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.
We just finished mixing and mastering the latest track for “Tales of Dark and Light” “The Other Me” This has Dave Bowie on Double Bass, myself on vocals and Shimo ukulele and Agi on vocals and harmony vocals. I’m really pleased with how this has turned out and it is set to a waltz rhythm. The lyrics are also interesting in that they talk about different perceptual positions, “the other me” and “the other her”
Here’s a sample of one of the verses
“The other her is smarter, the other her has fun. Killing them with kindness, more deadly than a gun, The other her in dancing, in spaces yet unknown, Tripping through the shadows, always on her own”
I think this is my best work to date and we have seven tracks already recorded with another five more to record at this point in time. Mid April Laurent will be flying in from France to put violin down on three tracks and Phil Doleman will be adding banjo to some material. Some of the tracks have a lot of musicians and have fairly complex arrangements while others are very stripped back sometimes to just one instrument and two voices.
These tracks are all initially written on ukulele and then deconstructed on piano until we get the right expression for the lyrics. Special thanks to everyone involved, especially Laurent Zeller, Agi, Dave Bowie, Adrian Knowles, Rich Ferdinando and Carl for his magical production.
In forthcoming weeks I’ll be playing some of this material live in New York where I’m playing some gigs. This is a long way from stereotypical “ukulele music” but I have never considered my music to be “ukulele music” I just happen to find the uke to be an excellent writing tool. Many of the tracks don’t feature the ukulele and those that do, usually feature the Shimo Comet 3 which is really nothing like a typical uke!
The recording process for “Tales of Dark and Light” is very different to how I have worked before. Most of the tracks are initially worked up on the ukulele, but the difference with these recordings is that the vocal melodies are then worked up to piano. The piano is extremely unforgiving and I continue to be surprised and impressed by how well this works.
Today I was working on a new track “Grey Skies” and this is an excellent example of figuring out exactly what works in terms of the right rhythm and getting the best lyrical expression. I’m reminded that the piano is a percussive instrument and as my producer comments “There’s nowhere to hide!” We are back in the studio in two weeks to add additional vocals and harmonies to the six tracks already recorded. Carl Rosamond continues to do a superb job recording, mixing and mastering this material.
Some of the tracks are stripped back to a single instrument and vocals and others with be quite multi layered with some really superb musicians. Although material is written on ukes, the finished tracks have a variety of instruments including double bass, piano, violin, percussion. I’m looking at adding banjo and lap steel to further tracks. This is proving to be a wonderfully creative period and I have absolutely no idea how it will turn out, but for now it’s one hell of a ride!
After I get back from playing in New York, I’ll be back in the studio with guest musicians Phil Doleman and Laurent Zeller. Both are absolutely top draw musicians and its fascinating to hear these tracks take shape. Agi’s vocals and harmony vocals also add a different dimension to these recordings and although there is a big variety of material, its very recognizable as having a definite theme.