In August of 2010, musician Frank Bell and producer Deej Hofer were introduced through a mutual friend and decided to see what music they could create together. Their collaboration immediately proved successful, as the tracks for Frank’s latest album, “Everything Falls Into Place” did just as the title suggests. Read on to learn about their studio dynamic and how the album came together.
Without using the words “pop,” “hip-hop,” or “soul” describe your sound.
Frank: The sound a bendy straw makes when freshly bent. The sound a soda can makes when first opened, but mic-ed through a Vintage ’57 Fender Twin.
Deej: The warm, excited feeling you get when you pick up someone you love from the airport. The wistful longing you feel when you take them for their return flight.
Burgundy-colored melodic hooks riding inside gritty, lavender grooves.
Let’s talk about the new album Everything Falls into Place. What was (or were!) your inspiration(s)?
Deej: Initially, my inspiration was Frank. I watched some of his you tube videos and thought “Damn, he’s so raw, so much soul, I love his songwriting instincts.” We started talking and trading playlists…with everything from Al Green to MGMT to Adele to James Blake to Danger Mouse…and everything in between. And, during the process of making the record, it was really unbelievable (and magical) how many times we would be discussing a song that we liked, and would then immediately hear the song on the radio, or over the loudspeaker at the restaurant we where at. That’s one example of how, ultimately, the inspiration came in real time. It was woven into the process itself, and it was amazing. We inspired each other, and were inspired by whatever invisible forces that were helping us.
Frank: Yeah, I totally agree. And from a message standpoint, I’d add this: Making this record inspired me to take a journey where I looked deeply into my experience as a man, a human, and an artist. One thing I believe is that we are ALL searching for some sort of purpose, whether we know it or not. And, I feel like one of the things I’ve learned is that purpose comes from accepting the good AND the bad, the heartache AND the joy. Deej and I had a lot of long sessions together, exploring this sort of thing together while making music, and at some point it became obvious that we where creating an album that expressed that journey in song form. So, my hope is that this record reminds people (and myself) that the journey is worthwhile and, eventually, “Everything Falls Into Place.”
How did you end up working together on it?
Frank: Odd as it is, Deej and I are both from Atlanta, but actually met each other a year ago in Bozeman, Montana! We were introduced by a mutual friend, Yarrow Kraner, who runs Hatch Fest, a festival where I had just appeared as a groundbreaker artist.
Deej: Yeah, my music studio is adjacent to Yarrow’s film studio. He sent me an email one day saying “You gotta meet my buddy Frank.” Yarrow has an unbelievable knack for attracting really creative, talented people into his life and to Hatch Fest, so I knew Frank must be worth meeting. The next day, I stepped outside for some fresh air, and there was Frank. It was a sunny day, and as we looked out at the Bridger Mountains, we started a conversation that set us both into an unexpected direction for 2012.
Frank: We decided we should work together on something. At first, we weren’t sure exactly what, or to what extent, but we knew we should try it and see where it took us. It started off as a 3-4 song EP. As we dug into those first few tracks, Deej and I started hinting to each other that maybe the project should be bigger.
What was the collaborative process like? Did you each bring ideas to the table originally? Or did things fall into place organically when working together?
Frank: Ah, I see what you did there, madam interviewer. Did things: “fall into place”?….nice!
Deej: To begin with, we picked a few songs from Frank’s catalog. I demoed some production approaches that felt like they resonated with the connection we had made. From there, it was a collaborative, creative firestorm.
Frank: Yes, everything pretty much did just fall into place. From the creative side of things, nothing was really “calculated.” Our focus was on recording good music. Music that speaks, that is honest, and that has a message. Music that we would listen to. This record is about life, genuine life. We’d bounce ideas off of each other, and the songs eventually individually took on a life of their own and became what is now the full length album.
The song “Home” is one that sticks out in my mind. We wrote it one night when Deej got a very sobering phone call right in the middle of a session. He stepped outside to talk, but I could feel the emotion in the conversation, even though we were separated by walls. He came back in, sat in his chair, and stared at the floor. There was this whole mood of intensity and sorrow. I picked up the guitar, on the verge of tears, and started strumming.
Deej: I was waiting on a follow up call, but in the meantime, I picked up a guitar as well, and grabbed a pen and paper.
Frank: We ended up writing “Home” that night. Then, there was “Alexandra,” which we wrote in one 5 hour sitting while doing a live webcast.
Deej: Why didn’t we record that webcast?
Frank: Because I couldn’t find the record settings and I figured not much was going to happen. Oh, well!
Deej: We could go on and on about each track on the record, but the last one I think I’d like to mention is “Shades of Grey.” Super strong track, in my opinion. I (poorly) recorded Franks album performance, just as a demo to play around with, but ended up falling in love with it. I just threw up a mic and hit record. But, Frank ended up KILLING it, and it was clear that we’d never get something like that again. The guitar and vocals that you hear are Frank’s first, and only, take. A couple small overdubs later, and the track was produced. Mixing, on the other hand, was a total pain because of the way I had haphazardly recorded Frank. But, at the end of the day, the magic of the moment totally translated. And really, that’s what this record is, a collection of many different magic moments.
What were some of the challenges/obstacles you came across in the creation of the release?
Deej: Where to begin? There was the mystery-medical-condition that landed Frank in the hospital unable to walk for 3 days, or that “pajama party” that resulted in having to cancel those critically-timed vocal sessions, or my computer conveniently breaking down (and having to be rebuilt from scratch) right in the middle of mixing, or my lovely (and very supportive) lady finally kicking me out of the house and telling me to go live at my studio until the record was done because I was so obsessed…there was also private, personal tragedy for both of us…the list could go on. But, somehow, I think it all ended up actually benefiting the record. Isn’t there a saying: “you have to suffer for your art”? We sure as hell did.
Frank: One of the most consistent things that was an obstacle was scheduling and time management. During the year we were doing the project, I was traveling back and forth between Los Angeles, New York, and Amsterdam for shows and other projects. Deej had other various other little production gigs he had to juggle. It was important for us to align our schedules whenever possible and make the best use of our time when we were together, which meant a LOT of late hours! Implementing technology helped immensely, using services like DropBox to share media files and other things while on the road.
What kind of studio equipment did you use to record?
Deej: We recorded (almost) everything on Pro Tools 8, and I mixed on Pro Tools 9, though I just got the news brief about Pro Tools 10, and sure wish we had had that 6 months ago. I think it would have really expedited things.
I have a small collection of hand-wired boutique mics, the Pearlman TM1 being the one mostly used for Frank’s vocals. I mostly used mic pres from API and Universal Audio, although there were a couple of occasions where I borrowed Great River Pres, and the Metric Halo UlN-8, which totally saved the day for those particular uses.
I really wanted to capture a sound that was decidedly vintage, and modern, all at once. I had plenty of analog Joo Joo going into Pro Tools, and most of the mixing was done “in the box”, with an occasional track being routed out to a Distressor Compressor, a Universal Audio EQ or an LA-2A. Franks vocals almost always had an LA-2A on them, sometimes in the box (with Waves), and sometimes outboard.
For the mastering, I got Brian Lucey (Magic Garden Mastering) on the job because I was very impressed with the mastering he did for the Black Keys’ Brothers album. Ok, I’ll quit geeking-out about gear now.
Frank: What about that crazy looking machine with all the different colored lights that looks like it’s from a 1950’s sci-fi movie?
Deej: That is the secret weapon. And that’s all I can say.
Did you have a marketing plan in place for the album release?
Frank: I’ve been really lucky in that all of the marketing for my career has happened very organically. I started uploading videos to YouTube a few years ago, and the next thing I knew, I got featured. Things just grew from there. You meet a fan on the road, and they tell their friends. Or you send out a tweet, someone gets curious and checks you out.
Deej: Frank totally forced me to get a twitter account.
Frank: “Forced” is a strong word. I simply signed you up without your knowing it and emailed you your log in information.
Deej: I finally started using it a couple weeks ago. I tweeted to all ten of my followers when the record came out!
Frank: But seriously, it all comes down to connection. The music speaks for itself, and you either connect or you don’t. Luckily, I’ve connected with a lot of folks and built a fan base a step at a time, and I like it that way. It’s real. That said, we are engaged in trying to get the word out by encouraging viral campaigns.
Deej: That’s another way of saying, if you’re reading this, please give the record a listen. And if you genuinely like it, share your discovery! That’s the best marketing. Also, the new indie model has largely benefitted by placements in Film and TV.
Are there any placements in the works?
Deej: Well, I’m not at liberty to say much right now, but if you get connected on the social media, you’ll be kept abreast.
Got any new projects you’re working on?
Frank: We’ve already started a discussion about another record. Also, there are some collaborations, remixes and mashups being explored. And pretty soon here, I’ve got to get back on the road. If I go too long without playing shows, I get anxious. Its part of why I love being an artist.
Deej: True Dat.
Frank: I don’t think you can say that, you’re not black.