Tracking Drums For Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill' - Part 2
August 10, 2014
Hey!!! Look what I found!!!!!
Here’s the cassette tape that producer Glen Ballard sent me so I could prepare for Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ sessions. I was right! There WERE 12 songs on the tape...... INCLUDING 2 THAT DID NOT MAKE THE RECORD!!!! - ‘Superstar Wonderful Weirdos’ and ‘No Avalon’.
This is no news to die hard Alanis fans. I just checked the interweb. Versions do exist but I don’t think they are Glen Ballard productions. The versions we recorded sound more like the over all vibe of JLP which included drum loops and harmonica tracks. You know. The ingredients that make selling 30 million plus records easy............................COUGH!!! Although I would love to share how incredibly cool those 2 songs turned out, the threat of ‘Team Alanis/Legal’ storming my humble world keeps me from doing so.
The 1st day of recording was a paid audition for me. I didn’t know if I was going to be asked back to finish the record, but that was my goal. In November of 1994, I joined producer Glen Ballard, engineer Chris Fogel, and bassist Lance Morrison at MCA Records’ recording studio located in Studio City, CA. Alanis wasn’t there for the 1st day. I’m assuming it was because Glen wanted to see if I was going to work out before having her down to the session.
‘You Oughta Know’ (A little set up from part 1 is needed.) The version of ‘You Oughta Know’ that ended up on the record is much different from the one I originally performed on. The story that I heard was that Flea and Dave Navarro from The Red Hot Chili Peppers heard the song and wanted to re-record the bass and guitars. Flea and Dave changed the chord progression and attitude completely, matching the fire and angst of the lyric content. Luckily my drum track worked with the new direction or things would have been a whole lot different for me. (Whew!) There was nothing wrong with the original, but if you were to hear both versions back to back you would understand why the new version made the record.
The 1st version: So we started working on ‘You Oughta Know”. Glen and Alanis had recorded vocals and guitars ahead of time using drum loops and a click track, so Lance and I overdubbed our parts onto the pre-recorded tracks. (Actually, that was the formula for the 3 day session.) After the 1st run down of the song, Glen walks into the tracking room where Lance and I had just finished playing and excitedly tells us how amazing the take was!
“Lance! Loving what your doing! Matt! The drum fill coming out of the breakdown section.....IT WAS GREAT!!!!! DON’T CHANGE IT!!! ” That was the fill I briefly mentioned in part 1. It popped in my head the first time I heard the demo so I wrote it in my chart, not to forget it. Good thing I did. At this point my nerves were starting to calm down because we had tracked 2 other songs earlier that day (Sorry I can’t remember which songs). Also Glen was expressing how happy he was about how everything was turning out. This is when I started to feel comfortable enough to ask Glen if I could try some overdub ideas. After Lance and I got the take for ‘You Oughta Know’, we all listened to the song from top to bottom. When it got to the bridge section, everything dynamically simmered down to just a vibrato guitar and Alanis‘ spooky, cool vocal......and nothing else. It felt empty and needed something to keep things moving before the drum loop kicked in 9 bars later. I asked Glen if I could try a brush groove idea on the snare drum. He said “Sure! Let’s hear it.” So I sit behind my drums and get ready for the overdub thinking to myself, “Can I pull this off?”
I had never played this idea before, but I thought if I can execute it as good as it sounds in my head, then it just might work. After 3 or 4 tries I got it!
****Cool Tid Bit Alert**** The song’s original intro opened with Alanis’ vocal singing the 1st verse (just like the record) along with Glen’s demo guitar track and nothing else. My original entrance was lead by a drum fill going into the 1st pre-chorus - ‘Cause the love that you gave that we made....’ Now. Fast forward about 6 months later I hear ‘You Oughta Now’ for the 1st time since we tracked it. Guess how the song starts?.......................The snare drum brush groove!!!! Through the magic of record making, Glen and Chris copied the brush groove and placed it at the top of the song. It was a great move and a nice surprise! Check it out:
When Glen ok’d the brush groove idea, it sent my confidence soaring. The flood gate of ideas opened. Next, I suggested that we overdub a cymbal swell before Alanis’ spooky ‘Ooooh’s’ in the middle of the bridge. “Cool!” he said. (Great!! He’s loving everything I’m doing!!!!) Then I said “Let’s try a tambo in the chorus”.......................well.................2 out of 3 overdubs ain’t bad.
Looking back now I think about how kind and sweet Glen was to me throughout the entire project. This was only my 2nd record that I had ever played on, so to say that I was glowing green from inexperience would be a vast understatement! If I had known Glen’s long list of credits and great drummers that he had worked with before, I would have folded. I remember Lance attempting to tell me and I just held up my hands and said “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!.....I don’t wanna know.”
So that concluded the 1st day of tracking. That’s when Glen asked if I was available for the next couple of days to finish the record. YESSSSS!!!!!!!! I was so happy! It made me feel so professional working with everybody that day. I was 26 years old - I had only played on 1 other major label release - now I’m performing on one of the first releases on Madonna’s new label, Maverick Records. It’s hard to imagine but at the time ‘the buzz’ was more about Madonna’s new record company than actually who Alanis was. Obviously this was before the release of JLP. It didn’t take long for the buzz topic to change.
The next day I show up on a high from the previous day, ready to work. I walked into the control room and that’s when I met Alanis for the first time.