Recording Sessions, July 2010

Posted by Catherine Elms 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.  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.

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.  They’ll also be reworked slightly to make them sound better.

Day 1: I sat around at home drinking tea with the team (Hank – engineer; Jamie – engineer; Tim – co-producer/guitarist), sorting out our plan of attack, writing out chord sheets, talking shop, etc.

Day 2: After 6 months of no periods due to my contraceptive implant, I got the most painful period EVER. I stayed at home with a hot water bottle, some co-codamol, and my lyric book, while Hank and Jamie did engineer-y things at the studio – setting up previously-recorded guide tracks, sorting out equipment, and such-like.

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 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 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.

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.

This was scary, as I hate singing in front of anyone.  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, 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. Those guys 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. After that was done,  Tim recorded all the acoustic guitar parts for those songs, which sounded great.

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 third-hand for £100.

We used 3 microphones to record the piano – 2 AKG-C414 microphones inside the body on cardioid polar pattern, and a Rhode NTK valve microphone for the room.  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.

In the afternoon, we 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.

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.  I ended up spending a lot of time reading and working on song drafts.

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! 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 love 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.

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 people.  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 the team had other commitments, so we called it a day.  We’re planning to go back to Leeds in September to do some more work, 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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