Musings from Promise of the Real

Dean Budnick on July 29, 2019
Musings from Promise of the Real

Promise of the Real: Tato Melgar, Corey McCormick, Lukas Nelson, Logan Metz, Anthony LoGerfo (l-r)

As a companion piece to our recently published conversation with Lukas Nelson, which appears as the cover story of our July/August 2019 issue, we present this sidebar companion piece with notes from the rest of Promise of the Real.

Corey McCormick (bass)

The recording process:
We used the same producer, John Alagia, on the last record—we took a little more time to develop the songs. He worked with Lukas very extensively on phrasing and the feel of the songs. We also tried a bunch of different keys and tempos, so another part of it was finding a new way to do old songs.

But with the new record, we did 20 songs in 5 days at Shangri-La. We consciously went in saying, “Let’s get as much done as we can.” We had a system. Every day we would come in, we’d sit down outside and we would figure out an arrangement. Then we would get a guitar and walk through it in one or two takes. When we started off, we chose three songs that we were going to track each day, then we’d take a break and come back to do all the overdubs and mixing. By the end we were doing four or five per day. We were going for the quality of the records that we grew up listening to and still listen to.

Anthony LoGerfo (drums)

Neil Young’s approach:
This is the closest we’ve ever come to how Neil does his process. We went into Shangri-La, where we recorded two records with him, and we set up in a very similar way. We used a 16-channel board, only 16 microphones, and we went straight to tape. Everybody was telling us not to do that but we said, “No, we’re doing it this time. We’ve listened, we’ve gone digital before, and we’re not doing it.” It would be a disservice to what we’ve learned from working with Neil, who is such an amazing guy.

We would get together around noon, Lukas would bring us a song and we’d
sit around and look at the ocean up at Shangri-La, where The Band and Elvis Presley and Neil and Bob Dylan all recorded back in the ‘70s. We felt that energy, and we would learn the song within an hour, and then go in and cut it. We really relied on our live abilities as a band. We didn’t use many click tracks, maybe on one song—we really fought hard against that as well. It was kind of like, “We work so hard, let us be musicians for this record. Let us prove that we can really play.”

When we’d do an overdub, if there were five or six different overdubs,
we’d do it together in a room. And John [Alagia] would say, “I’ve never done overdubs with five guys at once.” Usually, you do each guy and you really examine it. But we said, “No, if we can’t get it, we should stop playing. If we can’t do this, we’re in the wrong business.” John came around to this, and he loved it.

Then, we recorded half of the record at The Village in Santa Monica where we got some of the harder rocking songs. The energy of the places played a role because The Village is in the city and you felt that energy, while Malibu is all relaxed and Zen, so some of the groovier tunes came out up there.

We do actually use modern techniques—after we record to tape, we dump into Pro Tools, and we edit in Pro Tools. But the meat and potatoes, the main part of it is all live. Some of the guest musicians were also overdubbed later, which gave it a modern twist, and that’s something else we’ve learned from Neil. You can rely on technology, it’s okay, but capture the essence of it in a pure, organic way, and then you can add ingredients on top of it.

Tato Melgar (percussion)

The decision to leave Hawaii:
I grew up in Uruguay and Argentina. I went back forth and I grew up with the traditions of Carnival where there were always great musicians on the street, really good drummers. I learned how to drum on anything available to me because I didn’t have money for a drum—there is a beauty in that.

Then, I moved to Hawaii in 1998. My sister babysat Lukas and Micah when they were 9 or 10. I worked in the daytime doing construction and landscaping but at night I would play with different artists—people like Michael Franti, who would come to the island and need percussionists. I would also play with Hawaiian locals and became more involved with Latin jazz, Bossa Nova and salsa.

Then Lukas went to California to study [at Loyola Marymount University]. When he dropped out, he said to me, “I want to start a band, and I want you in it!” I said, “No way. I just had my first kid.” I chickened out. But eventually I agreed to do it even though I never wanted to get off the island. The whole thing has been pretty incredible, though. Lukas and Micah are beautiful people. It’s been heartwarming for me.

Logan Metz (keys, guitars, harmonica)

Song Highlights:
“Where Does Love Go” was one of the last things we recorded. It was toward the end of the session and everyone who was in the studio at that time was in the live room, singing this at the top of their lungs, all scattered around the room, literally hanging from rafters. We would do a take and then it would be like, “OK, everybody, switch places!” There were mics scattered around the room and people would all run around, and then we’d do another take and listen back. There were maybe 20 of us there—a lot of guests came up during that session—and we were all holding hands and jumping up and down, singing and listening back. It was all so joyful and pretty unforgettable, something that I would want to flash in front of my eyes when I die.

Before we started, Lukas sent me a batch of maybe 50 songs that he had written over the past couple of years. “Simple Life” and “Turn Off the News” were the two that really wooed me. “Simple Life” is this groovy kind of summer jam. “Turn Off the News” kind of blew my mind the first time I heard it, when it was just a cell phone demo with Lukas singing it. The news had been pretty bad and then I heard him singing, “Turn off the news and build a garden…” I was like, “Alright Lukas, I’ll come out and build this garden with you. Hell yeah! I’m in!”

This article originally appears in the July/August 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.