Why the Beige Album?
Well, it's kind of a long story...
Like most projects, if you think about it too much, you'll probably never do it. I can't say this was some sort of "bucket list" objective - this project took longer than anything I've ever worked on by far, and one of the few that didn't involve original compositions. But it's one of my favorite things I've ever done, and one that endeavors to honor the original work. Think of it as a 90 minute review of the White Album. Talk is cheap. Fortunately, so is recording time.
It started innocently enough. During Christmas week of 2018, my longtime friend Joe Malone emailed me a request to record Back in the USSR during our next Chaos session at the Den in West Paterson, NJ. For those of you unfamiliar with Chaos, we are a group of high school friends that get together a couple times a year to record unrehearsed, unarranged, and unwritten songs that we make up on the spot. The band name speaks for itself. We generally never do covers, at least not on purpose.
I was going to ignore the request, but then I almost immediately thought of a version that could work - a slowed down jazz/blues version. I recorded it quickly and sent it along - Joe liked it immediately and he scheduled time in January 2019 to record it. (Which we never actually did, but that's another story). Within the next five days or so, I recorded Ob-La-Di, Wild Honey Pie, Dear Prudence and Glass Onion in my basement and other rooms around the house on my laptop. Joe, one of the most encouraging people I knew gave me a lot of positive feedback, which helped propel me to keep going. I finally decided to record the whole thing. By late March, I had recorded about 20 of the album songs, included a rap part that Joe did for Monkey.
And then full stop.
With work at a fever pitch and life being intense, there wasn't time. I was starting to have some trouble coming up with inspired arrangements. Songs like Martha My Dear, Honey Pie and Long Long Long were not coming to me as quickly, and forcing the issue didn't work. And, you, know, life.
John Zincani joins the fray... Another old friend of mine, JZ is a tremendous multi-instrumentalist and ace recordist. Over the summer of 2019, we got together to finish some old NIC recordings. The NIC was a band we had formed in 1991, played one gig and then dissolved immediately after. In 2010 we all got back together and John produced and played on some new songs. John had also produced one of my songs a while back for a benefit album I was putting together. He is an excellent producer not only from a technical side, but also at coaxing great performances out of people. By chance I happened to mention the recordings which by now I was calling the Beige Album. As a Beatle fanatic like myself, he instinctively knew exactly what I was trying to achieve. I played a few of the recordings for him and he showed a lot of interest in helping out. He soon became a principal architect for what this album eventually became.
Between April and September of 2019, progress was slow, but I started sending John some of the tunes I had recorded. As a fanatical recordist, he worked his magic cleaning up a lot of the tracks, equilizing and adjusting my vocals to keep them in tune and adding instruments and effects where needed. While he was bringing the songs to a very high level, I had time to finish some of the other songs. I was able to get my daughter Kyra to sing Honey Pie as my original lead vocal was unlistenable. Kyra not only brought her amazing singing voice to the tune, but also wrote the melody. It's one of my favorites. Later on, she added lead and background vocal to Long, Long, Long, one of the album's highlights. Rich Weiner, another great friend recorded the guitar solo for I Will. Over the course of the next few months, I recorded the remainder tracks and reworked some of the original versions.
And then the Pandemic hit.
You would think this would be a great time to bunker in and finish. This was not the case, as being an essential worker takes a lot of time out of your day. Between March and December, I would record when I could, and John kept on working his magic. I actually recorded a new version of Back in the USSR at his place and we got it done in one sitting, he adding his bass and drums later. Finally, by late Fall, 2021, all original basic tracks were completed and John completed most of the initial mixing by mid February.
So...10 months later, a brutal case of Covid, another thousand or so hours of remixes, retakes, re-recording, more mixes, new software, better samples and final mastering later, we are done! And yet, I still haven't answered the question - why the Beige Album? Well, a couple of reasons, which didn't all hit me at the same time. The White Album impacted me not only as a musician and songwriter, but as a creative person. The four Beatles went into the studio armed with a trove of amazing songs and knowing they could record them any way they wanted. It was gratifying to know I could do the same thing - walk into my little studio with all these great songs and record them any way I saw fit. And most of all...
It was so much fun. You really get to realize how great these songs are when you're working on them.
PS: This got to be even more fun when some of my best friends and family joined in. Huge shout out to contributors Ted Allen, Hakan Bjornson, Francis Blackmore, Annika Cioffi, Kyra Cioffi, Thor Jonsson, Steve Onopa, Jónína Porsteinsdóttir, and Rich Weiner. I can't thank you enough!