theaudience's debut album should have taken just four weeks to complete, according to drummer Patch Hannon. JOHN JOYCE finds out why it didn't...
It's fair to say that studio recording isn't Sophie Ellis Bextor's favourite aspect of her pop star role.
"I would rather not be there a lot of the time because it can be rather boring", she admits.
"Especially if they tell you to turn up for a certain time and you don't start recording for three hours as the bass took longer to do than they thought." Conveniently, then, parts of their lauded debut album were created from original demos, as drummer Patch Hannan explains: "Bits of the album come from demos that we did quite early on. A lot of the album has got demo-itus... us realising that we can't quite recreate the demo feel."
Blah St Studio, Hampshire
Blah St is a residential studio built by Patch's brother Nick.
"It's very, very beautiful," says Sophie. "It's an old mill set among loads of huge fields that look absolutely stunning in the setting sun. It's a very nice place to be and a nice place to record. It's only frustrating recording when you're near your home because then you sort of think, 'Oh I could just nip home...'"
Hannan explains that Blah St is geared towards recording rather than mixing, the studio being centred around an Otari MTR 90 24-track and a Soundtracks 48-input desk.
"We're gonna try and get a Trident or something like that in. But we're not looking to be hi-tech, flying faders and all that. The whole thing about it is total vibe, for want of a better word."
The one significant track that survived intact from these sessions is "How's That?".
"It wasn't even remixed 'cause we liked it so much," Patch adds. "It was recorded pretty much straight live and it was mixed during a day when about five other songs were mixed."
Rak Studios, London
Sept 31-Oct 1 '97:
Whitfield Studios, London
Recording "I Got The Wherewithal"
Patch: "We did it as a demo and then when we went into RAK to begin the first proper recordings for the album, we did it again to put out as a single. We did the backing tracks there and then Sophie came in and she did some perfect vocal performances, but we ended up flying in the vocal from the demo since it had such a great feel. The tempos were virtually the same, but they did have to timestretch it a bit on the Pro Tools."
Sophie: "This was the most boring session for me, just because I was there too long and I kept having to do take after take after take and they ended up using the one off the demo and it was like...arrgh...I've been here for two days and you're not even using what I've done...great.
"With the album, I've been quite lucky really in that most of the time I don't think I've ever done more than about 10 takes of something. Usually a bit less than that. I mean, I can keep working for as long as they want me to, but usually the sense that there's something gone from it the longer I keep doing it. I don't improve with age... I'm not like wine."
Blah St, Hampshire
Aborted attempt to record album with guitarist/somgwriter Billy Reeves in the producer's chair. Both "If You Can't Do It When You're Young; When Can You Do It?" and "Bells For David Keenan" survive from the sessions
Patch: "We went into Blah St with Billy producing and it was fairly experimental. He wanted to have a crack at some of the things, see how it went with him producing and some interesting stuff came out of it, but a lot of it was... I think it was a bit rushed actually, to be honest. But half of 'If You Can't Do It When You're Young; When Can You Do It?' was edited together from the demo session and the version that Billy produced."
Producer Mike Hedges' studio in Normandy.
Recording "I Know Enough (I Don't Get Enough)", "You Get What You Deserve"
Patch: "Mike Hedges' studio is in this fantastic huge chateau and when we were there, it was great weather and there was such a nice feel. He's got a chef there, so you just ask what you want for dinner and there's unlimited bottles of red wine. We finished putting the backing tracks down and just drank red wine basically - for about three days!"
Sophie: "Downstairs where the studio is, is this huge high-ceilinged room with a chandelier, and then below that there's all these rooms with different textures for the floor - one of them's got a load of gravel, another one's got astroturf. There's a really smart room that's like a padded cell, which is where James Dean Bradfield used to do most of his vocals. I did mine upstairs in the chandelier room."
Veteran producer Mike Hedges - whose credits include The Cure, McAlmont/Butler and, of course, the Manics - was great to work with, according to Hannan, although he was both strict and playfully manipulative.
"Mike is the biggest diplomat you've ever met. He's so funny and he rarely tells the truth about anything...he keeps you on your toes and he takes the piss out of people quite readily. But he was absolutely superb and everyone really liked him...he gets the best out of people. He mixes the old world Sixties technology with the state-of-the-art Pro Tools stuff and records everything onto a 16-track two-inch machine, which was the original Fleetwood mobile machine that John Lennon used for 'Imagine'. From there, it goes onto Pro Tools if it needs to be fiddled about with.
"We didn't actually all go in and play together on those sessions, which was a bit of a shame really. I think just logistically we couldn't, so we ended up doing those a bit more separately. This was before we'd done a lot of touring, so we weren't actually that fantastically together as a band, although we were obviously OK. We got a lot better in January, just started playing as a band, so we started doing live takes from then.
"'I Know Enough' didn't actually end up as the single or album version - it's ended up on the limited-edition of the album that's got a second CD."
Jan 26-Feb 3: '98
Red Bus Studios, London
Recording "Harry Don't Fetch The Water", "A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed", "Running Out Of Space"
"None of these were done to a click track," Patch explains. "There just wasn't one there because it's a very basic studio and it was completely full because Mike Hedges and Ian Grimble always being over their old EMI desk. It originally came out of Abbey Road and it's like a mobile desk - it's in four sections and it clips together, with the big up-and-over faders. They basically use it as something really nice and old and valvey for the original tracks to go through...
"So, there was no click track, but we'd been playing live by then quite a lot, so we did those tracks pretty much totally live. We did them as a band with Sophie singing as well even though, to be honest, it was pretty much only the drums that got kept. But because it's live and not to a click, the whole band playing together, you get that feel with the drums straight away."
Olympic Studios, London
Recording "Now That You Are 18", "Shoebox Song", "Mr Doasyouwouldbedoneby", "Keep In Touch" with engineer/mixer Jeremy Wheatley
Patch: "Basically me and Dean were told we had some tracks from the Reeves production that the record company were sort of happy with, but they wanted to see if we could do anything with them.
"We ended up trying to vibe them up a bit. I redid the drum tracks on 'Now That You Are 18' and 'Shoebox Song'. That was feeling a lot better, so we redid all the guitars, although we ended up keeping the vocals on them 'cause they were pretty good and the keyboards were all fine. Then one night I put a Beach Boys backing vocal on 'Shoebox Song' that gives it that little bit of a life on the last chorus.
"Then we looked at 'Mr Doasyouwouldbedoneby' and 'Keep In Touch' and we just felt that they were a bit stagnant. So we phoned round and got the whole band to come in to Olympic and just set up and scrapped the tracks from before and did them again with no click. They came out really, really well and all that was done in four days."
Olympic Studios, London
Album mixed by Jeremy Wheatley
Hannan admits that, in general, the band preferred Wheatley's mixes to the ones done by Mike Hedges.
"I think so. We got on really well with Jeremy and we like what he does. I think it's better just to have one person mixing sometimes - it keeps it a lot more together."
Metropolis Studios, London
Re-recording "I Know Enough (I Don't Get Enough)" with producer Pete Collins
Patch: "The record company weren't totally happy with the Hedges version, they wanted to try out Pete Collins and we did it really quick. He restructured the song and it's a much more pop production, which we all liked."
Additional production on "The More There Is To Do"
Patch: "The demo was done really quickly with an acoustic guitar and Sophie singing. It was gonna go on the album like that and I said I wasn't happy with it, so Reeves said to me, 'Oh well, go in and do what you want with it'. So I took it into Blah St with Dean (Molle, guitarist) and we put some drums, bass, guitar and vibes on it and that's what's on the album."
The big question then: What do they think when they listen to the album now?
Patch: "I think it sounds really good. I was worried that it was going to sound over produced for some reason."
1998 | Melody Maker