The music began to turn into a true global collaboration.
I felt an intensity as soon as we arrived in Taksim Square. We had settled into a fabulous 7th floor flat with a spiral staircase leading to an overlook of Taksim square and İstiklal Caddesi. From our window in the heart of modern Turkey, we could see the buzz of commercial activity to our left and the tension of political action to our right. The frenetic bustle of shoppers and musicians on one side, balanced by the motionless pressure of paramilitary police standing in wait on the other.
We witnessed protests and celebrations, shoppers darting in and out of shops with shopping bags, and riot police marching in the streets with water cannons. The majesty and beauty of the Turkish culture shined through all of the tumult, turbulence, or tension. Spanning Asia and Europe, we walked through the streets and floated on the Bosporus in awe of the history and culture of this place where East and West seem to collide and seamlessly meld simultaneously.
We were in Istanbul for music, art, expression; to find and curate Turkish flavors to add to our musical palette for what would become Project Electrico. When we recorded at Deneyevi Studios with Murat Ertel and Ümit Adakale, the infectious groove riff that Ronan created as a building block for Murat and Ümit to play with was out of this world, crazy-cool. Dancing ensued! The intensity and majesty of Istanbul inspired a global concept: ARMY OF LOVE.
Our time in Istanbul seemed to be a collection of contrasts. The people we worked with and spent time with were warm and welcoming, and the beauty and grace of the city are intoxicating, but a certain uneasiness and caution were always with us. One time, out for a walk in Taksim square, I had a beautiful experience with a few high school students as we used google translate to have a conversation about daily life. Another time I was out for a late-night break in that same square to clear my head and think about the music. As a buxom America Blonde, this may not have been a prudent decision. A stranger approached me with kindness, like an angel of peace, and said to me, “You are being watched. They don’t know why you are here. Save yourself and leave the square quickly!” I packed up my gear and fled up the spiral stairs of our flat. I was out of breath and fearful, yet ever so grateful.
The music I was working on with Ronan began transforming from merely adding some “world music” elements to my music into true global collaboration. Our time in Istanbul, Turkey, kicked this change into overdrive. The musicians in Istanbul were stunning and truly inspiring. From the professional session musicians we worked within the studio to the street musicians we watched on İstiklal Caddesi, the heart and emotion they poured into every note they played were thrilling. This evolution in my music would eventually take us physically and creatively to places we could have never imagined, but the beating heart of my song “Army of Love” will always be Istanbul.
My home town of Austin, Texas, would provide small but significant contributions to Army of Love. Free Jazz guitarist Willie Oteri would provide what we called “Freak Out” guitar to create cool transitions that complement the more melodic guitar work of José Manuel Aguilera.
We recorded Patricia Vonne on castanets in a parking garage of the famous Austin area on South Congress Avenue. The coolest part about this was the whole thing felt like we were kids in a candy shop, or instead of asking ourselves if we could get away with recording in the middle of a garage as a public setting? The even cooler part was seeing Ronan and Diego turn the back of my Jeep into a rogue, stealth, badass remote recording studio.
I am originally from San Antonio, so it seemed fitting to record part of the album there. We got the idea to record at the Alamo. I bought wooden shakers from a street vendor outside of the Alamo, and we recorded stealth vocals and percussion there with the tourists walking by giving us curious looks.
Back at the studio in Los Angeles, I got goosebumps when Danny T. Levin played his horns! Stellar and oh so powerful. I suggested some feel, maybe like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” rock opera music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Before our Venice sessions, I was in Majorca, Spain, where Andrew Lloyd Webber lives. The reference and influence must have stayed with me. The subconscious influence emerged when Danny T was in ‘da house recording with us in Los Angeles.
For our intro verse, “Raised with heart and song, we salute our battle call,” we invited in the beautiful harmonies of Gilli Moon, Australian-born, LA-based singer-songwriter, entrepreneur, and mum of two. Gilli’s voice resonates.
Army of Love kept growing…
Project Eléctrico was starting to take shape as a global collaborative experiment when Kathleen and I got the idea of visiting someplace that would take the music a little less “Western-centric.” While we were working in Venice, Italy, we decided to head off to Istanbul. Turkey has musical elements that are entirely different than anything we had been working on, and Turkey has a reputation for having great musicians. We would soon discover how well deserved that reputation is!
Project Eléctrico collaborations involve musicians playing over songs we already have in progress. Some are improvisations from different musicians that Kathleen, myself, and other musicians later build on. In a case such as “Army of Love,” I wrote a foundation for guest players to experiment with. To get ready for our trip to Istanbul, I started exploring interesting music from Turkey. I stumbled across the great Kurdish singer, Elif Biyani, who I listened obsessively for the next week. The melodies and phrasing of her vocals inspired the basic synth riff and later, Kathleen’s vocal improvisations for the music that would become “Army of Love.”
In Istanbul, the amazing Ümit Adakale laid down a percussion groove that transformed our humble beginnings of a tune into something filled with life and power. The room was buzzing while he played. Kathleen danced in the control room. I could hardly breathe as we heard proof that our crazy Project Electrico experiment was going to take us in musical directions we could never have imagined. The addition of more percussion from former Los Lobos percussionist Victor Bisetti in Los Angles, Patricia Vonne in Austin, and Deginis Bofill in Havana would create a foundation of groove that would be a playground for artists from around the world to experiment with and express themselves. We had the chance to get Patricia Vonne on the album during some sessions in Austin, Texas. We had recently had some great success recording musicians in non-traditional settings, so someone came up with the idea to record Patricia in a parking garage near her home in South Austin. We converted the back of Kathleen’s Jeep into a makeshift studio for the afternoon. While dripping with sweat in the Austin heat, we managed to get great castanet performances from Patricia that had a very cool and unique natural ambiance.
Each player we added took the tune in new directions and elevated it in ways we had not anticipated. The saz work of Murat Ertel in Instanbul. Mexican guitarist José Manuel Aguilera (La Barranca) and, ultimately, the stunning vocal from Cuban Rhumba singer, Maikel Dinza in Havana. Willie Oteri from Austin and I added some additional guitar textures. The great horn player and arranger from Los Angeles, Danny T Levin, contributed the horn arrangements that would eventually form the apex of the song.
Kathleen and I struggled with which direction to take the song lyrically. Danny T. Levin’s horns sounded like an army going into battle, and that set the tone for the whole song. We both felt the song was a battle cry, but we also thought that this song, which was such an expression of joy and love by the people involved, could not be about war. Kathleen had the idea of making it about fighting for more joy and love in the world, an “Army of Love.”
We experimented with lots of lyric ideas, but, ultimately, we found that the instrumental parts told most of the story we needed to tell. The bold lyrics of the chorus and intro, which Kathleen later sang with Australian artist Gilli Moon were enough. Kathleen ditched words altogether and rode into battle with emotive improvisations.
We took the international Army of Love concept up a notch by creating a choir from around the world. The Army of Love world choir was born by singers sending vocals to boost our battle cry. Army of Love has singers from 4 different continents and 7 different countries.
The short outro is built from a beat by Ghanaian producer McFori Beats, which he created for this track, and features the vocals of Ghanaian singer King Zumm and Cuban singer, Maikel Dinza.
Streaming links: Army of Love