Hey, Billy here.
I thought I’d tell the tale of recording our new album The Homeward Stretch, mainly because it was recorded in August 2008 and my memory is not that reliable. So as a matter of record, here goes.
Pre-production involved discussions with the band and Lee Prebble the engineer. Just to note, Lee is responsible for recording the likes of The Black Seeds and The Phoenix Foundation, safe to say, he knows his stuff. Originally we were going to spend two weeks in Lee’s studio ‘The Surgery’. But as it got closer to the time we realised there was no way we’d be able to afford it – not that Lee hadn’t given us a great deal, but we were … financially disadvantaged.
Eventually we settled on five days, commencing Friday August 22, three days to record and two days to mix. Lunacy, but all we could manage. Betty and I arrived bright and breezy at 10am. She with hamper and homemade goodies, I with discreetly hidden bottles of beer, wine and a sneaky scotch. I forget what the scotch was, but it was of high quality and quite delicious.
At some stage we got down to business, Al Fraser on bass, Ben Fulton on guitars and effects pedals and Janet Holborow on cello. Ben’s electric guitar amplifier was off in another room and Janet was locked away in an isolation booth, this was to get some form of separation sonically as we were recording ‘live’ – everyone playing together at the same time. Al’s bass was plugged straight into the desk and Betty and I settled in our assigned positions surrounded by microphones and cups of tea.
The first tune recorded was Memento Mori, we did two takes and had a listen back. I was doubtful of my harmonies but everyone else was happy, it was suggested that I be less self-critical, after all we had loads of songs to get through and quality control was going to have to be realistic. I still thought I’d flubbed my vocals … it turned out I had, in fact we were both singing flat! We fixed this in the mix by overdubbing just our vocals and blending them in. You can still hear it a little, like it’s been, well, double tracked, in the choruses. However it was a viable fix and sounds like an intentional effect now. Phew. But at the time I got a touch angsty. I seem to recall the phrase ‘prima donna’ being used. Hrumph! Not the best of starts. Whoops.
We hit our stride after that, we recorded about four or five tunes in the first day. Often we’d do three takes and pick the best one. On a couple of occasions a take would be going REALLY well and then someone would fall off and train wreck the whole thing. Twice I think, we elected to back up and let Lee drop us in on the take. Technically making those songs not purely live. But a whole lot more live than multi-tracking! We went through to 7.00pm or there abouts, ate a big lunch in there somewhere and would have had at least a couple of beers. The whiskey probably got a look in too.
On day two we cranked through some more tunes, I think we stopped on a couple of them to let Ben do some guitar overdubs while still in the moment, rather than leaving it to the very end and then going back. This really paid off on songs like Pickle Pot, Deliverance and Mercy where Ben’s guitar parts meld together beautifully. Actually Ben’s guitar work throughout is absolutely splendid, he’s a tasteful player who also designs and makes his own range of guitar effects pedals.
Janet was kept busy sculpting cello parts, often overdubbing extra parts to compensate for the lack of our violinist, Shona (Janet’s sister), who was unfortunately away on holiday. Incidentally Janet and Shona have a mad gypsy trio called The Crimson Club.
Al, soul brother, foul-mouthed mother and the bringer of the bass kept things light and crazy. He’s a straight talking type of chap, helpful for a procrastinating fool like myself, and when he’s not laying down the smooth groove with us he’s making traditional Maori musical instruments and playing them in his contemporary ensemble Tahu.
Saturday was a bit of a blur, I think Kirsten from Aunt Daisy’s Boathouse Cafe delivered us some food at some stage. Maybe Lee had a gig and had to go early, or perhaps we had a couple of beers to finish the day. Something. No, Lee’s gig was Friday, Saturday was when Janet pulled in a buddy of hers to come and play piano accordion on our epic song Braille. Brilliant! Sunday was an odd day, it kicked off with finger snaps to Pickle Pot and some rather loose egg shaker on Chestnut. That song, folky and funky as it is, gets faster and faster towards the end. Playing shaker to that first thing in the morning was a giggle. We did quite a few overdubs, Lee graced three of the tunes with his tripped out lap steel guitar drones and I managed to convince Rhian Sheehan to come and play glockenspiel on the end of Chestnut. Raashi Sheehan blitzed the vocal harmonies for Bangers and Mash and did a cameo spot in Mercy where the verse is “Mother …” (Raashi was pretty pregnant with her first baby at the time). At some stage a rather bleary eyed Kirsten Johnstone wandered in, drank coffee, cranked out some flute lines and then went home to bed. That’s how she rolls. Ben was rescued from the pouring rain after having ‘lost his way’ the night before. But was in fine form for a touch of cunning over-dubbery.
I think we might have even finished early on the Sunday. Crazy.
Monday and Tuesday were spent in the mix room. Mainly Lee and myself, with some very welcome and well timed food and opinion deliveries from Betty. It all gets very hard to pinpoint here. Up a bit, down a bit, sideways a bit. Lee, bless him, what a patient guy. Mixing is boring/fascinating, if you nod off you miss something truly cool. I witnessed some classic Lee Prebble production styles and we did a very nice pass dubbing out the tune Blackbird Revisited through his space echo. Well, he dubbed it out while I whooped enthusiastically.
All in all, productive, fruitful, fantastic.
We eventually did a last minute mix fix session the following week. Or the next day. Something.
A three-way of sorts, Lee, Betty and me. Sorting out the finer details.
Two weeks after that it was mastered.
And soon, gentle reader, we shall unleash it upon you.