Early last year Kisses’ Jesse Kivel and Zinzi Edmundson brought a batch of songs to New York City in what would be a first and also possibly a last for the L.A. duo. The making of Rest in Paradise was a longtime dream realized, working with a live disco band to bring this new batch of Kisses songs to life — there was no better partner in the process than the mighty Midnight Magic.
Now, a year later, Jesse and Midnight Magic bassist and co-founder W. Andrew Raposo discuss their collaboration and cover a few still lingering questions.
Jesse Kivel: When we worked in the studio it was immediately very relaxed and fun. A big part of the enjoyment there, as I think you saw, was me seeing other people working on my music and having their own takes and doing things I can't do.
Something I search for when I'm recording is to look up and have it be hours later. I feel like when I started music that would happen everyday, and now I'm chasing that a little bit. When you've used sounds and tones before and they're not as novel how do you lose yourself just in the pure act of doing it? Working with you guys was a novel experience. Everything was fresh and I had ideas and it was energizing.
Andrew Raposo: Because you had other people's minds and hands.
JK: Absolutely, and it felt new. But working by yourself alone on stuff and to keep that refreshing is, oddly enough, a discipline.
AR: Yeah, I hear that. The first thing I do when I'm starting a new session for a day with a new group of people is just sit and listen, like, two songs of something great, you know listen to whatever you want it to be. It could be Elza Soares, it could be Michael Jackson, it could be Green Day. But just listen to some music together, adjust your ears to the room and what's going on around you and then start working. I think that's really powerful.
JK: I feel like we aligned a lot because you sort of subscribed to a fast and loose style of recording. It's not overly precious, just kind of getting a feel. I remember that you track drums in a way I found interesting. Is there a typical way you like to mic drum kits while you're working?
AR: I'm very task oriented when it comes to drums. I love when I don't have a mic that I thought I had, or if that one preamp isn't working. It gives me an opportunity or an excuse to try something new. And I actually wanted to experiment more when we were recording because you seemed genuinely excited about it; you think like an engineer. That was fun, not every session is like that. You were game.
You also knew what you wanted but not necessarily how to get there, so as long as I was giving you sounds that you liked you didn't give me a hard time, which is my favorite kind of relationship in the studio.
JK: Do you get annoyed when artists, such as myself, come to you and say, “We'd like a disco sound”? Or do you feel limited by the fact that Midnight Magic is a disco band? You guys have recorded with Hercules and Love Affair! Do you ever feel cornered by that, and when someone comes to you to work on that is that still inspiring for you or do you find that to be boring?
AR: That's a very good question, and I would say yes — I do find it annoying. And I do find it limiting, because I think I know what they need, and if it's what I think they mean then it's not that interesting to me. To work on a disco record means so much to different people. I've heard someone say that to me and they were referencing everything from Sly and Robbie to Patrick Crowley to James Murphy to Grace Jones to...
JK: Right, but you think it's a tiny pocket you get grouped in?
AR: Right, I think that they want...
JK: New disco.
AR: But, here's the thing: I get excited when other people are excited. So when you presented that to me, I was somewhere inside rolling my eyes, like I wish you'd just said, "Let's make this record." But you got so excited with the textures, and as a musician you had so much fun, I could see how much fun you were having, getting those sounds. At that point it's like, well, do I hate fun?
JK: How did Morgan [Wiley] get so good at keyboards?
AR: Um, we're not quite certain he's human actually. I've been checking him for MIDI jacks since we first met. I've never seen his birth certificate so he could be from another world.
Juan from Juan Maclean texted me once a couple years ago, "I'm in the studio with Morgan and I think he might be the most naturally gifted musician I've ever worked with." Because you tell Morgan "play like a thing like" and he gives you a hundred great ideas.
JK: The disco style of bass you play doesn't correlate with playing with a pick — but you play with a pick a lot. How did you become a funky bass player with a pick? You're almost like a punk bass player that plays funky grooves.
AR: It's funny because I used to play in punk bands with my fingers, so that's the irony. It was two things that happened within a year of each other: One was I busted my right hand pretty badly and I was in a cast and I lost some mobility and even now over 10 years later, it's still not the same as to what it was.
But also it was meeting James Murphy. He impressed upon me what it does to the engineering and production of a record if a bass player plays with a pick. All of a sudden you have a lot more tack, a lot more dynamic higher midrange. You also have a thudy-ness. Just meeting James and having him say, "Listen, play this part with a pick," and being like "No, no, no," and he's like, "Listen, play this with a pick." He played the bass part back for me, bringing up the low bass synths and bringing up the 808 kick drums and all of a sudden I could hear the bass guitar, I could hear the two bass sequences, I could hear the kick, I could hear the sub-kick, I could hear the live-kick, it's all there. Where as if I'm playing just with my fingers, it's all in this low-end mush.
JK: I felt we were pretty casual and had a lot of fun, but when you have an artist that's a little more nervous or feeling uptight, how do you get them to relax in the studio?
AR: Well it depends on what they’re trying to do. Like the biggest one for me is vocals: I think that a finger of whiskey for someone who's like really uptight actually does help with the physiological aspect of performing.
I think that finding a way to get them outside of their own head is important. Sometimes that is having them go for a brisk walk around the block — you know at the studio, we're by the river here and it is so nice, you can just walk to the park and look at the city and the water for a minute. You have to get outside of your own head with vocals or you can work for six hours and not have anything salvageable anyway.
JK: I find working on vocals with someone is a really like personal thing. In the studio, for me, I'm either alone and record my own vocals or I'm working with someone I'm really comfortable with.
AR: Most of the time, people come to us in order to not stress. They want to be in a car that they know is going to be driven by a good driver, that's going to get them to the place they want to be, in a scenic way, in a nice vibe. We're like good Uber drivers. They can stress out about a million and one things in the outside world, but when they're in the studio they tend to just have fun with the process, which I really like.