The first part of our pre-production ritual was the exchange of song ideas, which was very much a two-way street. I volunteered various songs of my own, several of which we had been gigging for some time, as well as some cover song ideas. Marco sent me probably 40 songs – from artists ranging from Joe Jackson to Keith Richards to New Orleans street singers – both for consideration for inclusion on the album and to stimulate ideas around grooves, tempos, and instrumentation. Through this process and over the course of several weeks we narrowed down the “A List” to about a dozen songs.
At this point, Marco encouraged me to take a fresh look at our choices by suggesting that I listen to several songs that he had matched for each of our A List tunes, offering up the other groove/tempo/feel ideas I mentioned earlier. This was pretty new to me but a ton of fun. We went through several weeks of dropping or raising song keys, speeding tunes up or slowing them down, moving choruses around, adding key changes – just generally mangling the songs until they acquired a personality that felt right. Once we felt we were in the ballpark, I made voice/guitar demos of the songs here at home to share with the musicians for the session.