Day Three. May 20, 2016. Today we finished the basic band tracks. After yesterdays session had gone more than just smoothly, we had only two more songs on the agenda, ‘Discovering Ice’ and ‘Darkness’, a 9 minute monster of a song (Yes, you read correctly, 9 minutes).
Both pieces were done by the early afternoon and it was time for Max and Daniel to leave as we set up René’s guitar rig. Additionally to his pedal board, we set up two Vox AC 30’s, a Fender Blues Junior Deluxe and a Backstar Amp and started working on sounds and ideas. For me that meant just hanging out in the control room, listening and occasionally giving quality feedback like “nah, I don’t like that sound” or “make more noise”. Writing about it now, it makes me think about this story of Alfred Hitchcock I once heard. In one of his movies, the female lead was supposed to walk down a long staircase and Hitchcock instructed her to “walk like you’re a wardrobe”. Asked what he meant, he only replied “well, darls, you do know what a wardrobe is, right? Well, then walk like one!” I suppose this is the level of helpfulness my feedback is achieving.
We continued to work until late at night, only interrupted by the occasional smoking break and some dinner later on. Actually we worked to the point that René’s fingers began to swell and he couldn’t play anymore. It was apparently clearly time to rest. My biggest problem, however, was my back. Having sat on a (quite comfy) sofa all day, the only time I had really moved about was when I needed the toilet and by the time the sun went down, I began to pay the price in terms of back pain. Yippee and good night.
Day Four. May 21, 2016. We basically continued where we left off yesterday. René finished his guitar parts and smiled at the prospect of being able to rest his fingers for a while as he took over recording duties from Kay. He had a festival to play with his band Liza & Kay and was forced to leave at around 2pm. After about two days of doing nought, it was finally my turn to add something to the album, a couple of rhythm guitars and keys were on the agenda. The guitar-recording, however, turned out to be frustrating, as we simply couldn’t find the right sounds we were looking for. We tried different guitars (Stratocasters, Telecasters, a Dot, a Gretsch and a Les Paul), different amps, different pedals and different set-ups and nothing really seemed to work. After about three hours we decided it was maybe time to postpone the electric guitars and record keys first.
Recording keys is mostly fun, but, especially when it comes to piano, it’s a challenge for me, as it’s been a long time that I’ve properly played piano in a band. I usually play solo, so I need to play in a way that the piano fills the room. With a band, however, you need to do much less, in fact, you have to do much less, which is something I needed to get used to again. René charmingly called it “don’t play Elton John, John” or “you sound like Elton!”. And he is right, I do have the tendency to play little licks here and there where they don’t belong or just cheese up a song. As I said, the main part of my concentration went into not playing too much. Recording Hammond B3 sounds was a different challenge altogether, as I don’t have too much experience when it comes to styles and, safe to say, I’m not exactly the reincarnation of Jon Lord, so it took us a while to figure out what to play. First attempts were badly played and later attempts were sometimes too gospely. When do you use the rotary? How often do you use it? Again, René saved me from myself here and there and even though he looks pissed of in this one picture that was taken… he really wasn’t… I think. Haha. Around 11:30pm we decided to call it a day and continue the following day. By the time I got home I was really looking forward to some Xbox playing and a beer, but to be open with you, I almost fell asleep at the attempt of even starting up my console, so I went to bed instead.
Day Five. May 22, 2016. Sunday. Nothing like sleeping long and then spending the rest of day on your sofa. Well, dream on, John. The alarm clock pulled me out of my dreams at 8 am and it felt like I hadn’t slept at all. I picked up René a little later and he looked just like I felt. We were joined by Kay and started recording some more keyboards before we went on to acoustic guitars.
While Sophomore was an album based around me and my acoustic guitar, Ghosts will be much different with much less strumming and fingerpicking. In total, only five out of ten songs will feature an acoustic at all, so we didn’t have much to do, especially since two of the songs are in my regular live set and I was so used to playing them that we only had to look for a good sound rather than playing certain parts over and over again. The only challenge turned out to be a song called ‘Pictures’ which is based on a fingerpicking riff that I basically stole from Paul Simon’s Simon & Garfunkel days. The problem was not playing it, but timing. I am probably the worlds’ worst guitarist when it comes to staying in one tempo. I keep picking up pace, especially when I fingerpick and especially when I don’t have any drums to show me the beat. So this took a while.
After keys and acoustic guitars we ordered some Asian food and sat outside, Kay René and myself. Today was a beauty of a day and we really felt bad about spending it all indoors. Before too long, though, we had to get back to work and start with some vocals. Again, we started with songs that I had already performed live to get into a groove. Singing, however, man, it’s hard, especially when you’re not performing live but recording an album. See, when you play live, everyone, including the performer is in a kind of mood, in tune, mostly having a good time. You’re actually IN the moment. If you miss a not or if a phrasing doesn’t work, who cares, really? I like singers and performers who are anything but perfect. Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Fallon, they all miss notes when they perform live and nobody gives a shit. On the album, however, when you’re home, it sucks. So certain lines have to be repeated over and over again and while it did go relatively fast, it is exhausting. We recorded vocals for about four hours and managed to get three songs done, which is, if I am not mistaken, quite a good tempo, but tiring nonetheless. At about 9:30 I had enough and my voice was shot, so, for the first time during this production, I headed home before the sun had completely set. Tomorrow we start late and also have our first guests coming into the studio. This is going to be very exciting. Good night, folks!