So I left you in the studio. There I am. Me re-learning how to play bass. Andrew Baird who has something like 30 stringed instruments from banjos to upright double basses lent me a five-string. I hadn’t picked up a bass in anger since I was about 17 so it was a steep learning curve. I knew this wasn’t going to be a John Entwistle, walking bass line. I just needed to underpin the drums Razz had laid down. Actually, listening to the four tracks, I was pleasantly surprised.
Recording wasn’t a straightforward enterprise. First of all, we live busy lives and aside from this obsession with making music we have jobs to do. Second, Rob, our engineer, had other projects. So it was down to me preparing as well as I could, then when a call came I would go up to the studio and try to put down a track. Usually we would only get one down in a 4-hour session. I know there are professional musicians who could probably lay down 6 or 7, usually in one or two takes. I’ve seen it. But not me. Before Rob, Razz or I were satisfied with a bass or rhythm track it would take a lot of painstaking work, and countless overdubs. It really stretched Rob’s patience, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for leading me through the process. The only part that ran smoothly was the vocals. When recording you usually put down something called scratch vocals as a guide. Then, when all instruments are in the can you do the finished version. But fortunately we used the scratch vocals, no auto-tune, and just a few effects.
‘Tucson to LA’ was the first one. This was a photo we took when we were in Arizona on Interstate 10 which illustrates the line ‘Moon big and low in the desert night…”It was good inspiration for what is basically an old-fashioned 5-chord rock and roll number. We’d been playing it live and in rehearsals so I knew it pretty well, but putting down bass, lead and rhythm guitar along with a ‘chugging’ track, vocals and keyboards took me some time. What, those of you who aren’t guitarists, is ‘chugging’? Glad you asked. What you’re doing is playing chords with your pick hand up on the bridge that gives you something between melody and scratching. It sits behind the rhythm guitar and fills out a track really well.
The other three tracks came together slowly. One that meant a lot to me was ‘Somewhere In The Desert’. Andrew had put down an acoustic guitar picking track but we had to fill it out and nothing seemed to work. I was voted down when I wanted to put an electric guitar solo in. Eventually, the last thing we did in the studio was to try a nylon string classical guitar, and that’s what we kept.
The process stretched on. I’d hoped we’d be finished by July when I went off to France but Bob and Razz were still mixing. It was still painstaking, using a lot of tracks to overdub and get a clean take. The guys sent me updated tracks. Finally only ‘Somewhere In The Desert” was left and we went back in the studio on my return. Then, with the final mix in the can, off they went to Metropolis Studios in Chiswick to be mastered.
Ten years ago, we’d have only two options of getting our music released. First, send the tracks to a record company and pray that one of them would pick it up. Over the summer I read a lot of books about rock and roll and the music business – Keith Richards’ autobiography and a biography, one about Led Zeppelin and another about Freddie Mercury. I had thought it was easy to get a contract in those days and I was amazed to read about the tribulations Queen and Zep had to go through. The other way was to pay for a record to be released and then try to sell it. Neither were good options. Today, thanks to digital music and the web, everybody can get access. I love Tunecore. They are an aggregator. Basically, you can only release directly on iTunes and the other download/streaming platforms if you have 40 tracks. There we were with 4. With Tunecore, no problem. Sign up, download the songs to them and there is our music out there.
Then Razz and I had to sign up to the Performing Rights Society so we can be paid royalties for writing as well as performing. And when I look back at those days before Christmas last year I guess I should have taken the time to enjoy those milestones. Now, writing about it, I feel a real sense of achievement. It was a big step on our journey.
We learned a lot from our experience, and when we record a full-length album at the end of this year we can apply those lessons. We need to be much better prepared, which is why I’m investing in recording software to lay down demo tracks we can take to the band and rehearse them fully before we go into the studio. I know bands like the Stones write and record in the studio but that’s because they can afford unlimited time. In common with most bands we need to spend as little time as possible in one. It also will allow us to road test them live.
Next time I’ll tell you about our winter of discontent!