Thursday, 8 July 2010

Mad Axeman Blues

I place my guitar and sax on the ground next to the small, white formica table and listen to the sounds of the cafe. Herself (my partner) sits down opposite and we wait.

Argent and Hubs arrive - I see them crossing the road outside - and we make room for instruments and humans alike.

At 9:55 Ariel arrives. He's a bit of a disappointment at first, because my experience in life to date has led me to believe that all Sound Engineers are 40 stone with long greasy hair, round sunglasses and prone to bouts of insanity. Ariel looks remarkably normal, just clad in jeans and a T-shirt and without even a single wierd ear-piercing to stretch his lobes down to his kneecaps.

He leads us up to the main recording room, taking us up in the lift. We are primed and ready to rock, or at least as ready to rock as two middle-aged IT professionals can be. There are two rooms, linked by a glass corridor that could double for growing some particularly spectacular tomato plants if one felt the urge, but for the moment we allow ourselves to be led into the main room.

He sits down at the bank of computers, stretching and shrinking sounds like a magician. So far he shows no signs of asking us to re-assemble the drum kit on the roof, or waving a gun in our faces (legendary producer Martin Hannett is believed to have done both in his time to various bands and studio execs)

Inside the room there's a bank of machinery that would put NASA to shame. Around the edges of the room are some suitably comfy chairs and sofas and we start to unpack our pariphenalia. There's a brief discussion as to whether we will use one or two guitars on the track. Argent suggests we stick to one, which leaves me feeling a slight twinge of guilt for the rest of the day as this means that I do most of the rest of the work.

My original plan was to think of two songs that I knew would probably take a while to record and to have a third, simpler song, for reserve if we get time - however Ariel soon comes up with a better plan. Apparently you get a much better sound from an acoustic guitar by miking it up in stereo - so it will be simpler to do all the guitar bits first.

So I go through the Infero Corridor and into the recording room where Ariel spends a couple of minutes setting up two microphones and a set of headphones. I become very aware, very quickly, that I will have to refrain from humming or even breathing for the next twenty minutes or so, as every sound I make is picked up.

The first song we try is The Last Night Of The Fair, and we try this a couple of times . I get lost here and there in the chord changes - this is the problem when you can't sing along: you have to be mentally following the words in your head, but also thinking about the right chord changes for that section - and if you have a lot of similar chords throughout it's easy to launch into the wrong bit.

After the second or third try Ariel suggests he gives me a click track (basically a drum beat to keep me in time) - this will mean that if I go wrong again we can just cut into that section of the song and do it again from there. Ironically this time I get it right.

Then we do the basic chords for Down That Road and the chords to this just seem to sail through underneath my fingers without any real problems. The speed of my playing leaves the song with a bit of a Johnny Cash vibe, but I decide that this is No Bad Thing.

Third up is Mad Axeman Blues - the simplest of the songs to be recorded. If I'd realised that we would be doing all the guitar bits in one go then I would have thought about extra bits for this, but it's too late to go back now.

With all the chords in place we put the guitar down on one of the comfy chairs and Argent and I go through to do our Charity Single bit - you know where the clueless member of the latest boyband hugs the headphones to a single ear and croons away for the video in a desperate attempt to re-vitalise their ailing career (oh and maybe raise some money for the charity as well)

Argent decides to sing only on the choruses of the songs so that we have a different feel throughout - her voice is great on the tracks and I'm particularly impressed with her take on Down That Road. We get through most of the lyrics pretty quickly - although I ask to go back and cut into a section where I tried for a note and missed by half a galaxy.

Then it's through to the comfy lounge area where we plug in my bass guitar. Argent relaxes on the sofa like she's been hanging around in music studios her whole life and I add the bass lines, the instrument hung low in the style of Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order bass player famous for appearing to be fighting his bass to the death). We add bass tracks to the first and second songs, but not to Mad Axeman as I haven't worked one out.

Sometime around here we take a break for lunch and begin to think in terms of a fourth song as things are going so well - I suggest an old song of mine (since this is my treat to myself and Argent has very kindly agreed to help me out) or one of Argent's songs that I'm very keen on

We go back an hour later, having lunched at a nearby pub. I add a guitar solo to Down That Road, having to try two or three times to get it right, before I warm up my saxophone for Last Night Of The Fair. This proves to be one of the trickiest bits, as it comes out a bit reedy and has to be overdubbed and then, consequently I can't play the solo right for the life of me.

The saxophone is an instrument of much unintentional mirth, because it's the one instrument where you can play the right note and it comes out entirely wrong - however we eventually manage to get the right note and I grab a quick glass of water to stave off the heat.

Back in the main room again and Ariel helps to cut out a few of the mistakes, bringing in my sax on time when it had been a second late, cutting in a different vocal at one point and stretching the sound line to neaten up the start and endings throughout.

It slowly becomes clear that we will not have time for a fourth song, but I'm pleased with what we've done and had a great time. Ariel burns two cds of the day - adding a version of Last Night with no saxophone on so I can practice at home. We leave the studio - pleased that Ariel was visibly tapping his foot throughout to the songs and generally happy (although I do wish i had asked him to overdub one section of sax...)

So - for anyone who wants to hear the studio versions of Last Night Of The Fair and Down That Road they are on the audio player for this blog and links to the older videos I pasted

The below is a video for Mad Axeman Blues - I took it on the train to London yesterday because despite the content of the song (and please note: it is not supposed to be a serious song as such) the genus of the idea began thanks to overlong and painful commutes.

For those of you who wish to know - my company paid £120 for the priveledge of me sitting in a corridor for an hour. As usual there were four 1st class carriages sitting empty. No wonder we all prefer to travel by car.

Mad Axeman Blues

When I finally go mad with an axe darling, you’ll be the first
Of the stains that have blackened my soul, honey yours were the worst
Though I tried and I tried just to wipe the slate clean
I just have to face facts: I’ve been living a dream
When I finally go mad, When I finally go mad
When I finally go mad with an axe darling, you’ll be the first

When the scientists find the right answer, they’ll know you’re to blame
Though the fingerprints vary the lies will remain just the same
When there’s no hiding place and you’re faced with the truth
Then the DNA strands will deliver the proof
When the Scientists find it, when the Scientists find it,
When the Scientists find the right answer they’ll know you’re to blame

You think you’re something, but I’m the exception
Cos every time I just faked my erections
I can’t explain why I’m still here with you
Could it be I’ve had nothing much better to do?

When the military forces surround us they’ll take us to task
They will burn our disguises and show what we hid behind masks
When they’re cursing and calling my name out to me
Will you finally see how bad you’ve treated me?
When the military forces, when the military forces
When the military forces surround us they’ll take us to task

I’ve never been perfect, my soul has its blisters
When I couldn’t find solace I slept with your sister and
We hurt each other whenever we fight
But it seems I still miss you when I turn out the light

When we finally admit we’re in love I just hope we’re in time
If our bridges have burned we’ll be stuck at the scene of the crime
If we can’t say it now we should just walk away
Or we’ll get to the point where there’s nothing to say
When we finally admit it, when we finally admit it
When we finally admit we’re in love I just hope we’re in time

When I finally go mad with an axe darling, you’ll be the first


The Bug said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this & I can't wait to listen. Have to wait until after work.

Say, you're in IT - can you help me get around this Websense they're using so I can watch videos & listen to music? Just kidding - I fluff around enough without having other stuff to distract me LOL.

Argent said...

Ariel, eh? I thought his name was Percil! It was a great day though and the songs came out well. Will watch the vid om my home machine as the work's one is censoring it.

Marion said...

Awesome. Love the title and plan to use a line or two on the old ball and chain soon. Tee-Hee. Gotta keep him on his toes. xo

the watercats said...

lucky bleedahs!... loving the mad axeman blues, excellent lyrics! Sorry I missed you poetry bus, things here are being incredibly mundane and tedious at the moment, so haven't got round to doing much in the way of things (brain deadness in the extreme..). really good to hear you guys again :-)
there should be that other c.d on the way soon.. like i say.. braindeadness!..
have a good-un! catch you soon!

pohanginapete said...

I agree with the Watercats about the lyrics for Mad Axeman Blues — some gems in there, as in the post itself. A fascinating and entertaining insight into a recording session, too. Wish I weren't on the other side of the world, so I could have photographed the session for you.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

bug - darn those Fun Police. Sadly nothing I can do there!

Argent - it was something like that anyway!

Marion - welcome and thank you. The song is sort of also trying to say that underneath all the bravado they do love each other

watercats - thanks guys, good to have you back - a CD will also be on its way to you soon

Pete - if we ever get famous it would be an honour. your photos are fantastic