Today marks the one year anniversary of the release of Groove Redundant by TAFT. Frontman Taft Mashburn reflects on the development of the record:
Groove Redundant was released in mid February of 2015, quite perfectly a year after initial tracking had begun on it in Brooklyn. On the small occasion of its anniversary, I reflect on the forces known and unknown that brought disparate elements and parties together to make an album.
The name “Groove Redundant” doesn’t mean anything, but maybe the conditions of its inception do mean something. On a mid-afternoon day in October in 2013, I was by myself in the middle of nowhere, in a living room, in a small cabin, in the middle of recording, in the Catskill Mountains. This was exactly where I had intended to be, having taken refuge away from New York with my then partner as a vacation meets songwriting-workshop. She left a few days before I did, leaving me to my small arsenal of instruments and recording apparatus. This was exciting and quite scary at the same time; being around people 24/7 made the succeeding solitude stark and terrifying for a directly proportionate amount of time. During the day, I would oscillate between reading the biography of Milarepa, an Indian saint, and recording music with no purpose in mind. I might also eat, take a hike, or listen to Alec Baldwin’s podcast “Here’s The Thing”, which I found more calming than anything. I really loved this particular trip: the location, the cabin, the newness of upstate New York. However, it was also a period of profound solitude and fear thereof. A period of very earnest frustration with the constraints on my creative practice. It’s hard to find time in New York. I worried about what I supposed was my languishing artistic focus the same way a pious person might worry about how much they enjoy a good whiskey. I had brought all that baggage with me to this little cabin, and set out to record as much of whatever as I possibly could in the next few days. So, as I said at the beginning, I was in the middle of quite a few different things. Things were going alternately well and not well, or rather, my feelings about them alternated between two extremes. I had decided to call everything that was recorded in this period of time “Cabin Fever”, and to assign it into a different family later if need be. This relieved me of any qualitative responsibility; all I had to do was enter the field and record. Yet, this was insanely hard. As someone who has been writing songs for 10 years, I have remarkably little information on how they form. I have a book’s worth of suspicions on songs. I could (and should!) start a fortune cookie company and fill the cookies with vague songwriting directives that I have discovered in glorious hindsight. Songs are mysterious and complex to me. The best ones just appear in your life like a Kramer uninvited. They require no effort in the moment, which is why I was so frustrated in that particular moment in my cabin studio. I kept replaying a section of piano in a song, trying to hear what it was doing or not doing. It was an awkward and clunky piano figure, kind of like how Bob Dylan might play. It just clunked back and forth in this stupid yet hypnotizing way. When I thought about this little piano figure, I thought the words “Groove Redundant”. The construction of a noun followed by its adjective was enigmatic to me, and I felt that it would capture and collect multiple meanings, as if it were a wide, shallow bowl. I feel that names are very important, but a name should not be a label, which the inverse construction may have suggested. I don’t feel that provenance is especially an issue either, so long as the name ensares the collection of songs with some hitherto unforeseen web of relation. “Groove Redundant” wandered out of a perfectly dark forest of frustrated creation and settled in my mind as the patriarch of what would be a large family.
Motherbrain Brooklyn was a one-of-a-kind recording and mixing studio-cum-intellectual salon-cum very large apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It was conceived, built, and operated by Brian Bender, a lovely genius of a man who also cooks exceedingly well. Motherbrain has since relocated to Los Angeles, where it is now called Motherbrain Oeste. Anyone who had the fortune to visit or work in Motherbrain BK will no doubt remember the specialness of the place for a long time. As has been mentioned elsewhere, I assisted at this studio for 18 months before we recorded Groove Redundant. It’s rhythms and moods had made their mark on me, so I felt simultaneously comfortable and honored to get to lay some music down there. All available wall space had visual works hung salon-style on it, and the cavernous main room was overfull with instruments of every variety, oriental rugs, and an ancient woodfire stove. I believe an antique cash register had even settled its immovable girth onto a patch of floor as well. Large windows gathered light from the east, though some of it never reached the far corners due to the sheer volume of the space, which contrasted heavily with the control room. There was considerable speculation that the original function of the control room was a vault of some sort. Separated from the rest of the space by very heavy wooden doors, the control room could make one feel either creatively titillated or hopelessly confused, but it always awed in terms of design and mood. Exposed brick, reclaimed pine, capital M mood lighting, and a very low ceiling with terraced soffits gave the feel of the Millennium Falcon cockpit meets the stuff of audiophile dreams. The room felt cozy with 3 people and when a large ensemble was working, it felt like a war room. It contained energy very well, and Bender never failed to keep track of errant mid-session urges to change creative direction that always creep in around 2 in the morning. It had one small window, about 4 inches high and 2 feet wide. It contained electronics from nearly every decade of recording, housed vertically in racks or housed in the singularly awesome console that was built from the minds of Bender and French designer Francois Chambard. Much has been written about this console already, but I will say that it is very heavy. It was not uncommon to exit the control room the same way you might exit a very hot dry-sauna.
My process is, for the most part, a solitary one. It was not until very recently that I began to feel comfortable engaging others in my writing process at the time of writing. I have typically been a homework-giver: writing and fine tuning a song and then showing someone in advance of their coming in to record on it. It’s a very thorough, diligent and boring way to work. Boring compared to the opposite method of entering a session with the smallest notion of what the song or piece of music will be. As I look on it, it takes guts to work this way, and a certain amount of bravado. Suffice to say, I have historically had to be über comfortable with my collaborators in order to collaborate at all. When I booked time to record Groove Redundant, there was little doubt in my mind that I would only do it if Andrew, Josh and Max flew from their digs in Austin to New York. Of course, other suggestions were made, but I just couldn’t warm up to those ideas because I have had a continuous relationship with these musicians since starting to play in bands all the way back in 2010. We had succeeded at small things together, and we had also failed miserably at much together. I knew them all more than I had ever bargained for. So my thinking was, in an environment where risk taking was going to be important, I trusted these guys to be fluid and help me achieve what I had in mind for these songs. Or, I trusted them to help make art. Logistically speaking, they were going to have a lot of leeway because in very few cases did I have decisions made about rhythm section ideas. The rhythm section hitherto had been this sort of neighboring state with its own laws and customs. My little state also had its own laws and customs, yet we both were subject to some larger governmental umbrella. In some cases on songs, I had unknowingly crossed state lines and made choices that would influence what they did, but it only worked out for the better. By the way, Josh and Andrew both play drums, and Max plays bass. Anyway, it turned out to be an easy sell, and everyone showed up a couple days before we started tracking. It gave me a lot of pleasure to show them the gem that was Motherbrain. I remember leading them down the dingy industrial street towards the warehouse, which also shared space with a halal butcher, by the way. On some days, the smell of animal piss was overwhelming. It added a morbid sort of charm when you knew that your ultimate destination was a studio. We walked up a few flights of stairs and down a hallway to a completely nondescript door that opened upon what could a scene from some Rolling Stones tracking session. Instruments just casually everywhere, and cigarette smoke and coffee smells. And the tour just kept unveiling more delights in terms of the control room, and how not precious everything was. I think that was the real clincher: nothing was very precious, yet everything was quite musical and showed signs of having a deep history. I was happy to show my friends this, and I believe that it set a good tone for our work that would span the next five days. There aren’t any anecdotes that don’t already exist in every retelling of an album’s creation: we hit roadblocks, we had magical, inexplicable moments that were all captured, and a lot of hilariously inappropriate jokes; which I believe blossom in studio settings everywhere because everyone communicates via microphones and headphones, so no one gets the benefit of reading your facial expression. To me, the process was very collaborative, which is what I was really hoping for. The greatest cuts in my mind were taken as live as possible, with everyone on their toes, not knowing where the music was going. This, I have discovered thanks to hindsight and reflection, is my favorite way of working now, and I am grateful to have had these times as lessons in that regard. We were really shown the best time; nothing ever malfunctioned and there was as much coffee as you could handle, though I do think after a certain point there are diminishing returns on coffee and one’s creative process. Too much and suddenly I can’t hear anymore. After tracking, everybody flew back to Austin with their stories to tell, and I stayed behind and recorded overdubs for a couple months. This was fun yet painstaking work, and I hadn’t acclimated to the level of stamina it takes in order to focus for hours on vocal takes, for instance. Nonetheless, hours on vocal takes we spent, and all of this was then mixed in several days by Jon, who hitherto has not been mentioned, but worked for Bender as well for several years. Jon and I have had a rapport from working together, and he played on the record as well. Jon is very sharp, has the kind of humor that very sharp New Yorkers have, which is that palm to face kind of humor that you use like medicine when you live in New York, and he is also very tall. As I said, mixing happened very quickly. I suppose the most notable thing about this whole process was just how quickly the project came together. That is quite special I think: it requires some stars lining up and a lot of goodwill from everyone involved to make time. I still look back and feel very fortunate about this time.