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 our “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 the bassist who failed (or refused) to make it to any of the sessions.
Simon and I recorded the bass parts ourselves, though I have never been confident in my own bass playing. Totally different discipline and I end up playing it like a six string. So inevitably, the parts weren’t complex.
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 (later, this became somewhat contentious for everyone as he insisted on telling deeply offensive jokes he’d written for Sickopedia online and had since had them scrubbed from the internet).
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 re-record 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 written to date. 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, anxious. At the time, I wasn’t in a very good way. Lex drove me home later where I crashed out, burned out. The next day we were back at the studio to continue the sessions. But I was deeply troubled at the time with life and work pressures that were taking a physical toll on me.
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. 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 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 top and the thing gets mixed, mastered, 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 called it) where he took the executive decision to re-record 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 re-do his parts either, or that he may get upset that it was decided what he’d done wasn’t good enough. While he did turn up to the sessions to record, he became unreliable when it came to rehearsals, and his ego was being stifled by the two songwriters so perhaps he felt sabotage or being obnoxious was the best way to deal with the situation. In hindsight, it was deeply immature. He could have tried to air his issues but chise not to do so.
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. I Trev decided to walk out because of this slight against his “talent” but failed to grasp the simple fact that doing a half-arsed job and not bithering to make the effort to do his parts again caused the friction in the first place. I don’t think he ever truly wanted to commit to the band. He did however come 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. Tom would later play bass on the Unwinding sessions between 2013-2014.
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 writing new songs. The UK contingent of Amy Blue (Lex and Simon and Tom) took a break. Tom and I later left the country, with me taking the still unfinalised tracks with me.
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.
[This post was originally written in 2013 and is reposted here with some corrections and additions.]