The Making of Nine Lives Vol. One – Disc Two: Track Three

Walking on Glass

Walking on Glass is sung by Tanya Boutté as the voice of Belinda Carr.

In this scene, Belinda is now grown.  She married a young man she did not love.  After divorcing him she marries a man who causes her nothing but pain, beating her and taking her money until she works up the courage to leave him.  She is supposed to be at a backyard party with a friend and she is swearing off men forever.

I wanted the sound for all of the songs about Belinda to be the least New Orleans sounding songs because she yearns to leave and go anywhere else.

John Rankin played a simple but elegant acoustic guitar part and we thought about leaving it there.  John can make one single guitar sound like three because he orchestrates the parts so well. His choice of chording and his sense of arranging a guitar part is that lovely.

However, the television show Treme had by now threaded its way into my life and work and did so again.

While making Nine Lives, John Boutté and I filmed a scene for season two where we perform Accentuate The Positive and a song we wrote together called Sisters.  Lucia Micarelli who plays Annie and Michiel Huisman who plays Sonny were both in the scene with us.

I had met Michiel when John and I appeared in season one performing Foot of Canal Street and I felt very comfortable playing music with him again.  Lucia and I had not played music together but she was pretty amazing.  During the scene her playing made Boutté smile in a way that he smiles when music lights him up.  He doesn’t talk about it and you have to know him to recognize the look but it is a look of sweet serenity.  Lucia also sang harmony with us on Accentuate the Positive.  She learned it off the record and sang the harmony I usually do.  It was great fun because I got to sing a lower harmony and “Bing it up” as Harry Shearer would say later in the session.

As with Michiel, I liked her vibe when she played.  She disappeared into the music – there was no acting, just simply being – and it made me comfortable to be around.  I checked out her performances on YouTube and it was scary.  This quiet, tiny, sweet girl, armed with just her violin, transforms on stage in front of an audience of several thousand people into a towering giant of a snarling musical beast afraid of nothing, simply being.  I was floored and sent her an email asking if she would appear on Nine Lives and she agreed but told me it was her last day of filming before the holidays and she was flying out that night so time would be a factor.  As it turned out the day ran long and she had about an hour to spare before her flight to Los Angeles but she was still game to come to the studio.

We played through the song with the two of us sitting at the sound board in the control room of Piety while Wes Fontenot, the wonderful engineer at Pity, went about setting mics and getting the big room ready.  The sensitivity to moments like this that Wes had throughout the sessions was wonderful and aided the sessions every step of the way.  He set the room, listened to the music to garner what information he needed and gave us room to work until it was obvious we were ready to record.  It is a gift as a producer to have an engineer with that kind of instincts.

I had a few parts in mind and Lucia was very cool about playing what I heard.  She went out into the big room to work out the rest of the song on her own and here was another transformation.  The shy, tiny girl at rehearsal, who had become the beast with the violin on YouTube, now became a chain smoker with a string of profanity in her arsenal that would have made a longshoreman proud… and all of it aimed at herself.  From inside a cloud of smoke I heard a hoarse voice chastising, “That’s not it… Oh, what the fuck…  Shit… Well, you fucked that up!”  Speaking only to herself, she was totally absorbed in finding what parts she wanted to play and was totally oblivious to Wes and me… which was good because we were laughing pretty hard.  It had been a long day and, intentional or not, Lucia was providing the perfect comic relief to make a long day a little less hard.  Within a few passes she stepped to the mic, brows furrowed together furiously in concentration, and told us she thought she was ready for a pass.

When a brilliant musician plays in your presence, if you truly love music, it is astounding every time.  The music seems to come from someplace deeper, the notes seem richer and it is quite something.  That is how this woman plays, with all of her being.  She had time for just a few passes.  We didn’t need as many as she gave us to be honest but like all great players she was playing to her own standards and gave several passes before having to split and make her late flight home.

A very sweet person and stunningly talented player.

Something about the track began to sing to me and I couldn’t figure what it was.  It had been a long day so we called it a night and I went home to sleep on it.

When we got back to work on Walking on Glass I came in with a chuckle telling Wes I had a few ideas for him as engineer and also that Sam and Jack Craft would be coming back in to play more strings on the track.

First,  I wanted him to take the intro part Chip Wilson had come up with for the earlier Belinda song, Why Can’t I see Tomorrow, and insert it into Walking On Glass as an intro before each verse.  Next, I wanted him to look at taking the guitar parts Chip and Michiel Huisman had played on the earlier track and using it as intro to John Rankin playing solo guitar on this track.   I told him I had checked it out in my car and that the songs were the same key but slightly different tempos but if he could slow down the intro part, it would work with this song.  Wes laughed and said, “Finally!  I get to do a little playing on this thing.  Alright, give me a little time and I’ll set it up.”  As I turned to go make myself a cup of tea, Wes leaned over the board, chuckling, and added, “You know, if this works I’m gonna have to say you’re bordering on mad genius shit here.”  I laughed and said, “If it works it will be because I have a gifted engineer like you making it happen while I sip tea on the back porch.”  It was a delicate series of adjustments he had to make at each point in the song where the intro is used and Wes got it done in under an hour.  He is a musician and gets the timing and groove of the music within the context of the editing he does.  It was a trait that would come in handy a few times on the project.

After Wes had made all of the adjustments on the intros and timing to combine the two tracks into one, I had him slide the parts that Lucia had played to a different part of the track to lead the new intro in and out of the song.  I called the Craft Brothers to come add strings.  I had them orchestrate parts around what Lucia had already recorded and also had them play along with Chip and Michiel on the intro part.  Again I got to watch their sibling telepathy as they work through and agree to parts in that wordless vocabulary of nods, head shakes, frowns and smiles that is their work mode.  They are always about what is best for the song and that is how they discuss their parts.  Not what shows off their playing skills best or how great this part would sound if it had cello or violin but always how to make the song stronger.  It has been my experience in working with them that they always succeed.

The track was ready for Tanya Boutté to come sing and Pepsi had sent a film crew there that day to shoot footage of the making of the album for their Pepsi Refresh web site.  Tanya was focused on singing and spoke aloud to the film crew about her process in learning the song.  It was sweet, tragic and unselfconsciously revelatory.  She spoke about studying the lyrics and becoming familiar with the story of this woman who had endured and survived so much heartbreak and hardship in her life.  At one point, talking about the hurt in the words of the song she said to the camera, “The more I got to know the song, the more I recognized this woman.  I said to my mama, “Mama, this girl’s me.”  I had to turn away from the camera because the honesty of that painful admission, spoken without pain but innocently, like a child talking to her mom, took my breath away for a moment.  As I turned away I saw Colman turning away as well, eyes big as he let out a long slow sigh.

Tanya went in to the booth, got comfortable and within three passes, breathed life, passion, longing, pain and triumph into our Belinda and Walking on Glass.

~ Paul Sanchez – June 22, 2011

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