Studio Campfire Stories: “Same Ole Love” (feat. Jeanne Jolly)

Some of you may remember the good ole days when I taught music to Special Ed. High School kids (up until the school shut down completely at the top of August). Well, the most difficult part about maintaining a “9 to 5” and being a working musician is being able to keep some crazy late night hours. There were times that I would be getting off of a red eye flight from the west coast or getting off of an overnight MegaBus/BoltBus ride from a gig in NYC and then driving directly to work… This particular morning was no different. I don’t remember exactly how late I was up the previous night, but I do remember one thing… I. Was. TIRED. During the spring semester in 2011, second period was my planning period. So as soon as my first period class left the room, I would look VERY forward to my 50 solid minutes of peace and quiet before my rowdy ass third period class came in. But just as I was settling in to some silence… My cell phone started ringing – It was Phonte with an epiphany…

Phonte: “Ayo man… We need to remake “Same Ole Love”…. with JEANNE JOLLY and flip it into a COUNTRY song.”

Me: *thinking… humming the song to myself* “………..Hell yeah!”

P: “Cuz if you break it all the way down, “Same Ole Love” ain’t nothing but a country song anyway.”

M: “I say, let’s run it…”

I actually had “Same Ole Love” on the computer in my classroom and decided to learn the chords and changes as soon as we got off the phone. From learning the music, I was able to then hear my own drum pattern overtop of the hooks. I then walked over to the drumset in the classroom and practiced that particular pattern until it was time for my third period class to come in… Matter of fact, I practiced that pattern more than a few times because I wanted to be the one to record them and I wanted them to be laid with the same groove and swing that I had in my head.

One of the great things about this remake is not only Jeanne’s performance, but the fact that since she has been on the road with The Foreign Exchange and been pulled into various studio sessions covering several genres of music, she has ignored being a good “Country singer” and has begun to build a solid reputation as a being a dope SINGER… Period. We knew that creating this song for Jeanne and putting it on the album would be a wild card move, without question. Sometimes it is difficult to get listeners to think outside the box, especially with a song that a lot of folks connected and grew up with…. We could already see the tweets and the comments coming…. “Wait a minute, a white country singer redoing a joint by ANITA?!”  ….”I KNOW she ain’t doin’ no Anita Baker song!” No problem… We had a plan. First, we weren’t sure if Jeanne was familiar with the original version or not… Either way, we made it a point to keep Anita’s version away from her simply because Anita has such a distinct tone and sound and we didn’t want it to influence our version at all – plus I was confident that it would help our version stand out a little bit more. So after recording just the piano part to a click track or a metronome… Phonte laid down reference vocals for Jeanne to listen to before she actually went in to record it herself. I even put the piano/click track on my phone so that I could practice the drum pattern on the kit WITH the recorded music playing during my down time in the classroom…. At that point it was just a matter of figuring out when we were going to record the joint in full.

I just so happened to be in North Carolina at Phonte’s spot for what ended up being a few days in April, I was on Spring Break from teaching. Ironically enough, the majority of “Same Ole Love” was recorded the day after Phonte and I recorded our now infamous parody of Mark Morrison’s “Return Of the Mack.” My greedy ass was actually going to work on a Cookout burger while Jeanne came on through the house so she and Phonte could record vocals. In the meantime, I was waiting on a call from +FE frequent collaborator and live band guitarist, Chris Boerner so that I could take a trip to his house and record the drums. I mean, I had taken along one of my favorite snare drums on the plane and everything for this! I ended up getting the call and left the vocal session to head over to Boerner’s spot to set up for my first live drum recording session… On a full kit, that is. It was a quick set-up, no issues at all…. Levels were adjusted, a few drum mic tweaks here and there, then it was time. I played the kit and actually got the drums sounding the way I wanted them to sound on only the second take… Damn near surprised mySELF! Chris dumped the drum tracks on my flash drive and I took them AND the vocal tracks home with me the following day to plug into the open session in my studio. After putting them all together, I recorded the bass guitar track and some additional percussion instruments in order to make the song bounce a little bit more. After I sent the joint to Phonte, he had Boerner add some acoustic guitar… RHYTHM acoustic guitar that really added some more movement to the end hook and dammit… Allyn Love came in and “made the song cry” with that pedal steel guitar. When I heard those final two elements, I was rewinding things MORE than a few times. I was even influenced to add the string line at the end to give the song more of a finalé. Pedal steel guitar? Jeanne singing Anita and sounding GREAT? Kats were proud of this one simply because we felt as though we were breaking a couple of rules and pulled it off successfully… It almost makes me anxious to shatter some more

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September 11th… We Have History.

My first birthday cake (9/11/79)… I was probably analyzing the best method of attack.

At approximately 10:50am in 1978, September 11th and I began to form a bond that would go on to last a lifetime to say the absolute least. This would become the day that as a kid I would get so hyped up that I would establish countdowns to simply because the date would involve celebration, presents, and most importantly… FOOD. In grade school, 9/11 was the day that marked my becoming another year older, which meant I could puff my little bird chest out a little bit more. THIS of course meant I was more… well… “grown”… or so I thought. I mean saying, “I’m 10” always sounded so much better than saying, “I’m 9” combined with whatever large fraction I could find to attach to my age in attempts to make myself sound even older, right? There were some 9/11’s where rather than baking a cake, Moms would make my favorite pie (cherry) and put birthday candles in that! Other times, I may have asked her to bring in cupcakes in for my classmates on 9/11 so that they could partake in one of my favorite pastimes: being greedy as all hell. Then of course, the highlight of my 9/11 was coming home after school and asking Moms if I could open the gifts that she and Dad picked up for me, not realizing at the time how fortunate I truly was………….. Well, then I would tear those presents open as if I had no home training at all.

Yeah, September 11th and I go back a quite a ways…

The World Trade Center Towers, NYC

9/11 began a bit differently in 2001. Already graduated with Bachelor’s in Studio Art (Graphic Design), I was still living in Bowling Green, KY working on pre-requisite courses for an MBA Degree a/k/a “I didn’t know what then hell I wanted to do with my life at that particular time.” Young, silly-acting and all set to turn 23, I began the early morning hours by running my mouth on the phone all night, which consequently caused me not to get much sleep at ALL, with the exception of maybe 30-45 minutes on the couch of my apartment after finally laying down at about 5:30am. One of my cousins from Florida called me to wish me a Happy Birthday…… At 6-something AM. He hit me with, “Happy Birthday cuuuuz…”  My response was something like, “#@%&!!!!, You realize it’s 6:00 in the damn morning??!…. Well… At least you called, thanks a lot.” After getting off of the phone with him, I decided like a crazy person to drive to campus so that I could get an early morning workout. Surprisingly, I had sufficient energy to start and complete the full workout routine. Upon finishing, my number one objective for the day then became: GET SOME REST… IMMEDIATELY. I got back to the apartment, took a shower, and was fully prepared to get in the bed, cover my face with the covers to help shield any additional morning sunlight that wanted to try and peek through the blinds and then drift off into dreamland. But by the time I peeled the covers back, the phone rang… I didn’t answer it. I had sleeping to do. …The phone rang again…. Same thing, I didn’t answer it. I definitely wasn’t expecting the phone to ring a third time in a row. So finally, I decided to pick it up…. It was one of my boys calling from campus. No “Hello”, just straight to…

“AYO… They flying planes into the Twin Towers!”

Wait a minute… Huh?! THE Twin Towers?…. What do you even say to that? Except for, “The hell are you talking about?!”

“Maaan, turn the TV on CNN! It’s on there!”

I hung the phone up, went downstairs and turned the TV on and not only was it on CNN, but on EVERY channel there was a shot of the Twin Towers. By this time the North Tower had already been hit, was still on fire and some of its floors were engulfed in smoke… The first thing I thought about was my best friend and then former roommate who had JUST moved out of the apartment to NYC two or three weeks prior. I was trying to call him… Nothing. I couldn’t get through – there were way too many calls going to New York at the time and the phone carriers were overextended. As I was attempting to call him, the calls began pouring in to my phone. To this day, I have never witnessed that much call activity on a phone that I owned in my life. Birthday wishes quickly turned into a, “Maaaan, this shit is crazy!” conversation… My mother even called and said,

“Are you watching the news?!! ………OH!! Happy Birthday.” 

That was a pretty hilarious moment to me looking back on it. But I think the seriousness of 9/11/01 REALLY sunk in when I saw the second plane hit the South Tower on live television… I was actually on the phone with someone at the time and we BOTH blurted out, “Oh SHIT!! ….Did you see that?!?!!” …and then there was just silence. I later found out that a young lady I grew up with was actually able to evacuate from one of the towers and avoid harm. Ironically enough, her first day on the job happened to be Monday September 10th, 2001.

The main question of the day became, “Where are they gonna hit next?” And even more importantly, WHO exactly is “they?” I even remember the mall in Bowling Green, KY closing down early that day and I thinking…. “Maaaaaaaan, terrorists ain’t thinking about attacking the damn Bowling Green mall!!” This was one day that I will say that there was entirely too much going on, but there was absolutely nothing you could do about it but remain glued to the news. Oh, and I failed to mention the fact that I had an Economics exam scheduled for 5:30pm that day as well… Let’s just say I didn’t get to finish studying for it. And that sleep I was attempting to get all day, that didn’t happen either. And while I was hearing that campuses were canceling classes nationwide, we still went to Economics class that evening and took the exam. It was the only thing I got a “B” on the entire semester… But on the way back from class, I stopped through Best Buy and scooped up the following new releases…  Jay-Z’s The Blueprint CD and the Blow DVD.

No one really understood just how deeply we would be impacted by 9/11. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I was on a plane less than two weeks later. I sat down in my assigned seat and noticed that I had an entire row to myself. Hell… I had damn near the entire plane to myself! It seemed to have come with a cost because for the first time, I stood in a security line for almost an hour and a half. I remember being sent to a checkpoint of security where they would look through you bag in front of you by hand – tossing, lifting, shaking and adjusting the clothing in your suitcase until they were satisfied that you were “clean.” There were so many copycat acts of terrorism that followed that it just got to be ridiculous. For example, we can blame kats like Richard Reid for our having to place our footwear in a bin and having to walk through security detectors shoeless. The proces of catching a flight and even picking someone up from the airport hasen’t been the same since. Things changed damn near overnight pretty much to the point where we can specifically point to two very distinct eras in modern history, “Pre-9/11” and “Post 9/11.” 

Showing no mercy on my birthday cheesecake during a restaurant celebration in September 2001 …Normal activity.

Well… Post-9/11, I have chosen since its first anniversary in 2002 not to watch the news or any 9/11 related documentaries that day. As a matter of fact, I’ve watched one documentary on 9/11, of which I checked out only once back in 2003. It was so extremely detailed, well produced and ridiculously heavy that I don’t feel the need to look at any others… Since 9/11 and I have such a rich history, I will continue to utilize it as a day of celebration with my family and close friends… AND a celebratory alcoholic beverage…. AND a helluva plate of food!!  

“Happy B-Day! Love, Zo” was the cake I made to mySELF in 2001… 

Prayers and respect to those who were affected by the events of 9/11.

Love to my 9/11 Birthday family… Miz Korona, Jade, Curtis, and my brotha Grap Luva…

Studio Campfire Stories: “Everything She Wants” (feat. Phonte)

“Everything She Wants” was actually the LAST song recorded for the album. The reason why Phonte is on the joint is because…. well…. we both knew that he and I could complete a song super quickly and efficiently. At the time I was looking to get just ONE more joint on the album to being the total to seven and nothing was showing any promise. I was debating on whether or not to do an instrumental track as was done on …just visiting too, but selection-wise nothing was coming together. It’s kind of a difficult position to be in because as an artist because you never want to force creativity, yet the deadline you set for yourself is staring you in your face and suggesting otherwise. Well, there was about a week left until the deadline the day that I started looking through my iTunes collection and spotted a song that I thought might be perfect… My text to Phonte read: 

“Left field idea for JV3… “Everything She Wants” by Wham”

….Then I waited. 

Looking back in my text history, there IS no return text… Why? Because Phonte called me back…. Now we all know it serious when you send somebody a text and they hit that ‘talk’ button on you. And now, to give you more proof in regards to how much kats are on the same page musically, he basically told me that he had always wanted to remake that particular joint mainly because he talked about how well-written the song was. Well shit!! Sounds like we have a winner!! The discussion that followed involved HOW we were gonna remake it.  The first issue at hand: Tempo. We agreed that we would either have to do more of a sped up version of it to make it our own, or a version where the tempo was slower… we chose the latter. The funny thing is, I remember thinking of the drum pattern that I was going to use while he and I were still on the phone. As soon as we hung up, I went down to the studio and started working on a slower and more grooved-out version of “Everything She Wants” by programming and recording the drums… 

As a musician and a producer, it’s ALWAYS a positive when the music that you end up creating is identical to what you hear in your head. That is something that has taken me years of practice and repetition to be able to pull of more consistently. This is exactly what happened with “Everything…” – The drums, the swing, the recreation of the music became exactly what I heard in my head. And when this does happen, I get reeeeal hyped up about how it sounds. But even with everything sounding the way it did, I still felt as though it could go somewhere else. Once again, Phonte and I hopped on the phone… and we began to bounce ideas back and forth. I kept saying that the turnaround in the bridge sounded like SOMETHING and I couldn’t put my finger on it to save my life. After about 15-20 minutes of brainstorming… Dropping the subject and coming back to it, the conversation sounded something like this…

Me: “We’ve gotta be able to flip it into something else”

*a few seconds of silence*

Phonte: “Ok… What about ‘Remember The Time?'”

Me: *turned to the keys and played the music from “Everything She Wants” as it transitions into “Remember the Time”* “…………HEEEELL YEAH!!! THAT’S THE ONE!!!”

Soon after we got off the phone, I laid down a full demo version, which consisted of the already finished drums and just a Rhodes keyboard track where I played both the bass and the chord parts. I sent it on through to Phonte and waited for him to record his vocals. Once I got his vocal reference back, the one thing that stood out to me was that the slower tempo made me focus in on the lyrical content more. For those who know me well understand that this is HUGE, because I usually get so caught up in analyzing the music that never really pay attention to the lyrics, which is why it takes me forever to learn them. Vocally, I was hearing Phonte get bolder and more comfortable with his range and also with the harmonies he used throughout the song. Being able to witness this kat that I consider my brother grow as an artist firsthand has been a priceless experience in itself. And in my humble opinion, as was done with “Black Cow” joint – he nailed this one… 

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