I played on the new Norah Jones. It’s out today. My reaction: thrilled, disappointed, and thankful. Confused? Read on.

Produced by Jacquire King (Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon), it’s a wonderful record- anything Jacquire records, produces, or mixes will undoubtedly sound great. He handled all three tasks, so perhaps it’s twice (or thrice?) as good… Jacquire asked me to do programming and keys in a pre-production capacity.

As expected, Norah’s playing, writing and singing are lovely. Despite the fact that I was given demo tracks, I kept turning the vocal UP whilst working- way up! It was an interesting bit of work, some of the most enjoyable and challenging I’ve done this year. Jacquire wanted drum machines, keys, and textures to serve as inspiration for the tracking sessions. The tracks were to be dark, ambient and rough around the edges so I knew I was the right choice.

I’m thrilled that I was asked to be part of the project, but I’m also a bit disappointed with how much of my stuff made it to the end. I worked on fifteen songs. I ended up on two. Not a great ratio! Yes, I was aware the entire time that I was doing pre-production, and that the tracks were meant to serve more of a utilitarian role, but since I enjoyed the work so much I ended up expecting more than was realistic. As is often the case with disappointment, mine is self-inflicted. However, it’s quickly overshadowed by the fact that even being on one song is great! I also know what I turned in was good, so I’m not losing sleep over it. So yes, I’m thrilled. I was disappointed. From henceforth, I’m thankful. That’s the best approach, I’m sure.

I was planning on posting screenshots but that seems like overkill; if anyone does want that, speak up and I’ll be happy to. I will share my approach: since the tracks were to be dark/rough/vibey, Ableton was my first choice. Well, it’s always my first choice unless I’m working on country, but I digress…

The tracks were simple; anywhere from 3 to 8 drum tracks and a perhaps a synth or two per song. Jacquire and I had already settled on rough tempos, so I would create a new session, import the demo track, and start adding rhythms that would help push the band along. The new effects in Ableton were perfect for the task. Almost everything ran through some sort of mangling: frequency shifter, overdrive, or vocoder. Two other effects that saw a full 90 minutes were the Oligarc Drive and Moog’s ringmod.

I used a relatively small set of old-skool drum sounds, mostly those from Acetone boxes and also a few CR78 tom sounds. In “Chasing Pirates” the single and lead-off track, you can hear a dirty kick and toms subtly mixed with the drums. I also used the MG-1 and my trusty Rhodes. So what’s the other track, and what did I use? I’ll leave that up to you to find out!

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