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Having said all I need is a mic and a macbook, Dan arrived on the first recording day with what seemed like a truck-load of stuff crammed tetris-style into the back of a Nissan Micra. One electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, one bass, mics, reflector, three stands, various apple products. Things with knobs, switches, lights, sockets and plugs that I have no idea what they are called or what they do, monitor speakers, leads, plugs, extension leads… and brightly coloured electrical tape to sort out your cables.
(At Nicki’s house on the second day, there was also her full sized keyboard.)
We went through the diary and revised and confirmed our dates for recording sessions.
We made some coffee.
We challenged the national grid and turned on all the heaters.
We went through the notes I had written for the two songs we were going to tackle: Wake Up and The Gate. Both of these songs were written in collaboration with Nicki Kelly who is also in the Songwriters’ Circle, and both have very strong piano content, so I wanted her to play the pieces she had written. I suspect she is going to write about it from her perspective in her blog too.
(Nicki’s blog, “Effing and Blinding” can be found HERE)
The first day then, we recorded all the vocals for The Gate, and decided much of what we wanted the piano to be like. We also chopped up the arrangement of Wake Up and made a sort of guide recording to remind us of our decisions.
I think it is worth explaining my approach to the putting together of these songs. Each song, each woman (or women) they represent has a character. The musical decisions I make are directly related to these characters, and in adding extra ingredients, I refer to these characteristics. I feel it is important these decisions are more about the feeling than whether the songs are liked, or whether they are suitable for radio play (something with very strict criteria). (Radio play is not on my agenda, I hasten to add.)
For example, Wake Up is a conversation, between a woman and a sleeping man. I see the piano as the sleeping man, so they take it in turns to speak. There are no other instruments, no additional sound effects. Just the two of them. Nicki and I pretty much did this in one live take, after much rehearsing. Occasional mistakes and bum notes were patched in after, and to be honest, there weren’t that many… and I do believe they were mostly mine… a late start here, a flat note there, or a couple of words said the wrong way round.
The Gate is a bigger song in many ways… there’s a lot more going on. This woman is trying to uplift, encourage, instil hope and faith. This is a song that builds. It has multi-layered vocals, piano, bass guitar, effects, electronic manipulation of sounds and vocals, kitchen sink percussion, and will eventually have strings too.
Now that is all very wonderful. But weird things happen when you are shut in the same room with one person for eight hours doing the same thing over and over again.
- You drink far too much tea and coffee.
- small things become hysterically funny.
- rudeness and bad language proliferate.
- for some inexplicable reason, the singing of two ordinary words becomes impossible… I must have sung them 100 times, wrongly, in many different ways, until they didn’t sound or feel like real words in my mouth any more. (So we stopped, did something else, came back to it two hours later and did it in one take)
- you lose all sense of time and reality. When you work on a five second piece of sound for an hour, time and space become a little bit surreal.
- you lose the power to make simple decisions …which is better? this chord? that chord? The answer is neither, they are just different, so just decide which you like and stick with it!
The day after, this morning, my body feels broken.
I am exhausted.
Fortunately I have the house to myself for the day, so I can sit quietly and reflect, I can play back what we worked on, with a little bit of distance, and listen to the whole songs, over and over, not just short phrases or bursts…. look at the big picture. Are they saying what I want them to say?
I am setting my phone alarm for the painkillers. My knee is killing me today. I think the combination of carting stuff up and down the stairs, and then sitting in the same position for hours has me in agony, I must remember to do things differently next time, remember good posture, and move around more. Maybe if I invest in some wireless headphones so I can walk about a bit more? If I intend to work in this way, I need to find a sustainable way to do it. Over the last couple of days fuelled by excitement, adrenaline, creative energy and caffeine, I felt I was about 35… today, I’m paying for it, and feel about 85.
Other news… the Arts Council have approved my publicity materials, so I can now publish and get printed, the invitations/flyers for my open studio event at the end of January. Before then, I would really like to freshen up the exhibition space next to my studio, and spread the work out a bit, the drawings, a couple of the bras, the work in progress…
I need to get it all up, and get some fresh eyes and ears on it. The songs we recorded will be available then too. I would so love it if a few of my blogging friends turned up. There will be cake.