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
THE YELLOW HOUSE
AMY DATES DESTINY
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.