Friday, January 08, 2016

Ruts D.C. 'Psychic Attack' recording sessions, December 2015

Saturday 19th December, 10.54am on a tube train going into London.   

And so it begins.

Today is the first day of recording sessions for the Ruts D.C. album 'Psychic Attack'. We've spent two days this week with producer James Knight at The Music Complex in Deptford running through 6 songs - 'Psychic Attack', 'Secondhand Child', 'Surprise', 'Tears On Fire', 'Soft City Lights' and 'Golden Boy' - with a 7th song 'Innocent' on (for want of a better term) the subs bench. We played the first 3 on the Psychic Attack Tour this autumn, while 'Golden Boy' was played acoustically at The Rebellion Festival back in August. The other songs have yet to be played on stage although we've been working on them and quite a few other ideas throughout the last year or so. As often happens before a song is recorded there are changes to be made to rehearsal or live versions - James (a.k.a. Jim) suggested some arrangement alterations alongside different drum patterns and bass and guitar parts. It can sometimes feel a bit odd to have someone come in with ideas as to how songs might be played but in this case pretty much all of his suggestions were accepted by the band. I guess it's back to an oft-repeated adage that a fresh pair of ears will often hear something that the band may not; recording is very different to playing live as you're (hopefully) creating something that is potentially going to be listened to many times (and let's face it, will be around a long time after we're all gone!) whereas a live performance is just that i.e. over in the time that it takes to play. Sounds serious doesn't it? Well I suppose it is! That said I've got a really good feeling about these sessions - the band is playing well, Jim seems to be very easy to work with and no one that I've spoken to has a bad word to say about Perry Vale Studios or engineer Pat Collier. A good three days are in prospect - let's get on with it then...

10.27pm in South London.

So - day one is done. 
Guitars and amps in
the main studio room.

Just as we were about to start the first run through of the first song Segs turned to me and smiled - 'right, we're really doing it then'. I smiled back and said 'yes, yes we are' - not perhaps the wittiest reply that I've ever given but entirely accurate under the circumstances. Dave was in the drum booth (fairly obviously!) with myself and Segs in the main studio room and James and Pat in the control room - a 'rock' Ruts D.C. album (as opposed to a reggae or dub release) was indeed underway. Dave was playing his trusty Gretsch drum kit, Segs had bought along the Mark Bass amp that he'd bought while we were on tour in Germany and I'd plugged my Les Paul into the studio's Selmer Treble And Bass 50W amplifier (which in turn was plugged into a Marshall 4 x 12" cabinet isolated in another part of the studio so that the sound wouldn't bleed over onto the other microphones) and we were sounding good. Very good. That said it might have been a bit overambitious for us to start with 'Psychic Attack'; it's a fast song and since we were playing to a click track it required some serious
Drum booth in the background,
  bass on the right.
concentration. Also while Dave and Segs have done this sort of thing many many times I'm well behind them in the experience stakes and don't mind admitting it. It took us all a while to get used to the click track - I'm not actually sure that I 'got used to it' but I at least worked out a way to play to it - and as Segs and myself were only recording guide parts to be replaced later the drum track was the important part of proceedings; I think we've got a good one but we're going to listen again tomorrow and decide whether or not the last one recorded can be used.

Next up - 'Secondhand Child'. We've been performing this in various forms for over a year and so you might think that recording it would be reasonably straightforward, and indeed Dave got a great drum track down in only a few takes. Segs then overdubbed bass and a guide vocal before I started on the electric guitar parts. Generally speaking I'm not too bad at this sort of thing, but things were compounded somewhat by Sean turning up to record some footage for use in out current PledgeMusic campaign. Suddenly there seemed to be lots of people watching me and nerves began creeping in meaning that I maybe took longer over things than I might have liked, although plenty of good takes were recorded including a solo using a Maestro Universal Synthesiser System which Jim had bought along and which sounded ever bit as mad as I for one was hoping that it would. I'm not 100% sure that it'll make it to the final track but it certainly lightened the mood! Segs also added acoustic guitar (he came up with the original idea for the song that way so it seemed right that he played it) and Dave added percussion - 'Secondhand Child' is sounding very good indeed.
'Music Maestro please...'

We then turned our collective attention to the third song of the day, 'Surprise'. After running through it a couple of times Segs made the somewhat radical suggestion that Dave record the drum track without us playing along with him but with Segs on a vocal mic saying whereabouts they were in the song i.e. 'verse 1', 'chorus 1' etc. At best this might be described as 'unconventional' but amazingly it seemed to work and although we'll have a critical listen tomorrow I think it sounds great.
We finished 20 minutes before the allotted time of 8 o'clock (9 hour days starting at 11 am is very civilised don't you think?!?) so it was obviously time for a drink. The nearby Blythe Hill Tavern serves magnificent Guinness, and a couple of pints augmented by bags of peanuts were a most welcome end to our day. As we left a chap on a nearby table was bursting into song, with his friends either looking as though they wanted to join in (but perhaps significantly didn't) or that they wished that he would stop. It somehow seemed a shame to leave.  

Sunday 20th December, 10.47pm in South London.

A not-so fantastic Voyager.
Another day in the studio. I can't believe that I've just written that, after all it's only the second day. Mind you it's amazing just how 'at home' you can feel sometimes isn't it?
Today began with work on 'Surprise' after the drum track had passed a critical listen. This 'work' involved recording a lot - and I mean a lot - of guitar parts. It's interesting - we've been playing the song live for a few months now with only one guitar part (obviously!) but as previously mentioned the studio is a very different place to the stage, and suddenly there seems to be room for loads of the bloody things. There's been lots of doubling of parts and I doubt that everything that we've recorded will make it to the finished track - after all, I might come up with some more ideas... there was also bass and guide vocals from Segs, and an abortive attempt to use an overdubbed hi-hat part to trigger a Moog Voyager synthesiser which for whatever reason didn't want to work so phasing was used on the hi-hat instead. Even though I say so myself it all sounds terrific. 
Time for another song - after running through 'Tears On Fire' a few times we decided to leave that one until tomorrow and instead looked at 'Soft City Lights'. This featured a pre-recorded bass synth part prepared by Dave and Segs a few days earlier - this may or may not make it to the finished track but it was easy to play along with and we got a good drum take in no time. The 'finished' version included a section where the drums drop out and then build up again - this hadn't been rehearsed but was incorporated when Dave stopped because he thought that he'd made a mistake (he hadn't!) and we all though that it sounded so good it stayed in the track. Jim then overdubbed a piano onto the song (some relentlessly pounding chords that reminded us all of 'I'm Waiting For The Man' which can only be a good thing if you think about it) and Segs added the by now inevitable bass and guide vocals. Once again Sean shot some film, and Rhiannon came along to take some photos and to give me the rather bizarre news that she'd had a dream in which I'd been 'a one man version of Department S'. What can this mean? Oh and we went to The Blythe Hill Tavern again, but you probably guessed that we would. In the meantime it's tomorrow tomorrow, which means more recording. Good 

Sunday 21st December - except that it's after midnight so it's actually Monday 22nd. Oh well.

The third day of three, and as often happens the last day of sessions is often a bit, er, 'bitty'. Still good though...
Choose your weapon...

We began with some guitar parts for 'Psychic Attack' (more about that in a minute) and 'Soft City Lights'. This began life in the key of B major but in the songwriting slalom that followed it's found it's way to the 'new' key of E major, meaning that what was once a jangly guitar riff featuring open strings is now played with a capo at the fifth fret. This has made it all a bit more difficult to play (that's my excuse anyway!) but I got through it in the end - that said it's been suggested that we borrow a Rickenbacker 12-string and re-record it on that as that might give a more appropriate sound so we'll see what happens next on that one.
Next we started work on 'Golden Boy'. This is usually played by Segs and myself on 2 acoustic guitars and Dave on percussion - Segs recorded a guitar part by playing along to a drum loop made by Dave based on the feel of 'How Do You Sleep?' by John Lennon which seemed right in both tempo and feel for the song. He then recorded a guide vocal (as usual!) and James suggested that we consider putting strings on the track - with this in mind we decided to think about it (I've thought about it, it's a brilliant idea!) and in the meantime started the 7th 'we haven't quite finished this one yet' song 'Innocent'. Although more of a jam than a song at the moment we all agree that it's got a lot of potential so we recorded a few minutes of it to give us something to work with before the next sessions. We then returned to 'Tears On Fire' which hadn't quite worked the previous day but came together well today - most of the track is in the tricky time signature of 7/4 (well, I think that it's tricky!) which took a while to get hold of but went well in the end.
At this point our good friend and U.K. Subs guitarist Jet arrived - he'd been recording with Charlie and co. the previous week and so had thought he'd come down to say hello. Much jollity ensued, after which it was decided that we should listen to 'Psychic Attack' and see if anything else might be needed. Earlier in the day we'd deemed the drum track to be ok (I thought it had sounded great when it was recorded!) and so had overdubbed rhythm and solo guitars - it sounded good but needed to be madder... with this in mind we set up the studio's 1970s Marshall JMP 100W head and turned it up as James issued his instructions - 'you've already lost the gig because you're drunk and now someone's slipped you 3 Es - play it like you don't care about anything anymore...' 

The resulting cacophony received a round of applause from all in the control room. I wonder what it actually sounded like?

So that's it for now - studio days have been booked to record more new songs in February and there's work to do on these tracks in the meantime at various locations so next year should start with a bang...

Well that's what the scribbly notes say happened last month - work starts again soon!

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