Over the past year, Little Big Fat made the subtle transition from "band" to "recording artists." With the October release of their debut, On A Stick, LBF offers another side of its fusion-y improvisational rock to the world. After gigging with some of its material for nearly five years, On A Stick is an attempt to capture a definitive record of the careful arrangements and unique chemistry of this Chicago based band.
The Barn recently had the opportunity to discuss On A Stick with each of the members of the band. Here's what they had to say about their inspiration, creative process and challenges of laying down their vision in the studio.
What are some of your favorite albums? Which ones influenced the way On A Stick was made?
Nathan Breen (lead guitar): I’m going to say Aquarium Rescue Unit’s “Mirrors of Embarassment.” Here was a band in a similar genre that was putting together its first proper studio release. They were known for their live performances and stellar musicianship but had to try to make this work in the studio. Like ARU, we were trying to focus on the songs and musicianship while trying to use the studio to our advantage without letting the production get in the way.
Jim Concklin (guitar and lead vocals): Abbey Road, Dark Side of The Moon, Physical Graffiti, Nashville Skyline, A Ghost Is Born, White Pepper. I could go on for quite some time. I'm not sure that any of these directly influenced On A Stick but collectively the influence is there.
The thing about a great album is that it's a bit like a play. There's a first act that kind of sets up the sound of the rest of the album. It gets you familiar with the band and their overall approach to music. Much like you meet and get to know the protagonist of a a play or movie in the opening scenes. In the next act we are really getting to know the music. That second act might have some left turns but is still connected to act one. And then the third act kind of drives it home.
I wouldn't say that any one album had a great influence on this project for me. But I wanted to make a real album. A cohesive collection of work reflecting who the band was and where we were at the time of recording. I think we accomplished that part.
What did you learn from the recording process?
Adam Cortese (drums): Patience!
JC: If you don't know what it should sound like you are never going to get it to sound the way you want. When you go into record you have to know exactly where these tunes are going. It can be a little tricky for a band that relies as heavily on improv as we do. Because there is a balance between playing something tight and album worthy and keeping the spontaneity of your live performances.
Each song has a certain musical space that it needs to hit and as long as we all knew what that space was we could get that spark from our live shows onto the album. It also helps to have a guy like [producer] Rick Barnes behind board helping you out. He really knew how get our sound down on tape.
NB: It’s not as fun as it seems. It feels like work, is tiring, and you always have that nagging feeling that it could be better if only you had endless time and money. However, a lot of the pre-planning we did was helpful. We set up in Craig’s parent’s basement months beforehand and did solid demo versions of everything, which helped a lot in terms of knowing what we wanted to do. The studio was particularly challenging for us because we wanted to keep the improvisational spirit intact. We couldn’t construct a jam by taking turns overdubbing in the studio, so we had to really nail things in our couple days of tracking. By and large that worked out nicely, and most of the jams were exactly as we laid them down.
What songs are you most proud of from the recording? Why?
AC: Hyde and Grind. Hyde... I just love the song! All the instruments really compliment each other and the mix turned out great. There's some good energy and it flows very smoothly during the solos. I feel Grind is the dark horse of the album. I was never a big fan of the tune until the mix sessions. Dude Man [Barnes] worked his magic and all of sudden it became one of my favorites.
Craig Urban (bass): The Man From Bakersfield, Strings, Fenner, Monroe -- I feel that we play most cohesively as a band on those tracks. I like the Bass & Drums groove on Bakersfield. Strings I feel is pretty loose in a good way, and feel Nate's playing starts off very organic. Fenner, I just like the tune, and I think the vocals came out pretty well, I like the changes to in the bridge section, same chords as the solo section to. Great chords to play bass lines through!
I was happy about how we mostly agreed on everything: good takes, bad takes , good verse takes with good chorus takes. When you can do that easily, then the tracks pretty much put themselves together.
Little Big Fat - Strings
JC: The Man From Bakersfield. We really struggled with this when the full band was in tracking this out. I'm not sure how many takes we did but it was way more than any other tune we recorded. I remember saying to Nathan that I didn't even think we had one take that would make the album. But after some over dubs and a few tweaks by Rick it sounded great. It's actually my favorite track on the album...this week.
NB: Drought. It’s an extremely difficult song and, to me, the studio version is how it should sound. For me, it’s the reference version, and I consult it regularly when trying to make sure I’m on top of it in preparation for shows.
Has the process of recording influenced your live playing? If so, how?
CU: I don't know if the recording process has influenced my live playing. The main thing I try to do is link up with the drums. The snare drum, high-hat and kick all have to blend with the bass, and that's what I enjoy the most and is what I love about playing with different drummers. Adam and I linked up pretty well on everything in the recording, and live as well. He and I have really improved our cohesion as a rhythm section since we first started jamming.
JC: Not much. Although, when you write and perform original music, especially improv rock type stuff, the songs are constantly evolving. And when we finally finished up all the mixing and mastering I felt like "OKAY, this is how this song goes. I know exactly how to play this section because I played it that way on the album." That clearly doesn't apply for all tunes. No Monroe will ever sound like it does on the album. The same can be said with a lot of those tunes. But as a guitar player It helps to know exactly what you're supposed to play even if you change it up a bit from time to time.
NB: There are a number of things we focused on in the studio that I’ve tried to adapt into the live setting. Personally a few of the licks I stumbled on while recording have grown on me, and I’ve tried to incorporate them into what we do live.
What other bands have you been into lately? What, if anything, have you borrowed from them?
AC: I've been getting inspiration from live Umphrey's McGee.
CU: Lately, I've been listening to a lot of classical music. I'm listening to Mozart's Requiem Mass right now. I've been listening and playing a select few Beethoven piano sonatas, and listening to his 4th and 5th piano concertos -- now if that guy played in a jam band -- with a great drummer...say Matt Abts from Gov't Mule.
NB: Ween. They’ve got some really great songs if you can get past the schtick. A number of their tunes are simple yet extremely well crafted. They sound like you’ve heard them before, but you haven’t. That’s often the mark of a great song.
Yes, specifically the Yes Album. I’m a fan of the sprawling arrangements and outstanding musicianship. Anybody who can make long songs work as well as they do is OK in my book.
Little Big Fat plays a Barn spotlight show Saturday, November 6th at Brixie's in Brookfield. Download a free track from "On A Stick" in from our Media page.