Harper Simon (left) and Edie Brickell
Photo: Copyright 2007. Echo Danon and Coke O'Neal
The Heavy Circle's first album was something of a surprise. Producer/guitarist/composer Harper Simon, son of Paul Simon (yes, that Paul Simon), and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell (yes, the “What I Am” Edie Brickell, who also happens to be married to Harper's dad) pretty much stumbled into the project. “We knew each other a long time before we ever really made music together,” Simon explains. “We didn't even intend for the project to be so serious; it kind of organically happened and then turned into an album.”
Brickell's history with her group, New Bohemians (who she reunited with after 15 years for the 2006 album, Stranger Things [Fantasy]), and Simon's experience recording guitar on albums for his dad, Sean Lennon and Deana Carter paved the way for a painless songwriting process with the Heavy Circles. “It's basically chemistry,” Brickell says. “Harper plays an incredible guitar, and I sing what I feel needs to go with that guitar line. We record as we go; you can just sense when there's a song happening.”
In fact, when the duo writes together, they can't even be bothered with thinking in terms of verses and choruses. It's more about whatever moves them at the time. “We give the song structure later,” Simon says, “adding what's needed or moving things around.”
Brickell lightheartedly calls their recording process a game of “Stump the Guitarist, Stump the Singer,” whereby she and Simon banter back and forth, playing off of each others' musical ideas. “That makes for quite a bit of trial and error,” she giggles, “but we just keep what we like and throw the rest away.”
Once the duo had all the basic ideas down for their self-titled album (Dynamite Child, 2008), they recorded in Brooklyn with producer/engineer Bryce Goggin (Herbie Hancock, The Lemonheads, Joan as Police Woman) at his own Trout Studios. Goggin helped the pair translate their ideas into full tracks, a process he found pretty easy considering the duo's experience. “All these songs were moments old when they arrived at Trout,” he says, “but the caliber of Edie and Harper's musicianship gave them the freedom to mold the basics of this record in a brilliantly short amount of time.”
Working on a Neve 8028 console with 16 1064 preamp/EQ modules, the band cut all of those basic tracks to a Studer A80 MK I 16-track 2-inch at 15 ips, later transferring the songs into Pro Tools|HD. Overdubs were done direct to Goggin's HD2 Accel system, which was clocking off of Mytek Digital 96 kHz converters, while Brickell's distinctive, pretty vocals — the centerpiece of the album — were given special mic treatment.
“Edie was singing through the top capsule of my Neumann SM 69, a Telefunken AC701-based vacuum tube mic,” Goggin explains, “using an Amek 9098 mic pre into a 2254 compressor. As most of her vocals were tracking vocals, they went right to the 16-track.”
Simon's detailed guitar parts were played primarily on a '71 Gibson SG and a '56 Fender Telecaster with a vintage Roland RE-201 Space Echo (“I used Space Echo a lot,” Simon says). For synth work, the band made extensive use of both an old Roland Juno-6 and a Farfisa Fast that was run through an MXR Phase 90 and a Todd Vos custom octave pedal. Elsewhere, a Hammond E3 was routed through a Leslie 32H cabinet, and a 6'1" Kawai grand was used for piano.
“People try to match the overall sound on old soul records,” Brickell says, “but that's not easy to do. On songs like ‘Oh, Darlin’,' I like how it really does sound authentically soulful and vintage-y.”
“My favorite song is ‘Henri,’” Simon adds. “The track has a real mood to it. That song is not really musically or lyrically in any genre; I think it's quite original and sounds really cool.”
After wrapping most of the production on The Heavy Circles, Simon took the songs to Los Angeles to do extra Pro Tools work, adding overdubs by pals Sean Lennon, Money Mark, Martha Wainwright and theremin player Pamelia Kurstin, among others, before mixing with Mark Needham. The cameos aren't noticeable in a, “Hey, listen!” way; instead, they subtly enhance The Heavy Circles' artful sound. And that's another kind of chemistry that both Brickell and Simon are surely happy about.