Rocks Off has a short list of hotly anticipated local releases for the upcoming year. Among that list is certainly Buxton's next album, Nothing Here Seems Strange, as well as whatever cooks up in Robert Ellis' kitchen. We're also looking forward to the new stuff from The Ton Tons and more, including The Cutters, The Busy Kids, The Mahas, Grandfather Child and Frank Freeman.
Roky Moon & BOLT's American Honey resides high on that list as well. The band recorded it in a marathon tracking session at Houston's famous SugarHill Studios Monday, with production work starting around 2 p.m. Drummer Jeoaf Johnson sent Rocks Off a text just before 10 p.m, alerting us that Honey was in the jar. We were lucky enough to be invited to drop in on the sessions.
For producer Dan Workman, the process was "like a dream come true - I've been wanting to record like this for a while, but I couldn't talk anybody into wanting to do this for about five years.
"With the stuff that we've learned from Live From SugarHill, Chris [Longwood] felt confident; I felt confident," Workman says. "When we started to look at Roky Moon to bring into the [Zenhill] record label, we thought 'This is a band that could do this.' I was really afraid that I'd have to sell them hard on it, that it'd be too scary... but they were like 'We've been wanting to do this forever!'"
Workman says up until now he hadn't found a band brave enough to do an entire album in a one-day session. While that may seem unlikely, keep in mind that recording everything in one day means that throughout the session, the band has to nail down each piece of the record at least once.
"It puts the focus back on the music and the musicians, instead of being so precious about being in the recording studio," Workman says. "In some ways, making these incredible studio records in the '60s and '70s kinda set us off on this course where everybody had to experiment, everybody had to use the studio as a tool."
So Roky Moon & BOLT came in and recorded the album live in the studio. In fact, the band recorded the album four times; whipping through the entire set of songs in four straight takes. Zenfilm, which also films Live From SugarHill series as well, was on hand to document the recording process.
Each take was in the neighborhood of 40 minutes - meaning the "tape" never stopped rolling and the band went straight from song to song. After the closing number they'd take a break, chat with Workman and Longwood, and the Zenfilm crew would move their cameras.
Rocks Off arrived in the middle of the first take, and got to hang around until the second run was finished. The album is big and bombastic, and those who have taken in the band's stage show ought to have a pretty good handle on what to expect from the 11 tracks. The band was jovial, all smiles throughout the day - even Johnson, who would emerge from the isolated drum chamber dripping with sweat from his faux-sauna.
It doesn't hurt that the band has been workshopping and cultivating these songs for close to a year now. Workman didn't change much, sitting in on rehearsals at The Mink - "the coldest pre-production I've ever done; there was no heat," he told Rocks Off.
"Because [the band is] so professional about their arrangements and presentation, there was not much that we had to ask of them [in order] to make this a great studio performance."
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We'd have to agree. Sure, there's still the process of selecting the tracks from each take, and then the subsequent mixing and mastering - but we got to strap on a pair of headphones and listen to the session, and it's sounding pretty stellar already.
"This is the first thing top-to-bottom produced by Zenhill," Zenfilm director and Zenhill partner Ross Wells said during one of the session breaks, "and this is a wonderful first baby to have."
Brace yourselves, Houston; American Honey is pretty sweet.