Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New York vs New Zealand - part two

Where would you prefer to record an album if you had the chance? Would you take a gamble, spend your savings and follow a dream to New York? Or would you choose to be around family, friends and familiarity and stay in your home country, New Zealand?

I've done both - so I'm now detailing a bit of a comparison between the two roads I've chosen in recording albums with my band. Here's part two of the story...

The Brave Don't Run: I don't think we ate very much at all while we were in New York, we had spent all our money just to get there so we had the diet of hobos. I can remember a lot of things from McDonalds' $1 menu and, if we were feeling like splashing out, a sandwich from a deli. Great novelty factor - but I think we all got sick at some stage during that time.
Album II: This time around we have our own cars to get to supermarkets to make breakfast and lunch in a studio kitchen and we even have a budget for food in the album costs, so we order dinner each night from a local restaurant. The only exception to that is when our main man Andrew Buckton's wife brings in amazing home-cooked meals for us to dine on. Just a slight upgrade!

The Brave Don't Run: In a city of over 26 million people we had ourselves, our producer and a photographer friend for company. We made some awesome new friends along the way but most of the time we only had this small bunch of people to hang with.
Album II: Being in our hometown, Auckland gives us a whole bunch of friends and family we can spend time with during the recording process. Most days we have visitors into the studio who can share our excitement for the songs, take pictures, record claps with us (if the timing's right) and keep conversations fresh. Plus the guys with girlfriends get to have more than just "skype-contact" each night!

The Brave Don't Run: For our first album we recorded in a way that's pretty common for bands on a tight budget - we laid down each instrument in their own block of recording time. We started in a studio where would only record drums - we spent just two days there doing all the songs before we moved on to three other studios, including the one we lived in, to track guitars, bass, keys and vocals. This meant there wasn't a lot of flexibility to change the songs once the drums were down and it was more difficult to zero in to the vibe of each individual song.
Album II: Being in one studio for three weeks has meant we've been able to record a new song each day - this means we can give each of these their own treatment and we can spend a lot of time keying in the right tones for each instrument and thus create a different environment for every song's unique mood.

The Brave Don't Run: Before we arrived in New York we had around five songs with a clear vision of how they'd result. The rest were crafted while we were there, under a lot of pressure. The songs also spanned a long time in terms of their origin - we had songs that were three years old and ones that were three weeks old.
Album II: We've spent a lot of time preparing for this record and we have a lot more knowledge of how it's all done so this time we've come here with 11 fully-formed songs and another three we wanted to leave for the studio as more spontaneous creations. We spent six months focussed on writing while we were living in Sydney and then the past three months doing six-day weeks in our rehearsal room working on pre-production for these songs. So we are, if anything, more than prepared this time around.

The Brave Don't Run: We had about 20 feral cats surrounding our "home" in Brooklyn who provided little distraction from life while there. The only awesome animals New York really gave us were squirrels whose sporadic appearances were always brief highlights of any given hour.
Album II: One animal is giving us all the comfort and entertainment we need in a studio - Derrick, a cat we've adopted as our own who most-likely just lives nearby and likes the attention and KFC leftovers we provide. He's awesome though.

So you do the math - each process had/has its ups and downs and different levels of excitement and focus. I suppose the great thing about recording two albums in two very different ways is that we are sure to produce something that varies from our first effort - and this comparison only really compares the process, where things like our musicianship, experience and age play an unmeasurable role in our sound.

Whatever the case is, I believe the band has made two great decisions about where to record albums and the results will surely follow. I very much look forward to sharing them with you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

New York vs New Zealand - part one

This album-recording process is a much different experience to the one we had with our first, The Brave Don't Run - so I thought it'd be pretty interesting to run through a few comparisons between that and the present case...

The Brave Don't Run: New York (Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, Manhattan)
Album II: Auckland (Parnell, Newton)

Obviously New York wins this comparison strictly in terms of surroundings, incredible - to be able to record there was an absolute privilege for a Kiwi band.

The Brave Don't Run: Tiny two bedroom studio for six guys to share and sleep on airbeds in - during daytime hours we had to record in those rooms, so everything was packed away each day. Plus we had a great toilet which was constantly blocked and over-flowing.
Album II: Band flat - we all live together in a great house. So our own beds and surroundings to return to each night are pretty great.

The Brave Don't Run: We had pretty much no budget for this album - we spent all our savings to get there and we were relying on the album having some success for us to be able to pay anyone involved. Once we retrospectively received NZOnAir funding and were signed we were, thankfully, able to do this!

Album II: This time we enter the process as a signed and successful act - most of our budget comes from NZOnAir and then our record label provide the rest. Due to NZOnAir funding processes changing this year, this could be the last album we record like this as our budget would be substantially cut - unless things really take off for us abroad, fingers crossed!

The Brave Don't Run: We recorded in three small project studios around New York for most of the tracking - only drums were recorded in a large, established pro studio. There was a lot of time spent packing in and out, setting up and packing down and in adapting to new desks and surroundings.
Album II: This time we're in one studio, York St in Auckland, for the whole process - we have everything at our fingertips, time is well-spent and we have space to set up a kind of commune throughout the different rooms the place provides us.

The Brave Don't Run: We were able to bring a few instruments with us to New York, but we were largely relying on our producer for extra gear to vary sounds on that first record. It ended up being just varied enough but probably not ideal for a true creative exploration of sounds for the songs

Album II: Recording in Auckland in one big studio means we have all our own gear, our friends' gear, borrowed gear from the Rockshop plus the gear the studio itself owns. We're truly able to spend time finding the right vibe for each instrument for each of the tracks which will definitely result in better songs for everyone to listen to.

So that's part one of this little exercise - I'll have more for you over the next few days. Things are going great here by the way, 10 songs down and sounding amazing!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Birthday, a new friend

Album II - Day 4 & 5

It was more of the same in the studio on day four - the only notable exception to the recording process was celebrating Si's birthday with a cake and a fair few drinks.

We got through the bulk of another song and hopefully some of the celebratory mood we were all in will be evident in the final version of the song.

I also made myself a new friend in the studio and I'm totally in love, in a 'can't get enough of them' way - here's a picture:

So in-between ideas and takes I've been hard at work trying to beat my high score - these things must have been especially mind-blowing pre-computers and consoles...even more than they are to me now! So I'm pretty sure I'm gonna get me one of these if I ever get my own house.

Day five was a groggy kind of day for us - it was dark and wet outside and maybe that, and a few too many drinks for a few of us the night before, meant slow progress...

But that's nothing another night can't fix...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gathering momentum

Album II - Day 3

Recording is coming along nicely - we're onto song three of the album on the third day, so we're right on track. One of the main reasons we've been able to do this is the way we've set ourselves up here.

Let me explain a little. We have two recording setups here at York St - the main studio and control room are being used for tracking all the important instruments and vocals. So throughout the day these areas are humming along in constant business - guitar, bass, drums and vocals are all tracked here, all the most important stuff.
While that's all going on we have another recording hub going on - the "B studio". We've taken over what is usually an office and Nick has brought in his home studio set up. Here we record backing vocal and percussion tracks plus work on synth and keyboard sounds. We can also use it as a place to simply jam along with the guide track and come up with ideas over and above what we've already produced prior to coming here. This set up is playing a huge part in us keeping up with the rough "song-a-day" schedule we've planned as pretty much no one is ever idle during the day.

So it's very much a case of us building an environment we're we create our own momentum and run with that hot feeling - it's working a treat so far!

Here's a very wee peak into studio life for you...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Looking for inspiration

Album II - day 2

After a day of largely setting up yesterday, today we're finally 100% recording/creating/messing with music.

As I'm still recovering from my wee cold, I won't be recording any final lead vocals until possibly next week - so my role at the moment is to be an opinion on sounds for guitars and pads whilst concentrating  on backing vocal ideas and lyrics.

Lyrics are always a major challenge as they can't be forced and play such a huge role in deciding whether a song clicks 100% with an audience - plus they are so personal, so it's always a challenge throwing a part of yourself literally into the world to be judged. (Don't excuse the pun, embrace it)

I'm always searching for inspiration wherever I can. I recently spent a rare few nights with my family in Tauranga and dug up an old box of childhood memories I had stashed away - photo albums, diaries, gift cards and tapes. My Dad had an old tape player and I spent a good few hours playing through these tapes and listening to various recordings my family and I had made - mostly they were just me talking, joking around with friends at sleepovers and, occasionally, singing.

The biggest gem I found was this recording of me at some stupidly young age doing my best RnB impression (I say stupidly due largely to the song choice)... but it inspired me as it was a fearless recording and I think fearlessness needs to be a key ingredient for everything contained in the album we're currently creating.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A new chapter...

Album II, Day 1

Having spent the weekend largely tucked away in my room with a badly-timed mild cold, I awoke this Queen's Birthday morning finally with the feeling that a new album was a reality.

I don't think many people realise, but it's been three years since the band recorded The Brave Don't Run in New York and four or sometimes five years since we wrote many of those songs. In that time the band has grown up, had huge success, huge failure, embarrassing moments and moments full of pride. We've toured the US twice, played over 100 shows in Australia and made a start on getting somewhere in Asia. The band has some experience in the music industry now, we've found a small foothold in a place where so many slip away - but at the same time we are babies, still in wonder of music matter how long you are in this industry I don't think you can ever shake that feeling, and I couldn't bear to regardless.

So now a new opportunity has arisen and my future as a musician will largely be determined over the next three weeks - an excitingly daunting prospect.

We've spent countless hours writing and producing the songs we're going to be recording, we're almost over-prepared and absolutely itching to see how we've grown over the past few years as musicians and songwriters - so, naturally, I spent the first morning of the process in bed while the rest of the guys loaded in and set up the studio.

Yes, I'm the lead singer.

Though the reputation that role carries probably doesn't quite apply to this situation - my time was better spent in an empty house working on lyrics rather than waiting seven hours for the studio to be ready to start recording anything. Yes, that's the reality on day one - 90% of the day is spent recording nothing at all. We spent most of the time taking over the studio - loading in gear, dressing the rooms with lamps and lights and setting up equipment the way our engineer wants it.

We're aiming to work roughly on a song-per-day timetable for the first few weeks here - so after a 10am load-in, it was 6pm before we started laying some live cuts that mantra obviously won't apply today!

But, despite the slow start, a beginning has begun and this new chapter is finally realised...

Friday, June 3, 2011

An empty page...

When you are describing,
A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don't state the matter plainly,
But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things,
With a sort of mental squint.
~Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)