Recording Sessions, July 2010

Posted by blatantblithe on August 5, 2010 Blog posts | Music | | 5 comments

Hello lovely people!  I have returned from a two-week stint at the James Graham recording studio in Leeds, and things are going rather well with the album!  During the nine days we spent recording, we managed to get halfway through the project, completing 5 songs.  We weren’t sure how much we could get done in the ten days we’d booked, as we’ve never recorded a full-length album in a studio before.  I prepared pretty thoroughly by making sure I knew how to play and sing my songs well, which paid off, as the songs I recorded were done in under three takes.  But we’re happy with the outcome, and are going for a ‘quality-not-quantity’ approach to this album – i.e. we’d rather take a long time making a really great album than rush through it just to get it out by August.

(Apologies, this blog post is long overdue – since I got back last week, I’ve been rather busy – I had a job for 2 days, but lost it; I’ve been spending a lot of time with my parents and my family; I’ve been helping out my grandmother with lots of things, and sorting out my car – I’ll write another blog post about those things and the similar mundane activities that fill my life in a few days or so.)

A few things became apparent during the project  – first, the album will no longer be called “Wednesday’s Child”, as it didn’t fit with the style of the album anymore.  The song ‘Wednesday’s Child’ is just a little too slow and woeful to be a title track – we’re working on a title that fits with the album better.  Second, as the quality of the songs will be so much higher, we need to re-record all 5 songs from the EP using the new equipment (we knew this would be the case, but just to let y’all know).  They’ll also be reworked slightly to make them sound better.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading about what we actually did during those two weeks.  I tried to write this in a relatively easy-to-understand way, as I know that many of you won’t find the fiddly details all that interesting – any questions, leave me a comment!

So we went up to Leeds on July 1st and moved Hank into his new house, which took the best part of three days, including cleaning, unpacking, sorting out bills, etc.  I’m a big believer in this philosophy when it comes to art:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”
– Gustave Flaubert
On the weekend we spent some time with the guitarist Tim and his partner Ayaka – we cooked home-made toad in the hole!

Day 1 of Recording: I sat around at home drinking tea with the team (Hank – engineer; Jamie – engineer; Tim – producer/guitarist), sorting out our plan of attack, writing out chord sheets, talking shop, etc.  All boring stuff that doesn’t need to be written about here.  I don’t have any photos of that day, so here is a cute photo I took of Hank and Bongo (my soft toy monkey) in the house:

Day 2 of Recording: After 6 months of no periods due to my contraceptive implant, I got the most painful period EVAR. I stayed at home with a hot water bottle and some feminax, while Hank and Jamie did engineer-y things at the studio – setting up previously-recorded guide tracks, sorting out equipment, and such-like.  Cookie monster had a good time riding the faders:

While I was at home I worked on some new lyrics, and read some poetry by Tony Harrison, which I was enjoying until he started spewing misogynistic crap about women (I know he might have been ironic, but it didn’t seem that way…). I spent the evening with Jamie and Hank listening to music, smoking, and watching Phoenix Nights, which was lovely.

Day 3 of Recording: my first day in the studio!

Check out that monster desk!

Check out that monster desk!

That morning we recorded the studio’s Yamaha electric piano.  We recorded the full keyboard parts for the songs ‘Interlude’, ‘Wednesday’s Child’ and ‘Harlequin Valentine’.  ‘Wednesday’s Child’ took a longer time to record because it’s a little more fiddly than the others, but we managed to get it all done.  The three of us were very pleased at how well I managed to record in time to the metronome, which can be remarkably difficult if you’re a pianist like me who isn’t used to playing along to anything/anyone else – I just sit at my piano in my living room and bash the fuck out of it on my own until I’m satisfied.  Lesson #1: practice playing to a metronome more often.


Apologies for the crap photo – Hank had to take it really quickly before we went for a take, as the phone interference signal can get recorded to tape (where you hear beep-beep beep-beep…).  I look somewhat unimpressed here.

In the afternoon, we recorded vocals for ‘Interlude’ and ‘Wednesday’s Child’, which included me having to remember what harmonies  I wrote for ‘Interlude’, as I didn’t write them down.  Lesson #2: keep track of the three-part harmonies I write, as they are very difficult to work out by ear at a later date.  :/  We used a Rode NTK valve microphone for my vocals, which had a lovely warm tone.

Flannel Piggy provided the backing squeals, hehe (yes, I took some soft toys with me to the studio. Madness, I know.)

This was rather scary, as I hate singing in front of anyone, even Hank to a certain extent.  Thankfully, Hank and Jamie were very professional and helped put me at ease.

Day 4 of Recording: In the morning, we recorded bass for ‘Pushing’ and ‘Not Sorry’.  I had to keep reminding Hank to keep the bass part simple, bless his little prog-rock socks.

From 11am onwards, Tim came in and he recorded acoustic guitars for ‘I Miss You’, ‘Gimme A Cure’ and ‘Legs Crossed’.  However, in order for this to happen, Tim and the guys wanted me to record quick rough vocal and piano takes for those songs (I forget why, I think it was because the guide track didn’t have a click), so Jamie set me up in the room with the electric piano and a vocal mic, and recorded me playing and singing each song live.  Now, this might sound relatively stress-free, as I’ve performed live in front of people before, but this situation was different – my voice and my hands were not warmed up, so I wasn’t playing very well at all.  They wanted a quick rough take, so I had to just sing and play outright without any time to warm up.  It’s also worth mentioning that the song ‘Legs Crossed’ is the hardest song to play and sing on my album, as the highest note in the chorus – E flat – is right at the top of my modal vocal register (the highest note before I go into my falsetto register).  I was so focused on playing both hands in time that I wasn’t so great at getting the notes right, especially vocally, as my vocals sound pretty awful without a little warm up first.  Gosh, those three men have seen me at my absolute worst, musically!  It feels as if they’ve seen a raw hidden part of me… I would say that this was one of the scariest things I’ve had to do for a long time (except perhaps my last job interview).  That probably sounds really silly.  I guess I just hate the idea of people knowing exactly how average my singing and playing abilities are.  And now they do, and I feel a little embarrassed.  Anyway,  Tim recorded all the acoustic guitar parts for those songs, and he kicked ass.

Day 5 of Recording: we recorded on the baby grand piano!  Fuck yeah baby grand!

The room with the baby grand piano is very popular and overbooked, so we only managed to secure it for one morning.  We were on a mission, and managed to record 4 whole songs – ‘Pushing’, ‘I Miss You’, ‘Legs Crossed’ (ouch, left hand cramp), and ‘Gimme A Cure’.  I wasn’t crazy about the piano sound, but it was very lovely to play.  It made me realise what a piece of shit my upright at home is, but then that’s what you get when you buy a piano for £150.

For those who are interested, we used 3 microphones on the piano – 2 AKG-C414 microphones inside the body on cardioid polar pattern, and a Rhode NTK valve microphone for the room.  Micing a piano is not easy, so this took the best part of 2 hours to do, during which time I got nice and warmed up, and had some fun with the instrument.

I was surprised at how tiring this whole recording thing was – thankfully, I managed to get through the morning relatively well.  Maybe I need to stop moving about so much when I play, or maybe it’s just the lingering depression that’s making me so tired, who knows.

In the afternoon, we went into the Foley room, a large room used for recording sound effects.  Tim came in and recorded electric guitar parts for ‘Pushing’ and ‘I Miss You’, which involved lots of feedback, hence the need for a large sonorous  room.  I’m so blessed to have a talented guy like Tim working on this project, he’s been so helpful. :)

The studio was shut on the weekend, so we had a relaxing time at home reading, writing, etc. I cooked enchilladas, om nom nom.  Hank and I went for a romantic meal out to unwind on Sunday – he was very stressed out by the whole process, as things were taking longer than we wanted them to, and some people weren’t being too helpful (but that’s what you get when people are helping you out for free, so we didn’t mind too much).

Day 6 of Recording: consisted of some synth (thus completing the song ‘Interlude’), vocals, and engineery things that I didn’t fully understand and couldn’t help with.  Today Hank tried to explain to me how the desk worked, but I still don’t fully understand it as I’ve never studied music technology before.  I ended up spending a lot of time reading and writing poetry (I read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis on this day, I think), and Hank spent a lot of time looking serious:

Day 7 of Recording: bass for a few songs in the morning, and vocals for ‘Legs Crossed’, ‘Pushing’, ‘Gimme a Cure’ and ‘Harlequin Valentine’ in the afternoon.  Sadly, at about 3pm my voice started getting very tired, despite having spent a decent amount of time warming up beforehand.  I couldn’t even hit top C, so we called it a day.  Thankfully, I managed to finish ‘Gimme a Cure’ and ‘Pushing’ earlier on – I sang ‘Pushing’ in one straight vocal take, and Hank thought that it sounded raw and natural enough to keep it.

Day 8 of Recording: recording drums with the fabulous Alex DiVito!

Full kit, complete with Doug the dog perched on the bass drum. Apologies for blurry photo – the camera on my iPhone sucks.

Flannel Piggy made a friend!

This day went well, as we managed to finish the songs ‘Pushing’ and ‘I Miss You’ (which are both kicking ASS).  Fun fact: ‘I Miss You’ was originally going to be the fifth track on the Not Sorry EP, but I found it difficult to explain to Hank and John (drummer/guitarist on the EP) what I wanted this track to sound like.  Consequently, they ended up recording a Massive-Attack-esque sound for the song, which I HATED (I like Massive Attack, but ‘I Miss You’ is just not that kind of song).  This put me off the song so much that I wanted to get rid of it completely.  Thankfully, Hank persuaded me to rethink my position, and now with the help of Tim and the guys, it’s one of my favourite songs of the album!  Never underestimate how much the instrumentation can change a song.

In the afternoon, we finished recording the vocals for ‘Legs Crossed’ and ‘Harlequin Valentine’, which contain the two most difficult vocal parts of the album.  That was scary, because I’m so not used to singing near my limit in front of three men, two of which I don’t know that well.  I can’t tell you how much self-control it took me to keep myself together that afternoon; all I wanted to do was to run away from the booth.

That night, Hank, Alex and I got caught in a nasty storm on our way home from Sainsbury’s (I needed emergency cookies).  When we got home – completely drenched – we had lots of tea and watched the lightning from the front bedroom window.  It was awesome.  Of course, every time one of us got our phone out to take a photo or a video of the lightning, it would stop until we’d put our phones away.

Day 9 of Recording: in the morning we recorded the drums for ‘Legs Crossed’ and ‘Gimme a Cure’, which went really well.  In the afternoon we recorded electric guitars for ‘Gimme a Cure’, which ended up taking a long time as we started throwing around more ideas and putting in some really interesting guitar parts.  The first amp we were going to use was a 30-watt Peavey valve amp, but as soon as we turned it on the output resistor blew, leaving a charred electrical smell, heh (this amp has blown on many occasions – at least Hank didn’t drop it like the last person using it did)!  So we managed to get the Marshall JCM 100-watt valve amp with a 4×12 cab, which was very nice indeed.

So, that was the end of the recording process!  We would’ve liked to have recorded for a few extra days, but unfortunately Tim was going away, and Hank and I had been offered work a few days later, so we called it a day.  We’re planning to go back to Leeds in September to do some more work on the album, and are nervously announcing the release date as late October.  it might run over though, as we need to fit the recording around our busy lives – I have a dissertation to start in September, and Hank will be very busy with his second-year uni work.  I’ll keep you posted on our progress! :)

5 Comments

  • DJ Moonlight said on Aug 5, 2010 4:13 pm

    sounds really exciting, really looking forward to hearing your full album :)

    • Catherine said on Aug 5, 2010 5:11 pm

      Thank you! :)

  • . said on Jul 22, 2011 1:05 pm

    This post is really exciting! Came to it from your latest one, sorry to hear you need to rerecord some parts though. It’s cool that you’re going to have more time for this now uni is over :)

    • Catherine said on Jul 22, 2011 1:10 pm

      Thanks! I’m excited to get it finished!

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