This is the second in a series discussing how I met the artist Roger Powell, how we finally came to work on Roger’s project along with the joys, trials and tribulations of the process writing, recording, mixing and mastering Roger Powell’s third solo release Fossil Poets.
Flash Forward 2004
Twenty years later, in a chance reconnection, I sent Roger copies of my most recent album productions. We had a number of conversations about the “good old days” which led, ultimately, to discussing what he had been working on musically. Roger had been composing and recording pieces that became the basis for Fossil Poets for several years by the time we re-connected. Since Roger’s last solo release was 1980’s Air Pocket (Bearsville) there was no doubt, in my opinion, that another Roger Powell solo record was long overdue.
We had discussed a number of possible production scenarios including how my long-distance collaborations with Japanese artist Toshi Hiraoka (XPensive Dogs) were accomplished. Those projects were produced in a serial, distributed fashion. Toshi would send sequences that I would re-arrange and add parts to, sending back the results to Japan for additional overdubs. In the conversations that followed, Roger entertained the notion of flying out to my studio in Milwaukee to meet. In July of 2004 we had our first get together at GTLabs in Milwaukee.
That meeting was a one-day investigation. In the hours spent reminiscing and auditioning the new material Roger brought on his laptop, we had no illusions about how much work would be involved in tackling a monumental project like this, and that initially it would have to be approached purely as an experiment. No preconceived notions or expectations. This would take many months, in part due to the constraints of Roger’s work at Apple and my other projects as well.
How we put the project together
Roger had been composing the material that was the foundation for this album for a few years prior to our meeting. Because it was recorded over this duration of time the compositional tools, software and hardware used to construct and record it, had evolved. Some compositions began life as stereo 16 Bit 44.1K mixes, others were recorded using a digital multi-track recorder from which individual tracks had been bounced. At the end of the project Roger recorded piano pieces to a 16 bit loop recording pedal.
Our process began on Roger’s first visit to Milwaukee in July of 2004. He brought his laptop loaded with material that we reviewed together at my studio GTLabs in Milwaukee. We burned CDR’s containing the files that I loaded into ProTools. We started with Roger’s stereo mixes of the material for review. We reviewed all of the source material. We talked about what he imagined the project might evolve into. I took lots of notes. (I wouldn’t be writing this article were it not for the note taking I’ve come to rely upon.)
A Daunting Task
Recording and producing Fossil Poets allowed me to work at a professional level alongside an accomplished synthesist, composer and multi-instrumentalist. After Roger’s long absence from the music business, it is easy to understand the doubts he might have felt having his work, again, placed in the public eye – for public consumption. After all, it would be easy to rest on past accomplishments without ever having to reinvent yourself in the present. I never doubted his ability to hit the bulls eye; I questioned whether what Greg (the guitarist) and I contributed would ultimately provide enough incentive to continue forward. Roger and I both wanted this project to be unique. Back to basics, Analog yet with a very Futuristic bent. The picture I kept envisioning was “Flash Gordon meets Albert Collins” or “Mr. Spock replaces Ginger Baker in Cream”. I think the resulting record represents that vision and became something much more than just the starting pieces used to put it together.