This has been a very surreal five months, during covid 19. Like all musicians I had to cancel all live gigs for myself and for music events I host with Music for The Head and Heart. With the lockdown, the whole world was suddently on pause and we have and continue to be in uncharted territory. I’ve driven 45 miles in 5 months, so am totally doing my bit for the carbon footprint as I also cancelled 8 overseas trips for my non musical work.
Music creation and recording
To my great surprise this has been an amazing period for writing and recording new material. Just as lockdown appeared I grabbed a number of new items for my home studio that have been used to great effect. I’ve already blogged on the Acme DI and the Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic and I’ve also been using Fulltone trem units and my Henriksen Buds for recording via the excellent UAD Arrow unit. I’m actually working on two totally different music projects at the same time with two different producers.
For the first time everything is on electric guitar, which is a first. Usually I’ll put down some sketch ideas, then work them up into a demo before starting to adlib and figure lyrics. I’ve been using my weekly meetings with Agi to do live takes of vocal tracks and I now have 14 tracks mixed and “in the vault” for one of the albums, and there will be very different versions of these tracks for a second album.
Gathering like musical minds
One of the few benefits of covid 19 is that there are many artists sitting at home neding work. I suspect that live work won’t appear until 2022 and in the meantime streaming will only increase, but that’s a very different experience. Social media has been great for locating session musicians to add to a core group that are generally my ‘go too folks” for any projects. I’m lucky to be working with two brilliant producers who have never been so busy. Its clear to me that that the role of any producer is essential in creating the very best music. Often music may be mixed but not actually mastered
Tracks “in the vault”
These tracks are already mixed and in the vault, with four more tracks in the pipeline
All is fine till the world goes pop 4.19 Gather round 6.57 Nothing here sounds good 3.21 All Kinds of Crazy 5.24 Your chosen one is coming 4.12 Please take this time 4.24 321 Lockdown 3.41 Hold that thought 3.30 Sticks and stones 3.40 The world is burning 3.39 That gals as cool as fuck 3.25 All about her lies 3.29 Maybe 5.04 Come on down 3.51
Special thanks to everyone who has helped with creating these tracks to date
I’ve recently rediscovered the superb Fulltone Supa trem. I’ve always like the analogue sound of the original unit and now I am using the mark 2 stereo version in recording. This allows for the guitar sound to really fill out and to my ears allows the guitar to be more like a piano. In recent weeks I’ve written four different tracks using this sound, all of which are way slower that I would normally opt for.
This makes for a very different vocal dynamic as there is literally nowhere to hide! At this rate I may end up with a whole new album of this really laid back more reflective series of songs that are the polar opposite of another sister project I am working on. Maybe its being in lockdown, but this is certainly a really creative curve ball that is quite unexpected but so far has been quite fascinating.
Aside from two very exciting 2 mile round trips to buy milk, I’ve been indoors now for 7 weeks. Fortunately pre lockdown I organised everything I need for the studio for recording . As I have previously blogged we’ve been using VST connect to record studio to studio as well as doing some work here using UAD Arrow interface, the Acme DI into the Reaper DAW.
This simpler stripped down set up brings challenges as well as benefits. The benefits are that less options really focusses the mind. We’ve recorded 4 tracks to date. For “Hold that Thought” and “That gal’s as cool as fuck”, we already had electric bass and percussion down from when we were all in the studio. Similarly I recorded “All kinds of crazy” in the studio with Ella Playford and played all parts on my excellent Waterloo acoustic. This is the only time to date we did didn’t use a DI approach
With “All is fine until the world goes pop” and “Your chosen one” had all parts recorded on electric guitar. I’ve been using the excellent Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic for all vocals. We now have 5 tracks recorded, mixed and mastered. Everything to date had been on guitar. On “Hold that thought” I started using the Zed Drive 2 as favoured by Eric Johnson and this has become one monster of a track which I’m really pleased with.
I currently have 5 more tracks to record, but new ideas are appearing all the time. I’m having to think differently and doing a shout out to a few musician friends for input. One of the next tracks will be “Wild hair and cocaine eyes” which is centred around a guitar riff. I have Adrian Knowles kindly send over a bass part, so next up will be vocals and additional guitar parts. I suspect it will either be great or a total train wreck. I’m also working on a stripped down version of a Caravan of Dreams song that we played live but never recorded, “Sticks and Stones” This will be just guitar and vocals with perhaps violin from my good friend Laurent Zeller. In short I have plenty to do with this project.
The results are a far cry from anything else I have released to date and the plan is to release video for each of these new tracks. I’m also further appreciating the value of having an excellent producer, without whom we’d never get such excellent final results.
Today is all about putting down guitar tracks for my first ever cover version. After recording 44 tracks to date, this is new territory. I’m also loving working with the Acme DI box, the Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic and the Arrow UAD unit.
I have blogged a lot about the Acme which was used extensively on Motown albums and it has a very distinctive 60s sound to my ears. I keep thinking about the third Velvet Underground album in terms of sound and that’s in my view no bad thing. This is a total departure from all my acoustic guitar and ukulele work and requires some very different thinking.
I’ve also found myself using the same guitar a Warmoth custom hardtail strat with a graphite Moses neck and a Tom Holmes bridge pickup which is giving a great great sound. I’m using Reaper DAW to put down the central tracks and tomorrow I’ll be hooking up with Agi and adding vocals before connecting with Carl Rosamond in the afternoon to explore mixing.
These as we know are very strange times globally and these recording sessions are totally different to my normal way of working. To start with I’m playing all the parts and doing all the vocals. We are also working really quickly on material and there is something to be said for such concise time effective ways of working.
One big lesson has been in investing in really excellent studio gear and not cutting any corners. This ia all the more important as there’s a run on studio gear in these times as more and more people are looking to beef up their home recording setups.
Today I laid down all the additional guitar tracks for “Your chosen one is coming” To my ears the guitar parts sound like something from Television’s classic “Marquee Moon” album from 1970s, much to my amazement. The Acme DI unit is earning its money in spades and we are recording studio to studio via Steinberg’s VST Connect performer pro version.
I am also for the first time using only electric guitar, no ukuleles or any other acoustic instruments in sight although the album title track with Ella Playford on vocals was recorded using my excellent waterloo acoustic. I’m used to having a band, so its a new experience to be playing everything and doing all the arranging. During the global pandemic lockdown i do have an unusual amount of extra time.
This process allows us to record high resolution 24 bit files and then mix and master in the Headingly studio. “Your chosen one is coming” is the first track to be recorded this way and its sounding great. We already have a terrific video for “All Kinds of Crazy” and are looking at releasing that sometime in April.
This has been a somewhat surreal experience doing the first few tracks, studio to studio. Fortunately Carl Rosamond has a brilliant grasp of how to use the technology as well as how to get the best sonic results.
I recorded the rhythm guitar track for “Your Chosen One is Coming” and then added vocals using the Ear Trumpet mic. The custom Warmoth hard tail strat with a Tom Holmes HB and single coils (info for guitar geeks) sounds absolutely terrific into the Acme DI. I am absolutely loving the simplicity of the Acme and can now appreciate why it was used to great effect on so many Motown tracks.
We then added some additional takes studio to studio using a Pro Version of VST Connect to record additional takes.
This is a really stripped back sound, but I am loving it. In a strange way it reminds me of a cross between The Velvet Underground and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. There’s a stack of songs to record, but hey, I have the time now to do it!
After completing the Caravan of Dreams album “Tales of Dark and Light” I’m now writing for a new ensemble in 2020. This will be an all electric affair and quite different to anything I have done before.
Key ingredients in this sound will be my Ransom Telecaster, possibly the heaviest instrument ever in terms of weight, but with its Tom Holmes pickups, its like nothing else. I have also been experimenting with multi amp combinations using a Lehe splitter and the Two Rock and the Anderson sound terrific together with a Dude pedal. Two Rock is that classic John Mayer sound and the Anderson is like a super clean AC30, so the combination is really sonically interesting.
The new Brown Box for European voltage makes a massive difference to maintaining the right voltage to get the best tube amp sound. I’m increasingly aware that voltage levels make a big difference to the sound and the tube usage. This unit sorts out any issues.
I’m meeting to discuss the new lineup, but Fergus Quill will be part of this new sound. Fergus is an outstanding player and great musical brain that will be invaluable. Rich Ferdi who has been in every band incarnation will be on board. Rich is an extraordinary player and rock solid for live work. This time he’ll be breaking out the big drums.
We’ll be recording throughout 2020 and this will be very different, not a ukulele in sight!
I am delighted to receive the pressings for “Tales of Dark and Light” This has been a monumental project with contributions form no less than 14 musicians.
The material is far more expanded than anything I have done before and Carl Rosamond has once again brought his magic in the studio to produce a really terrific sound. Karen Turner supplied excellent photos, Junko Hosomi did the great graphics and Sarah Patrick did the layout
Special thanks to everyone involved, its been a terrific team effort! Next stop is the album launch May 11th
I recently had an exchange on social media talking about high resolution audio and video. One poster insisted that it doesn’t really matter and with audio people are just listening to their equipment. I take a very different view…
A live performance is IMO the closest you will get to seeing and hearing an artist perform. After that we have various degrees of data capture which will deliver a “representation” of the performance, but what you see and hear will be limited by the data capture and the medium you are using. There’s no right or wrong but of course until recently many people have never seen high resolution TV or heard high resolution audio.
With movies, I soon appreciated that Blu Ray was vastly better in terms of quality than standard DVD and standard DVD was better than VHS tape. The viewer was able to literally see more of what was originally filmed. With 4K DVD the quality is again a major jump up, BUT you only really notice this when you are watching back on a compatible TV and I would suggest 55 inches at least. In comparing Blu Ray and 4K film versions the 4K films seem more “film like” and there’s of course significantly more detail.
With audio there’s often a lot of heated debate, but before passing any comment I respectfully suggest people interested in such matters listen to some examples, so they can discuss from a point of actual knowledge! High resolution flac files, DSD and SACD recordings reveal far more of the original recording, so the listener can literally hear more of what the artist created. Of course this kind of reveal shows up the limitations of any original recording as well.
Ultimately its a matter of personal choice but I’m always interested in the best audio and visual representations which IMO create a more enjoyable and satisfying experience. I’m perfectly aware many others will disagree (many will do so without any actual experience of high resolution audio and video) and a lot of folks are perfectly happy listening to mp3 files on their phones!
We just finished recording the title track for “Tales of Dark and Light” This is different to anything else I have done to date. The main instrument on the track is a shruti box which adds a drone as a constant throughout the track. We then added a 5 part harmony over the drone, 3 parts from myself and two from Agi. Fortunately, Agi is “queen of the harmonies” so this was entirely possible. Otherwise, this could have been a very lengthy process!
I have always love harmonies in songs and am increasingly keen to incorporate them in “The Caravan of Dreams” material. This requires a great deal of precision in singing and I have been investing a lot of time in building these skills. All the Caravan of Dreams material is a lot more ambitious than anything I have done before and we are spending a lot more time on arrangements and production. This is the first time we have essentially written in the studio. This is also the first time I have used the Henriksen Blu amp with extension cab in a recording situation with the Stryman El Capistan. The El Capistan is like an old Echoplex unit and reminds me greatly of the sounds John Martyn used to create. We used two SM57s to mic up the Henriksen speakers and this created a really fascinating wall of sound.
Next week we’ll be mixing and mastering this title track and it is going to be very different. This track will top and tail the album, like the opening and closing chapter to a book. Agi and Carl have been invaluable in making this possible and without them, we would not be able to create these sounds. Tales of Dark and Light will be released in 2019 after some low key gigs to work up the live set.