Day one at Santos recording studio.
West Oakland, California, Santo: a recording studio in an old auto mechanics side room, filled with reclaimed lumber walls, guitars hanging up the wall and old over carpeted floors; sedums grow out of urban ore refuse. Definetly an Oakland vibe; It feels comfortable here. A stable rouge block of sediment. Layers of East Bay stacked fortuitously over one another, a familiar mixture of influence and personal connection.
Mikayla is singing now. Light from the concrete wall outside is bouncing off reflective parts of her guitar, but otherwise she sways back and forth in the dark and I’m having trouble making out her figure. She plays James’ guitar. A somewhat infamous small Washburn from the 1940’s that I've always been extra careful handling and seem to prioritize above all other Splendor guitars – admittedly somewhat unfairly. I think this is mostly a reaction to his attachment to it – which is strong and vocal. David Nario, a name that’s woven through my Bay Area social world is playing with guitar tones from the engineer booth, a shingled outpost, perched like a tree house above the main recording room. Red clay earth tone carpets float everyones feet.
This is the second visit James Wallace has made to the Bay Area to produce Splendor music. “Is there a brightness knob on that one David?” “Play with that tone knob while I listen to it.” Elle was so clear. James is Commander. Someone who is able to contextualize and voice what he needs to see. This foresight is much needed in a studio where many of us seem more inclined, in a truly bay area fashion, to stumble upon the perfect world. Perfection is easily found in our sight lines here. Pushed off the coast a few miles, along a mountain ridge, it’s just easily found here. The plotting and strategies are lost on the found.
James has a plan. He speaks in unapologetic directives. “Derek move back from the speaker.” At first this was jolting and set off the social mixing board inclinations in me. I found myself pouring extra attention and eye contact into the negative spaces of James’ directives. Offsetting direction with a layer of support. Deeply concerned that everyone feels heard. I think it’s easy to forget that most of the world prefers taking directions. It’s so much easier and guaranteed to function/work. Protecting everyone’s power is one of the great balancing acts I find myself doing daily.
Mikayla is singing again. Sometimes things stop when she sings. Whole rooms stop. There is a lot of death all around. Stable warm newly dead death. And she sings about it’s presence in the room. How it’s around us. Inside and out. The beauty of her voice cuts through death's handholds. Lighting up it’s fingerprints like a museum exhibit. Mapping the heavy dark beauty of death’s following. Not everyone in the world is willing to go there. Fewer maybe are able to communicate from these difficult spaces. But there is a confidence in Mikayla’s voice and an exploration that stops a room. Neck’s furl and hairs ripple. Eyes follow in disbelief. It’s part of her great strength – the power that she has put the time in. Looking at herself. Looking at her life. Examining our odd world with the determination to feel what's right and true and good. Her songs walk us down the often painful road of individualization and meaning building. A guide for those willing to think as hard as the feel.
Now there are tonal energies in the room. Short pithy directives. Wood bouncing and look downs. Running up and down the stairs, stepping from art into engineering and back. Musicians below the observation tower laugh at the space between microphones. Sometimes is sounds really good and everyone can tell, nodding in approval and looking at James for the final call. When it sounds bad, carrots dip humus and legs shift over the navy blue couch. “The Pocket” – James walks out of the control booth like he has to explain tiny deaths.
"Looking into eachothers’ eyes is a very, very good idea.” Is he coming down the stairs?
From the booth a voice says, “Your wave crashed and you're separated, a couple of sand fleas heading in different directions down the beach.”