General Thoughts

Epilogue

It’s been two years since the release of Johnny Rock & Friends: For The Record, and honestly it feels like a lifetime ago. So incredibly much has happened since then in our personal and professional lives, but most of it quite positive. This album is gradually becoming a historical document, and thus we’re writing the epilogue. Since 2015 we’ve picked up a few fans from all over the world. And in these uncertain times when we’re led to believe everyone is divided, it’s reassuring to see the kind of unity music can bring.

Our co-producer Jonathan Bross is still recovering steadily from his stroke in 2014. His studio, Sound Over Sound, where we recorded so many of these songs, has been gradually liquidated to cover Jonathan’s ongoing medical and living expenses. But some of that equipment, and more importantly that spirit, has found a home at Silver Horse Sound in Hoboken, NJ. Formerly The Tantrum Room, Max Feinstein and I expanded our recording and rehearsal studio a year ago with our engineer/producer friend Benjamin Scott. Now the three of us have a studio we are all very proud of; a place where local artists can make music affordably, comfortably, and with the TLC their project needs. It’s a different vibe, different gear, different crew, but the soul of Sound Over Sound and For The Record lives on.

Some of our contributors have come to Silver Horse Sound to record their own music, including Tony Caggiano, Rob Ferreira (Dead Fish Handshake), Juan Garcia (Men or Myth), and Donna Ward. And since our expansion we’ve been welcoming local artists and friends from all over New York and New Jersey, and we’re stoked to have a wealth of great material on its way. Since making For The Record, my favorite new music has come almost exclusively from the people I work and play with in the Hoboken area. It’s quite a scene!

Of course, running a business forces one to be more mindful of making a living, meeting goals, and prioritizing the work. So it’s with a bit of nostalgia that I view my life from 2013-2015, when making this record WAS the priority. I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything like it again. It was the ultimate labor of love and time, and there’s so much meaning attached to it for me and those involved. Whatever happens to all of us, the record captured something done at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons. It’s not perfect, and we’ve all evolved a bit, but that’s life. I was blessed with the time, money, and energy to make that record, and it finally gave my life definition and direction. Cheers to all the creators, fans, and communities that keep this music living and breathing.

Test Pressing signed by most of the contributors.

Test Pressing signed by most of the contributors.

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Making Music and Making Magic

Another half-year, another blog! Since our record release I’ve had little time to tend to promotion, as I’ve been steadily touring and recording with a hustling band called The Devyl Nellys. ‘For The Record’ has been making its way slowly through our extended network of family and friends. It’s a delight every time I learn someone has discovered the vinyl record. Our beautiful cover by Joe Gallupo seems to be having the right effect. Several of our songs also turned up in a great new documentary by some friends called Rocky Horror Saved My Life. It all fits so nicely – thank you to the production team for including our tracks in such a great film!

Our YouTube channel launched in 2013, and one of my great joys has been conducting interviews and editing all of our videos. This was a thoroughly documented project, and to date we have released nine videos about our artists and producers, the making of 9/10 songs, and other assorted goodies. Since August I have been preparing the last of our “making of” videos for “The Tidal Track“.

“The Tidal Track” is a song that required a cast of characters to bring it to life over a timespan of 14 months. It’s unique for a number of reasons, and it requires a lot of exposition to tell the story. More time and money was spent on “The Tidal Track” than any other song I’ve recorded. For a time it was the most expedient song on the album, until it became the most daunting. It was the only song forced into hiatus for the better part of a year. Analog recording techniques and experimentation were pushed to the limits from beginning to end.

“The Tidal Track” is also more than a song – it’s several stories overlapping, sometimes inexplicably mirroring each other. It’s lyrics, a very deliberate and collaborative affair, seem to encapsulate the anxieties of its subject matter and its writers. I’ve never done anything like it before, and doubt I ever will again.

I made a rule when I started to never release videos longer than 10 minutes, but there was no way this could be forced in that container. The end result will be an eight-part mini-series of short videos, a total of 53 minutes, detailing nearly every aspect of creating “The Tidal Track” and its key players. You’ll see footage of the song from our first day of writing to the last day of mixing, and every major challenge in between.

Part 1 of the series will premiere on our YouTube channel Saturday January 30, 2016. If you tune in to just this one video, you’ll find out what inspired this epic track, and trace its roots to childhood bonds with my cousins Joseph Nardino and Anthony Nardino. In the week to follow I’ll release one new installment each day, with Part 8 concluding on Saturday February 6. I am also preparing an accompanying blog here on JohnnyRockRecord.com.

Thank you to everyone who’s been following our story all these years. I hope it’s been entertaining, and if nothing else I’m excited to have created the video series I’ve always wanted to see. Making music and making magic~

Be sure to check out this music video compiled from our recording footage as well. Enjoy!

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1,000 Days

It’s been 1,000 days since I conceived Johnny Rock & Friends: For The Record, and it is finally being released. On Monday, August 31, 2015, the vinyl LP and related merchandise will be for sale at the johnnyrockrecord.com Store, as well as all major digital distributors like Amazon, iTunes, et al. The album can also be purchased in person from several of our participants, and soon we will explore local music stores. If you supported our successful Kickstarter campaign, your physical merchandise will ship this week!

Johnny with the LP. July 28, 2015

Johnny with the LP. July 28, 2015

So what happened in between January and now? The first four months of 2015 found me under intense pressure to finish the album. “The Tidal Track” kept me in the studio nearly every day in March. Max Feinstein recorded his final overdubs with a vintage 12-string guitar, and I then spent two weeks at Sound Over Sound building the most challenging mix of the project. After carefully mapping out the process, I mixed “The Tidal Track” by hand using two Mackie consoles and around 10 effects units patched together, all analog onto the ½” tape machine. Now confident in my tape-splicing abilities, it was much more efficient to mix the song in 10 separate sections. I later spliced the sections together to create the final master.

The artwork and graphics took off in the spring as well. Joe Galluppo, my good friend and former Pyroclast bandmate, hand-painted the incredible front and rear album covers. The actual painting itself is a mixture of pastels, chalk, ink, coffee, and other items only Joe can recall. The original 18” x 36” drawing was then photographed and adjusted for the 12” LP jacket by graphic designer Nick Porcaro. Nick is also the graphics wizard behind our inner sleeves, T-Shirts, and the reskinning of johnnyrockrecord.com. I cannot thank these guys enough for designing such incredible and artistic visual representations of this music.

For The Record

For The Record All-Analog Vinyl LP

The long-awaiting analog mastering of the project took place during April. At Sound Over Sound, I manually sequenced the masters for the entire album across four reels of tape. I then took those tapes to Paul Gold at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn. The process to cut the lacquers (master discs) used an entirely analog signal chain – not a single digital conversion between the tapes and the cutting stylus. Our lacquers were then shipped to Gotta Groove Records in Ohio, who arranged the plating and pressing of the 511 vinyl LPs, as well as printed our jackets and inner sleeves. On July 28, the records finally arrived on my doorstep.



The first recipients of this record were among the many who brought it to life. In between several other commitments, I spent two weeks driving out to see those friends and hand-deliver their personal copies of the vinyl LP. It’s been a monumental task, and in the process I obtained signatures from many of the artists for Kickstarter rewards, as well as for my own collection. In time I hope to visit every single contributor to celebrate this release.

I get asked a lot now about how I feel since the record is completed. It feels truly gratifying to give something back to the community that has nurtured me in so many ways over the past few years. I’m currently writing newer and more exciting chapters to my story, but these 1,000 days have been an incredible experience that changed my outlook on life. And what I’ve learned visiting many of these friends again is that we all view this as a portrait of lives in motion. Bands have come and gone. Relationships have come and gone. Tours have come and gone. But the soundtrack to it is in these grooves, and it has the potential to outlive all of us.

I walked into this project expecting a technological triumph, and perhaps it is. But more than that, it’s an experience that has brought me more joy than almost anything else in the world. I’ve gotten to know these friends on a new level and I’ve seen new friendships form in the process. The pressure’s on to get our music and our story out there, but the thrill of the journey continues.

 

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Wax Poetic

It’s been almost six months since my last blog. But hey, this isn’t Confession. Or is it? I do confess that I’ve experienced more than a few “burn-out” moments as of late. Nobody wants this album to be done more than me, and that has caused considerable anxiety as we approach the final days of production. This is my first effort to reflect on much of this, so let’s pick up where we left off.

On August 30, 2014 I made my second voyage to Florida to finish “More Than That” with my cousin Meagan Partington. My last trip had been a wash due to a broken tape machine at the studio I booked. To ensure success this time around, I decided to borrow a Tascam cassette recorder and ship some of my own equipment to my cousin George’s house. This proved to be the right course of action. On August 31st, three years to the day after Pat Laudicina passed away, Meagan and I recorded our tribute to her live in George’s living room. The longest journey on the album so far was finally brought to a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion. When I got back to New Jersey I quickly edited the best performances of “More Than That” onto a ½” master tape.

This left only one song to complete: “The Tidal Track.” The song took shape quickly in the beginning of 2014, and the basic tracks were all recorded within a month’s time. My cousin Joseph Nardino and I set about writing lyrics and a vocal melody for the song. Joseph’s brother and co-writer Anthony Nardino had been a key player in the song’s development, but that role would soon diminish. In April, Anthony and his wife Lisa welcomed their twin babies into the world, and we graciously accepted that he would have to focus on raising his family. Nonetheless, I felt confident we could work out a great melody, especially with somebody like Jonathan Bross to coach us. That confidence evaporated the morning of April 30th, when I learned that Jonathan had suffered a stroke.

As detailed in my last blog, Jonathan began recovering and eventually gave the green light finish the album at his Sound Over Sound Productions studio. But what would become of “The Tidal Track?” With Anthony and Jonathan each dealing with their new realities, our most trusted melodic advisors were gone. Joseph was also preoccupied, marrying his fiancee Fernanda and then vacationing in Brazil for the summer. I decided to shift my focus to recording and mixing the rest of the album. By the time Joseph was ready to continue work on “The Tidal Track,” most of the album was finished. I was able to get Max Feinstein to record a big guitar solo on August 15th, but then the song’s master tape would remain on the shelf for four months.

The delays encountered on “The Tidal Track” did not deter me from a vigorous working schedule. 10 YouTube videos were edited and released during the summer and fall, including several Artist Spotlights, a showcase of the tape machines, an album preview, and the making of “More Than That” and “Weasel.” On October 21st, we launched what would become a very successful Kickstarter campaign, raising enough money to manufacture For The Record in 2015. During this campaign I also sat for an interview with Phil Simon of The Huffington Post. The article, titled “Return of the Artisan?” was published on October 26th, and it was the first major public announcement that Johnny Rock and Friends were up to something.

With so many accomplishments on hand, it was difficult to bask in the glory when I knew the album was not yet completed. Joseph and I would carry out more than a dozen rewrites of the lyrics and melody for “The Tidal Track,” but by the end of November we still had not reached a consensus. I reached out to some of my friends who are fantastic lyricists, hoping they could nudge us in the right direction, but this song stumped even them. As the paranoia manifested, I reckoned drastic action had to be taken.

I discarded all of my previous attempts at the lyrics and started from scratch. For an entire week my apartment became a miserable state of affairs – piles of unwashed dishes, dirty laundry and garbage everywhere, wires and cables tangled in several rooms. For days I played rough mixes of the song literally backwards and forwards, searching for anything that might spark a better melody. At one point I found myself intoxicated to the point of almost drooling over my laptop, feverishly trying out new ideas. As sad as this all sounds, eventually this single-minded obsession paid off. Words started flow like water from a broken faucet, and melodies began to take shape. I owned this song, not the other way around.

Joseph and I met in December to rework the lyrics, and at long last we had a breakthrough. Shortly thereafter, much to our surprise and relief, Anthony briefly re-entered the songwriting process. When finished, Anthony had taken our disjointed ideas and turned them into cohesive and distinctive sections, solving many problems that Joseph and I had struggled with for weeks. Anthony had one more suggestion – it needed a better singer. I had no ego about this notion; the thought of recording the vocal by myself on tape was really terrifying. Joseph suggested that we reach out to his high school friend Gerald Daniel, a gospel singer.

We met with Jerry the first week of 2015, and we immediately found him to be the right voice for “The Tidal Track.” Joseph and I worked alongside Jerry to draft the final set of lyrics, and by the end of the day all the right pieces were in place. This frustratingly abstract song about an old guitar finally had a voice, and two recording sessions in January at Sound Over Sound left us with a solid, soulful lead vocal. Three more sessions to record background vocals ensued with some special guests, and the song was back on track. As of this writing, we have only the lead guitar to record.

“The Tidal Track,” on its own, stands to be the most ambitious undertaking of my musical career. Never before has one of my productions seen so many great ideas not only incorporated into the finished product, but many more tossed on the cutting room floor. It has been an exhausting experience for many of us, half due to creative arguments, half due to technological limitations. Be that as it may, I still look forward to holding this hard-earned vinyl record in my hands, and celebrating its release with my friends. Yet I wonder, can I ever truly wax poetic about the virtues of analog recording again?

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A Bit of Turbulence

Since our last blog, For The Record has again thrown more challenges at us. The finish line is starting to come into view, but it’s not without some hurdles. Pretty soon 8 out of 10 songs will be completely recorded and mixed. That’s very much on schedule, but we have arrived at this point with a bit of turbulence.

The weekend of April 5th and 6th found Max Feinstein and me at Water Music in Hoboken, NJ; a renowned studio at which Max interned in 2010/2011. We fired up the monstrous Studer A800 tape machine, the Neve 8088 console, and captured a live drum solo in the big room. The drum solo, titled “Nomad“, is an idea I’ve been kicking around since 1999. I’m not the biggest fan of rock drum solos, mainly because so many lack a proper beginning, middle, and end. So I wanted a drum solo that told a story, and I bounced some ideas off Max. We decided the “story” would be this wanderer who begins his journey reprising several drum beats and fills from the entire album. Next the solo would take on a life of its own; a moment to let loose and do some improvisation. Finally, the nomad is approached by an antagonist, a drum machine. The real drums then battle this machine, with my chops running near full blast by the end to slay this beast. We also planned for the machine to win, but we’re not so sure that’s the case.

The rest of April saw us finish recording “It’s Been A While.” Then on April 29th, we experienced our darkest day on the project thus far. My co-pilot Jonathan Bross suffered a stroke. For those who don’t know, Jon has been the man responsible for recording most of For The Record at his studio called Sound Over Sound Productions. He and I have been working together since 1998, and he is my friend, so my heart sank to hear the news. The entire project was more or less put on hold for the month of May while Jon underwent his initial treatment and therapy. Every single artist who worked with us in the past year sent their best wishes for Jon’s recovery, and all we could do was wait for more news.

As no visitors were allowed at first, I began to wonder if Jon would still be himself. Would his memories be in tact? Would he remember me and all of my friends and the work we’ve done? Would he remember our grand plans for the future of this album and his studio? How long would it be until I was able to go back and at least get my tapes? Would it be insulting to ask about finishing the album without him? It was a long month anticipating all of those things.

Jonathan Bross

Co-Producer / Engineer Jonathan Bross

On May 27th, Jon’s girlfriend Robin sent me this message: “Jonathan says ‘how u doing brother” “He’s concerned about you completing your album.” In that instant I knew that this was the same Jon that I had worked with for so many years. I was moved to tears. Continuing to talk to Jon via Robin, I cautiously asked what he would think of carrying on the project at his studio; a loaded question that preyed on my mind for weeks following the stroke. As if without reservation, the response was “…he would be totally cool with that…” It’s hard to put the emotion I felt into words. Jon was recovering, he remembered everything, and he cared just as much about finishing this project as I did, even though I was sure he’d be missing it. It’s a defining moment for the spirit of this project, and I’ll never forget it.

I visited Jon for the first time on June 1st. I already knew from our conversation earlier that week that he was recovering well, but to see him in action put a huge smile on my face. Although unable to move most of his right side that day and having some speech issues, this was very recognizably Jon. His voice, his mannerisms, and his personality had made it through. We talked for hours about several topics, and I knew he was going to okay. As of this writing, Jon has improved considerably. He is able to walk with a cane and his speech has improved greatly, as have his motor skills on the right side. His journey is far from finished and it’s a day-to-day challenge, but he is looking pretty damn good. We’re all very proud of him. Jon lacked the insurance to cover his medical expenses, so if you would like to donate to his medical bills, you can do so here (and thank you to everyone who already has!):
https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/pvk4/jonathan-bross-medical-bills-fund

I came back into Sound Over Sound to reconvene mixing on June 2nd. Although I’ve operated the tape machine throughout the project, I had never actually even loaded up a reel of tape, let alone had to do maintenance. Armed with Jon’s own advice from the past year and a little help from the internet, I figured out how to load and calibrate the machines. Over a few sessions I was able to learn my way around the control room at Sound Over Sound on a skeletal level. Nine days later I printed my first finished mix since February, and I’ve been steadily mixing this record by hand ever since.

I was really looking forward to mixing this album with Jon, but as fate would have it we would only mix one song together. Mixing that one song with Jon served as my compass for mixing the remaining nine songs, so I consider that opportunity a blessing. While I am excited to be a able to continue working at Sound Over Sound and add analog mixing to my résumé, a part of me still feels alone in that place without Jon to bounce ideas off.

What’s left? We are still only halfway through recording “The Tidal Track“, and I have yet to record “More Than That” with my cousin Meagan Partington. At this rate we should be looking at a complete wrap on production by the fall, then it’s onto mastering and getting the package together for pressing.

One last note: On May 2, 2014, after 14 years, I worked my last day in the banking industry. Some might say leaving the corporate world was too risky (Hi Mom and Dad!), but an overwhelming amount of people believed in me. In the three months since then I have faced some considerable challenges head-on. This new life chapter lacks a steady income and benefits, but it also lacks alarm clocks and daily meetings. I have been able to stop and smell the roses, but I have also stressed more over this project than ever. There are many times I feel utterly alone, but I am constantly reminded that is not the case. I’ve been the rock of so many bands and projects before, and at last it’s time to be my own rock. With friends like this, I’m not too worried.

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The First Blog – Hi Everybody!

Greetings fellow music lovers! My friends and I are very glad you decided to check us out. We’ve been hard at work on this project since December, 2012, and it’s great to finally start sharing the experience with you.

The goal of For The Record is to create a work of art that is greater than the sum of its many parts. Each of the artists contributing brings their own stories, experiences, visions, sounds, and spirit to the proceedings. A vinyl record and its packaging are physical manifestations of these contributions, and yet it can take you to another consciousness. That’s what music does, that’s what art does, that’s what great storytelling does. It is these elements of the entertainment world that first inspired me to want to join the creators, the thinkers, and the enthusiasts.

This album represents a lifetime of wonderful experiences with the people I care about. Most of the musicians are also my best friends, past and present band members, and the company I keep the most. Cousins from both sides of my family are contributing songs that pay tribute to the bonds we’ve shared since childhood. Our co-producer and chief engineer presided over my first professional recordings in the late 1990’s. Much of this musical and technological enthusiasm can be traced to my music teachers from school, who will also be joining us. Hand-drawn artwork is also in the works, inspired by the sounds we have created. These people have had the most positive and direct influence on my life, and it is beyond words to say how exhilarating it is to have them all in one place.

As I said in our introductory video, there’s a lot more to come. We’re shooting video footage of almost every session to let you see how the songs come together. All of the principal artists and production team will have video spotlights and/or interviews. For all the techies and audiophiles we will be breaking down most of the equipment and processes we’re using. There’s also a handful of surprises in store, so keep coming back to find out what’s cooking! Our list of personnel is still growing, and there’s a lot of work to be done. This will be a long process, but we’re going to keep it interesting for you.

On behalf of us all, I thank you again for stopping by and for your enthusiasm and support. Let’s get this thing moving!!

-Johnny Rock


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