The Hanslick Rebellion played a gig on March 2 – our first in four years. It was awesome (for us, anyway). We agreed to keep things going in spite of the band members’ various familial commitments and the physical distance between us. Playing shows together is difficult, but recording is always possible, and since the Rebellion always goes big we decided to tackle the most daunting monster project in my catalog: the unfinishable Rise And Shine.
We’re talking 40 songs in almost as many genres. 15 singers. Two-and-a-half hours of music. My last attempt to record this thing put me off music for over a year.
Rise And Shine is a musical stage play I’ve been working on since 2000, when Arturo Vega informed me that he’d strung together 20 or so of my already-released tracks to tell a story and had already begun writing the script. We brainstormed a complete three-act arc and I began writing new songs to fill in the gaps – 20 additional pieces of music in all. By 2005 I was well into a fully-cast demo of the thing with an incredible and diverse group of singers that included Dicky Barrett, Brian Dewan, Jessy Moss, Matthew Bair, CJ Ramone, Maryann Fennimore, Bryan Thomas and Kitty Kowalski. But we couldn’t stop tweaking, and what was, in retrospect, the perfect version of the play got mauled to death by revision after revision. I gave up on the demo in 2006 because I just couldn’t keep up with all the changes. By the time we took our last meeting, in 2010, we couldn’t even explain to an interested investor what Rise And Shine was supposed to be about. That’s when I packed it in.
The storyline, as plotted in 2000 and held consistent until 2005, is fairly simple – two college friends reunite at a New York City nightclub five years after graduation. One night, a girl from their past appears at the club and fucks all their shit up. That’s basically it. You’ve got a cast of colorful supporting characters representing various denizens of early-aughts New York nightlife, each with a mini-drama woven around the main thread, but it really is straightforward, linear and fun.
Hanslick Rebellion is the no-brainer choice for a Rise And Shine recording. A number of the songs Arturo wrote his script around, including “We Wait And We Wait”, “Leave Your Boyfriend”, “Starlet” and “Grub”, are Rebellion tunes. Better yet, because the Rebellion only recorded live, there were never studio versions of these, so it’s not like we’re being redundant. Plus Mike and I sang the two male leads on the original Rise And Shine demo, with some surprising lead vocal reversals that add a twist for longtime Rebellion fans (for example, Mike sings “Grub” in the play). It’s just right.
My first move in reopening the Rise And Shine case was to sift through the aborted demo recordings and see what might be salvageable. Sadly, not much. For all the vocal talent we had lined up, most of the tracks are unusable. We had such limited time with many of the singers that in some cases we were racing through 20-30 songs in a day. You obviously can’t get good takes that way. Then there’s the file management and handling of those vocal tracks – many were hastily and poorly auto-tuned by the engineer and then the original tracks were discarded! Unbelievable now, but at the time there were no best practices for Pro Tools workflow. The only singers whose work I can confidently keep are Maryann Fennimore, Brian Dewan and Jessy Moss, and those only because their vocals were cut so late in the process that the project stalled before the engineer could mutilate them. Everybody else has to be rerecorded (which is impossible in several cases) or replaced.
On the other hand, all 40 songs are written and arranged right down to the vocal harmonies. It’s all laid out… everything just needs to be properly performed. The undertaking is massive – recording it is only the beginning. Mixing and mastering 40 songs will cost a fortune. I get queasy just thinking about it. Unfortunately, the folks who were willing to invest in Rise And Shine the stage play are probably out on Rise And Shine the album. I understand; there’s a lot more potential ROI in the former.
In order to make this happen as quickly as possible (ha ha) I’m throttling back on my other projects for a while. That means April’s Single of the Month will be the last. My next solo album is just about done, so I do plan on putting it out later this year. But other than that I’ll be in Rise And Shine land for the forseeable future.
As we power through this thing, we’ll do our best to document the process with a series of video clips. Here’s the first one. This is actually an excerpt from a short film made by Emily Sheskin and Serena Kuo in 2004? 2005? I forget exactly. But it features Arturo and me talking about the musical and how we came to be writing partners: