Sunday, January 30, 2005

guitar rock, hot cross buns

Assistant convened today to record our new demo, something we've been meaning to do for a while. In the past we've done stuff at rehearsals, using Ali's 8-track recorder and a bunch of microphones, slowly doing individual takes and overdubs, a slow process.

But recently Ali has updated his equipment to a laptop, a copy of Cubase and a pod, which is a kind of big effects processor which acts as an amplifier between one's guitar and the computer; it means that, without actually making any noise, one can choose from a bewildering array of amp sounds and route them straight into Cubase. When these decisions are being made I feel awkward while the others suggest sounds. "A fender 1962", Pete says. "OK. Which cab should we use?", replies Ali. "Well, if we're using a fender amp we should really use a fender cab", Andy chips in.

I have been playing guitar since 1989 and I still don't know what a cab is. "Oh Pete", I say, "I've read this book".

Not needing to make a racket, we can do all the recordings in Pete's flat, so while sounds are identified I survey the titles in Pete's bookshelf. Geoff Dyer is good, I note, and Andy borrows that. But Ali's new set up is devilishly easy to use, so there's not much standing about. In roughly three hours we record all the guitars and bass for four of our best songs, 'What It Means', 'Drinking With You, 'Theme', and 'I'm Shit', Ali having recorded the drum tracks in advance. Anne-Sophie is on holiday so we have to wait to add the keyboards, and we'll do the vocals once they are done.

Only having done about 3/4s of the recording, then, I'm wary of declaring it a complete success. Nevertheless, it goes very well. For 'I'm Shit', which is first, I record a guide guitar line in one take before Ali and Pete record their own, more complex parts. Once done, the whole thing sounds so good that we leave my take in place. The recording sounds tight and proficient; it's a song with stops and starts, so full of holes which, live, tend to bleed outwards. Recorded they are much more exact, moments where the song hangs tantalising in the air. The song is tuneful, too, and I wonder, not for the first time, if my slightly manic vocal line will not sound incongruous. Guitars twang and chime and there's me, on top, having to sing "If you're still lying, then I'm not trying", and "fuck off" - which I may have to change. I am faint of heart.

'Theme', ah, now that one is more agressive. It has its origins in one of the first songs we wrote, and it somehow re-emerged as a very short, simple instrumental which we open the set with. We decided to record this quickly and keep it loose. In the end it sounded much more frantic than we expected, my two note intro collapsing into 20 seconds of heavy riffing before the same two notes lead the song out into an awkward collapse. We are all pleased with this, having never made an Assistant song finish on its knees before.

We stop for tea and hot cross buns. If you take a look at those photos of Pete Doherty smoking heroin at the Babyshambles recording sessions which appeared in the News of The World today, but substitite the hard drugs for sticky buns, you'll get the idea.

'Drinking With You' is incredibly easy to record. Well, for me, at least. The song has got quite an awkward rhythm, difficult to play, but I circumvent that issue by neglecting to join in - people who've seen Assistant live will recognise it as the one where I put my guitar down and do a self-conscious indie shuffle around the stage, feeling like an idiot. But Pete and Andy do a really amazing take of it; the song is surprisingly heavy, a bit crazed. At one point we try to listen to the bass line on its own and all agree that doing so makes us feel a bit sick. It is, we agree, a particularly amoral piece of bass playing. The final version will have big synthesized strings on it (no, not like that new Athlete record or whichever indie ballad that is you're thinking of) and I can't quite imagine how mad that will make the song sound. We all agree that the recording sounds better than we imagined.

Lastly, we record 'What It Means', the song which most misses Anne-So's keyboards. Her piano line holds the song together, and it's hard to imagine recording without it. But we do, and my immediate reaction was that, bit by bit and all together, this is our best song. Andy's bass line sounds sufficient on its own, and Pete's chattering guitar line and the slight melody which I play evoke something really self-assured and memorable. I'm very biased, I know, but it sounds like a hit, for god's sake. There, now everyone will hate it. I've cursed it.

We have the whole thing wrapped up in three hours. The Stone Roses took how long in the studio? Amateurs, as Ian Brown once said. As soon as the demo is complete I'll post it here. Hopefully that won't be too long.

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