Paul Cezanne once said:
“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
Getting started is the most difficult part. The previous day we’d carefully assembled all the technological miscellanea into as comprehensive a recording set-up as we could manage. Now we simply had to begin.
There were two principle tasks for the day. Downstairs, Tom and Dan would work on getting the best possible drum sound (involving tuning, mic placement and god knows what other mystical jiggery-pokery), while upstairs the rest of us worked through the newest songs on the provisional track list, coming up with arrangements that we’d be happy to one day call definitive.
When it comes to recording, we’ve always had rather a bad habit of giving new material preferential treatment over old. This album features a mixture of songs we’ve been touring for years and new compositions that have never been gigged at all. We’ve agreed that all the tracks need to be considered brand new – after all, listening to a record is a very different experience to attending a concert and one has to take this into account when rearranging live favourites. Nothing is sacred, and what works onstage may not work off it. Still, the complete unknown can be a lot more seductive than the return of an old friend so, admittedly, we mostly focused our attentions on the new ones.
Once the drums and microphones had agreed on a working relationship, we all gathered in the second studio for an acoustic run-through, making sure that everyone was on the same page before hooking ourselves into the belly of the machine downstairs.
By mid-afternoon we had installed ourselves in the live room. This is actually three rooms with connecting doors. The large room contains the drum kit in the centre (like a deformed TARDIS console), along with keyboard, bass and electric guitars (with their respective amps and cabs set up in different rooms to avoid bleed in the drum mics). Biff’s trombone and cello station is located in the library room across the hallway, and I’m in a conservatory linked to the main room by a glass door.
We spent an hour or so setting individual monitor mixes in our headphones and checking everything was working properly. There were a few minor connectivity problems that we ironed out early on, but that’s normal. It’s not worth rushing this stage of the process, as shortcuts only lead to time wasted later on; it’s best to get all the boring stuff out of the way in one go while we’re all still warming up.
So we played and recorded solidly until evening, mostly to cement rhythms and changes, finally stopping when our joints felt like they may start to cement as well. These early recordings are just demos (though we never rule anything out – if we come up with a perfect take then it’d be senseless not to use it), and it’s good to play ourselves into the mood without the pressure of heightened expectation; if nothing else it’s a way of getting all of our individual rhythms into a kind of living synchronisation for this whole recording period.
After dinner we listened to the recordings and made notes, discussing things like tempo changes, harmonies and general bits of business. We then retired severally to our various rooms between midnight and 2.00am after a few drinks.
A good day.