I want to write a little about Songs From Crooked Pine, as people have asked me a lot of questions about the album that have made me think. I won’t go into too much detail though, as music is very much a thing of magic for me, and my explanations might be less magical than someone else’s interpretation.
The songs for “Crooked Pine” came together over the past few years. I have been playing with a lot of great players — Kota Yamauchi, Kanji Ichijo, Naoki Matsumoto, Mitsunori Kamezaki, and of course Yun-han and Ryotaro from elements days — and many of the songs developed through the input of their inspired play. I think the oldest song on the album is “They Just Throw Stones”, but it could be “Down To The River”. The ideas for both of these songs came from very different inspirations, and I wondered if I should cut “They Just Throw Stones” from the album, as it seemed to belong somewhere else. I cut about 15 other songs when choosing the tracks for Songs From Crooked Pine. I left it in though, as I’ve always liked the song and didn’t want it to get lost, as many songs that didn’t fit at the time have over the years.
Crooked Pine itself is a symbol for home, for the Garden of Eden, for a place you feel at ease. Looking outside at that crooked pine (so beautifully sketched by Aika for the album jacket), I have written many songs and felt at ease.
The artwork itself I left to Aika, my beautiful designer. I gave her my rough ideas and told her about the songs, and she took it from there, taking hundreds of photographs and doing sketches, using my handwriting in the design, and making a layout that suited the music. Each jacket was printed on a verrry old press, and each one is a little different from the last. It was amazing seeing the lithographers print the albums on that old machine. The process looked so dangerous. I had done summer jobs in printing factories years ago, where the huge presses turned out giant sheets that were stacked up to the ceiling, but it was a pleasure to see the art done in the old way.
The sound effects I used come from the place we live, the real Crooked Pine, and also from the home of my ancestors, Ireland. During the recording, we took a little family pilgrimage there, and I recorded many sounds while walking the old streets of Dublin, Cork, and Belfast, a few of which made it on to Songs From Crooked Pine.
While in Dublin, we also got to see an inspired, inspiring, spiritual 4-hour concert by the man I most wanted to see, Leonard Cohen. This experience stayed with me throughout the remainder of my recording sessions.
The recording sessions took place over a year. I started recording at one place, with an engineer who I had worked with many years ago, but things weren’t working, and I left the project after a half dozen sessions. I approached Moichi, who had done the sound for many gigs I had played at UrBANGUILD in Kyoto, and he agreed to take over the project. Moichi is a laid-back guy who loves music. He smokes one hand-rolled smoke after another and is a very unflappable character. I recorded ‘Glory Be’ at least twenty (thirty?) times during the sessions. There are no ‘punch-ins’ (re-recorded lines or phrases). If you get a word wrong, or the feeling of a word isn’t right, the whole song is useless. I wanted ‘Glory Be’ to be as I imagined it from start to finish, and it took many sessions and many takes to do it. Every song was done like this, but some songs took only a few takes to get right. Moichi was patient no matter how many takes we did, and I was able to relax like never before in the recording sessions.
Everything came into place at the last minute. The release date/event had been decided a few months before. At that point I was still recording, the jacket and liner notes were being worked on, the translations were getting done (by a veteran musician and translator of lyrics, Hisashi Miura, who has translated the Great Ones, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. I approached him and he kindly agreed to do the translations.), and of course the mixing and mastering weren’t even started. I had great players behind me, but the rehearsals were going really poorly. Moichi came over to my house after midnight after the tracks had been sent to the CD presser, worried that the vocal level in one song was a little too low. It sounded fine to me, but we decided to see if we could manage to “STOP THE PRESSES!”. In the end, we could not stop the wheels that were already turning, but Moichi’s dedication until the end reconfirmed to me how he was the right choice as engineer and co-producer.
I will ramble more later.