“It’s a very fragile world that they live in and they are way more than exposed than the rest of us,” says guitarist/producer Peter Sprague, in regards to his new album, Sparks and Seeds, a joint effort with songwriter Randy Phillips that features six different singers. “So I recognize that and try to be as helpful as possible so that we can achieve the goal with the least amount of stress.”
Sprague is usually involved with intricate instrumental music but…
“My thing with singers goes way back to when I was a kid with bands like Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Beatles and that music became a part of my DNA, even though I’m a jazz musician. I mean, there’s no reason I should dig it [pop vocals], but I love the way a song blossoms when you have a person telling a story with their voice.”
The musician is not adverse to using modern technology to facilitate making a perfect recording, especially when it comes to issues like intonation. “As I’ve gotten older my standards have gotten more critical — I want everyone to be in tune. So Auto-Tune is a fantastic tool. These singers [Leonard Patton, Allison Adams Tucker, Rebecca Jade, Lisa Hightower, Emily Elbert, and Phillips] are already really good, but before it might take a lot of time to get one note perfect. Now we can go with a great performance and fix a note here or there for the best result.”
Peter Sprague and Randy Phillips, "Sparks and Seeds"
Sprague has learned a few tricks from years of working with singers of all stripes.
“I sent everyone an MP3 demo, so they knew how the tune went before they got here. Almost everyone was singing them for the first time in the studio, so we’d run through them a few times, identify problem areas, fix those and run through them again, and those would usually be the 'takes' that made the album. We probably spent an hour and a half per song. These are all great musicians who have done their homework, so most of that time was just spent working on getting the finer details of emotions and interpretation down.”
He spends a lot of time auditioning mixes to get the final product, usually in his car. “It’s a great environment for judging the details, because it’s very unforgiving. If the bass is too loud, you can really tell, and I make all the final adjustments that way.”