The Inside Story
Little did guitarist/songwriter Jon Haber know when he began recording updated versions of a few of his old songs, that just a year later he would have created a complete album and formed a new band to meet the newly found demand for his music. Quite a surprise for someone who stopped pursuing his songwriting and performing career to open a music store.
Jon Haber: “I started this project in February 2013. I had accumulated a large catalog of songs that I had written over the years. I played in a band called Looker from 1983- 1989. We released one album, but we spent a ton of time in the studio. Though I left the band to open my store, I never stopped writing songs. I had some success with them. I decided to make “proper” album versions of the ones I had recorded. A few months into it, the juices got reenergized and I ended up writing a bunch of new songs. Eight of the 12 songs are brand-new ones.”
Performing most of the music himself, Jon recruited longtime friend and coworker Chris Saulpaugh to handle vocals and Mike Kalajian to play drums. Each of them were born in different decades and brought different musical influences to the table. It quickly became clear that their unique musical experiences began shaping the sound of the record and Jon’s little project began taking on a life of its own.
JH: “I’ve been working with Chris, my singer, since 1997. He has always been the perfect voice for the music I write. Chris can sing anything great, so I was set in that department. I figured that I would play all the instruments, but I needed a drummer. I knew Mike Kalajian since he was a kid. I knew he was a talented drummer and that he had a recording studio. I figured he’d be a perfect fit. I was right. He brought a lot to the project.”
Walk us through the process of recording a song for DEC3
JH: “Nearly every song starts with a Martin Sigma guitar that I took in on trade from my store for $100 in 1994. Once I have the song pretty much mapped out it’s generally the acoustic played to a click track on my Pro Tools rig at home. I then work out the other instrumentation as I go. Lyrics are extremely important to me and I am constantly refining them during the recording process. I’ve dragged Chris back in to the studio dozens of times just to fix a single line. Conveniently, this task is made much easier since we work together during the day and my store has a slamming recording system in our Pro Audio Department. All vocals were done in the store. Chris and I would often sneak a couple of hours during the day to do these vocals. Chris did all the harmonies on the album, and some songs have nearly 100 vocal tracks. Sometimes before Chris sings, but usually after, the drums are put down at drummer Mike Kalajian’s studio. I tell him what I’m looking for and off he goes- he’s a dynamo. Once his drum tracks are finished I can really finish off the other musical parts.”
Did you bring in any musicians besides the core band to work on the record?
JH: “We have some guest players on the record. The main one is Shane Keister who appears on many tracks. I am a big fan of Five for Fighting and John Ondrasik and I loved the piano I heard on songs like “Superman” and “100 Years”. This was Shane. He had done some business with the store so I called him up and he was enthusiastic to do it. I really looked forward to getting his keyboard parts on the songs. He never disappointed-what a talent!
I wrote the song “Red Line” over a weekend in September 2013 and I knew it was something special. I called my drummer Mike and I said we have to hit this ASAP. We scheduled time for a few days later. Mike mentioned that his former bandmate and current Coheed and Cambria bassist Zach Cooper, would be in town and that he should play. The 3 of us went into the studio, worked out the parts and cut the basic track. I distinctly remember sitting down with Zach to come up with what we would play for the chorus riffs. I had the main one worked out but I wanted them to change slightly from chorus to chorus. l still have the session of working out the riffs on my iPhone. It was a cool moment.”
When it started becoming clear to Jon that DEC3 was taking on a life of its own, he reached out to his longtime friend and record business veteran Jimmy Bralower to help him navigate the project to the next level.
JH: “I met Jimmy Bralower when he was Vice President of A&R at Atlantic Records through Jim Flynn who seems to know everybody in the music business in NY. I call him the Congressman. Jimmy and I have done business together at the store for years and we became good friends. Since he has a great history as an executive, producer, writer and musician, I thought he could steer us in the right direction.
Jimmy Bralower: “I’ve known Jon a long time now. We met while I was at Atlantic. I was producing an album in Woodstock and some important equipment blew up on us in the middle of a live tracking session. We needed replacements instantly and were having no luck. Jon was recommended to me and he totally came through for us. We’ve been friends ever since. One day, he calls me, informs me that he is a songwriter, and asks if he can send a couple of tunes for me to check out. I had no idea that he wrote music, and the worst thing for an A&R guy is to get submissions from friends, since the songs are almost guaranteed to be no good. To my pleasant surprise, Jon’s material was excellent, in fact, actually better than most of the music I was working with at the time. One of the songs he sent me needed a new section and he really improved it. Since then, he has always had my respect creatively as well as personally. Cut to today… that song, “In Front Of You” is on the DEC3 album and to come totally full circle, I wound up mixing it!”
JB: “Knowing Jon, I wasn’t surprised that the record was strong but each time we did something to step it up, the energy around the project grew exponentially. When the songs were finished, Jon called super-mixer Kato Khandwala to do most of the record and everything came to life. I then brought in my marketing guru Bill Porricelli who spent many years at Paul McCartney’s MPL Communications to help navigate the opportunities that are coming our way, and what started out as an anonymous studio project has become full fledged five piece live band.”
JH: “As we started getting requests for appearances on TV, primarily due to the response to the song “Red Line,” I really needed to figure out a way to pull it off live. The DEClll sound is big and powerful. We would need more people to do it right. Todd Mihan (guitar) and Mike Hamel (bass) were my first 2 choices. They are both strong frontmen for their own projects and I figured if I could get them it would make the whole unit stronger. I did and it did!”