Artist Name: gillman Title: Wonder Genre: Pop/Rock
DAW – PreSonus Studio One 6, Interface – PreSonus 32R, Drums – Gretsch Maple Drums, Drum Mics – Audix drum mics, Bass – Rickenbacker 4001 through a Tech 21 SansAmp Geddy Lee Preamp, Guitar – Gibson J-180 Acoustic, Keys – Yamaha S90 ES, Vocal mic – Shure SM7B, Plugins – various
“Wonder” (dedicated to Dan Lind 1955–2023), was originally a poem by Dan Lind that was adapted for lyrics and music by gillman. Lead vocals were performed by Dave Larrison, drums were played by Dan Lind, and additional background vocals by Grace Gillman. Jeffrey Gillilan performed the other instruments on the tune.
Reviewed By Dave Martin
“Wonder,” on first listening, reminded me of a couple of things. First, since it was recorded with Studio One 6 (and a PreSonus interface), I’m reminded that musicians and engineers have a choice of DAWs—choose the software that fits best with your budget and the way you want to work, and everything will be fine. The second thing I was reminded of is that in the right hands, a Rickenbacker 4001 is a darned fine sounding bass.
Sonically, the rhythm track of “Wonder” has a nice understated vibe. It’s a piano driven song, with strings that put me in mind of a Mellotron track, real drums that don’t emphasize fills but concentrate on groove, and the aforementioned Rickenbacker bass and acoustic guitar. The keyboard tracks were played on a Yamaha S-90 ES.
The background vocals are also well done. As the song progresses, the background vocals grow from a simple doubled lead vocal to harmonized answers, to a small choir in the final vamp that help to bring the song to a close.
There’s a vibe about “Wonder” that brings to mind post-Beatles British music—the era of Electric Light Orchestra and The Alan Parsons Project. A lot of this has to do with the way that gillman uses string sounds for his melodies rather than electric guitars, some has to do with the notes he chooses for the bass part, and quite a bit has to do with the drums. I like the ambient sound of the sidestick that changes to a lovely dark snare sound as the tune builds, and a harder snare which appears to be tambourine on beats 2 and 4 on the back half of the song.
If you allow a song to take its final form in an organic way rather than forcing it into a specific vision, some interesting things can happen. One of the things I like a lot about “Wonder” is the sound of the drums. You might notice that the kick drum is mixed as one element of the drum sound, rather than becoming a dominant part of the whole mix (you know, like a lot of contemporary music). Here’s one way that you can play with that idea:
An old friend who is a very successful Nashville engineer, told me once that he very seldom gets drum sounds by having the drummer play the kick, then the snare, then the hat, then the toms (one at a time, then all together), and finally the whole kit. He simply asks the drummer to play a groove, and tweaks any mic that doesn’t fit. His reason is, “A listener never hears a single drum on the record; they just hear a drum set. So that’s how I get drum sounds—by listening to the whole kit as a single instrument.”
The drum sound on “Wonder” is cool, and fits with the vibe of the song, though the crash cymbals seemed a bit forward in relation to the overall drum sound. I bring this up because drummers commonly place the ride cymbal pretty low, and crash cymbals are usually higher up—closer to the overhead mics. By turning up the overhead mics to pick up a ride cymbal set pretty low, the crashes can be a bit loud. If you set the overhead level so that the overheads sound right, the ride cymbal can be too quiet. There are two fixes to this issue—well, three, if the drummer chooses to not hit his cymbals.
From an engineer’s perspective, setting up a mic for the ride cymbal is one solution, but a different approach (which fits with my general view to fix it at the source when possible) is that by raising the ride cymbal closer to the overheads (which necessitates changing the angle of it a bit to make it comfortable to play), the ride cymbal volume fits better with the volume of the crash cymbals. While I wouldn’t recommend that an engineer or producer tell the drummer to change his usual setup, a drummer reading this might think it’s worth experimenting with this idea. By the way, this idea came from my friend Tommy Wells seeing Steve Gadd’s kit in a New York studio.
“Wonder” is dedicated to Dan Lind (1955–2023), and is based on a poem written by Lind, who also played drums on the track. Adapting one form of art into another (a poem into a song) can be fraught with difficulty—from creating a melody that fits the lyrics, possibly altering or removing parts of the poem to fit into song form, and maintaining a balance between the often many-layered meaning of the original work and the desire to make a coherent song at the end of the process. gillman has done a fine job of that balancing act, and come up with a cool tune—and a lovely tribute to Dan Lind.