Joshua Klipp - EMusician

Joshua Klipp

When Joshua Klipp, a San Francisco-based vocalist and songwriter, decided to record and release his recent batch of pop material, he followed a well-worn path in the independent music community. He issued a three-song EP (Patience) in late 2006, and built up a buzz and a following in preparation for a full-length effort to follow. Since issuing his inaugural release, Won’t Stop Now, in May 2007, his audience has swelled a bit more, and his music career, which he manages around a demanding day job, has accelerated to a near-frantic pace.
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But while his business plan seems standard, the story behind his R&B-inspired dance songs — in particular, a song called “Little Girl” — is nothing if not inspiring, heartbreaking, and unique.

Klipp wrote “Little Girl” almost five years before he began work on the EP, but parts of the song fit perfectly with a new idea he had. Songwriting partner Kristopher Cloud crafted a new melody around the original chorus, hook, and backing vocals, then Klipp wrote new verses that alluded to a more personal struggle.

But when Klipp stepped up to the mic to sing “Little Girl,” the seasoned vocalist faltered, but not for lack of ability. For the first time, his soothing male tenor faced the soft, feminine voice of his past — a voice that was once his own, before he transitioned from female to male.

The melding of both his pre- and post-transition vocals happens only on “Little Girl,” and probably won’t happen again. “It was so intense, I could only do it once,” says Klipp. “The experience was so deep and wrenching but so emotionally resolving, too.”

Ashley Moore, who operates AMOR Music Productions in Alameda, CA, not only recorded the EP, but also offered valuable artistic insight. “When he first started singing [“Little Girl”], it felt really . . . distant. I said, ‘Okay, you’ve written these amazing lyrics. Now put yourself back in that place . . . sing to that little girl.’ The takes he did right after that were keepers. They had this edge to them, and after the last take he was in tears. That comes across in the track.”

Aside from the past-meets-present vocal harmonies on “Little Girl,” Won’t Stop Now combines the old with the new in terms of recording, as well. After Moore incorporated old vocal tracks into a new song on the Patience EP, engineer Loredana Crisan combined the EP tracks with nine newly recorded songs to create one cohesive collection. Both processes presented particular challenges.

Klipp and Cloud brought Moore a rudimentary two-channel mix of the original “Little Girl,” as well as near-complete MIDI tracks of their new version, which were then transferred into Moore’s expanded Pro Tools MixPlus system as audio tracks. She then recorded Klipp’s vocals directly to Pro Tools using a Neumann U87, which ran into a Neve 33104 mic pre to a dbx compressor. His emotional delivery, enhanced by Cloud’s backing vocals, helped balance the all-synthesized, and often dense, music bed. “One mix was 60 channels,” Moore recalls. “By the time the mixes were finished, I’d pretty much maxed out all four TDM DSP cards with plug-ins.”

With new vocals complete, Moore extracted, manipulated, and placed the original vocals. “I made a copy of the chorus and the hook, applied heavy filters to them, and then applied that to the source track, out of phase, to try and eliminate some [out-of-tune] vocals. Then I took that output and ran it through modulation and some psychoacoustic stuff to try and give it some space, because the source tracks sounded really thin. This helped them step forward a little bit in the mix.”

Moore also worked in snippets of old pre-choruses into the verse, then, while mixing the album, added one final glimpse of the past — the female voice calls, while a stronger, masculine voice comforts. “When I put that last piece in, we said, ‘Okay, it’s finished.’”

In early 2007, Klipp and Cloud took the EP masters and music for eight new songs (six originals, two covers) to SF Soundworks in San Francisco to begin work on Won’t Stop Now. Again, there was much vocal work to be done, as well as some clever mastering and remastering to match the EP tracks with the new recordings.

Klipp settled in SF Soundworks’ Studio 3, which offers a Pro Tools|HD3 Accel rig and the ample racks of outboard gear one would expect from a high-end facility. He sang through a Telefunken U47, into a Neve 1073 mic pre/EQ, which ran into an LA2 compressor. In mix mode, Crisan added a bit of Pultec EQ and either the Thermionic Culture Phoenix compressor or UA175, depending on the track. The new songs feature Cloud’s backing vocals along with additional contributions from Klipp’s brother and gospel choir-director father, as well as such guests such as Hollywood, a hip-hop artist and one of Klipp’s backup dancers; Katastrophe, a well-known FTM (female-to-male) hip-hop MC and producer; and Noiro, another transgender artist who remixed Klipp’s song “Rescue Me.”

The final step of melding past and present came during the mastering process, also handled by Crisan at Soundworks. After mixing the new tracks in the studio’s SSL 9000J-equipped Studio 1, Crisan then worked toward matching the EP tracks with the new recordings. “The new tracks were mixed on the SSL with almost no plug-ins, but the EP was mixed in the box, so the analog mixes certainly had more color,” she says.

Not the ideal situation, but Crisan had to remove some of that analog color before leveling out all of the tracks in mastering. Working in Pro Tools with the aid of the MD3 stereo mastering plug, Crisan primarily used a Fairman tube mastering EQ and the Lavry mastering converters to raise the levels without any clipping. After mastering the new and remastering the old, she printed everything a “tad hotter.”

In the eleventh hour (midnight, to be exact), Klipp’s former band, the Klipptones, the band he fronted pre-transition, joined him on covers of “My Funny Valentine” and “Summertime,” the latter of which Klipp had sung before . . . an octave higher. “Revisiting those songs, and with my old band, was like coming full circle,” says Klipp. “That process of revisiting the old and coming into the new created closure in many ways.”