Wednesday, January 12, 2011

recording in Kent and Sussex

I'm just back from Lewes, having been recording some saz for one last song Stella wants to put on her album. It musically harks back to the old Spacegoats days, so she got Matt/Zegg playing bouzouki, Chris/Krishmael playing hammered dulcimer and Richard the luthier (once part of Hearth) playing some very Pokish mandolin. (It turns out that Pok had just got back from the Pyrenees and had been spotted busking in Brighton, but it didn't work out to get him in the studio for the session. It was at The Loophole, a friendly one-man operation in Brighton where I recorded the saz part for "Nightingale" for the same album, back in 2007.

Stella manages to make studio sessions into joyous occasions, brings a whole picnic along with her and make sure everyone's well looked-after. It was a pleasure to be part of (and to see Chris again — he's hardly touched his dulcimer in four years, now involved in growing fruit in the Brighton area). Back at Stella's cottage in Lewes that evening, she managed to get Matt and I to watch the surreally awful 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (a major childhood influence on her, apparently)! The next day, after a long breakfast with Matt at a groovy Lewes cafe, talking about DNA, quantum mechanics, philosophical problems concerning the Law of Large Numbers, early Buddhist scriptures and the Riemann zeta function (conversations with the Zegg are among the best), he mixed the new song while I set Stella up with some web-hosting, put together the beginnings of her website and helped lay out a gig poster. She then took us to an excellent free Qigong class which kind of cancelled out the previous night's film experience!

The album's going to be called Ordinary Day and should be out in the first half of this year. The combination of her beautiful new batch of songs and Matt's production work has led to something exquisite, to my ears.

Stella's album cover

A few days earlier, I'd been down with Matt plus Will and Dave from Cocos Lovers, recording a saz part in a huge greenhouse on a farm near Ash. There's a Canadian musician/sound engineer called Paul Clifford living there. He's set up a tiny little caravan a recording space (insulating the walls very carefully with straw and colourful quilting, with additional fairy lights, etc....a really magical little space he's made). It turns out that he'd played drums with The Be Good Tanyas, played on their Blue Train album (a favourite of mine). And a lovely bloke. He and Dave had been probing the acoustics of the greenhouses with pushed-to-its-limits trombone (Paul) and very loud electric guitar (Dave) that afternoon, so everything was set up to record a saz part in there for "The Black Douglas", an epic, adventurous leap forward for the band — and something that just sort of came together in the process of recording their second album (it's called Elephant Lands). Paul had recorded all the rhythm tracks in his caravan, then Matt had come down for an intensive week in Deal to do the vocals and instrumental overdubs. They chose him on my recommendation, and I was glad to see that it had worked out very well indeed. Will said it was the first recording experience the band had had which was enjoyable rather than hellish. Matt's very good at creating a pleasantly calm, but creative atmosphere, and they'd all been having a lot of fun and getting quite experimental with the whole process.

After my takes, the mics got moved to a big barn to record Paul drumming on a huge grain hopper (or silo?) with percussion mallets. This was also for "The Black Douglas", along with clanking chains, jagged Marc Ribot-type electric guitar and some very able fingerpicking from Phil. It was written about an ancestor of Natasha and Pog, and looks like it might close the album. It'd be nice to think a bit of my saz playing might make it onto what looks like it's going to be a magnificent album, but that track will need thinning out, so we'll see what Matt comes up with in the mixing process.


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