Recording

Mavis Staples’ ‘One True Vine’

It’s been three years since Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy first produced Mavis Staples (You Are Not Alone, Anti), and the artists have forged a close friendship that yields another masterpiece this mo 7/01/2013 5:00 AM Eastern

Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples

It’s been three years since Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy first produced Mavis Staples (You Are Not Alone, Anti), and the artists have forged a close friendship that yields another masterpiece this month: the understated gospel One True Vine. Again tracked at Wilco’s studio, The Loft, by engineer Tom Schick, Staples’ voice stars, of course, in Tweedy’s rich guitar and rhythm-based arrangements.

“This record was originally supposed to be just Jeff and Mavis—something simple and stripped down,” Schick explains. “But Jeff’s son Spencer happened to be around when we started doing demos, and Jeff would say, ‘Want to try a percussion idea? Or a drum idea?’ It just blossomed. When Mavis heard the chemistry between father and son, she said, ‘That’s what I want.’”

With few exceptions, the Tweedys played all of the instruments on Vine. “They might track guitar and drums live, right next to each other, or in the control room area with Spencer on drums and Jeff on the couch, three feet away, no headphones. They’d build on those tracks, and then Mavis would put down her vocals. It built very organically,” Schick says.

One True Vine album cover

Schick recorded to Pro Tools and says he set up several “floater” mics that he could use to capture the Tweedys wherever they landed: “I’d take a Royer from overhead if something needed a ribbon. I was using a 441 on snare, and I would move that mic around or take the 67 we were using as a room mic,” he says.

Staples’ vocal mic remained the same SM7 that Schick used in 2010. “We had such a good experience last time, and she was happy with the sound of her voice in her headphones. I wanted to keep that the same for her,” Schick says. “Most of her vocals were just one take. Every time she sings, it’s a keeper.”

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