Dallas pop-folk musician Ryan Berg woke up one morning in this new world we call "Dallas-under-COVID" and saw that one of his favorite songs was playing, a tune called “Best Part” by pop dynamo Daniel Caesar and H.E.R. As Berg stood, donning his quarantine bandanna — which acts as a functional face covering while still maintaining its rugged Texas train robbery aesthetic — he decided to put his unique stamp on the song. First, he'd have to to put a team together.
He started with the band, enlisting players from two sources: Patrick Smith (bass) and Luke Callaway (drums) of Nick Snyder & the Real Deal, Chris Watson (keyboard) and Camden Gonzales (guitar) of Fort Worth’s modern funk-soul outfit Retrophonics. Thinking back on this group of musicians, Berg lowers his bandanna and with his typical humility says, “In every project I work in, I’m the weakest link in terms of my guitar technique and ability. The quality I bring to the table is togetherness. I love being the bridge between people and an idea."
Berg lists off his band members' virtues.
"Patrick is one of the hardest working musicians in DFW. Luke is the incredibly sophisticated metronome of the group ... and those two have played as a team for a couple years now and are about as concrete as a rhythm section can be. Then you add in Camden's ability as a guitarist. Even at the age of 19, it’s that of a calloused, lifetime player. Then you have Chris who is the wizard of the group. He can play everything! He glues this group together with all of his talent and knowledge.”
Musicians in place, Berg needed a singer. He found the crew’s voice in 16-year-old singing/songwriting wunderkind Remy Reilly, which he describes as “balanced on the edge of sweet and gritty.” With a schedule that, as with all musicians at the moment, is relatively open, Reilly became the sixth and final member of the gang, a veritable North Texas supergroup.
“Over quarantine, I didn’t even think collaboration was possible,” Reilly says. “I was thrilled when I found out that was not true and I was able to work with all of these incredibly talented musicians. I think being a musician during these times is interesting. It’s everyone’s first time going through this, so we are all in the same boat. It’s all about adapting and learning to keep going.”
So this posse became a functioning musical group, ready for action under Berg’s blueprint.
“Normally when you’re recording, you’re in the studio with everyone and you can communicate and play off each other’s energy,” Berg says. “It’s unique now because you’re at home but still in a collaborative setting, so you really need to put yourself in the other musician’s shoes and imagine how they’ll attack [the song]. So we really needed to plan for that.”
Attack they did. Working individually from home, the group picked up their cameras and microphones and began recording, part by part. It started with a scratch track of Berg playing and singing — a scratch track in music being the first track recorded that acts as a guide for the song that can be built on and eventually deleted in favor of a better recording of each part. From the scratch track came the rhythm, which gives the musical and rhythmic foundation for the guitarist and keyboard player to add their whirls and whammies, which then gave the song the melodic foundation for vocalists Reilly and Berg to color with their spirit and soul. All in a day’s work for this delicate dance called "production."
Enter Carlos Savetman of Sound O Matic Studio in Allen.
“Man, I’m about to tear up. … Carlos mixed and mastered the tracks in his personal studio and was actually the one who gave me my first shot after an open mic at White Rock Coffee way back when," Berg explains of the engineer. "He approached me after my set and gave me one of the most valuable insights a musician can gain: the reality of what ‘the studio’ truly is.”
Once they received the mix back from Savetman, it was time for video. Smith explains that one of the benefits of solitude is that over quarantine, he’s found time to hone his skills as a video editor. Over the course of a few rough drafts and plenty of critique and collaboration, the group had a finished product.
“This release started as an exercise in collaboration and has turned into more of a love letter — to both Daniel Caesar and to all of our fans and supporters who’ve continued to give us their time and patronage during these strange times,” Berg says.
With this collaboration, Berg, Reilly, Smith, Gonzales, Savetman, Watson and Callaway show what the future (or at least foreseeable future) landscape of collaborative musical production may look like.
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Against the specter of COVID, while distanced and wearing their bandannas, the supergroup proves that musical collaboration is still beautifully necessary and still possible.
Watch the video for "Best Part" below: