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Sonny Knight & the Lakers to Record Live Album at the Dakota

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There's no question that Sonny Knight & the Lakers have had a great 2014. From gracing City Pages' cover to landing a spot on our Picked to Click poll, Knight and his relentlessly funky big band have electrified the local scene of late.

They are set to record a live album over the course of their four upcoming performances at the Dakota on December 18 and 19. The results will go straight to two-track tape and be released on double LP via Secret Stash Records.

Gimme Noise spoke to the Lakers' drummer (and Secret Stash Records founder) Eric Foss about how the recording process is going to work, the dance party planned for the final set, and which songs will be on the live LP.

The Shows:

"The idea behind the live album is to capture the show we've developed on the road. The more we play it, the more it takes on a life of its own. Some of the songs that were our least favorite on the album have become highlights of the live show. I think that was just a natural progression derived from all the time spent identifying weak spots and hammering away at them relentlessly.

"We considered adding some extras to the Dakota shows... like backup singers, etc., but ultimately we decided the show would be tightest with just the eight of us, since we're the ones that have played it 100+ times now. The show is seamless -- meaning the music never stops. It's 90 minutes of continuous music that is constantly being deconstructed and reconstructed. Each song has a very specific transition into the next. It takes a lot of trust in each other on stage to play that way. We'd rather not add the stress of new players to that mix, especially knowing that if someone misses something, it'll be on the record that way.

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"With all that said, I'd hate to give you the impression that every show is identical. Within that very rigid framework there is tons of space for improvisation, interpretation, and crowd interaction. A lot of times we find ourselves just sitting on a groove and following Sonny, which is where the fun stuff happens. He's very good at reading a room and tailoring his performance based on that.

"We joke that during his best moments, he blacks out. He stops thinking and he just goes. When that happens he rarely performs something the same way twice, because he doesn't really remember what he did. It comes from his heart, not his head.

"The final show of the four will be a full-on dance party. The folks at the Dakota are going to clear all the tables and chairs out of the main floor and give people room to get a little crazy. That was actually their idea, which we endorsed enthusiastically. It'll be fun to transform that room."

The Recording Process:

"It seems like every good club is set up to record any show these days. I think a lot of the digital hardware being used today actually comes with software to make high quality multi-track recordings, which is cool. Anything running through the board can be recorded and mixed down later. We've used that sort of thing for syncing quality audio with video. However, that is not how this record is being produced.

"Secret Stash's chief engineer, John Miller, is going to transform the green room at the club into a control room. He's bringing in an analog board, two 1/4-inch reel to reel tape machines, all of his own mics, and a bunch of other cool old shit, and running the sessions completely separate from the house system. All the folks at the Dakota have been super cool about accommodating this.

"We knew we wanted to make a live record, but we also new it had to be consistent with our sound. Recording it 100 percent digital and dumping into Pro Tools just ain't our thing. John is cutting it straight to two-track tape, which means he has to live mix the record from the green room. Once that's done, the record is mostly done. After that we'll need to pick our favorite performance (by the band and John) and run with it. Because the show is seamless, we won't be doing much cherry picking.

"I think it's very different from how this stuff is usually done today. You'll never hear John say, 'Oh, we'll fix that later in Pro Tools,' or 'We'll redo that part in the studio afterwards.' The record will be very real. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the band is going to hit every single note perfectly. I'm saying that it's going to be raw... the way I believe this type of music should be. Very few things upset me more than when people polish the hell out of this stuff."

The Record:

"Any time we're working on recording something, we're always conscious of how it will fit on wax. Ninety minutes of music will take up two LPs. The challenge is taking a seamless show and figuring out how to split it up onto four sides. John and I sat down ready to argue with each other about how this could be done. He was ready (and rightfully so) to convince me that we need to build breaks into the set.

"Then, after going through the list together, we discovered that the set already has a sort of pacing that is identical to four LP sides. It was never done that way intentionally, but it sort of makes sense. The show builds up and for 20 minutes or so, then wham, it breaks down... right around the time you'd normally need to get up and flip over your record."

Sonny Knight & the Lakers play the Dakota on Thursday, December 18 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and Friday, December 19 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The final show will be a special dance night performance, with tables cleared out to encourage fans to get down.

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