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.

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: 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.

Amy Blue: “Bassflakes”

Things have been very quiet on the Amy Blue front for the past few weeks. I’ve not seen Lex since the 3rd March show, and Simon and I recorded together 2 or 3 weeks ago (I forget). We got down the basslines, which while a little ropey, can probably be edited or manipulated to sound okay. Danny has not been seen since the March 3rd show either – though he was meant to record on at least three occasions since then, but has flaked out.

This has been an ongoing issue since last year when we started recording at Enterprise Studios near Charing Cross and Tinpan Alley, working out the kinks and getting rough versions down in a dry run before going into the studio proper where we are spending a lot of money for the privilege. The third studio date in December was for simon and I to finish any overdubs and Danny to record his parts in the afternoon. He didn’t turn up, so we’ve had to record the parts ourselves.

Neither of us are great at bass. People (the collective ‘people’, that being you, and anyone who has ever seen a bass guitar) make the assumption that bass playing is easier than plain old guitar, or just a generally easy instrument to learn, but I disagree. It puts enormous pressure on your wrist and fingers, and I was practically crippled after some long takes. Thick strings do not agree with my weedy wrists. Having a buggered wrist/arm which may be CTS doesn’t help either.

The most time consuming part of the process of putting the album together is the mixing. We have so many recorded parts for these songs, on 3 different computers of varying levels of capability, that it’s a nightmare of logistics right now. Songs like “Itch” and “Speak of the Devil” sound pretty much there; “The Yellow House”, the ‘pop hit’, sounds a mess. The guitar tones are just not doing it for me. We did another version which has a real groove to it, but the studio version sounds too clean. It’s a dark song, and somewhere along the line the grime has been washed off with Radox shower gel.

Simon is approaching songwriting from a different angle at the moment. I myself am getting bored with the guitar, but i’m not massively comfortable with my current surroundings. I like space to be able to play. Ideally i’d have all my gear set up at all times so i can just pick up the guitar and flick a switch. In an 8x8ft bedroom, next to a room where water and bird shit drips through the ceiling, you can’t do that. My songwriting output this year has been atrocious. I’m hoping that by the time we get back into a rehearsal room we will be playing all new songs and none of the ones we’ve thrashed out over the past year. To us they are old.

To you they are brand new.

Amy Blue: “The End?”

Last monday was the last Amy Blue show for a the foreseeable future. In short, we don’t know when we’ll be playing again or what the gameplan will be. We’ve only played two shows this year so far, and it’s March already, so in that respect we’ve been quite lazy. There was a third lined up for the end of March, but we cancelled that out of respect to the ever-growing Lex, who is now six months pregnant. She’s been struggling lately it seems; this is not a comment on her ability at all. In fact, I’m stunned she’s had the energy and commitment to blast through two shows and all the practices we’ve had in that shitty rehearsal room in Kingston since her announcement. Pregnancy brings with it lots of joyous bonus features that you don’t expect: sickness, shakiness, tiredness, and of course the inability to wear a nice pair of trousers when you hit the second trimester. So it’s entirely fair to allow Lex time to rest now and prepare for the wee child to arrive.

What about the rest of us, then?

Over the past five years, which is how long the band has been together, Simon and I have written hundreds of songs. Not all of them good, admittedly, but still… we are workhorses. Though in the past year, getting up to speed with Lex (who only joined in Febuary 2007) has required a lot of time to get used to, but it’s had a fantastic knock on effect that the basic ideas I’ve come up with now have more punch and vibrancy. That’s how we have a forty-five minute album in the can… pretty much.

The problem now is we started recording in October of last year, and we’re still without basslines. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, and right now the record only seems to make partial sense to my ears. We took six months to record the first EP several years ago. This should have been quicker, now we know what we’re doing. Right now we need vocal overdubs, some more guitar twiddly bits and all the bass on there. And it wouldn’t be an Amy Blue record without lots of weird glitchy shit that Simon is an expert at. After the final mix, we have to master it (which this time will be very straightforward) and then we need to work out how to get this thing out there.

It’s rubbish being your own worst critic.