The Making of ‘A Hero Of Our Time’ (Or: Why Does It Take 5 Years For Amy Blue To Record An Album?)

Yesterday, I uploaded the new Amy Blue album, A Hero Of Our Time. For most people, that’s not particularly interesting. For the band, who are not world famous or signed to a major label, it ended up becoming the difficult second album. Yet, I’m sitting here now wondering why did take so long.

Some of the songs were written as far back as 2008 but were never considered for our (shorter) first album, The Fortress & The Fatalist. That was our first trip into the studio and was of course an eye-opening experience. But having been in the studio and seeing what it takes to record, I think we all realised that there were other ways of getting the songs done without having to spend so much money and go through the stress and misery of having to plan for a full day out with cars loaded up with gear, grub and grumpy bandmates. We felt the pressure of the clock and at the time were frustrated with our bassist who failed to make any of the sessions. Simon and I recorded the bass parts ourselves, though I have never been confident of my own bass playing. Totally different discipline and I end up playing it like a six string. So inevitably, the parts weren’t complex or particularly interesting.

When we booked our studio time to record AHOOT, we didn’t have an album title in mind nor a real direction – just a bunch of songs that we’d been collecting since Trev joined the band as the new bassist. He’d brought with him a positive attitude and a sense of humour, and slotted into our dynamic well. We loaded up a couple of cars with gear, grub and tired bandmates (we weren’t grumpy at the time) and headed to Random Colours in North London to record with Rich Johnston, who’d produced our first record. This time, we’d decided with Rich to try a different approach to the recording – to capture our live sound by playing together in the open studio space. It didn’t turn out how we’d hoped.

The night before, I was pretty wound up from driving through London past lunatics and from the anticipation of recording. I didn’t sleep a wink. Recording is one of my favourite things to do, and I was looking forward to the sessions. We got to the studio early, set up, had a cup of tea, then cracked on. It was January, and the studio was freezing cold. We had fan heaters blasting and I must have drank about 10 cups of tea before lunch. We cut ‘The Language of Ghosts’ first, a song that Simon and I recorded as a two-piece for our first EP back in 2006 but as a four-piece. This version was heavier and more intense than our electro/demo version and we’d been playing it around London as a full band for a couple of years. I do generally believe that you shouldn’t go back and rerecord a song as there’s always something new to be working on, but I was particularly fond of ‘Ghosts’ and felt we could transform it into something more intense (and shoegazey, which was the original intention).

 

We recorded as quickly as possible, but by the end of the day the strain was beginning to take its toll, and I nearly collapsed during ‘Scissors’, the longest song we had. The band continued working without me while I took some time to lie down in the studio next door in the dark. I was worn out, overtired, stressed out. At the time, I wasn’t in a very good way. Lex drove me home later where I crashed out and slept like the dead. The next day we were back at the studio to continue the sessions.

After hearing the mixes, I think we all agreed that the performances were shit.

Lex was right in saying that we worked best in our rehearsal space, close together and without other parties looking over our shoulders. We needed the pressure off to do our best performances. Even though there was a bit of ‘Urgh, we have to do it all AGAIN’, we… did it again. This time, we kept things simple – recording the drums and bass and a lead guitar track. No vocals, no extra guitars to muddy the basic take. After this, we sifted through these recordings and ditched the duffers – false starts, missed beats, etc. Then comes the overdubbing, which to you recording n00bs means recording more parts on top of the basic take. Simon and I like this stage – we’re often still writing new sections or melodies up until this point, plus it gives you opportunity to experiment in your own time. Finally, the vocals go on the top and the thing gets mixed, mastered, then released.

This time, there were some decisions made that resulted in Trev leaving the band. Simon was unhappy with his part on one of the songs and ‘did a B0lly’ (as we call it) where he took the executive decision to rerecord the part himself. With all of us working, and most of our rehearsals taken up with working on a vast set of new songs that had been written in the months following the January sessions, there never seemed to be the time. I don’t think either Simon or I felt that Trev wanted to put in the extra time to redo his parts either, or that he may get upset that it was decided what he’d done wasn’t good enough. It’s very hard to talk about this sort of thing, particularly when none of us are very confrontational people. You could argue that ‘doing it yourself’ is not the way to handle this sort of situation, but of course, you aren’t in our band or know the personalities involved. In retrospect, I feel it’s a great shame that Trev decided to walk out over a pride issue, as it’s something that we should have talked about, but I don’t think he ever wanted to. He came to the mixing sessions for at least half of the songs and gave his feedback and I think he was pleased with how things were going.

We mixed for around six months. Rerecorded guitar parts. Redid vocals. Our friend Tom came in later on to help with the mixing and I think improved what we’d done a great deal. By the end of 2012, the record was pretty much done with the exception of the artwork. At this point, I sat on it, listening to it over and over and agonising over various things that irked me. I sent it to friends around the world and asked what they thought. The thing got sidelined for a bit while I was playing in A Thousand Knives, and for my short attention span had become a bit stale after 18 months of new songs and jamming that Amy Blue had done before Lex and Simon took a break during last year. We reconvened before I headed out to Japan for an all day recording session, with Tom on bass, and got about 15 tracks on tape. Look for that in 2018!

I’m glad AHOOT is finally out there. It was a slog, but I doubt you’ll hear any of that in a 3 minute pop-punk song. Simon really carried the weight on this one – the artwork (I’d also like the thank AJ for helping out with the cover design), the title, the extensive recordings. It is very much his baby and we’re both proud of it.

 

Iron Man Never Has To Deal With This Sort Of Shit, Usually.

 

Tony Stark meets his biggest fan

They say never meet your heroes. In this case, quite literally. Jaxson Denno (as an aside, what kind of name is that? Sounds completely made up) was aghast to discover that Tony Stark was in fact just a man. A MAN, DAMMIT. Seriously though, the suit chafes the inner thighs. It’s a bit rich to expect a billionaire philanthropist to be wearing that thing all day long.

I’ll let the photo speak for itself, Mr. Frowny. Of course, this kid’s life is going to be hell from here on out.

“The ratings for the first series started poorly and went downhill from there…” – Alan Partridge & The Alpha Papa Mystery

 

 

Well, it’s finally happening. The Alan Partridge movie. Ruddy bloody good!

I’m sure like most fans of Alan, we all feel a little uneasy about how it’s going to turn out even though it’s in the capable hands of Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham. Ninety minutes is a long time to fill with quality broadcasting.

The teaser trailer that appeared online earlier today didn’t have me brimming with hope. I can see what they’re trying to do, appealing to the big-eared boys on farms, council estates and the offices up and down the land, but the lame parody tone, dim lighting and quick fire editing doesn’t feel remotely Partridge. It’ll be a one-off I’m sure for those who aren’t die-hard fans, but I’m wondering if they aren’t shooting themselves in the foot by trying to aim to the wrong demographic. Yes, I suppose I am a stubborn old fart having been watching Coogan/Partridge since his first TV apperance in The Day Today.

Two other things about the trailer that boiled my piss: it wasn’t funny, and it features Tim Key.

 

Ever since I saw Key reading his naff “ironic” poems on Screen Wipe, there was something about this bearded prig that didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it’s the self-aware, smug attitude. If you’ve seen Mid-Morning Matters, he’s not like Michael for instance, someone who acts as a foil for Alan’s barbed snobbery. He’s just a git.

That said, there’s no way I’m going to miss this. ‘Welcome to the Places of My Life’ was a triumph, with some inspired writing (the nazi saluting dogs and the local market scenes were two of my favourite moments), so here’s hoping that it doesn’t become a watered down episode or over-extends itself like the biography which was short on laughs.

If it’s successful, we can always hope for more Alan. A friend of mine emailed me today saying a Kickstarter needs to be set up for a spin-off Lynn film. The financial goal?

Nine-and-a-half thousand pounds.

Trent Reznor on the making of The Fragile

I’m sitting on thousands of files that I’ve cut and pasted from various websites and newsgroups over the years, and stumbled across a few gems this morning in the archive. It’s interesting for me at least with NIN returning as a live act at Fujirock in July (which I’m hoping to get to go to and review). It’s actually cobbled together from a few cut/pastes around 1998, a year before it was released, but I’ve rewritten parts of it where it sounded like a 5 year old had typed it up. While it doesn’t enlighten you to any rarities or odd stories about studio excess, it does at least feature a couple of Trent Reznor quotes. Enjoy, and comment below.

When Nine Inch Nails recorded Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, the audio tracks were not recorded digitally, but to analogue tapes. The album was later sequenced on a Mac Plus. Their second album The Downward Spiral was a different case. It was completely recorded digitally, just like Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar, which Reznor produced in 1995 in his New Orleans studio.

“Instead of recording to tapes, I played parts of the songs into my computer and after that I could make loops and stuff,” Reznor says. “If you want to write a song, just put a loop from a drum track, and then add bass and guitars into it. After that you can do whatever you like with the song: use samples, put on the vocals and so on. This way it’s easy to make remixes of a song when you have the basis of it saved in your computer.”

On his third album The Fragile, Reznor will be recording the tracks digitally as well, but he has something new in mind too. He’s going to use different background vocalists, guest musicians and many real and exotic instruments. “I’ve gathered pieces from many different music styles in these few years and I’m trying to find a way to mix them.” Trent didn’t feel he was breaking new ground writing merely on piano, which could explain why he’s drafted in a host of guest musicians to give the record a new flavour.

Trent talked about his upcoming album saying they’ve finished 20 songs, and recorded 25 more demos for what could possibly be a double album. Adrian Belew, Helmet’s Page Hamilton, Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin, Power Station drummer Tony Thompson, and David Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson all have contributed to the recordings. NIN veteran Charlie Clouser and Danny Lohner return as well.

As for the sound of the record, Trent says it’s like “Tom Waits on a bayou filtered through a funk blender and slowed down.” He also admitted that The Fragile is “not as knee-jerk muscle-flexingly angry” as his past work, but to “never fear, it doesn’t sound like a band playing. We went to incredible lengths pushing technology to do things it shouldn’t do.” The album is due out in June [NB: it was actually released in September 1999, over a year after this was written].

Trent was also approached by R&B singer Aaliyah to produce a track on her upcoming album. No word on if he’ll do it. Sister Soleil has collaborated with Trent in New Orleans on a song for the movie Stigmata, he’s also been asked to mix some material from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, a project put together by producer Mike Simpson, Prince Paul and The Automator.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars new strip ‘Lockdown’ update

Hello all. Sorry for no updates recently, but I’m currently going through some big “life changes”. No, I’m not turning into a horse or a Sith Lord or anything (even though turning into a Sith Lord would be awesome), but I am going freelance from April to concentrate on writing. You can expect lots of cool comic projects from me in the coming year.

With that said, my latest Clone Wars strip, ‘Lockdown’ is being drawn by the extremely talented Andres Ponce, who has done an absolutely amazing job so far. I’ve only seen the first 6 pages of pencils that my editor Mark sent me, but he’s really managed to put on the page exactly what I saw in my head.

Returning to the comic will be Volas Das, the villainous bounty hunter who’s been doing his own freelancing for the Separatists. He’s not got the run of the ship in this new story though, and is instead banged up in a wretched hive of scum and villainy: the prison level on the Tempestuous, a Republic ship heading back to Coruscant.

I won’t give the game away, but you should see this story in the UK and US Clone Wars comics in the next few months. I’ll update this post with the date as soon as I know!

If you want some info on the previous stories in the Hypermatters Saga, go here and here.

Django Unchained (and Tarantino In Rage)

I’ve been speaking to a few people today about Tarantino’s oeuvre now that Django Unchained is hitting cinemas any time now. One friend of mine considers most of his films crap, and that’s produced nothing of merit since Pulp Fiction. Personally, I like some more than others. I find Reservoir Dogs tiresome, mainly because of the endless monologue about Like A Virgin and the over-parodied “slow walk” during the first 10 minutes. Jackie Brown didn’t do much for me either. But I do think True Romance (which he scripted) brilliant, and in the hands of the now-dead Tony Scott, the cast really bled for that film.

Kill Bill 2 was a waste of time as well.

Despite those, I liked Death Proof, which I consider underrated. Kurt Russell is great in that film, a really nasty piece of work. The structure is rather odd, and is so in both versions (The original ‘Grindhouse’ version misses about half an hour of story, including an interesting lapdance).

Kill Bill 1 I loved, and not because of the Japanese influences.

Pulp Fiction’s praise is justified.

Inglorious Basterds was superb. Who doesn’t love Christoph Platz?

The Channel 4 news interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy that aired tonight saw the man coming out swinging when questioned about his attitude towards violence in cinema, something which he claimed he’d gone on record about too many times already. Get Googling. And as usual, it takes the media to point out things like Newtown that eclipsed the news at the end of 2012, as something they believe violent movies (not to mention video games) as influencing.

It’s absolute crap, isn’t it?

During the first 10 years of my life, I’d played a lot of computer games, but the only violence I’d ever seen was not on television but in the school yard. Children can be nasty pieces of work, and coupled with an abusive homelife, to turn around and blame Double Dragon or Street Fighter II seems a bit rich.

I’ve played over 100 hours of Borderlands 2 recently, and I’ve never even considered shooting anyone. What disturbs me is the oversimplification of mental illness that permeates the media every day, written by someone who has no knowledge or interest in the facts beyond the headlines.

Image

I was most surprised that the fact that Django Unchained probably features the most uses of the word n*gger by a white director to be a more of an interesting debate than QT’s use of violence. The gunfights are so stylised and OTT, that it’s impossible not to enjoy them. It’s comic book+, not Hostel or A Clockwork Orange. It’s a classic revenge movie, not sadistic like Grotesque or The Human Centipede. Once again, the quick grab headline is going to be about QT raging on British TV, telling the interviewer he’s getting his “butt shut down” for asking stupid questions, which is sad because they had the opportunity to ask one of best living director’s about his art and blew it.

Django Unchained is the best film I’ve seen this year. It may even be the best film I saw in the past 12 months. The cast are excellent (with the exception of QT himself, who just HAD to write himself a cameo yet can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag) – with nods to Jamie Foxx and Christoph Platz who are surprisingly muted compared to the foul-mouthed racists Don Johnson and Leo DiCaprio.

The violence is over the top and bloody. It’s probably the most blood-soaked QT flick yet, but it’s also the most tightly plotted and satisfying.

I’m not a generous man, but it was a 9/10 for me. Can’t wait for what he’s got in store next time.

I really need to stop watching ガキの使い, but it’s so damn funny.

I know this one is going to take some explaining.

I’m addicted to a TV show that you’ve never heard of, seen or even imagined. It’s Japanese, so for those who do know me that’ll be somewhat of a non-revelation. It’s a weekly comedy show and has been running continuously since October 3, 1989 on NTV. And it’s so damn strange that a critical analysis for a gaijin such as yourself is going to make me sound like the mentalist for liking it in the first place.

First up, the title just trips off the tongue: Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!). Downtown are a comedy duo who’ve spent pretty much the last 20-plus years on Japanese TV, and are probably the most popular comedians working there today. Perhaps only Beat Takeshi is more popular, though for Western audiences we know him as a brutal gangster, bastard of a policeman or a guy in a funny hat who presides over a castle where people snap ribs trying to break in

It’s through that show that I came to find out about Gaki no Tsukai (the shorter, more Brit-friendly way I pronounce the show’s title). As a child, I used to like shows like Crush A Grape, Fun House and It’s a Royal Knockout (repeats). Today, that’s replaced by Total Wipeout on BBC1 presented by Richard Hairmond. If you’ve not seen Takeshi’s Castle, you’re missing a really funny/painful/public humiliation/trial of the human spirit/wtf? tv show. The UK edition is narrated by Craig Charles and has been running on digital for quite a few years now.

Once I’d had my fill of that, I was out of ideas of what to watch next. Not knowing any Japanese (at the time), there’s no way you can just google this stuff up. Then I was told about Gaki‘s ‘infamous’ batsu games. Check this out:

Gaki’s stars, the duo known as Downtown (Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada) hail from Osaka, the lovely foodie part of Japan. Having been there and eaten the udon, I can vouch for the friendly atmosphere and people, and the less hectic lifestyle compared to Tokyo. The concept of the batsu developed early on, when one of the pair would lose a bet and be forced to accept a punishment. Often this would be something ridiculous like Matsumoto dressing up as the NTV bird and providing the beeeeep! of the colour test, to Hamada having to fly to France in a day to retrieve Evian from the glacier where it comes from. Then things started to get more serious. As in, funnier.

The first big televised event was in March 2000, where Hamada, plus three other cast members (the duo Cocorico, and the hard done-to Hosei Yamasaki, a favourite of mine) had to spend 24 hours playing tag in a school gymnasium. The twist in this case was that the taggers, once you were caught, would then exact an awful, and often painful, punishment upon the victim.

Full video, with subtitles:

[continued…]

CAN DAVID MITCHELL (AND GALLIUM-KNIGHT) KINDLY FUCK OFF NOW, PLEASE?

When I was toying with the idea of a blog, back in February of this year, I went down the tumblr route, before giving up after a single entry. And here it is:

In 2005, my American girlfriend at the time introduced me to a then barely-known London-based sitcom called Peep Show. Initially balking at the idea of sitting through yet another too-trendy-for-you-sir late night comedy, I found myself rather enjoying it. Then liking it. Then loving it. A few years later I considered myself a fan.

Then it went off air for a bit and I directed my attentions towards Lost or Battlestar Galactica or some other such balls that would end up crapping into my open mouth when their finales eventually appeared online to illegally download.

But then something happened. There was another Peep Show. Except it wasn’t anywhere near as funny.

In fact, it was about as funny as being held down by a gang of thugs taking turns squeezing a bicycle pump that’s attached to your bell-end. Unlike A Bit of Fry And LaurieBottomAlas… Smith and Jones, and many other duo-centric comedies that used to be made for eight quid on the Beeb, I find myself sitting in front of ball-saggingly lame catchphrase gags covered up by over-zealous canned laughter. It was called That Mitchell And Webb Look.

At this point I realised these guys were on the slide. Hammered home further when I saw the universally-panned Magicians advertised on the side of a 157 bus.

Around this point in my life I became a boring cunt and started listening to Radio 4. At least, until the oft hilarious (in a boring cunt-ish way) Just A Minute started inviting David Mitchell onto its panel.

Weekly.

He then pops up on QIHave I Got News For YouMock the WeekThe Big Fat Quiz of the Year (presented by self-confessed shit-eater Jimmy Carr). Jonathan RossThe One ShowThe Graham Norton ShowLily Allen And Friends. The man has no shame.

Open the Guardian. I dare you. Because if you do, you’ll see a fat, gap-toothed smug face staring out at you inviting you to listen to why he thinks the world is a big pile of shit and how you can save it by buying some Premium Bonds, or why we should stop slagging off his friend Elizabeth Allen, or 8 Hilarious Olympic Lampoon Movies, etc.

If you don’t believe me that this man is ubiquitous, then take a look at his probably self-penned Wikipedia entry.

I’m playing it safe. I’ve stopped reading The Guardian. Or watching the telly. Or listening to Radio 4. David Mitchell craves publicity more than Adolf Hitler, and I for one have no interest in saluting him any time soon.

In response to the above comparison, I fully expect him to write a widely-celebrated article about how we always compare complete gits to Adolf Hitler. He may as well. I won’t be reading it.

(end post)

Not expecting anyone to read it, I forgot about it until today. When I noticed a scathing response by a Whomo Tumblrist called gallium-knight.

His response, which I will post below, doesn’t seem to have any discernible purpose other than to wish me to choke on my own bile. I don’t regularly bring up bile, nor have I ever produced enough that I would end up pulling a Jimi Hendrix/dead bloke from AC/DC.

“It takes a sort of radiant, once-in-a-generation sort of mind to compare a British comedian with Hitler. It’s made all the more brilliant because I’ve never gotten tired of hearing everyone compare everything else with Hitler. Trademark brilliant writing: hyperbole meets cliche.

How dare David Mitchell appear on talk shows he’s been invited to. Bastard. I hope he chokes on his beard; but not as much as I hope you choke on your bile, Ghostlanguage.”

First of all, ‘gotten’ is not a word, except in American vernacular, which is inherently incorrect.

Secondly, I’d like you to name another Hitler/UK comedian comparison. Please do.

Finally, ‘cliche’ is not a word either. You’ve actually made up a new word that rhymes with quiche. Hyperbole Meets Cliche sounds like a Louis Theroux documentary where an illiterate meets a complete twat from the United States. Like your good self.

His response was posted under ‘A Brief Demonstration Of Terrible Writing’. Couldn’t have been more apt.

Out In The Borderlands [Part 2] (Or: Avoiding Sunlight To Get To Level 50)

Well, shit.

Last night, I finally hit LV50 on Borderlands 2 after much grinding, farming, killing, looting and shooting. And do I feel satisfied?

Do I balls.

It’s taken about 70 hours to finally get to this landmark (unlike these guys who shunned all form of social contact despite sitting in the same room together for 43 hours… think of the BO smell), and along the way I’ve been relatively fortunate to not meet many dicks online playing it. There have been a few. Those who join the server, try to change the mission to something they want to do, and when you change it back to what it was originally, get in the huff and quit. Then there are The Hoovers, the sort of player who joins your game just as you’re polishing off a difficult enemy to rush at the loot pressing their E key frantically as they hoover up all the decent guns. Then they log off. Dicks.

The more astute readers of this blog may have noticed that the guy I’m playing with in that pic, Joker, was about to die just as I was enjoying my moment of triumph and may find it a bit ironic I’m talking about dicks in BL2 when I wasn’t reviving him. WELL, EXCUUUUUUSE ME. He’s one of guys I regularly play with, and he was down below getting hammered by Goliaths while I was up top killing easier foes. He made LV50 about an hour later, so I think he’s fine.

Borderlands 2 is a game that involves shooting guns and overcoming “objectives”.

Later in this session, a player joined who’d already completed all the main quests and had been repeatedly killing Terramorphous the Invincible (that’s a lie, btw) to farm Legendary Weapons, threw us a couple of bones. And when I say bones, I mean Legendary Weapons. I’d not actually seen a single orange weapon in 70+ hours of playthrough, and it was great to meet someone who was happy to give us a couple for nothing. He was sitting on a huge stash of them in the bank, so it was no big deal for him.

We gave Terra a run for his money shortly after, and I found him to be less of a pain in the arse than Crawmerax in BL1. Without a hacked gun, Craw could take 20 minutes to kill legit if you were just running around him firing aimlessly and blasting his spawn. Some of his loot is rather good though – all LV50, and plenty of purple and blue drops. Still, I didn’t see an orange in the wild – it’s likely one of the other three players hoovered it in the first few seconds when the body hadn’t even hit the ground.

Now the ceiling has been hit and the big bad vanquished, what’s left? 25 side missions, and the final boss again. And, lucky for me (but not my social life), the new DLC is due this week. Saddle up, Apone.