My first memory of seeing a film on the big screen is -
1978, Surrey, England.
It’s movie day at school. I’m 7 years old. Everyone’s making their way into the assembly hall. If snow days existed here, this would be the joyous equivalent; giddy, silly, excitement. When the film starts, sure, the…
Chris Colley mixing “Sell Your Memories”
Producing a record is a collaborative effort, and I couldn’t have finished “Sell Your Memories” without the talents of mixing engineer, Chris Colley. Long after the dust settled and the record was mastered, I talked to Chris about our work together:
Chris, you and I have worked together now several times. How did working on this record differ from the last time, if at all ?
This time was quite a bit different, as there was significantly more material than anything we had previously worked on together. At Emerson College, we basically recorded and mixed two EPs, both with varying disastrous results, including equipment failing on us. Not that long after we graduated from Emerson, we did another short EP at the place where I first worked out of college. That was the last thing we worked on together until the Better Days EP. I hadn’t really done much music mixing since around 2003, so I was quite a bit out of practice. I remember asking you, out of the blue, if you had any songs I could just play around with on my Pro Tools set up, for fun and practice. You mentioned that you had been having trouble getting the song, “Summertime Flight”, where you wanted it to go. So, I went to work, and you were pleased enough with the results that you felt inspired to really start plowing through on the Better Days EP. It was completely unexpected for me to be working together again with you, and I was really happy to get back to any kind of collaboration. Overall, it was a pretty good experience, where I felt I learned a lot, if nothing else. It was decidedly low pressure, which made it a lot easier for me having been out of any real practice mixing music for so long. After the EP received a positive response, I continued mixing and tweaking new versions of the Better Days EP mixes to help prepare me for the next time around, which happened to be the Sell Your Memories album.
This was the first full length album I had ever mixed, and time was not a luxury. We mixed, approved, and had all the songs ready for mastering approximately 30 days from when I received the first song. I would receive songs every few days, though I don’t think I received the fourth song until we were about two weeks into the project. So, the first three songs were mixed during the first 15 days or so, and the last seven songs were mixed in that last 15 days. The hardest part about mixing that much material, in that period of time, is that exhaustion really set in, and I often wondered about the quality of my results, even though time pretty much dictated that I didn’t have a lot of time to think about that. I definitely think I underestimated how hard it would be to complete the album in the amount of time we did, in addition to me having other work going on, but we did it. Next time, I hope we’ll have more time to give adequate rest to our ears and attention to the mixes, but at least we both know that we can complete a full length album. It feels like more of an accomplishment than it probably is.
On She Is Real , I recorded a pedal steel guitar track, but you felt strongly that it shouldn’t be in the mix. Why?
It’s interesting you brought this up. If there was one place on the album where I really felt we had a creative difference, it was on this song. It all really goes back to the original demo you sent me, when the album was just barely beginning to be formed. When I heard your original, sloppy, lazily sung vocals version, without the pedal steel guitar, I freaking loved it! You literally could have just stopped right where you were there, and I would have been pretty close to happy with the song. I probably listened to that version, even though it was really rough, at least 100 times. When I first heard the song, it just took me back to the feel of the era when I hosted a radio show on 88.9 FM WERS in Boston, called The Only Doorway, from February, 1992 to October, 1993, which was during the golden age of UK Indie Rock. To give an indication of the type of show it was, the very first song I played was “Leave Them All Behind” by Ride, a song I got to play in Boston first, and only once before it was taken by the local commercial alternative radio station, WFNX. That song is obviously still a true classic in the genre today, and is a gold standard worth emulating the style of by anyone today. The best songs in that era still hold up remarkably well even 20 years later, and my mixing style is pretty heavily influenced by some of the production back then, while still attempting to “modernize” the style. ”She Is Real” was a song I would have played on my radio show, and would have loved playing on my radio show. It fit right in to the types of feels I was trying to create with my show. Unfortunately for me, I got tied to that initial demo, which was evidently much rougher than you intended it to be in the final mix. So, a couple of weeks after burning out the original demo, you sent me a link to a new version of the song that you had begun to polish. Right off the bat, there was a pedal steel guitar in it, and, to be quite honest, I just didn’t get it. The song, for me, turned from being something that truly could have fit right in with the best stuff from the golden age of the genre, quite seamlessly, into a country song. I think the playing of the instrument is great, and there’s nothing wrong with it being in the song, I just had a much different vision based on hearing the original demo. The demo was just so nonchalant, and I loved it. It became a much more polished song, by the end, from what it originally was. I wish I had saved that initial demo, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere.
As for the album mix, I had originally talked you into a compromise, as I knew there was a good chance the pedal steel guitar was important to you, based on our discussions. My initial idea was for us to produce two different versions of the song, making one of them a bonus track on the album. The first version would be with the full pedal steel guitar, and the other version would be completely without the pedal steel guitar. At some point, we both agreed that we should make a compromise version, instead of the separate versions, where I just used less of the pedal steel guitar, and only in places where I felt it was appropriate. My biggest issue was the very beginning of the song, where if the pedal steel guitar was there the song would basically be established as kind of a country song. I was able to not have the pedal steel guitar there, but what’s on the album is actually a very well edited version, by you, of two mixes I did of “She Is Real”. One was our original compromise version, and the other was made from a version I called the “Nashville Version”. As I’m always trying to improve in between projects, and since gaining new equipment I didn’t have during our initial mixing, I’ve actually spent a decent amount of time remixing the album, and am hoping to have it completed on February 8, 2013. One of the things I did during the remixing, which may mostly just be for my own satisfaction, was to create the version of “She Is Real” that fairly closely matches my original vision of the song from the original demo phase, and I removed literally anything that had even the slightest inkling of a country feel. I think it gives a much different picture of the song than what’s on the album, and hopefully you’ll be able to make it available for listening to help illustrate the differences between the two versions, if nothing else.
What is your mixing process ? Do you start working on a particular instrument first?
I’m a post-production mixer by trade, and have never had any formal training mixing music. I mixed live performances in college, and co-produced a few EPs with you, but have never really had anyone who has done it professionally help guide me in that direction. I’ve just kind of tried to make my own way, with varying results, hopefully each time getting better than the last, even though I’m still not where I want to be, yet. Because of that lack of formal experience, I try to relate it more to how I work in post-production, because I understand the techniques of what I’m doing, and it kind of makes sense to me to apply some of those techniques to music. I like to build my sessions very wide, using lots of auxes, so that I can have a lot of control over various elements without having to go back to the individual instrument track. It allows me a lot more flexibility for making minor changes toward the end of the mix. Other than that, I probably work fairly typically with how many music mixers work. I usually start by mixing the drums, then add in the bass, guitars, and whatever other elements there are. I like to put together an instrumental mix first, and then tweak that to the point where I’m fairly happy with it. Once I’m done with that, I then work on the vocal mix, which results in a full mix, and then I begin doing a bunch of tweaking of that mix until we get it approved. As you can probably attest, my tweaking almost never seems to end until the deadline hits. For whatever reason, maybe to try out a new plug-in, on Sell Your Memories, I decided to start with the bass. I wanted a “sound” to the bass, and it probably wasn’t the best idea for how to approach the mixing. I regret doing it that way now, but I’m always looking to improve my work, and if that means doing stuff I regret, for the sake of improving in the future, I’m totally fine with that.
Do you have particular plug-ins that you relied upon ?
For the original mixes, I used a combination of McDSP, Waves, Universal Audio, and even some of the Pro Tools factory plug-ins. Beginning with the remixes of Sell Your Memories I’ve been working on, after the acquisition of new and better equipment, I will be working almost exclusively with some fantastic Universal Audio plug-ins, with a little bit of McDSP thrown in for good measure. I’m much better prepared for whatever comes next, than I was going into the original mixes for Sell Your Memories, so I’m really looking forward to my next big quality jump.
On the record, do you have a favorite track?
“Let the Sunlight Lead Us Home” is, without question, my favorite song on the album. I just love how it starts out so quiet and simple, and turns into this raging epic by the end. My favorite element in that song, and possibly on the whole album, is the trumpet. It just absolutely captures the entire mood of the song, and if you solely focus on that, as the end is devolving into a massive wall of sound, you might enjoy how it’s still completely intelligible in the mix. I don’t know if you’d agree, but I consider the song to be a great homage, and really a goodbye, to the golden age of that genre of music we both loved so much. Even if it’s not what was intended, it feels like a real end of an era, to me.
How about a least favorite track?
That’s a tough one. You’ve come a long long way from sitting in your bedroom at 1 Unity Street in Boston, playing your lonely guitar with the Peavey amp you had. Out of your solo guitar sessions, there, we decided to try to record a little demo or EP at Emerson’s studio. It was really fun, but the experience was pretty laughable with how many mistakes we made. It’s really amazing how much you’ve developed since then, and it’s been fun to witness so many years later. How I measure your music is by whether I would have played the songs on my radio show. I think I probably would have played all of the songs, at least once, except for “You Make My Life So Extraordinary”, solely because there are no drums. I probably would have given the least amount of airplay to “Last Goodbyes” and “Summer’s Gone”, so I guess those are the two I would probably say are my least favorite.
Here’s a vintage track from our 1994 Boston recording sessions:
Were there particularly difficult tracks to mix compared to others ?
By reading the liner notes on the album, one can find that I only had seven mixes on the album. The one I struggled with the most was “Seeing Stars”, and my mix didn’t appear on the album. Even with what I feel is my mostly successful remixing of the songs, since we originally did it, I still found that song to be insanely difficult to get to sound the way I wanted it to. There’s probably always one of those on every album. ”She Is Real” was also really tough for me, because I had a vision, and really struggled to get it there, not to mention the relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things, creative differences we had. Those songs, by far, had the highest amount of versions, and were easily the most challenging for me.
Listen to “She Is Real” from the album ‘Sell Your Memories’
From your professional point of view, any advice for me next time around on the recording side of things ?
I’d love to see you do more pre-production, and if our schedules permit, and if it’s possible, it would be great for us to be able to do some of the initial recording together, and really get on the same page with how we’d like the drums to be produced. I think doing that would greatly enhance your ability to get both of us on the same page, from the very start, and we might achieve really outstanding results next time around. You’re growing exponentially, with every body of work you do, in my opinion, I’m truly looking forward to what you come up with next, and I hope I’m able to be involved with it, especially from the ground up if the opportunity presents itself.
What’s next for you ? Any upcoming projects you are working on currently ?
I never know what’s next for me. That’s kind of the life of a freelancer. I have a few irons in the fire, and I’ve also mixed some dance music recently, which has fortunately been received pretty well. So, you just never know what will be next. I mostly mix DVD/Blu-ray special features and commentaries, with the occasional internet piece thrown in, as well as an occasional song. I’m always open for more work, and always look forward to whatever is next.
Chris Colley Bio:
Originally intending to produce and engineer music, Chris Colley had a harrowing internship in Los Angeles, at a major recording studio, that made him realize that he wanted to do something else, almost anything else. That turned out to be audio post-production for TV shows and promos, DVD/Blu-ray, short films, the internet, and even a few radio spots. He’s been doing that for about 18 years, but isn’t getting nearly as much work as he’d like, these days. Some days, the music world contacts him, making it seem as if music hasn’t completely allowed itself to disappear from his life. He’s now based out of the Las Vegas area, after spending a little over 16 years in the Los Angeles area, available to work remotely whenever the opportunity arises.
“WIN OUR DISCOGRAPHY” contest
With the release of our new album, Sell Your Memories, only 27 days away, we’re planning on giving away ALL of our memories to one very lucky winner.
(or unlucky, as you’ll be saddled with enough Fonda paraphernalia to make you sick of our music for the rest of their life!)
The details of the contest will be announced next week, so please follow us on Twitter so you can be the first to find out how you can enter to win the following:
- Music For Beginners CD-EP (1998)
- The Invisible Girl CD (1999) (*this is a used copy as it’s out of print)
- Summer Land 7-inch (2000)
- The Strange and Familiar CD (2001)
- Catching Up To The Future CD (2003)
- Better Days CD-EP (2011)
- Better Days LP (2011)
- Sell Your Memories CD (2013)
- Sell Your Memories LP (2013)
- and last but not least, a fonda button!
Fonda - Seeing Stars: The Making of a Music Video
If you haven’t seen the video to Fonda’s “Seeing Stars”, watch it here:
David Klotz, of Fonda, discusses how the video came together:
Sometime in late September, I called Johnny Joyner, who plays guitar in Fonda, and said we need a music video.. do you have any ideas ? Living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to find an aspiring filmmaker who will make a video for your band, but I really thought it would be fun to just have a go at it ourselves. I knew that “Seeing Stars” was going to be the song, but I wasn’t sure how we could visualize it. I didn’t like any kind of narrative idea that would try and realize what the song was demonstrating lyrically, so I resigned myself to the fact that it was just going to be a live performance style video…perhaps something shot in our rehearsal space. Then Johnny called me right back after thinking about it and suggested we film ourselves at Griffith Park Observatory. I thought it was a good idea. If it were shot and edited right, I knew that we could capture the fast paced power and energy of the song.
We shot the entire video on our iPhones. We had three iPhones between the four of us. The four being myself, Johnny, our vocalist Emily Cook and keyboardist Ginny Pitchford. There was no film director. This video was directed by us. And, there’s not a single shot of all of the four of us together on camera, as someone always had to be holding the camera.
The night before our shoot, I was having a drink with a friend and I mentioned we were filming our music video the next day and then he showed me an app that he had installed on his iPhone called “8mm Vintage Camera”. I loved the look of it. It really looked like Super 8 film. I texted the rest of the band and told them to download this app before the morning…
8mm Vintage App
It was around 10am on a Sunday, when we started our little field trip over to Griffith Park, which is about a 5 minute drive from our house. We wandered about shooting ourselves with our iPhones like tourists and I think we blended in quite well…
There are some pretty great film settings on the 8mm app, but the one that we used the most was “Pela”. It gave a nice warm, orange and brown tone to everything. It seemed to work well with most of the images we shot, particularly these series of shots:
I thought I could edit everything in iMovie but soon realized that I needed more options especially to have images floating over each other for long periods of time. I also wanted to saturate the colors and play with really long dissolves and effects, so having some experience in picture editing, I downloaded a 30 day free trial of Final Cut X, which for our purposes, worked amazingly well. By the way, Final Cut X is like iMovie on steroids and it’s very easy to learn if you are already familiar with Apple’s consumer editing application.
Rebel Without A Cause was filmed here.
One of the challenges I faced in editing was trying to cut out all of the shots of us holding phones up to each other. There was no way we could lose them all, as you might have noticed. The performance footage was shot at our home studios a week later. I cut it all together in about a week.
After we wrapped shooting at Griffith Park, we treated ourselves to some cocktails and a nice lunch at Cafe Stella in Silver Lake:
Pre-order Fonda’s LP “Sell Your Memories” from Minty Fresh here
Seeing Stars - Fonda (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
Check out our new music video to the song “Seeing Stars”. This will be the first song from the new album which will be available on all formats on February 5th. Releases by Minty Fresh.