This is gonna sound real pretentious, especially considering no one’s likely to read it, but I’ve decided to document what I’m writing and recording in real-time, on this here part of the website.
Background: I’ve got this spreadsheet with every song I’ve ever written (at least those I have documentation for), and a folder of demos dating back to the 1990s. I can’t always remember what I was thinking when I wrote and recorded them, which kind of sucks. Firstly, it’s easier to reproduce a song where you know what the bloody chords are, or how it was done… Secondly, lyrics can become impenetrable with the passage of time removing your state of mind from the context they were written.
I’ve got this new bunch of songs coming out in a couple of days, and it might surprise you I have little memory of how most of them were written – even though the majority were penned in the last few years. I tend to write in bursts – usually in late summer – and haven’t used pen and paper for a few years now.
I like looking at the old songs I wrote the old way, seeing lyrics and chord progressions crossed out and replaced with (usually) better parts. But for a few years now I’ve written pretty much exclusively on the computer – so bad (well, even worse) lyrics are purged forever, and all the chords and melodies are written down in MIDI rather than paper.
It’s certainly much more efficient, but makes it hard to piece together exactly what was going through my mind when it happened! This writing is as much for me as it anyone else – probably even more so!
So with that in mind, here goes. I’ll start with what I did today – August 4, 2020.
After spending the first few months of the year – pre-lockdown – working on the 99 percent electronic Battle Thru Time, and the post-lockdown months on the heavy grunge Bunkerland, I decided to restring my acoustic guitars and chill out a bit.
I’ve got two – one is a steel-string axe I bought in about 2001, covered in nearly two decades of stickers in a layer probably half an inch thick; the other a cheap nylon string guitar I think we bought to let the kids play with.
I went through my spreadsheet and pulled out a song called ‘Reversal’ I wrote in 2013. Around that time I had started writing more using the keyboard to figure out chords and melodies, having written pretty much exclusively on the guitar until 2010 or so. This is a strumalong acoustic song, but with a piano lead part and a tricky melody obviously written on the keyboard, rather than vocally.
I kept the song’s brisk structure largely intact, changing the opening chord to whatever it is when you play an F, but leave the G string open – matching the opening bass note, before hitting the F.
The chords used in the song – F, Am, G, C and Em – frustrated my guitar, which refused to play them all in tune at the same time. I had to do two different takes for each track – one where the guitar was tuned to C, G and Em, and the other to F and Am – then carefully join them together so each sounded like a single take. Worked out quite well. I’ve set up my condenser mic on a kind of extendable mechanical arm thing which can be whipped out when it’s needed and hidden when it’s not. I bet this is just how the Beatles did it…
The nylon guitar had no such tuning issues but didn’t sound as nice, so I ran it through a fuzz pedal VST and panned it hard right (I’m trying to do an L-C-R mixing type thing with acoustic tracks in particular – simplifies things a lot, and definitely adds to the Beatles feel!)
The two main acoustic tracks were run through a bit of a Harmonizer, one panned left and the other centred. In the right channel I added a clean electric guitar (the Grungemaster) doing a fingerpicking thing – very rare for me, since I suck at it! But it worked here, kind of murky and buried.
On the past few Anecdata albums the bass parts have been largely programmed – both synth and bass guitar – but wanting a looser feel on this, I played the bass part this time. Good old palm-muting to get that extra McCartney feel of course.
As for the drums, used the ‘tea towel’ setting on Toontrack’s ‘UK Pop’ sample set – for obvious reasons – with some better cymbals from another set. Put the overheads in mono to keep the soundstage clear, lots of tape and compression too.
Later in the afternoon I came back to the mix and decided it needed something else in the middle eight, so turned down the piano in that bit to make way for a bit of fuzz guitar – a lead part mostly following the piano melody, but with a few flourishes. Nice and direct sound, nothing fancy.
Haven’t done the vocals yet. Gotta go over the melody from the demo and simplify it a bit – it has some rather ambitious leaps I know I used software to fix in that recording, and I’d rather not do that anymore! Also, might see if I can jazz up the lyric a bit.
So, that’s today – August 4, 2020. I have no idea if I’ll persist with this nonsense, but I hope I do – even if no one else reads it, I might be interested in it myself one day?