Amy Blue: Where Is The Unwinding?

I haven’t checked the dates, but I think we recorded all the backing tracks for The Unwinding between 2012-2014, with the addition of Simon and Lex working together to lay down barebone tracks for many other songs since then with the intention of me overdubbing them and then doing a mix. So what is the hold up? I know Simon is deeply frustrated by me “dropping off the face of the earth”, which is essentially what I have done. There was a bit of to-and-fro’ing between places that has obviously caused delays, then me investing a huge amount of time in playing competitive MTG (which I stopped as soon as Covid turned up and ruined everything).

There was also the band I started in London with Dan Clancy (of Painting of Ships fame: they’re still going). This band, A Thousand Knives, was more of a Raconteurs type experiment while Simon and Lex were unavailable. T*** had fucked off by this point so there was no pressure to be working on anything at that time, around 2012. I was still in London at the time and was walking randomly one day towards London Bridge station when I bumped into Dan in the street. We had one of those “we should do something together” chats, which you always know means you won’t do anything together, but in fact a couple of months later we were in the rehearsal studio that Amy Blue used and loved which has now gone in Balham. Tom Parr, who came to the very first Amy Blue show and was a longtime friend of Simon joined us on bass. We had no drummer, and only 3 songs, one of which was not a song. No words.

I wrote something called “Turns Out Yr Wrong”, a 3 chord wonder, for Dan because I wanted him to smash out some chords on his Tele. It’s a grim, bitter little number about someone I knew at the time who was a complete cunt who would not shut up, and was creepily sycophantic towards people she felt she could get things from. The song took on different power and meaning later on, but after finding a great drummer called Stu, who I’m sad I didn’t stay in touch with, we recorded perhaps 4-5 demos without vocals with the intention of doing a gig later on.

When the gig swung around, I buggered my ankle by falling down the stairs in my house in Anerley. The gig was on the other side of town and I texted the other 3 to just run through the numbers and I hoped I would be in good enough condition to play at the gig itself which was probably a week later. It got back to me somehow (I forget, it was 10 years ago) that they didn’t do anything with the songs, and I was incensed that we had spent 6 months working hard to prepare for the gig for the three of them to not even bother to rehearse the songs for the show. So I, rather spitefully, took the huff. Shortly after, I fucked off out the UK for 6 months and washed my hands of it all.

Amy Blue were (and still are) a going concern, so I was working on some new things in the countryside with a new amp and no neighbours to annoy. One song, ‘Stabbed In The Back’ came out of this, and was to be played live with ATK II and recorded twice by AB. It is one of the few finished tracks for The Unwinding.

We have always planned the album to be much broader and longer than our previous. Plus, recording ideas, jams, and partial songs and then using these as the basis for our album became very exciting for me as we had spent a long time playing the same song over and over again in the 00’s which Simon and I were bored of, causing conflict with all the weekend bassists who came in to play who were reticent to try anything new. The only person who had the chops for jumping into the deep end was Tom, who after ATK joined us for some sessions and we got some great takes recorded on songs without names.

We’ve also been doing some song-swapping, such as me singing on Simon’s song ‘Low Low Low’ and him doing vocals on ‘Secrets’, which has transformed from the original riffy thing I came up with to something much more sinister, very fitting for the record.

The record has probably been much harder to work on because there has been a lot of soul searching and growing up and life changes going on behind it. There have been several occasions where I found the thought of getting up in the morning very difficult, and my motivation has been low when it comes to doing anything at all, let alone write and record songs. I’ve been stuck in a loop of reading JG Ballard, Michael Moorcock, history books, watching documentaries, and found myself getting sucked into watching every single Hammer and giallo movie ever made (of which I should write two books and/or blogs). Plus, Destiny has taken up a lot of my time since I gave up MTG. Moving to the country has been a struggle; not being able to see my friends or family. I am disconnected and lonely. It would be good to channel this into something, but the honesty of such feelings makes it more difficult to capture now. Instead, I have been trying to avoid it by working on black comedy for my friend’s ears only: 2 albums (one about Corona, one about Trump), plus 2 audio books (one about Corona, one about Omicron) which came out of fits of depressive-creativity on an up day.

On a down day, nothing happens. At all. Maybe just walking the dog.

The irony is I already have enough songs for the follow up record as my brain doesn’t just STOP. There will always be new music. I am glad to not be playing live anymore as I said in my 20s that I never wanted to see fat 40 year old rockers on stage. And yet McCartney is headling Glasto or something again this year. There will come a time when all of the legends are gone and whatever is left will not be rock or feature guitars. As for what I’m listening to these days? Last week: The Wall. Last night: Secondhand Daylight.

Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’: Forgiveness on a global scale

I’ve been listening to every Bowie album I own back-to-back in the closed sound booth that is my car. There’s an 80s-shaped gap in the discography with the exception of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. 90s? No Tin Machine, Earthling or the drab Heathen and Hours. Check out Last.fm kids: listeners steer well clear of these albums like they’ve been sprayed with hot excrement.

When the Beeb aired the nearly-excellent documentary Five Years a few months back, it was rather telling that they didn’t bother to cover anything after the release of the Niles Rodger’s produced Let’s Dance album. Five years in a period of ten, basically. There’s been no critical reappraisal of his Nine Inch Nails-inspired industrial concept album 1. Outside, nor did follow up 2. Contamination see release likely because Mr. Jones feared a further critical mauling. I have a soft spot for Outside because it coincided with my own discovery of the Duke and the Rez, but it is ten tracks too long. There’s a great album trapped in filler. For an artist that has always been tight when it comes to extras and never released a double LP, Outside is unusually flabby and suffers from a lack of self-editing. Now we’ve got playlists, so the Segue dross can be happily excised.

Five Years was knackered for me by the inclusion of total gobshite and public masturbator John Harris, hilariously credited as ‘journalist and author’. Bowie doesn’t give interviews and loathed giving them during his prolific periods, so it’s incredible that the documentary makers included this utter bellend who has no credentials other than ownership of a Best Of from the HMV Christmas sale. “It’s magical – he’s seen the cosmos in the bus stop” spurts forth the strangled cock on ‘Life On Mars’. “To be on Dick Cavett meant you had arrived.” How do you know, Harris? You’re British, for fucks sake. You weren’t even born or in the right country when this interview aired. Nor did any Brits know who the hell Dick Cavett was, or is. Thank you for wasting valuable screen time when we could have been watching the Dame strut around in a feather boa or hanging out in a Berlin drag club. Excellent writer and ex-NME columnist Charles Shaar Murray is permitted three brief voxpops, and Cameron Crowe disappointingly absent. Both of these journalists are important to contextualise Bowie having met and interviewed the man in person during the period the doc covers. I’m wondering if the running time was an issue and they ended up using footage from Dicksplash Harris simply because they were stuffed for material. Then again, I imagine that the current Bowie management were involved and didn’t want to include too much material that could taint his legacy or focus on all the powder he put up his beak.

 

That brings us to the latest album, The Next Day. Allegedly EMI didn’t realise a new album was due until a week before the release date, which is a little unbelievable. However, you’re not exactly going to balk when one of your biggest stars and money-spinners decides to drop a new record for the first time in nearly 10 years. And while there are some great songs on there, over repeated listens I’ve become more jaded with what now comes across as a pastiche of his previous self. The appalling album sleeve, which quite rightly has been slated from Beckenham to New Brunswick, is completely baffling. If the implication is that everything Derek has released post-Heroes is shit, then he could have at least used another photograph by Sukita Masayoshi (an exhibition of whose work I sadly missed in Osaka recently).

There are great tracks like ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’ which I’d play over and over. Then there’s stuff like ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and ‘Dirty Boys’ which cause me to grimace at the thought of a pensioner snorting blow off teenage girls, or worse. No overanalysis of the lyrics are required. This is the problem for the aging musician. Is he drawing in new fans or appealing to the old guard? The latter, I’m sure is the case. The album is as a whole a more enjoyable listening experience than the previous two, yet the positive reviews that emerged after the media scrum were all positive. SPIN gave it 5/10, and Mark Fisher called The Next Day an album of “quotidian mediocrity”, saying it was entirely undeserving of its wide acclaim and that the “wave of hyperbole it generated point to a wider malaise in contemporary music” because it proved that anything of low artistic merit could achieve success via “artfully timed PR”. That previous sentence was lifted from Wiki entirely because I couldn’t find a link online. THAT’LL DO.

Yawningly, The Independent, The Telegraph and Q gave it 5 stars and The Guardian 4 stars (and whose pre- and post-release coverage was daily and mind-numbing). Publications that all appeal to the dull demographic I belong to: white, male, 18-34. Though I doubt many 18 year olds were buying either the record or reading about it.

Yet I haven’t eradicated The Next Day from my iPod. I didn’t go so far as to buy the vinyl or the double CD set, which I’m thankful as I recently purged my entire CD collection. Perhaps it’s still too new to appreciate. It took me five years (bumtish) to understand what the hell Tool were doing with Aenima. It’s bland, it’s inoffensive and oft unmoving. But it’s Bowie, and we have to be thankful that he could be arsed to give it one more push before he heads off to the great big cloud in the sky for multi-millionaires. We aren’t invited.

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.

 

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.

Amy Blue: “Home Made”

Clapham Junction Doesn’t Like The YYYs

We’re just in the process of buying an 8-track digital input so we can start recording a lot of (better quality) in the rehearsal space. Over the past seven years we’ve relied primarily on Simon’s slowly-dying cassette recorder that captures things in a rather sporadic fashion (plus you don’t know if it’s stopped or not halfway through a jam). We could theoretically put out a lot more free stuff that covers our other interests.. people generally aren’t fussed about instrumentals or weirdness unless they go looking for it. It’s C-Side material at best. But if it’s free, well.. score.

In terms of the new record we’ve got 9 songs recorded, one of which will need a re-record as it wasn’t our best take of the song (we’ve grown apathetic, as we’ve been playing it for 5 years now), plus we some newbies that are yet to be recorded: the fatalist, the fortress/kill them with death (it’s SABBATH), scissors (part 2… a shoegazey slip of a song), forcing the end… some more i forget the names of. We have so many songs and haven’t played the majority of them live as they’re either too complicated or sound quite weedy without a wall of overdubs. We’ll never get away from that, but we’ve tried.

In other news, I watched the Final Solution episode of The World At War last night and it put me off going to sleep. There are no words really.

If I ever get back to blogging more regularly, I’m going to make this a writing blog as I’ve got a few things I’d like to waffle about. But right now it’s Sunday and I want to kill some zombies in Left 4 Dead.

Amy Blue: “Human Cannonbomb”

Recently we played a show at the Brixton Windmill, organised by Dan Ormsby of ‘4 of 5 Magicians’ fame. We were up first on the Sunday and had to cover two songs by a band I’d barely heard a month before, The Butthole Surfers. Simon and T*** were pretty familiar with them, having more of a grasp of the early 90s American alt scene, whereas I never really had the chance to get into that era at the time as I was far too young. Coming back to it, and in particularly to what the Buttholes were doing, I can’t help but feel slightly short-changed. Noise “experiments” don’t generally make for interesting listening, and the first Buttholes record (the one with all the distended arseholes on, or stomachs) didn’t grab me at all. I was in search of a tune, and found none.

Later on things seem to get more interesting, and on the Locust, Abortion… (whatever it’s called) record there was at least one tune that I got into— ‘Human Cannonball’, which has a killer riff and nice scuzzy sound. Simon picked the impossible track ‘Something’ which came from a terribly recorded, almost bootleg LP. Being a fan of screamy stuff, he took to it like a goat to water. We probably rehearsed the tracks about twice, maybe three times, and then performed them live. Mine was arse; I forgot the lyrics to verse two and the ‘lift’ that was needed to give it more punch wasn’t quite there. I read them from a piece of paper to save further faffing, foregoing any sense of dignity or decent stage presence. ‘Something’ was much more enjoyable to play.. we pretty much survived the thing by making noise, and Simon headed off-stage to annoy the punters by screaming into an unplugged mic. Classy.

Next up, a rehearsal where we run through only new/half-finished ideas in the run up to recording album #2. It’s a very different beast from ‘The Fortress & The Fatalist’.

Amy Blue: “TFTF is on iTunes”

Been a while since I last blogged. Can’t be arsed basically, but there’s been some events in motion, so may as well record ’em.

‘The Fortress and The Fatalist’ has gone off to the great big iTunes heaven in the sky and should be released in a week or so, artwork included. Very strange… I’ve no idea who will buy it or listen to it randomly. It’ll probably depend entirely on the reviews and if people think the record is good (or shit). The CD side of things has been more complicated, what with me having to learn how to use InDesign completely on the fly and working through hundreds of images to find the best ones that suited the piccy/lyrics/stuff idea. Which was pretty vague to say the least. But it’s looking rather nice and colourful, we had space for thank you’s and hello’s. Job done.

‘Who’s Wings?’
‘They’re only the band the Beatles could’ve been!’

We spent yesterday rehearsing in the sweatiest, most evil rehearsal space known to man. I felt like I was about to pass out from heat exhaustion during a rather long bit of playing. Absolutely buggered, I was. Took quite a while to get to, but it was clean. That’s a really unusual thing for a London rehearsal space. Most of them look like they’ve been befouled by Ostrich rapists. The place was also locked down like Fort Knox with the exit code being the date of the Battle of Hastings.

Amy Blue: “2008 FAIL”

We’re nearly at the end of the year and I feel that I’ve achieved practically nothing. After the positive 2007 (getting things published, finding Lex, recording the new album, etc.) this year has been pretty much a constant bummer. There have been some highlights, like trips to other continents, walks on beaches, eating a lot of houmous, but I’m hoping next year will be more exciting, challenging and inspiring. Note to self: write more songs. Note to self #2: write more songs that don’t sound like other bands or other songs you’ve already written.

Shit.

My friend Jen from work is leaving on January 9th. She brought the following ridiculous thing into my life: Fail Blog. The best thing I saw on it was MARRIAGE PROPOSAL FAIL. Absolutely horrendous, and featured my new bestest pal, Consolation Bear. God bless ‘im, and her.

Amy Blue played one of three(ish) shows this year. Here’s a video from the last show of Simon’s song Amy Dates Destiny. It’s the fifth track on the album.. a reasonably upbeat song for us, melodic, intriguing lyrics, and of course any excuse for us to put loads of fuzz and feedback on the end. God forbid we become formulaic!

Good news though. The album is finally (yes!) finished and we’re just waiting on Rich (Random Colours) to send over the final mixed down wav files. In the last trip to the studio, we belted through six tracks, doing a bit of top and tailing.. fixing the odd blip and click, and then mixed two tracks from scratch that were bothersome. It’s come out better than I expected – very powerful, very loud, and it should make for a good listening experience if you dare attempt to. Pop in places, dark, distorted as all hell, and featuring a song about Ipswich prostitute murderer Steven Wright. It’s a Xmas stocking filler for 2009.

The final task is to finish putting all the artwork together, cropping and photoshopping the hell out of everything and maybe even doing 90s things like TYPE LYRICS OVER THE TOPS OF DEM. Or maybe that’s so played, and we need to paint the words on in our own juices. Maybe it doesn’t matter, as most of the cunts we send these to will probably not even use them as a coaster. I dread to think how many live out their days in a bin in some wanker’s office. Hopefully not SPIN magazine’s either.

Thank you to you if you came to the shows this year. You poor bastards. Though I think they were the best yet. Well done Lex on producing a wonderful little child. Thank you band for working so hard. See you all in 2009.

Amy Blue: “It’s art, FFS!”

I’ve been spending more time looking at the world around me over the past month trying to find a strong image for the album cover. Last week, Freya and I took a trip to Greenwich, the old home, and she snapped photos for a couple of hours with her digital SLR and medium format. The ‘proper’ pics we won’t see for a while, and I’m sure the ones of me will make me look like a complete cockspanker. To make things even more metaphysical, and I’m not even sure I used that in the correct context, I took pictures of her taking pictures for the album sleeve. Pointless, but still rather amusing as we got utterly soaked in the pissing Sunday rain.

Bizarrely enough, there are sphinx(es) in Crystal Palace park, the picture here is one I took on the old mobile. In the same year as Albert Fish’s execution at Sing Sing prison, 1936, the Crystal Palace burned to the ground. Not much is left there except steps and wire fences now. I took about 10 pictures there recently as the remains of what was probably something quite splendid didst intrigue me. Definitely the sort of place we’ll have to troupe back to to do really naff posed band shots. Cringe.

Freya went beyond the call of duty. She was attacked by midgies down by the Thames (the picture of that is priceless but I won’t be uploading it). Interesting aside: the street sign on the left is CROWLEYS WHARF. How he got a bit of street named after him, I’ll never know.

Final mixes should be done in the next few weeks! W00t!

Amy Blue: The Making of ‘The Fortress & The Fatalist’

I thought I’d get down some of my thoughts about the making of the album before I forget. I have such a shitty memory by this time next year I will have probably forgotten that we’ve even recorded an album… or the fact that I have a blog about it too.

The title, The Fortress & The Fatalist has been knocking about for a while now. It came up in a coversation with Simon and myself one day when we were walking through Greenwich park sometime early in 2007. Our next record following the Amy Blue EP needed to be more of a statement (at least for ourselves) and build upon whatever interest we’d generated following the whole “Baker Demos scam/fiasco/PR stunt/whateveryouwanttocallit”. Of course, now we’ve sat on things we’ve probably missed the boat on capitalising on that (the “Baker Demos” was leaked by us on a defunct torrent site back in December 2006, 6 months before the first Pumpkins reunion show in Paris and 7 months before the release of Zeitgeist). Simon came up with ‘The Fortress’ as a title. I thought it was a great title… somehow the extra words slipped in there. Make of it what you will. At least having the title gives some sort of unity to the project.

When writing some of songs for the record the year before, I went ahead and did the unusual thing of coming up with a concept and a huge list of song-titles before I’d even committed pen to paper on the lyrics, or even picked up a guitar to strum a single chord. This was a way of lying to myself that there was something already there to be listened to, I just had to chip away at the ether to give the songs form. Songs like ‘The Yellow House’, ‘The End of the World’, ‘Speak of the Devil’ and ‘White Noise’ were all conceived in title back in mid-2006. The songs themselves turned up much later. They were actually taken from, or modified, from chapter headings off one of the Millennium (the US TV show by Chris Carter) DVDs.

After Lex joined in February 2007, we spent a long time trying the songs different ways. ‘White Noise’ for instance began as a sort of Radiohead-esque electro track (according to my friend Andrew) that had a drum track, verse and that was pretty much it. In the rehearsal room, Lex bulked this up with a really heavy 4/4 beat. This seemed to work at first… as we progressed through the song, we would speed up until the whole thing turned into a car crash of noise, feedback and symbals. For a live show, this would be spectacular (or nonsense, depending on who you are); but on record, I didn’t think it would work. So I started rejigging the structure… the intro would be a lie, keeping that stock beat, then suddenly speeding up and slapping you in the face with a wet fish. I would sing verse one, then we would skip to a grungey chord progression, and then I’d pass the book to Simon to let him vent. The end section goes into a spacey breakdown and finally into that wall of noise that we all loved to play (it used to go: verse/riffs/noise/verse/riffs/noise/end). It was a truly collaborative effort from everyone in the band (at least, the Holy Trinity as Danny was starting to miss a lot of rehearsals in the run up to the studio sessions we’d booked).

Simon did a fairly comprehensive studio diary over at the official site (defunct link), so I’ll talk about other crap that comes to mind from when we did our recordings. A year after the sessions, Rich Johnson, who was our engineer during the three sessions, is mixing both ‘Leeches’ and ‘The Yellow House’. We may go back to the studio to remix and master sometime in the next month, before we embark on a mini tour of the capital and possibly beyond.

Back in October of 2007, Simon, Lex and myself booked ourselves into Random Colours studio in North London to do the first of two days of recording. We weren’t sure how many tracks we would end up recording in total, but we’d roughed out versions of:

THE END OF THE WORLD
NOT ON MY WATCH
LEECHES
THE YELLOW HOUSE
ITCH
AMY DATES DESTINY
WHITE NOISE
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL

in our rehearsal space during the previous couple of months. Out of all of these demos, Danny contributed bass parts to only ‘Not On My Watch’ and ‘The Yellow House’ (which is a really energetic and powerful performance). The rest we struggled through, not exactly 100% sure how the finished articles would turn out.

Rich had set up the drums before we arrived, so most of day one was spent laying down drum tracks. We tried a few different methods of getting the right performance out of Lex. Initially, Simon stood in the control room and played guitar and sang a guide vocal, and in the studio itself, Lex played along through headphones. However, nobody was really overjoyed with the results and Lex felt that her performance was a bit stiff trying to play off a click track. So we tried playing things live in the room with the drums, micing up our respective amps. By day two, we’d got this down pat, and the performances were considerably better – we recorded seven drum tracks, with ‘Leeches’ being overdubbed on a third day we had to book to finish vocals and a few twiddly guitar overdubs.

Final mixes were done at my house on Cubase, with Rich coming over to help shape them and sort out the EQ and mastering. We had some additional overdubs to do, such as the violin by Freya on “Not On My Watch” and “Speak of the Devil”, and Simon handled all electronic/synth overdubs himself. Bass parts were recorded by both Simon and myself, the majority by Simon as I wasn’t confident at playing bass at at all at that time, even just root notes. It’s possible it’s me playing on “Speak of the Devil” which I remember was recorded in shithole Enterprise Studios near Charing Cross Road on the same day at the violin overdubs. Freya was very nervous about doing her parts and it was completely improvised, but she’d been playing in an ochestra at the time and I had even tried to co-erce her into getting a few of the others to join as I love cellos. This would have fulfilled my Siamese Wet Dream, as it were.

Vocals for the songs were all recorded at Random Colours studio, but backing vocals and a few rerecordings were done at our respective homes in Lee and Anerley. I played Fender Jazzmaster on everything, with perhaps only 3-5 pedals, mainly Boss. Despite loving the Big Muff (US) it was nearly impossible to capture properly and probably was only used for the extended feedback at the end of “White Noise”, during which Rich left the room as it was a load of bollocks in his opinion. Plus it was a good moment for a smoke break.