THE LONG HAUL: Remember to Let the Light In
Rachel Baiman and Tucker Martine
At the beginning of April, I flew out to Portland, Oregon, for a couple of weeks to attend the mixing sessions for my new record with engineer and producer Tucker Martine. In some ways, it felt like the most privileged moment of my career to date, having the budget to work with someone of Tucker’s caliber and the freedom to spend two weeks hanging out and absorbing the process in a new and very dreamy city.
After spending just a couple of days working together, I remarked on how much time we had left to work. I’m used to making albums on a super tight budget, and since studio time is money, I’ve always been in a rush to make things happen as quickly as possible. Tucker agreed and then said something along the lines of, “Yeah, you know, it’s a luxury to get to work like this, but it makes the record better. And if we aren’t doing this to make the best record that we can, then what’s the point?”
Since returning from Portland, a lot of people have asked me how the mixes turned out, to which I answer that I’m thrilled with them. But I feel like the experience gave me more than a great record; it gave me a window into what it feels like to work at the highest level on a project. It has taken me 10 years of road-dogging and five or six studio albums (solo and with 10 String Symphony) to get to a place where I could even glimpse this world. But now there’s no way I’m ever going back. I have seen the dream and I want it!
Tucker has spent the last few years building an incredible studio space in a converted building in northeast Portland that used to belong to an extremely violent biker gang. (Don’t worry, he says, none of the murders happened in the building!) From the moment I walked in, I could see the attention to detail that had been given to every surface and every part of the experience. There are no styrofoam egg-carton sound treatments on the walls. Printed fabric adorns every baffle, contrasted with reclaimed natural wood textures. A perfectly placed skylight is cut out directly above the board, allowing the rare Portland sunshine to enter the control room without interrupting the soundwaves that bounce generously around the perfectly treated room. Even the bathroom is majestically wallpapered and smells like designer soap. This is an environment in which magic will be made.
And then there is the schedule. While working, Tucker is laser-focused, sometimes getting so stuck into the shape of a sound that he neglects to leave his chair to eat lunch. But unlike any other person I’ve met in the business of creating music, he works 10-6, Monday through Friday, a normal workweek. After that he hangs out with his girlfriend and his kids, generally enjoys his life, and, most surprisingly to me, goes out to see shows. I have never met another studio rat who has maintained so much passion for seeing and experiencing live music after working all day. My ears would be practically bleeding from a few hours of heavy listening and Tucker would be headed out to see some kind of psychedelic band from Finland playing at a local venue. And it’s easy to tell why: He runs his life in service of maintaining inspiration at all times.
Now back home, I’m thinking about why those weeks felt so different than working here. Nashville is a constant hustle. Nearly everyone is overworked and underpaid and looking to cram as much work into their schedules as humanly possible in order to make ends meet. People are courageously building careers from nothing, and hustling to make things happen before they really know what they are doing. It’s a land of growth and challenge, and if you won’t do the job, there are 10 other highly qualified people who will.
I love my city, and I’ve learned a lot very quickly from living here. But It’s so oversaturated with talent that sometimes I forget that making great art is not just about developing skills and working hard. It’s also about committing to an environment and a psyche that breeds creativity, that pushes boundaries, and that allows for enough space and rest and enjoyment to let the light in and illuminate the work.