Intentionally recording a studio album in front of a live audience can be perilous. What if the audience doesn't respond? What if the performers aren't in synch musically that night?
For Jenae and Jay Thomason of Hot Sauce Universe, that's the point. Jay said years ago the two made a pact to record all their albums live with no overdubs.
When the husband-wife team won a free recording session at Rock Solid Studio in Dunlap, they invited fans to sit-in on the making of their latest album "According to Lore."
Jenae said the idea to include a live audience sparked after recording their recent song "Real Thang" for a video shoot.
“The energy wasn’t the same. Him and me … in a room … in the dark … it just wasn’t the same. We tried to vibe it up as much as possible but it’s not the same without the audience there for us to give to, and thusly receive back and cultivate and cycle that energy,” said Jenae.
Both said the vibe in the Rock Solid Studio worked as intended, though the duo briefly considered cancelling the recording that night due to threatening weather.
“We had emergency signals on our phones with flash flood warnings and the tornado sirens went off,” said Jenae.
Perhaps weather contributed to the electric vibe inside the studio/venue.
“Honestly it did!” exclaimed Jenae.
“According to Lore” includes two songs the duo had previously recorded: “Real Thang,” recorded at Nap House Studios in the Twin Cities, was released as a single earlier this year, while “Back Off Dude” appeared on their 2016 EP “Color Me.”
“We felt like both of the tunes deserved really great representation for what the song is,” said Jay.
You got what I want
And whatcha need is me loving you so heavenly
By now we're living undeniably in love
When the times are tough we got low means
But we don't have to spend a lot
Don't need three cars and jet skis
Don't need big screens or streamin fees
Cause even on the streets it'd be you and me,
Livin life, we're laughin good, we don't need anything
- From “Real Thang” by Hot Sauce Universe
An obvious love song between the two? Both said “yes” and “no.”
“It’s about life,” said Jay. “And make the most of where you’re at.”
“One of the lines is ‘you’ve got to realize/that what you energize/you materialize,’” said Jenae. This whole record was intentional, as we’ve never written like this before. Frankly, we jam, man,” she laughed and detailed how "Real Thang" started out as a rhythm and spoken word without melody.
“We were at one of our Sunday gigs at TailGaters in LeRoy, and Jay played something. I decided to sing what I had written over the top of it and we just jammed on it. Eventually I wrote a second verse, then the hook ‘bah-dah-dah-dah-bah-daub-ah-doo’ happened in the car on the way to the Red Neck Wind Chime Festival in 2017,” said Jenae.
“I legit got the guitar out from the back seat, and we played it at the show we were driving to,’ said Jay to Jenae’s laughter.
“We played it like that for the first time and it’s been like that ever since,” added Jenae, laughing even louder.
In a recent WGLT conversation, Isaak Elker of the Minneapolis-based folk/bluegrass outfit Good Morning Bedlam said he loved co-writing with his wife and fellow band mate Victoria Elker. He said he loved the dynamic where she could respond in the same song to what he had written. The Thomasons said they have a similar dynamic, even if one is lyrical and the other instrumental.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” said Jay.
“Constantly,” added Jenae almost in unison.
"'Darkest Days' on the album is actually a great example of that,” said Jay.
“It’s purely raw,” said Jenae. “I wrote it in a night, jotting things down as they came to me. We continued to play it for an hour or so, we both cried when we wrote it. There were specific chunks I knew I wanted to get in there and then we specifically did not …”
“We didn’t touch it,” finished Jay.
“Until we got to the recording” said Jenae.
It's not me on my darkest days it's a flip side
I'm turnin’ away any love that's comin’ my way
unaccepting, like I don't have the strength nah nah
nah nah nah
- From “Darkest Days” by Hot Sauce Universe
“I knew what I was going for and he’s really good at coming along with me," said Jenae of the song they recorded the night of the performance.
Improvising during a live performance intended for a debut full-length album would terrify many musicians.
“The vulnerability of that comes through in the recording … that’s one of the things that people who like to hear our thing are attracted to,” said Jay.
“And that’s so much of what we want to put out, we want to put out that authenticity,” added Jenae. “I didn’t want to rehearse that song into the ground because it would lose that raw factor ... that authenticity ... that honesty of … I just have to get this out and I barely even know what I’m doing with it.”
I keep thinkin’ about it,
Everything I ever said that was not quite fair
I keep thinkin’ about it
- “Darkest Days” by Hot Sauce Universe
“I just keeping thinking about it,” said Jenae of a line in “Darkest Days.” “You keep going over everything you’ve ever done was wrong ... or not quite right ... or embarrassed yourself. I get into this place where I’m a horrible person and here’s him (Jay) who loves me to the depth of my being with every depth of his being. It’s unbelievable but that’s what the song is. And without that raw truth, it wouldn’t be right.”
Another recording dynamic that might scare other musicians is how Jay loops sounds on his acoustic guitar during the live performance and how Jenae plays off that. If you weren’t watching that night, you’d swear they imported an electric guitarist and bass player to jam with them.
“The loop pedal has one knob on it,” explained Jay. “I hit a button and it instantly starts recording whatever I’m playing. As soon as I hit that button, it starts playing back what I just recorded.
And that knob has a volume control.
“So, when we’re playing live on the recording, I will loop something and adjust that playback. I also have an octave pedal. So I’ll step on the octave pedal to simulate a bass sound and I might loop that. Then I have some distortion and effects on my acoustic guitar that I can step on and basically jam with myself when the loop is playing,” explained Jay as Jenae giggled at his description of the process.
During WGLT's 2016 interview with Hot Sauce Universe, the Thomason’s hinted they might be open to adding band members to fill out their sound. That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.
“We think it’s special with just the two of us,’ said Jay. “The connection we have and the way she plays the drums … the groove and the connection is just so tight.”
“You can’t beat that” said Jenae.
“When you listen to bands like The Allman Brothers, those people went through hell and back together. And you hear that in the music. We’re grateful for all the things that have come to us in our life, but we’re married with two kids. We run this business of Hot Sauce Universe together. We’re best friends. That connection is in the music and there’s definitely something special about that,” said Jay.
Hot Sauce Universe presents its 2nd annual post-Halloween “Bonus Bash” Friday night at Nightshop in Bloomington. In addition to the Thomasons showing off songs from their new album, Alex Jordine, Norobot, and Wildermore will also perform.
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