Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Assistant: demo progress

We came within a hair’s breadth of finishing the demo last night – in fact we finished it in a way, in that we completed the vocals and used up the last available tracks on the recording. But we decided that we want to free up another track so that we can add backing vocals, which means another couple of weeks before we get it finished (which, might, actually, give us time to resurrect Engines and Anvils, too).

It’s actually been well over a year since Assistant rehearsed in the evening: our Saturday morning slot gave way to a Sunday morning one and it’s only now that we’ve returned to practising in the evenings. So I also saw Monster (where we rehearse) at night for the first time. It’s on a mini industrial estate (sorry, Enterprise Centre) by Hove Lagoon (behind the posh, beachfront row of houses where slebs such as Norman Cook, Zoe Ball and Nick Berry live), and approaching it at night is a totally different experience. Beside the row of units which contains Monster (and also 'The Cheese Man') there is parked (no, moored, for the estate sits beside the canal which runs past Portslade and opens out at the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour) a huge ship, The Sand Weaver, which looks somehow extremely sinister at night. Its regular appearances at the harbour coincide, Ali says, with periods of good and bad business at Monster, though whether the studio is busy when it is there and quiet when it is not, or the other way around, I'm afraid I can't remember. Anyway. One consequence of rehearsing at night once more (we're doing 9-11ish), is the welcome return of alcohol at rehearsals. Tempting though it was, a can of beer when you're playing at 11am always felt just a little too much. Other, hardier bands will doubtless scoff.

In order to record vocals properly, we have to sing through a kind of shield thing to stop the popping noises you get otherwise; in our case, through what looks like a home-made fishing net. On closer inspection, it's a microphone stand with a pair of tights stretched across a hoop. Andrew Loog Oldham doubtless prepared a cocktail of exotic drugs to inspire the Rolling Stones to successful performances in the recording studio. We find that the tights do the job pretty effectively. The only down side of course, is that you have your face pressed up against a pair of tights on a metal pole for the best part of two hours, and can't see anything much else. Still, perhaps it focuses the mind.

We recorded Easy to Leave first. It's probably the easiest song for me to sing, so a good one to start with. When I started singing I felt like I was in pretty good voice, considering the fact that my voice is probably only middling at best (although a friend of Sam's, Tory Tim, said that I sound like a 'young Peter Gabriel'!!!), but it's funny how the voice loosens up and I probably sounded better later. Nevertheless, there are some songs which are so much fun to sing because the song gives you the space to do so. Our recording of the song is really wonderful, I think - a long way from my original demo, which sounded gentle and slight - and we've managed to really give it a proper chorus; I did the vocals quickly, until we tried to overdub the last chorus, which went wrong and it took us twenty minutes to tidy it all up.

The next song, A Century, is certainly the most testing song to sing, and the first take was a bit stretched, and the first line of every verse hard to get right. In the end Ali dropped the recording in pitch and all of a sudden it was much easier. Nonetheless, it took several overdubs to get a decent vocal line (my original attempts were floppy, I am told). The song itself sounds lovely, Pete's tremolo guitar giving it a really nice feel, and my guitar solo so trebly it sounded like a sitar of all things. Low in the mix, Ali!

Having done those two the next two were easy in comparison. It's Alright I've sung so many times that I felt like I got it in one take, but Ali asked me to go back over some lines and, actually, we got them much better the second or third time. This song is the only one which we've demoed before, but this new version is tauter and more aggressive, and - with the keyboards - a much better version than the old one. It misses the harmonies, though, and it was this as much as anything that inspired us to decide to hang on a couple of weeks and come back to the backing vocals.

If I thought I'd got It's Alright in one take, then I actually did for You Should Know, or more or less. By now my voice was greatly limbered up, but also quite gravelly, which probably helped the song, as, towards the end, it all gets pretty unhinged. Listening back to this one I really felt that it's the best thing we've done - powerful, but varied, and surprisingly intricate. Best bits: the fantastic intro, the two note lead break half way through, and the lovely keyboards, which echo the vocal melody in the chorus and sound amazing.

Having done all that, I was surprised to find myself pretty knackered. Having recorded 3 times now, this is the first occasion where I've felt comfortable doing it, and confident that I was performing OK. It's not like singing at a rehearsal, much less like playing live: you have to work without adrenaline, which means it's hard to get going. I think Anne-Sophie felt that, to an extent, when she stepped up to record her first ever vocal - for the fairly brutal sounding Vine to Vine. In fact, she ran through it faultlessly, and standing next to the speakers I could hear straight away that it sounded exactly right. But the thing that makes you feel awkward and lacking confidence, when you're recording, (apart from the bloody tights) is that you don't really hear what you're doing. AS seemed perplexed when we all told her it was a really good take - but when we listened back to it, agreed that it was. I'm afraid that, however much I enjoy singing, we always sound like an indie band when I sing. With AS's vocals, which are more like Nico's than anything, we sound much less ordinary. Not that we don't sound pretty damn good when I sing, of course ;-)

Finishing (surprisingly) ahead of time, we even had time to take another look at our problem child - Engines and Anvils. Despite not being able to get a decent sound out of the 303 when we first recorded it, Anne-so managed to record her piano line a few weeks ago and, with me singing along (hoping I was doing so in the right place) Pete recorded a lovely, warm guitar part direct through the 8-track. It was the work of moments, and yet it sounded really good. So, if we can find a way to get round the 303 bass line (and Ali is going to give it a go, and, failing that, I can try with my Novation), we should be able to record my vocals and melodica when we do the rest of the backing vocals. Which, frankly, would be amazing, as I didn't think we were going to get there with this song!

In two weeks, then, we should be finished. As soon as we get it mixed I'll have CDs to send to anyone who wants one, and we'll make sure the tracks are available for download and all that. I'm really excited about hearing it all. Hurrah.

No comments: