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Tracking Drums For Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill' - Final Installment

September 5, 2014

After passing my “audition” I returned to the studio the following day. I was feeling good, but not 100% confident that I was going to be asked to stay and finish the record.  I walked into the control room and met Alanis for the first time.  She was relaxing on the couch reading a newspaper when I introduced myself.  At the same time, producer Glen Ballard and engineer Chris Fogel were busy preparing tracks.  I wasn’t told how Alanis felt about the previous day’s session.  She didn’t come to the studio on the first day so I asked, “Did you like how the songs turned out yesterday?”  It’s worth mentioning again that I was a very inexperienced, insecure 26 year old drummer having only played on 1 other major label release at the time. I really didn’t know how things worked.  Just because the producer Glen Ballard had asked me back, I still didn’t believe that my tracks were going to make the record.  That’s when Alanis put her newspaper down and stood up from the couch and said, “Yeah, Yeah!!! They’re great!”  I remember Glen looking at me with a puzzled smile that seemed to say, “Why do you think we asked you back?”  
ALRIGHT!!!!  I’M READY NOW!!!

FORGIVEN
The first order of business was to revisit the song “Forgiven”.  (In Part 1, I couldn't remember all the songs we tracked on the 1st day, but that one brain cell came through for me today!!!)

After hearing the version we had cut the day before, Alanis wanted to make some arrangement changes.  
Originally, bassist Lance Morrison, myself and the pre recorded guitar track all started together at the beginning of the song.  Alanis’ idea was to have the bass and drums lay out in the intro and verses to give it more of an open feel.  Then the drums and bass would amp up the dynamic by entering at each pre chorus and slam the choruses.  
Well.....she nailed that one.  
I can’t remember if we re-tracked the whole song or just punched in from the first pre chorus and got out before the 2nd verse.  (It’s been 20 years ya know........YIKES!!!)

I had to listen to the song just now to help my memory.  No matter how we did it, Alanis’ arrangement idea worked perfectly! The intro of the song sets the mood right away thanks to some very tasty guitar playing by session great Michael Landau.  

HEAD OVER FEET
Next we tried adding real drums to Head Over Feet.  The version that made the record is all drum loops and a programmed drum machine, but I was given a shot to replace or at least accompany them.  I remember tracking the song and feeling like it wasn’t working.  It felt like adding my drums on top of everything was too much.  Maybe a better drummer could have made it feel better, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.  That was the 1st time I experienced the old adage: “When in doubt, just lay out.”  


RIGHT THROUGH YOU

I gotta say.  During my brief time of working and hanging out with Alanis, my impression was that she was one of the most intelligent, sweetest people I had ever met.  I think she was 20 years old at the time, but her soul was way beyond her years.  It was so inspirational and intimidating at the same time.  I was a whole 6 years older than her! Shouldn’t I be the one that comes across that way?????  NOPE!

So we start tracking “Right Through You”.  It’s a rowdy rock song with lyrics that tell the story of being able to see through the bullshit that some people try to feed you.  At the end of the 1st chorus the music dynamically cools down to set up the 2nd verse.  Well....during this little cool down section Alanis defiantly said in a non overstated way, “Fuck You, Muthafucka!!!” followed by a beautiful heart felt evil laugh.  It was so real that it sent a chill down my spine.  I thought to myself, “Can she say that????!!!”  It didn’t make the record, but I really wish it did.   

So with that, the 2nd day of recording ended.  Glen and Alanis were both very happy which put me back on that 'high' from the end of the 1st day. 

 

FINAL DAY OF TRACKING DRUMS

At this point all of us were enjoying the process and really having fun.......well... some more than others.  If only I could have shaken my insecurities.  I remember apologizing to Glen constantly about my drumming.  Glen would turn and say to me (in a blind Master Po way) “No apologies necessary, Mr. Laug.”  (Any Kung Fu fans out there?)
Before trying another pass of a song, Lance and I heard from the control room “Hey guys. We need Matt to listen to something before going for another take.” 

(Uh-Oh.........They’re hating what I’m doing......My groove sucks......They need me to play something else......What are they about to ask me to do???  Can I pull it off?  Was it played by another drummer???  Will I be replaced by the other drummer???!!!)


My anxiety level was reaching DEFCON 1 when this was played for everybody in the studio:
 


It was a great move by the seasoned professionals attempting to show the young green newbe (Me!) how to relax and have fun.  It worked!

 

MARY JANE
This song was a bear for me to play.  Any kind of slow shuffle or waltz feel was a challenge for me.  It’s only recently that I think I got a handle on it but it’s still 'a work in progress.'  The demo of this song had 2 programmed drum machine parts: a marching snare drum and the main groove.  I attempted to play both at the same time......unsuccessfully.  Playing both the slower tempo waltz marching snare while attempting to make the main groove relaxed and in the pocket was anything but.  If it were today, I would have played the main groove first then overdubbed the marching snare later.  Easy peasy.  At the time I was so inexperienced and so willing to take on anything.  Glen noticed that I was having a hard time with it so in his infinite wisdom he recommended that we keep the programmed snare part and replace the main groove.  (WHEW!!!)  That’s when the song got off the ground.  
Years later I ran into Alanis’ 1st touring drummer Taylor Hawkins who had since been a long time member of The Foo Fighters.  He had the task of playing MARY JANE live with Alanis and was telling me how hard it was to play "both my parts."  I couldn’t walk away without letting him know the truth.  

WAKE UP
I really didn’t do too much on this song.  It’s very drum loop driven.  I played in the choruses and the outro with some drum fills and that was it.  When I got my take bassist Lance Morrison asked if he could do another pass so we both ended up in the control room for the bass overdub.  I remember thinking that this song had a Seal influence who I was a big fan of at the time.  I asked Lance to try and thumb slap the chorus tags kind of like you would hear on a Seal record.  Glen was all for it, but Lance had his doubts about being able to pull it off.  
I just listened to WAKE UP for the 1st time in maybe 18 or 19 years and I have to say that aside from Alanis’ vocal, Lance’s bass line is the featured part of the song!  Insanely great bass passages!!!!

 

SUPERSTAR WONDERFUL WEIRDOS
This was my favorite song, but unfortunately it didn’t make the record. 

One of my favorite memories recording the album was during the tracking of ‘Superstar’.  When we got to the chorus, I looked up to see Glen and Alanis dancing all around the control room!!!  I’ll never forget how cool of a moment that was for me.  Here's why.

It was a nightly occurrence to see people, usually drunk out of their minds, dancing in front of the band at one of my beach gigs.........but this was different.

Now I see a very successful record producer, with an incredibly talented artist, dancing around to original, high quality songs that I am lucky enough to play drums on!!!  Big difference.

 

Playing on all of Alanis’ songs was so inspirational.  I remember times when Lance and I would look at each other in the middle of a take and I would try to keep from laughing over how cool the lyrics were.  Especially in the verse of ‘Superstar’:
Billy's a football star
And he drives around in his muscle car
But he really really wants to be a ballerina.......

“WHAAAAT????”  That line killed me.  

 

Since I touched on the subject ......after we finished the record and before JLP was released, Alanis and her room-mate at the time would come down to see Lance and I play at those same beach gigs.  She sat in a couple of times with us singing songs like "Respect" by Aretha and Alana Myle's hit at the time "Black Velvet".  One night I got on the mic and introduced her by stating "This is our good friend Alanis. Remember this girl!!

SHE'S GOING TO BE HUGE ONE DAY!!!"  (My own little Nostradamus moment.)  

 

When the record came out I called Glen to congratulate him on all the success and to say, yet again "Thank you for giving the new guy a chance.”  (A phrase he heard from me repeatedly throughout the 3 day session.)
I told him that I was disappointed that “Superstar” didn’t make the cut.  Glen responded “Well Matt......In the end.....it looks like we really didn’t need it.”  
Guess not.  


 

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Matt

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