Alex Schaaf



Alex Schaaf is a musician and songwriter currently based in Minneapolis, MN. Besides his own projects (previously Yellow Ostrich and Human Heat) he has also been a backing musician for The Tallest Man on Earth, Strand of Oaks, Gordi, and Tei Shi, along with recording and producing for numerous other bands.






I've been working on a new album for the last 6 months or so, and I used this 24/2 opportunity to really sit down and focus in order to power through an important phase of the work as I get closer to completion.  

I’m in the later stages of this one; the writing has been done for a while now, in terms of the basic structures/bones of the songs themselves - chords and lyrics. Without those bones there obviously aren’t any songs at all. But this last phase is always the most challenging, as it consists of a lot of puzzle solving and technical tinkering, trying to present the songs in the truest way possible and in the way the songs demand, and also to make the songs sit well with each other to make the album a complete picture.  This stage is mostly focused on arrangements - should this part be played by an acoustic guitar? a piano? full band or more stripped down? - and performances - is this vocal take too aggressive? should i play this guitar part a little quieter? etc. Going through and trying different things for each song, chipping away at the rock to try and find the final piece buried within.  

But even though this phase involves a lot of puzzling and technical issues, I find it’s almost as creative and interesting as the original songwriting phase. In that first phase, the initial germ of the song comes out of the air and pops into my head without much work - it does take a bit of work to sit down and develop that first melody or phrase into a full song, and sometimes I keep editing lyrics for months, but that is typically a shorter process then all the rest of the work (I can go from nothing to a fully written song in a couple of hours, but the production and mixing work on that song can stretch on for weeks or months). The first part is more magical, but this second part is just as crucial and involves just as much creativity.


The plan for my 24/2 was to spend the first day at my home studio, and the second at a more professional studio in Wisconsin, where I would take advantage of the instruments and gear there to record some piano, drums, and vocals.  

For the first day, I was intending to mostly prepare for the session the next day - going through everything and making sure I knew what I wanted to get done there, since I’d be on the clock and wanted to make sure we got as much done as we could.  But I was also a bit distracted by a new song that I had started writing the previous day (currently titled ‘Dogs On the Porch’) - I ended up finishing the writing of it on Sunday (my day #1) and then I recorded the basic tracks for it the next day at the studio. This was not part of the original plan, but I had this idea pop into my head on Saturday morning and wanted to see it through. This is often what (happily) delays my work - I’ll be in the advance stages with a batch of songs, but then something completely new will surface and I’ll stop everything to focus on that. New songs don’t come all the time, so when they do I set everything else aside and work only on the new stuff - once that’s been developed, then I fold it into the rest of the songs and continue to work on the big-picture.  


Anyways, so the first day was a combination of writing this new song and looking at everything else to make sure I was ready for the second day. The next morning I packed up and headed over to Wisconsin to record at a beautiful studio in the woods with my friend Zach, who is a recording engineer and also plays many instruments, including some of the drums on my album. I wanted to go there because it’s a very comfortable studio and a beautiful location to be, and always helps me focus on the task at hand, aside from the fact that I’m not working at home.

I also wanted to take advantage of some beautiful new pianos that the Wisconsin studio recently obtained - a Steinway grand and a Yamaha upright.  Both a big upgrade from the (still wonderful) Yamaha CP-70 that I have at home. So I got a lot of recording done that day - piano on a few songs, drums on a couple more, and some vocals on a few as well. There’s still a lot of work to be done but I feel like I took some sizable steps during the course of these two days.

Take a listen to Alex Schaaf's work-in-progress, "Dogs On the Porch"

Grace Clark