One busy day in the studio!

Had a really fun studio session today. It was with Andrew Buckton, a singer/songwriter who lives in Bath. I’ve played with Buck for years, and been on his last two albums. We did Greenbelt together last year.

This was his first recording project for about 4 years, and was designed to be very low maintainance – one day to record everything, just him, me, Jez on piano/keys and Tom Hooper on drums.

So we set up in Jez’ home studio this morning and got to work. We’d not heard any of the songs ahead of time, so the form with each track was for Buck to play it, or at least a bit of the verse and chorus, we chat about possible arrangement ideas, sometimes try out a few bars of a particular idea, then hit record and go. Lots of the tunes were first take, one take jobs, which is particularly satisfying. Only one actually had an edit in the middle – we re-did the instrumental playout on one song to change the chord progression we were playing to. On most of them, there’ll be the occasional bar of bass/guitar or keys that needs cutting ‘n’ copying from elsewhere in the song just to tidy up the timing, but for the most part it was all done there and then – solos were recorded live, Any track that needed bass note and chords from me was played that way in real time with no looping – i just came up with ways of voice the chords to be able to play both. It was a very fun challenge.

Bass-wise I used all three Moduluses, and just for fun wedged a bit of foam under the strings near the bridge on the four string – it sounded amazing! I’m definitely going to keep the foam in my bag for studio sessions in future. Made the bass feel very different to play, and the sound was fantastic – much more old-school sound.

A couple of the tracks had fun slidey fretless lines, one had a really incessant fast 16th not octave pattern (which was the first time I got to try out recording this thumb-down, thumb-up, index finger, middle finger sequence on someone else’s music, using it to play two notes on the low note then two on the octave, playing 16s at about 120bpm, which was harder than if we’d been doing it at 180, as it’s a technique that lends itself most readily to daft-fast playing.)

I took my whole live rig with me – loopers, mixing desk ‘n’ all. Didn’t use any of the loopage, but did need the mixing desk to set up monitoring for myself and buck, and used a couple of the channels on the desk as preamps for acoustic guitar and keyboard. The moral of the story is TAKE EVERYTHING to a studio session. I always take whatever I might possibly in my wildest imagination need. If you don’t use it, it’s good exercise carrying it to and from the car anyway. Be prepared – I was a cub-scout, and a crap one, but I do try and stick to that bit of the motto…

The arranging side of the session was as much fun as the playing – Buck, like most singer/songwriters, tends to favour certain kinds of feels and guitar strumming patterns, so the challenge is finding ways to subvert that into another style that a) suits his voice and the melody and b) says something about the subject matter. Buck’s songs are often pretty bleak, sometimes with a redemptive twist at the end. Others are more devotional spiritual songs. Lovely stuff that requires and deserves sensitive arrangements. I think today we did the best job we’ve done on any of his albums. Tom Hooper played beautifully on drums, and was a delight to play with – very relaxed feel, fantastic timimg and a great sound. And he’s a nice bloke – what more could one want from a drummer??

So now it’s down to jez to do the mixing – tidy up the audio files, get the levels sorted, add reverb, compression, EQ and any other processing that might need doing, and probably add a keyboard overdub or two. I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product, and of course, I’ll let you know when it’s available!

Soundtrack – Lucy Kaplansky, ‘Ten Year Night’.

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