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Tales From Funky Tinsel Town:
John Palumbo on the Making of Hollywood Blvd
John Palumbo’s fifth solo album, Hollywood Blvd, is set to be released via Carry On Music on May 21, 2021. An artist at the top of his game, Palumbo — the acclaimed lead singer and chief songwriter of the razor-sharp rock collective, Crack The Sky — serves up an even dozen of finely crafted and expertly recorded gems on Hollywood Blvd. Palumbo plays all the instruments on Hollywood Blvd himself, sans a number of key acoustic and electric slide guitar contributions from his Crack The Sky bandmate, Bobby Hird. Produced and created at Palumbo’s home studio, Hollywood Blvd was mastered by longtime CTS associate R. Lee Townsend at Real Time Studios. The earwig-inducing sonic avenues and cleverly winding wordsmithed roads that comprise Hollywood Blvd continue to cement Palumbo’s status as a shrewdly observational songwriter in the vein of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed.
But don’t just take our word for it. Instead, we thought it would be better to have John tell the tale of the making of Hollywood Blvd entirely in his own words.
I have been asked to write a bio, which is most certainly one of the things I find quite distasteful. There is something weirdly egotistical — not to mention uncomfortable — when writing about oneself. When asked to explain why I wrote this new recording, the answer is simply, “That’s what I do.” When asked to explain the song’s meanings, I hesitate, because I think that’s what the lyrics are for. I honestly think my songs are self-explanatory, but I love it when I hear other people’s interpretations of them — some of which are way more interesting than what I originally came up with! That said, I will instead try to put down the process I go through when writing and preparing a recording.
When I first sit down to write songs, I have to determine if I’m writing a Crack The Sky record, or if I’m writing my own record. My whole brain just goes to a different place when I’m writing my solo stuff.
Am I a good self-editor? The only thing I’ll edit will be a phrase — or even just a word or two — that I think could be said more entertainingly, or more intensely. I think because I really love writing, I try to make my songs interesting and different. If I’m writing about love, for example, it’s a subject everyone writes about, so I try to put a unique take on it.
It is rare that I write the lyric first. In fact, there is only one song on this recording where I did that: “Shutdown.” The rest of the songs all began with either a groove, chordal strums on a guitar, or plunking around on a piano. When I write the music first, I just know what’s gonna fit — well, by now I do, anyway.
All I’ll say about “Shutdown” is it’s about people who have been victimized. And every time you hear me repeat the word “Shutdown,” it’s been computerized. I manipulated it by putting a delay on it, and then I sent it to the left and right channels. It was a bit tricky putting it in there. The natural problem is, not only is it delayed, but it’s a little behind the beat — and you have to make up for that.
The best songs come out on the first try. “Hollywood Blvd,” for example, I threw right down after establishing the groove and a proper bass line. It’s as if the song actually gave birth to itself. Songs like these usually come as a series of random thoughts put into a rhyming pattern, and they’re much more like poems than songs. Then, it’s just the task of “trimming the fat” to lay in the lyric to fit the music track. Rhyming can put a bit of a crunch and a restriction on things. At the same time you’re trying to make a point, you have to rhyme something with it. That really handcuffs me, so I’ve had to stretch the rhyming concept more than a few times.
For “Crazy,” I actually had the verses before I even had the chorus. I thought the verses were very cool, and then I read it back to myself and it was like, “Oh, ok. That’s where this is going.” It all led up to finding and getting to that one line, “When you’re crazy / you don’t know it.” I mean, you feel the pain, but you don’t know that you’re really out there. And that makes it more difficult, because you’re trying to figure out what the hell’s happened to you. You don’t understand it at all until you spiral out of it.
After recording all the bits and adding what I think will augment the recording, I will then call in a specialist who can provide the color that I can’t do on my own. In the case of this entire recording, I enlisted Bobby Hird, one of Crack The Sky’s guitarists, to lay in acoustic and electric slide guitar. Bobby and I sat together in my home studio and painted the final layers of each track. Then we got drunk. In other words, the songs were 90 percent finished when Bobby got a chance to work his magic. He’s such a fascinating talent. I never say to him, “Play this, and then play that” — you just don’t do that with somebody as good as he is.
Bobby got to play on finished tracks — which is rare — and that was a real pleasure, according to him. He said it like this: “I can play to what the writer has in mind, and in that way, help create the landscape.” He does anything he can to get the message across, or help paint the picture. For example, you can hear the frivolity in the solo in “Funky Town” versus the dark moodiness that he played on “Shutdown.” It is unusual for a “sweetening” instrument to dictate the tone of a song, but Bobby’s work on “A Lovely Day” does just that. It’s really hard to pick which solo of his is my favorite one on the record, because he rolls on all of them.
Then it’s off to mixing, which I find almost as gratifying as writing. In the mixing process, all tracks are blended and balanced within each other. It is not unheard of to do up to 20 or more mixes on one track before getting it right. And I look to get as much separation as I can in the mix, because I think that’s very entertaining to the listener.
Mastering is the last step in the process. There, the mastering engineer — in this case, R. Lee Townsend, who’s also worked with us on Crack The Sky records — will EQ, compress, and otherwise “shine” the mixes up and ready them for final delivery.
And that’s how we made Hollywood Blvd.
See? This is way better than a bio!
I wish you peace and an enjoyable time listening to this recording.