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Sound Advice

Building Song Structure and Vocals on Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill by Glen Ballard

Basically we’d walk in [my studio] at one o’clock in the afternoon with nothing other than some vague ideas, and I would pick up a guitar and head out on some sort of harmonic territory. She (Alanis Morissette) would start scribbling lyrics and singing ideas and I would start scribbling lyrics and singing ideas and I would go to a chord change, and if that felt good, we’d have two chords and maybe a bit of a melody, and then it was built ‘brick-by-brick’, kind of that way. In almost every case, eight, maybe ten hours later, we would have a song.

At that point, I would immediately record a track as fast as I could because I was programming as we went, after we had the guitar harmonic and melodic structure there. I had samples and loops and drum patterns that I would program in and immediately put it on tape, and it was usually no more than an hour of recording. It would be the basic track on tape.

I would play guitar on a couple of tracks and she would sing it, and it was usually once, sometimes twice. I can’t think of a time where we punched in. And I would be amazed.

I would look up and it would be an incredible take, and I was praying that I got it on tape. It was the sort of thing where, fortunately, I know my room well enough where I don’t need a lot of warm-up time on the mic. I’m using an AKG C12 vintage tube mic from the 50’s, which sounds fabulous on her voice, and I was going into a Demeter pre-amp. From the Demeter, I would go into an LA-2A tube limiter and straight to tape. I was not going through the Euphonix console, and a lot of what I recorded was on ADATs.

Glen Ballard, Encino, California-based producer and co-writer of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album.

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