From Experience: Part II by Pete Falloon
In the last blog piece, I shared what motivated me to make an album of my own, and the story up to the first recording session at Vale Studios. So, I had a plan, a process, and by May 2015, the bare bones of the music were recorded - live drums, bass and guitars and a few lead vocals tracked. Let's pickup the story from there. In April I'd already begun to think about what additional parts we might put in the mix next time we hit the studios. As it turned out, two instruments ended up being pretty pivotal in the sound that the album was to finally become. Firstly, the mandolin I'd bought, and secondly the B-Bender equipped Telecaster that I mentioned in the first blog piece. That guitar needed further work still and so it got sent in to Mansons Guitars in Exeter to have a new set of Bareknuckle pickups (made in the West Country of the UK!) fitted. I was absolutely delighted with how it played and sounded when it came home - clear, crisp, articulate and sparkly! I kept on working on those ideas for overlays and additional parts through the late spring, recording and refining them, and rehearsing the lead vocal parts that were still needed.
Facebook photo gallery from June 2016 studio session here.
Given the long hours of vocal work needed, I found the vocal exercises from Aussie Vocal Coach invaluable and used them most days. Brother Matthew, Paul Everest and me returned to Vale Studios in early June 2016 for the second four day recording session. We put down the rest of the lead vocals, some electric guitars, percussion and Wurlitzer. The resulting rough mixes from those sessions were sounding great, but they also left me wanting more, and in need of some major thinking to do. So, I came back home with those mixes, and listened, listened and listened. I listened at home out loud, I listened at work on the headphones, I listened out running and in the car.. in the main the ideas that came from all that listening were organic, rather than sitting down with the music and a guitar and hammering ideas out. That in itself brought challenges as I'd often need to find ways to record a new idea in a weird situation, like having to sing a guitar line in the car all the way home until I could capture it on a phone!
The emerging ideas then got recorded a little more seriously at home with my iPad, iTrack dock and the Auria app, and were mostly guitar, mandolin and backing vocal parts. Over that summer too, I began to think about how the album should be presented visually. The story of the album itself is essentially one of growth, liberation and learning from failures and obstacles. We had a series of pieces of artwork from the British textural artist, Gill Hickman, in the house called Stronger Because, that effectively depicted something solid collapsing down, and coming back together in a different, but stronger form, and so my thought at the time was that not only would that be a good album title generally but it would also fit what the album was about. So at that stage, I got in contact with Gill and began to discuss ideas for artwork. However, it soon became clear that this route wouldn't really allow me as much freedom with the artistic direction as I felt the album needed,
so it was time to think again. More on that later...
I carried on working on ideas for overlays - constantly listening, honing, crafting, refining and recording, and going round that loop again - through the summer, autumn and winter of 2015 until roughly February 2016. Alongside the artwork, one of the major decisions to make next was in mixing the album. For the non technical folks, mixing is basically the process of deciding how each individual part (for example, a lead vocal part, or a guitar line) you record will sound - how bright it is, any effects like echo and so on - and how all the different parts combine together to make the track you hear on a CD, stream or download. It's a very complex process with many choices to make and critically changing just one element can alter the how the rest of the parts sound. It's also absolutely critical in defining the overall sound of what you've recorded, and how that will be heard by the outside world. I had a shortlist of five potential mix engineers. Given that I wanted the LP to have a timeless classic sound, somehow linking early R.E.M, 'Ballad of Easy Rider' era Byrds, James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel, Mitch Easter and John Keane who had worked with R.E.M seemed obvious choices as did Gene Parsons (the Byrds drummer). Andrew Scheps had also been in contact with the folks at Vale Studios and has worked with a huge range of very successful artists. That said, having at least one day working with the mixer in person in the studio is pretty much essential, which ruled out the first three as they were based in the US, and having listened to their mixes of other artists, I felt it needed something different. Brother Matt again came to the rescue and suggested Tim Wills, who he had worked with some years before, and who had worked with the likes of Ian Brown (The Stone Roses), Newton Faulkner, Nick Cave and The Cure. I had a listen, and it was decided. Tim was our man. The work on crafting extra parts for the album had paid off, and we booked into Vale Studios for the third and final four day session in March of 2016.
Preparing for studio work can be a laborious process at times - with an acoustic guitar, a twelve string acoustic, two electrics and a mandolin, I had 38 strings to change to make sure the instruments were sounding on top form! That last visit to Vale was a really great one. My journey up there was marked by diversions, as the nearby rivers were in full flood - but once we got there, the ideas came flooding out too and it was a very creative time. It was amazing just how much we fitted in - partly the result of some serious preparation, and also being flexible to change things at short notice. During those sessions, we put down backing vocals, extra guitars (both acoustic and electric), percussion, and hand claps. I have particularly fond memories of the hand claps, with Chris, Matt and me standing round a microphone in a circle and hardly able to record for the laughter as it seemed so ridiculous for three grown men to stand in a circle doing that. These sessions were also fueled by our staple beer, St Austell's Proper Job, which went down very nicely with the incredible curry that Moira cooked us one night. Like in the other sessions, I prepared myself most mornings with a run out into the vegetable fields and along the river, and vocal exercises. The sun rising and reflecting over the flooded river was particularly beautiful that time. After four days work, we were confident the album now had all the parts it needed. It was put down to disk and ready for the next stage, which I'll cover in the next installment!
For more photos and videos of the experience click here or follow the links below.