording,
engineering mastering). For every record there are trade offs and compromises.
There are problems that need creative solutions like choosing a studio, a
producer, and developing great sound with limited resources.
We return this week with Lost on Purpose. Will Vander Wyden (The Ross Sea Party) has been recording solo as Lost on Purpose since 2003. He recorded Ronin with keyboardist and vocalist Jacquelyn Thropay. The album, which takes its name from the Japanese term meaning “masterless samurai,” was influenced by a two-month journey when Vander Wyden’s traveled though Japan, China and Southeast Asia. Ronin is out now. -K. Pinto
By Will Vander Wyden
What was the creative concept, or a point of departure for the album when you started? Did you have a unifying concept or just start writing songs? When did you write the songs: before you went into the studio, or did the tracks come together as you recorded?
The songs are all heavily influenced by my travels throughout Asia, particularly Japan. I’ve spent a fair amount of time there over the past couple years and even learned some Japanese. There’s just something about the way a different culture and language impacts the brain – it’s like parts of my mind I had never used were suddenly being molded in totally new ways. All of the songs on Ronin were affected by those experiences, to the point where I noticed that similar lyrics kept popping up in different songs throughout the album. Also, this is the first album where every song was recorded as part of the same process. In the past my albums have been more like collages, collections of songs recorded at different times and in different ways. You can even hear a difference in quality between some songs on my older records because I learned how to engineer better in between recording them! Ronin started out the same way, but as it took shape Jacquie convinced me to start from scratch and re-record every song as a unit. And that turned into the next year of my life. As for the writing process – the basic arrangements were “finished” when recording began, but not every part within those frameworks were written and in the end I occasionally rearranged some songs during the recording process… thank god for computers.
Production & Engineering
How did you choose your studio, producer, and engineer? Where did you record and what is the space like? Did you work with outside people or produce it yourselves? How did you make it sound good with the resources you had?
I played most instruments, along with producing and engineering, and recorded it on the cheap at my house and our rehearsal space. I first had a friend lay down drums, then started building tracks. But after a couple months I went into the studio with another band (The Ross Sea Party) and learned a wealth of knowledge from our producer. After tracking the RSP album I came back to Lost on Purpose and got into massive drum editing – the first time I’ve ever done that, and I went a little crazy. Of course, after editing drums I had to re-record all the tracks I had already built. Long story short this album took a year because I more or less recorded it three times over. By the end the project had grown bigger than my mixing abilities, so for the first time I put a significant amount of trust in someone else’s hands. It was mixed by Jon O’Brien (The Music Box Studios), who I had met a while back through the scene. I’m a big fan of his production and couldn’t be happier with the results. Some of his choices blew me away, and he took a couple good songs and made them great.
Well… I suppose I can tell you that when Ronin began Jacquie and I were a couple… and by the end we were not. It wasn’t because of the album, but it did make things difficult. Still we somehow found a way to work together and get all her vocals and keyboard parts done, and the album wouldn’t be half of what it is without her involvement.
Did you finance the album yourself or did you do fund-raise with a kickstarter or indie go-go campaign? Did you have any label backing or distribution?
This was totally self-financed. I have a day job and make a little money from music here and there. I’ve gone the kickstarter route with other bands but frankly didn’t want to hit up friends and family again, and also because this is more of a solo project I’d rather get it done on my own… I’ve always leaned heavily towards a DIY ethos.
This spring I put together a three-piece live band and started playing shows all over town. We’re looking to tour in the fall and keep working the internet angle for promotion. It’s funny though, every day the internet looks more and more like the pre-internet world. I remember music sites used to have to ask bands to send them music and promised to review everything they received. Now any child can start a blog and be inundated with links and CDs in a week.
The best place to listen and purchase the album is Bandcamp.
Words of Wisdom
What did you learn from this that will influence how you will make the next album? Is there anything you learned that you would pass along to another band that’s about to record an album?
Trusting in other people, like Jon O’Brien’s mixing skills, was an awesome experience (and kept me from killing myself). I think in the future it will be way smarter to get some friends together and jam out songs for a month or so, then go in and record all the live tracks as a band and with someone else engineering. I can work on overdubs after that, but it will be infinitely more rewarding to spend the time up front involving other people and rehearsing than for me to write and record every instrument one by one and wearing three hats. In fact I’ve already started work on the next album using that process.