It was an early day. A car was picking us up at the hotel and taking us to NBC at 10 am but the gear was loaded in early in the morning. We were checking out of the hotel so I had to take everything with me. Of course I had four pairs of pants and a bunch of shirts on hangers plus my knapsack, travel bag and guitar to bring as well. Lots of stuff.
We got to NBC and had to get photographed into their system and we got temporary passes and then got escorted to the Band Room on the sixth floor. This is where we spent most of the day.
Things were happening just behind schedule according to the itinerary so we first got onto the set around 11:30 to do sound and camera checks. They were doing line checks when I got out there (testing the mics for each instrument) and had already finished the drums. Once the line checks were complete we ran the tune twice to get sound levels correct including the levels in the mixing room and the levels of our on stage monitors. Once that was all set we ran the tune two or three more times so they could get “camera blocking” together.
Then we were done. They told us to “take off” until 4:30 so we had about four hours to kill. So we did what you’re supposed to do to kill time in New York: ate and shopped.
Apparently they strike (remove from the set) a bunch of our gear since that’s where the curtain is that Fallon appears from. After we got back we were in the Band Room watching the taping on the big monitor they have back there. The show is shot pretty much in realtime with the commercial breaks taking up what a normal commercial break would take, with a couple of exceptions.
The first exception was the break during Adam Sandler’s interview. During that break they film the little spots that they show during Leno when Fallon says, “Tonight my guests are Adam Sandler, Aziz Ansari, and Mike Gordon. Please watch!” They do about six versions of this.
The second exception is right before the band plays. They have to put all of our gear back out on the set and they have to file in the fans that are in the “Band Bench,” those stands behind the band where people watch. I was anxious to get onto the set and get my hands on the guitar because the set is kept very cold, like 50 degrees or so, and I wanted my hands on the guitar to acclimate it to the warmth of my hands so it would stay in tune.
But when I got to the set I couldn’t get onto the stage because they were filling up the Band Bench with people and I couldn’t get by. Finally I got by and started warming up the guitar. When I fired everything up, though, it seemed WAY louder than it was during the check and I realized that one of the volume knobs on my looper box had been turned way up, so I turned it back down to where I thought it was during rehearsal.
They got everyone into position while I warmed up silently and tuned up the guitar, probably six times, and then I heard, “20 seconds!”
Then The Roots started playing “back from commercial” music. They stopped and Fallon introduced us and off we went!
My first reaction was, Oh no, my guitar’s not loud enough. I had overcompensated the volume control. But it was all being mixed anyway, I just couldn’t hear it as well from where I stood.
When we got to the first chorus there were no harmonies but I was listening to Mike’s voice. The whole stage seemed much louder than rehearsal so I did a quick Valsalva maneuver to reduce the volume to my ears, which worked (the pinch my nose technique to equalize sound pressure). When the second chorus came around and I had to sing I could hear pitch just fine.
I tried to look around and tried to smile. When I looked at Tom during his keyboard solo I could see Fallon watching us and tapping his foot. Instant shot of nerves! When we got to the bridge I tried to look at the studio audience and not focus on the guitar neck because there’s a lot of hand movement during that part and I could have easily stayed focused on the neck.
The third verse has me just strumming open chords behind Mike’s vocal and if my guitar had gone out of tune this is where it’d be noticeable but it was fine. Down the home stretch now! Nothing to worry about except shredding at the end!!
The shredding went fine! How do you fit everything you want to do in eight bars? Very carefully! I tried to be melodic, rhythmic, dynamic, and shreddy, all at the same time. I think it worked.
When we finished it seemed to me that it was good. Mike was smiling. Fallon ran over and shook all our hands. Aziz did too! Then The Roots played for about five minutes. Then they got all of the audience out of there and we were done.
I was home in time to watch. As I was watching the show waiting for our slot I think I got even more nervous than I did waiting to play the show. I had no idea how it was going to be. I felt like I had been really nervous and was worried that it would show. I was worried that the guitar volume was going to be too low. I was worried that what I thought was singing ok was going to be horribly out of tune! But it came on and it was fine. I was psyched that the cameras had missed my Valsalva Maneuver and I was psyched that they had cranked up the guitar in the mix.
All in all it was a very rewarding experience. It’s unbelievable how fast it goes by once you’re on the set ready to go!
I can’t wait until next time!