Carlock: Partnerships often turn priceless

Published 11:09 am Thursday, November 8, 2012

I like the first flight in the morning. I like driving in the dark with no traffic on the way to the airport. I like sleeping on planes, and I like working with Berkeley singer/songwriter Sara Lovell, which makes this trip to San Francisco a special treat for me. My friend Leanne Unger, longtime engineer for

Leonard Cohen & Laurie Anderson, gave Sara my number in 2005 and, though we’ve been working together since, our collaboration has been one of slow nurturing steps and deep roots.

With some artists, my job is to write and play and engineer and wear many hats. Sometimes, it’s more to inspire the artist. Sometimes, it’s to strategize on their career, and, sometimes, it’s just to be patient and wait for things to develop.

The first day I met Sara, I showed up at her previous home studio in Hancock Park, just south of Hollywood. She introduced me to her two cats, and we became acquainted in her kitchen chairs on top of black and white ceramic tile. My first observation about my time with Sara was she and I could have discussions over herbal teas that were almost like meditations. On the second or third session, I thought we had talked about a quarter hour or so and then suggested we get to work. I was amazed to check the time and see we had actually talked for more than an hour and a half. Neither of us could believe it. Conversations with Sara always turned to talks about personal discovery. She always had new experiences to share from about great thinkers she had met and studied under. I also learned she had been active politically in the WTO protests, and she was fearless in her quest for personal honesty.

And then there was her amazing music.

On our first day, Sara had me mic up the Yamaha grand piano in her converted guest house studio and prepare a U87 vocal mic at her playing position. What happened to me next blew me away. I adjusted the Neve mic pres, got a sound, and we began a live take of her playing and singing one of her original songs, “Picture Show.” As her bright melodic voice sailed above her contrastingly dark piano, a lyric of love loss and separation unfolded in my headphones so poignant I began to tear up. It was Unbelievable — and highly embarrassing! I didn’t even know this person, how could I let her see me being so emotional over this simple song that so effortlessly rendered me emotionally naked and helpless?

There’s an old maxim of the film industry that if you can get the cameraman to cry despite his attention to technical details, you know you’ve got a stellar performance. In this case, eliciting such a response from the engineer would be the equivalent coup, and here I was: losing it. I began wondering how I could disguise swollen red eyes when I had to turn to face her at the song’s end. I prayed she wouldn’t notice and she wouldn’t think this new engineer was an absolute loony tune. She did notice but never said a word and later told me she didn’t think I was crazy, but was humbled and flattered. “Picture Show” has since remained one of my favorite songs of all time.

Sara and I became great friends, and I always kept a CD of the live take of “Picture Show” close at hand until I lost it when my Toyota Sienna caught flame in Chicago while trying to get L.A. drummer Chris DeLisa some Chicago-style deep dish pizza (but that’s a story for another time). Before the inferno, I repeatedly watched people I played it for get washed over with emotion. That’s the power of a great song — when one is playing, people can feel it.

Sara’s in the process of beginning recording on a list of new songs, which will be inevitably grouped together into an album. The first priority on this trip is to make sure a recent technology upgrade in her studio is completed, work out any bugs and establish the best workflow for her time in the studio. The second priority is continuing our friendship over Indian food. Berkeley has some great Indian restaurants, and Sara and I have never missed an opportunity to have Indian together.

I can’t wait to hear what she’ll come up with next, leading up to my next Berkeley trip where I’ll help her massage her writing into final recorded works with my skills as producer, player, mixer, co-writer or whatever she needs to enable her to hit them out of the park.

Working with great talent and then counting them as friends has to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job. But having someone like Sara, willing to trade some of her chicken korma for my aloo gobi? Absolutely priceless.

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.