Gold Star is an old-school American songwriter. Based in East Hollywood, he spends his time between his big blue house and the city’s iconic venues and hotels like the Chateau Marmot and The Bootleg, writing songs that sound like the American road trips of our dreams. His new album Uppers & Downers, comes out today and was recorded in one of LA’s most historic studios, Valentine Studios, which has previous birthed albums by Frank Zappa and The Beach Boys. It features contributions from members of the Black Lips, Tame Impala and has Ryan Adams playing the bass and guitar on one track, so safe to say if you like any of them, you’ll like this. We’ve been obsessed with the album since we first heard it and we’re pretty sure you will be too so we asked Gold Star himself to break it down for us track by track.
‘Crooked Teeth’ – This was the first song I started recording for “Uppers & Downers” and it felt like a fitting way to open the record. “Crooked Teeth” is almost like the key to understanding the songs that follow after it. The sound the song begins with is actually the sound of drummer Nick Murray packing up his cymbals at the end of the day, this was incidentally being picked up by an old ceramic microphone on the complete other side of the studio. We then added reverb from an Echo Chamber above the tracking room to give it that sound a distant, ghostly quality.
‘Half The Time’ – This song is lyrically all about Los Angeles, or at least my experience of it. Before we began recording at Valentine studios I had been working on this one with my friend Marshall Vore at his spot. He brought in Ryan Adams to play bass and guitar on the songs, those were definitely some really fun sessions. The piano and organ were overdubbed by Fred Garbutt. We were going for a Rolling Stones-esque sound for the drums. Someone told me this song sounded like The Verve if they were American, which I thought was funny.
‘Chinatown’ – While we were working on this track I invited Cole and Zumi from the Black Lips to come down to the studio. They showed up at midnight with a saw, an electric guitar, and a bottle of wine. The haunting sound towards the end of the recording is Zumi playing the singing saw with a bow, it’s a very interesting sound. It gives me shivers every time I hear it. The acoustic guitar was played through an amp and manipulated live on an Echoplex. I wrote it about my friend, the painter, Noah Davis.
‘Baby Face’ – This was the last song written for the record. The song started with some drum samples and a Wurlitzer. The baritone guitar part was played by producer Nic Jodoin and the bass was added by Zach Dawes. I played a mellotron for the string and flute samples to get that Strawberry Fields forever type of sound. I feel like this song has an Elliot Smith Figure 8 kind of vibe.
‘Uppers & Downers’ – This song started life as an uptempo rock song with driving drums and ended up being just vocals and organ at a fraction of the original tempo. I would take the train to the studio most days from downtown and would listen to the mixes on the way over and I liked the way it sounded, so this track has a recording I made on the subway mixed into it. Franky from Franky Flowers played the Hammond B3.
‘This Is The Year’ – The slapback on the vocals was provided by 1/4” tape delay. I wanted the vocals to have a vibe similar to John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” The piano on this one was played by Cameron Avery of Tame Impala on an old Steinway grand. Additional organ parts were added by Drew Erickson. The harmonies were sung by my friends Jordan Jones, Danny Dodge, and Josh Desure.
‘Dani’s In Love’ – ‘Dani’s In Love’ was written for my girlfriend Dani Dolinger, I wanted to write an upbeat summery song with some pretty dark lyrics. I love how the drum sound turned out on this one. That unusual keyboard sound is an old Farfisa from the 60’s, also played by Drew Erickson. This is one of only two songs that features electric guitar although there are at least two acoustic guitar tracks on here. Was listening to Squeeze’s “Up The Junction” and Wreckless Eric while writing this one.
‘Friday Nights’ – For this number, we ran the vocals through a rotating Leslie speaker. The same one Kenny Roger’s used on his vocals in ‘What Condition My Condition Was In.’ The vocal track was supposed to be a scratch take, a placeholder basically, but the performance has this kind of ease to it that we weren’t quite able to capture afterwards. This song features piano from Brad Oberhofer, which we also ran through the Leslie to give it that kind of trippy effect.
‘Does It Ever Get You Down?’ – To create the unique drum sound heard here we took the kit out of the tracking room and set it up in the middle of the building’s lobby. That room is practically all linoleum and tile so it gives the drums this big echoey sound. I think we ended up using just one mic to capture that sound. The low end on this song was created by sampling a Hammond Organ’s bass pedals on an old MPC, we really liked the rhythm of how the MPC quantized the tone. Some other interesting effects like reverse piano and distorted harmoniums feature here.
‘Get It Together (C’Mon)’ – I played the bass parts on this one using an old Kay bass from the 60’s that I think belonged to Eagles Of Death Metal. In a way, the rhythm for this song was inspired by bands like Primal Scream and Stone Roses. Fred Garbutt contributed the funky Wurlitzer sections, we probably recorded those at 4 am. Featuring hand claps by engineer Travis Pavur.
‘Beneath The Wheels’ – ‘Beneath The Wheels’ is the only song in 6/8 on the record and it’s the only tune to feature harmonica. The drum sound reminds me of Dylan’s Desire which is one of my all-time favourite records. The harmonies here were sung by songwriter Austin McCutchen. This was probably the simplest song to record, it all came together quite quickly.
‘Where I Will Be’ – I tried recording this a few times before I ended up with the final version. Ryan Adams had originally played the bass on this number. This song features Austin McCutchen’s harmonies and the inimitable Jeff McElroy. The acoustic guitar was a very old J-45 I borrowed from a friend, incredible instrument.
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