Pro/File: Stark Lushness Illuminated - EMusician

Pro/File: Stark Lushness Illuminated

Liz Pappademas' many-faceted recording process.
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Liz Pappademas's solo debut,11 Songs, is gorgeous and lush in a sparse sort of way. The uncluttered arrangements and production allow her songwriting, vocals, and piano playing to shine through. “It's a subtle, nonfiction record,” Pappademas says, “intimate and personal in its execution and content. The instrumentation informs the style — piano, stark vocals, drums, bass, pedal steel, and a few vintage keyboards.”

From start to finish, the record was made in less than four months. Although she now resides in Los Angeles, Pappademas wrote much of the material for her self-released 11 Songs (2007) in her hometown of San Francisco while working as a nanny and living in an in-law apartment. “I would practice and write while the kids were at school and once the family had gone to bed. This may have contributed to the quiet darkness of many of the songs — I didn't want to wake anyone. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Patsy Cline and also the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy album I See a Darkness [Palace Records, 1999]. The immediacy you hear may be the Patsy Cline influence — vocals way up front, other instruments in the background. The sparse quality of the piano and writing is certainly owed in part to BPB.”

Initially, many of the vocals and keyboards (which included a Chamberlin, a Fender Rhodes, a Mellotron, and a 100-year-old Emerson upright) were recorded by Scott McDowell at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco and at Brian Kehew's studio (OFR) in North Hollywood. But subsequent recordings, sometimes employing unusual techniques, were done at a home studio in Austin and in Pappademas's L.A. apartment.

“The bass, pedal steel, and brass kick plate [from a door, played with a bow by Jeff Johnston and reversed in the mix to create a wailing sound on “Go on Kill Me”] were recorded at Lang Freeman's Folsur studio in Austin,” says Pappademas, which was “basically a bedroom, bathroom, and computer! I flew to Austin with the San Francisco tracks on a big hard drive; I'd already sent the roughs on CD to my friends Jeff Johnston and Gary Newcomb (bass and pedal steel, respectively) so they could practice before we recorded.”

“For bass and pedal steel,” adds Freeman, “we used an API 3124 preamp and an [FMR Audio] RNC compressor. On the pedal steel, we blended two signals: one dry from the DI (using a Radial JDV Mk3), and one superwet organic track from an old, dirty-sounding Fender, miked with a Shure KSM32. On bass, we took two tracks as well, one using the same DI and one from the amp, which was close-miked with a Shure Beta 52. We actually used a guitar amp and cabinet to bring out some fuzzy/gritty midrange, which blended really well with the low DI.”

Because studio availability was limited, Pappademas also recorded some of the vocals and accordion at home using her laptop, Digidesign Pro Tools, a Digidesign Mbox, and an Audio-Technica AT3035 mic. “I emptied one of the closets and covered its walls with quilts and sleeping bags,” she says. “Scott suggested putting the mic in the closet door and leaving it open while I stood in the closet. That way the sound would push out in the room, instead of just being totally closed off in my closet iso booth.”

Overall, she says, the recording process was kind of unconventional, “but I was lucky enough to work with extremely talented engineers and musicians (and great friends) who helped make the final product better than I ever imagined it'd be.”

LIZ PAPPADEMAS

Home base: Los Angeles, California

Vintage keyboards used: Chamberlin, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes

Home-studio vocal booth: a closet

Web site: www.lizpappademas.com

Helpful Resources

Liz Pappademas's Web site

Liz Pappademas's MySpace site