Producer's Corner: Documentary Film Soundtrack
This post was produced & edited by Jason with writing by Shawn McKee. Shawn is an army veteran, college graduate, an accomplished professional, and long-running contributor to this film.
It’s been years since I visited Tennessee. A lot has happened since then. This swift passage of weeks, months, and years picks up steam in your thirties. Before then, I felt there was all the time in the world. I'm in my forties now and at the start of a new chapter, where my knees ache and I’m crankier in the morning.
I haven’t seen my Mom’s cabin in Pikeville, rode the gondola over the Great Smokies, or hung out with my old friends, the Bumpus family. What feels like two years ago was four, five years was ten, and so on. This is part of a strange phenomenon known as “aging,” or in some circles, “growing up.”
Our Family & CF, which examines the struggle with Cystic Fibrosis, has been in the works for over fifteen years. We donate our free time to its production. It's a massive project with multiple layers. It is musically driven, with montages constructed around original compositions which reflect different stages in the family's life.
Back in 2014, Jason (the film's director) and I gathered some friends to record a soundtrack. As music lovers, we grew up on classic rock, heavy metal, alternative rock, industrial, and so on. We had formed a band way back in high school, featuring all the hallmarks (and blunders) of fearless youth—sweaty garage rehearsals, backyard shed jams, noise ordinance violations, and shows in smokey bars to friends and family---our biggest fans. With just a little more time and practice, we'd be rock stars. How hard could it be?
Dreams of rock stardom never materialized, but we had a lot of fun in those years. The band was Jason on vocals/rhythm guitar, Cliff, our long-haired lead guitarist, Mike the drummer, and yours truly on bass. We spent most of our time jamming into the night with a case of cheap beer.
The ensuing laughs, arguments, and long tuning breaks comprised our band practice sessions. After a while, it inevitably came to an end.
When it came time to create a documentary film soundtrack, Jason and I already had some original tunes in mind. A musical foundation had been laid in those garage band years. We practiced like the old days in a three-bedroom apartment which we shared with our friend Shane, who also happened to be a talented bassist. This trio formed with Jason on guitar and piano, Shane on bass, and me alternating between bass, keyboard, and piano. The film score ranges from folksy-blues rock to piano-driven ballads to electronic music. More material grew from those practice sessions, and it became clear that we'd need more help.
In high school, being in a band is like a phase before your friends splinter off to join the real world. Getting together a room of adults (with lives and responsibilities) to play music together for free is no easy feat. But we managed to enlist enough gracious friends to get it done. Anyone who's been in a band knows how hard it is to find (and keep) a drummer. Fortunately, I found an incredibly skilled multi-instrumentalist named Ian, who was dating my friend and co-worker Erika. He said he got the basic idea and would be available to play once we booked the recording. Could we afford a studio? How long would it take? Did we have enough music? I remained cautiously optimistic. Only the rock gods knew for sure.
We ventured to a recording studio recommended to us in Orange City, Florida, hidden along the main strip of 17-92. It was a professional studio with separate sound-proof rooms divided by glass, wood-paneled walls, and an abundance of electric and acoustic guitars. There was even a drum set for use. The studio's spacey, bearded proprietor welcomed us and explained the whole process in the mixing room. It was time to get serious. We needed to produce several tracks in twelve hours, with minimal screw-ups...We weren't a single song in before descending into rock and roll madness! I lit a guitar on fire and straddled it, waving up the flames, Shane threw a roadie through a plate glass window, and Ian fled the scene. Jason hit each of us over the head with a pair of cymbals to keep things on an even keel... The decidedly less dramatic version of events occurred without issue...
Ian's drumming proved flawless, he had been a man of his word. I made far fewer mistakes than expected. Shane handled his bass and organ parts like a pro, as Jason led us in sweet rhythm with his acoustic and electric guitar. Our collection of songs feature upbeat rock tempos and melancholy flair. We even had some time to improvise. That's where the magic happens. The recording process can be grueling and stressful, but during those many hours, everything came together and we had a great time. Calm, collected, and confident, we marched through repeated takes, resulting in the best we could have hoped for. It was fun to be playing music in a band again.
Following our weekend of music and mayhem, the work wasn't over. Jason and I later recorded a few additional songs at Magnolia Studio with Cooper, an aspiring sound engineer I met through my friend Brianna. She shared her beautiful vocals on two songs, "Picture Book" and "Waiting." The latter includes my first singing attempt, which she greatly shored up. Collaboration is key on any project. Our Family & CF has been a collaborative effort since its inception. From early home movies shot by Larry Bumpus to the countless hours of footage edited by his son Jason, everyone plays a part.
Rosie Bumpus, Jason's sister, is featured on the soundtrack. Her singing and songwriting talents reflect her unwavering passion for life. She and I had similar music tastes and favored playing keyboards. During the Myspace days, we collaborated on music tracks. One of those songs, "Warrior Children," is on the soundtrack.
Rosie became a pen pal and close friend during my Army deployment to Iraq in 2008. She always asked how I was doing and reminded me I was missed back home.
This doesn't seem like that long ago, but it's a story for another time.
To Be Continued…