Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Russian Wilds Harmony Reel

Photo by Hilary Hulteen 2012.

Just back from a Midwest run with Howlin Rain. Thanks to all of you who joined us at the gigs, we had a blast on this tour. The Midwest was beautiful with one foot still in Winter and one foot stepping into Spring (we finished and flew home before the Tornadoes swept the region). We had the pleasure of playing the last 3 shows on the run with Oklahoma's Broncho and Ohio's legendary Buffalo Killers. Both amazing bands and an incredible bill.
Back at home now in Oakland I am working on catching up with my hand held recordings from the SXSW run and the Midwest to post some live comps and gigs here from the HR runs but in the meantime I wanted to share something I put together a few months ago. A while back some folks were passing this Rolling Stone vocal track around of Mick and Merry Clayton from "Gimme Shelter" and I was just floored by hearing it bare like this. The beautiful vintage plate reverb, the finger snapping for time, the huffing for breath between takes and then of course one of the most amazing moments in the history of recorded vocal performances; Merry delivering the 'rape...murder!" line with exploding vocal chords in the 3m--3:15 section and Mick involuntarily hollering out an ecstatic "woooooooo!!!" in shocked praise that clearly remains audible in the final mix. Just like everyone I'd heard Gimme Shelter a million times but I'd never really heard the whole scene and action behind that climactic moment in the song. Now whenever I hear "Gimme Shelter" whether it's on a radio, in the car, in the airport or a bar, when that moments comes all of a sudden my mind is just standing there next to them, Merry 9 months pregnant, nailing her vocals on the first pass and Mick standing there next to her shouting her on in the middle of an empty live room at Sunset Sound. When we hear the music that we have as a final product it is a single entity made up of many unique parts in a system. The tracks all crush together in a mix and instead of roads and mountains and lakes and rivers and celebrations and individual births or funerals and tiny dialogs in this corner or that we hear a song as a single musical world zoomed out until it's just glowing green or blue or red from our distance in the space around it. To me there is something incredibly thrilling and mesmerizing about going in and hearing the tracks by themselves, zooming in from the outer space of a whole glowing spinning song into one section of the world, then closer into one continent, through the atmosphere and clouds, zooming in over a state, than a city, down through 3 different layers of weather, down through a neighborhood, into a air duct system through a spinning tin grate on the roof, into the walls, down through the sheetrock and into the live room where you can hear the puff of a cigarette or the swig of a bottle of bourbon between lines and then the details of the voice so magnified you can hear the nose hairs, the scratch in the throat, the swish of leather boots on the rug at the foot of the mic as the singer finishes a great deliver and spins away from the mic for their beer. It's like putting your eyes on secret letters or photos for the first time in generations that you found in an old chest--though the whole world is different and 100 years have gone by for a moment that breath of passion, those words of love live again between your eyes, the letter and your mind. They come to life in the room, in your hands and in this case in your ears for a fleeting moment.
A few months back Tim Green sent me the stems from The Russian Wilds and for kicks I went through and listened to some of the stuff. I was struck by how detailed some of the vocal arrangements were on a song like "Phantom In The Valley" and yet in the final mix the music was dense enough that although the "feel" of the vocal arrangements remains, much of the detail of their total scope is lost into the greater "feel" of the song--which is exactly what all tracks and elements of a song are supposed to do in a good mix. So I put together a reel of some of my favorite moments, some of the lost dialogs, some of the multi-color details that in final mixing had blended to become a single new color or voice. Originally I just sent this to the Howlin Rain guys and a few friends that I thought might get a kick out of it but over time it has held interest to me as an enamoring peak behind the curtains of a final work where the details of a musical city can spread out again and become individuals interacting for a few more brief moments before being lost back into the history of something greater then themselves.
download The Russian Wilds Harmony Reel:

you can also watch a slide show of Hilary Hulteen's brilliant photography of Howlin Rain live while streaming on youtube:


  1. fucking brilliant. though, it was just about 53 minutes too short.

  2. Just amazing!! Incredible harmonization of voices. Thanks

  3. I'm glad you're still around, Ethan. People like you make me keep playing guitar and making demos ha :D

  4. Really amazing! It feels that the voices could live by themselves in a song! Thanks

  5. I need to hear them as you just made my interest in their music. Such a good piece of writing, thank you for sharing it with us

  6. Rock music is my thing. But just not rock, I pretty much enjoy all kinds of music. But it is good that you are touring and having fun