Musician, songwriter, TV/film composer and Webcast producer Peter Himmelman readily admits that he thrives under pressure. For his latest solo release, The Mystery and The Hum (Himmasongs), he dared himself to write a body of entirely new songs within 20 days and to record them outside of the familiar environs of his project studio in Santa Monica, Calif. In the process, he created a highly inspired work of soulful rock and blues.
“I had been doing music for a television show called Bones,” Himmelman recalls. “When the [Writers Guild of America] strike hit [in November 2007], there was an indeterminate amount of time off, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to use that time.’”
Himmelman contacted producer/engineer Rob Genadek, a longtime friend, and scheduled a three-day lockout at Genadek’s The Brewhouse Recording Studio (Minneapolis). For these sessions, Genadek booked bassist Jim Anton and drummer Billy Thommes (both veterans of guitarist Jonny Lang’s band), whom Himmelman had never met. Genadek encouraged Himmelman to create spare, loosely arranged demos of each song for Anton and Thommes “so there were no preconceived notions” about the music, Genadek says.
Genadek says his approach to production is to “get it right with the microphone and the mic pre, and that influences everything else down the chain. I’m trying to go through a session without anybody noticing what I’m doing, and if I’m doing that, I’m probably serving the music in the best way possible. Each song gets its own treatment. Predominantly, the stuff was recorded live. The studio has a main room and two isolation booths. The drums were in the main room with the bass going direct [to] a Line 6 POD. Pete was set up in the bigger isolation booth that has a Yamaha grand piano, and he played electric guitar in there, as well, with the amp in the other isolation booth. All his stuff was right there, and he had good sightlines.”
Genadek tracked the drums directly into Pro Tools through Aphex 107 tube preamps that he had modified; he used Neve preamps on electric guitars and occasionally called on the “colorful” mic pre’s in his 1979 Neotek Series III console. For acoustic guitar, Genadek says, “I took an Audio-Technica lavalier and fashioned a little mount between the 12th fret and the sound hole [using] board tape and coffee stir-sticks. We needed to have that relationship [between the guitar and vocal mics] be very consistent so we wouldn’t get too much phasing.” Himmelman tracked his vocals with a Blue Blueberry mic.
“In three days we probably recorded 18 tunes,” Himmelman says. “I felt 12 or 13 of them were good, and I brought them home to my studio to do some fixes and overdubs. Nothing was overanalyzed. It was very collaborative. The difference between recording and making a record is that inexplicable magic sum.”
Himmelman dedicated The Mystery and The Hum to the late Don Smith, who mixed this album before passing away in early 2010. “He probably mixed it all in a week,” Himmelman recalls. “He ran everything back to tape and put it through the board and warmed it up. Right after Don finished mixing the record, he got sick—he had liver disease—and then he died. After his memorial service, I said, ‘I’ve got to put out this record.’ He had given me so much inspiration and validation over the years.”