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Music, Etc

Music, Etc.: BNQT – Traveling Feast

With today’s recording technology, intercontinental collaboration has become more accessible to musicians than ever.

With today’s recording technology, intercontinental collaboration has become more accessible to musicians than ever. Take the latest indie ‘supergroup’ to emerge, BNQT (pronounced Banquet), featuring members of Midlake, Band of Horses, Franz Ferdinand, Travis and Grandaddy. With Midlake’s Eric Pulido at the helm, basic tracks for the project’s Volume 1 were recorded primarily at Midlake’s homebase in Denton, Texas. A handful of BNQT members contributed ideas and made recordings in the same room, while others sent in vocal tracks from various locations around the world.

For Pulido, the goal was to elude the mundane cycles of being in a band and ‘break bread’ with other musicians he had a musical affinity with yet never had a chance to work alongside. Pro Sound News spoke with Pulido about the new recording and how amalgamating a diverse set of ideas can make a project more interesting and artistically inspiring.

I wanted to switch gears and pursue a different project of sorts because as with most bands, the cycle of being in a band can be repetitive: You make a record, record it, put it out and tour it for a year. Then you do it all again. In Midlake, we’ve always had longer recording cycles than I would have liked or would have wanted. So we would mix up other projects, play a one-off show or collaborate with another artist here or there. After we finished one of our recent recording cycles, I wanted to do something different, so I started sending out emails to some folks we had befriended or had a mutual respect for. I bounced the idea of getting together and making a record off of each of them—our own little collaboration to create something new and different.

Once we got confirmation from folks, we put some parameters in place while remaining very flexible. We invited people to come to town with an idea or song, and work it out with us together. Or, if schedules didn’t permit, we would ask people to send in things remotely and then bounce musical and production ideas back and forth. The most daunting thing for us was taking someone else’s song—or their ‘baby’—and executing the production that we thought was right. I can’t say this for certain, but some of these songs could have ended up in their own bands.

Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses was the first contributor on the project, because he was the first one to send us something and he knew it would have to be remote. His contribution was the song “Unlikely Force,” and as I recall, he just had an acoustic guitar and his vocal without the full lyrics or form. We used this song as our guinea pig, working out where we could go with the song almost as if Ben was with us. Alex from Franz Ferdinand was also remote—he would send demos via email and we would recreate the song, adding structure and harmony. Then these folks would give their notes back and so on. Fran [Healy, of Travis] and Jason [Lytle, of Grandaddy] both came to town and they would play their songs to us on the guitar or play us a demo off a computer, and then we would go into the studio. This process obviously enabled a faster back and forth, and allowed us to make quicker production decisions.

Everyone was a joy to work with and we all got along really well. That said, when you are dealing with someone else’s music or art, there is a completely different set of expectations. You never know how they will relate with one another in an artistic setting. I think that since this was such a different kind of project for everyone, it didn’t have the same kind of pressures. Everyone was able to let go a little more, and was more inclined to experiment.

We did most of our recording at Redwood Studio, which McKenzie [Smith] and Joey [McClellan, both of Midlake] own. There was also another studio involved, which is more of the Midlake hub. All in all, we used totally different set-ups, interfaces and outboard gear in each of the settings we worked in. Generally, the guys would send .wav files for their vocals tracks that worked with the instrumentation we sent. Then we had strings done in London by our friend Fiona Brice and did the horns here at Redwood Sound.

In hindsight, you lose a little objectivity, but we wanted to create a rush with these songs and imbue a bit of ’70s influence from classic bands like Electric Light Orchestra, Supertramp and Wings. The mixing and mastering was done at The Echo Lab with Matt Pence, who is a great engineer and a friend of ours. There was a lot of jumping around over the course of this project, but thankfully with today’s technology, you can do that!

There was one song I wrote called “Real Love” which was the most challenging because all the guys sang on that tune together. I told them to sing whatever they wanted: ‘Here’s the lyrics, here’s the song, here is an idea or two, just do whatever you want.’ I am glad I gave them free reign, because they did things completely different than what I might have done.

This is why collaboration is so cool. You can get stuck in a rut doing the same things you always do, so input and ideas from others can be so refreshing. It’s like having a banquet—folks are going to come over and we are going to break bread and have some drinks. What will come out of it? Now I realize that that’s how to make art. It makes it different and stronger than it would be if I were sitting in my room by myself writing a song.

Jacques Sonyieux is a devout explorer of recording studios and the artists that occasionally inhabit them. Please send any tips or feedback to Jacques at: [email protected].