Part 1. No Peace for the wicked
Hi. Silver here, after a long absence. When was it? June, just after we released Dancing in Silence. How have you been? Are you keeping safe? I always have these aspirations to release a blog every Monday if only to stay in touch. Keep the faith, readers. I’m doing my best, and with the current state of play in Lavender Hill Land, there’s a lot to report. Who knows, I might even manage to write regularly.
Resolution made, here is the first instalment. You’re aware, if you’ve read the last few blogs, we’re working on an album. I guess you could say it began a long time ago when I started writing songs for it. I actually didn’t stop after the EP, and we have gradually introduced new numbers into our live gigs over the last three years. Having learned the basics of Music Production and Sound Engineering with Nikos Argallas at Soundflow Music Academy in Guildford, – I should say the rudiments – I started recording demo projects in February of 2019. To begin with they were a little agricultural, and the other guys threw them back at me when I took them into the studio, with instructions to get the timing and quantizing (synchronising two or more instruments). But the serious date was 15 September when I met with Tom Hughes, producer and founder of Dragonfly Studios in Reigate. I’d been speaking with him about working together but this was the first detailed discussion. I sent him guide tracks. A basic drum track, bass, acoustic guitar and scratch vocals, which he then ripped apart and made me start again – again. So much for my dreams of being a great producer.
Tom and I spoke about the kind of sound we wanted. With the songs we were bringing in we were aiming for as big a sound as possible. I was very influenced by Phil Spector, who used a lot of brass and drums in all those hits like ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. We wanted drums to be loud and aggressive, not a problem when Ray is operating the sticks. We wanted bass right up at the front of the mix. And plenty of wide coverage from guitars and keys. I’d selected a midi plug-in that sounded so much like a Hammond B3 organ. A few months ago pre-pandemic I went to Ronnie Scott’s to see Booker T Jones, legendary leader of the MG’s, the Stax house band of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The sound of a master on his favourite instrument was a thing of great beauty, and the sound of that instrument works right across the music spectrum from Stevie Winwood to Jon Lord. It’s there, rumbling, growling and squealing away on several tracks. A couple of synth sounds went well with some of the songs. There is a beautifully sustained, warm, grand piano and a bar room honky-tonk. I also became infatuated with cello stabs, and while I would have loved to hire a couple of cellists, the cost would have been just a little prohibitive. So the midi emulation will have to do. I also spent a lot of time working on my guitar sounds. The rhythm is medium overdrive; the power chords you will hear, more live than on the album is very much driven by a chorus pedal, a little distortion and a bit of reverb. But, you may say, how is a three-piece going to replicate that live? I’m coming to that. Let me go back a few months.
In October, Ray came into the studio and over three days he recorded 15 drum tracks. It’s not his first rodeo but even he was pretty bushed by the time we got to the last song. Then Rob came over to my place and we laid down all his bass tracks over three weeks. It’s all going so well, isn’t it? I know what you’re going to say. If you had all the bass and drums down by November why has it taken you a year and still no release date? Fair question. Three reasons and one, inevitably is Covid-19. Tom was in the process of lining up the bass and drum tracks when the lockdown hit us. He closed the studio and everything had to change. We were all using dropbox, Royal Mail and sometimes getting in the car to drive hard disks up to the studio where we dropped them in the mail box so nobody met face to face. Then I decided to record ‘Dancing in Silence’. Check out my previous blogs for more information on that month. The other is, and I hold my hands up, I really didn’t get cracking on final vocals, guitars and pianos for a while. May, June really. While the studio was closed I converted a bedroom into a studio. I bought a couple of really good vocal recording microphones. For those of you interested in these things it’s a Shure SMB-7 and a WARM-WA47jr. Not top of the range but really good quality. I laid down most of the vocal tracks in the space of a couple of weeks. A lot of water and honey-laced green tea was drunk over the space of those 14 days. To ensure Tom had plenty of choice I would lay down 10 tracks of vocals and fifteen guitar tracks. I had to record in the evenings because although this home studio is quite good acoustically, some sound seeps in from the road outside and, now very occasionally, the airport.
If I felt any relief when I dropped what I thought were the last tracks up to Dragonfly I was to be dis-abused fairly swiftly. Tom is a hard taskmaster. I imagine all producers need to be perfectionists. It’s a fundamental requirement of the job. After a truncated vacation in France (I came back to avoid being quarantined) there were a lot of overdubs to do, on vocals, guitars and keys. I wasn’t the only one. Rob had to re-record a couple of his tracks. No peace for the wicked.