PART 1 - FINDING THE STUDIO
2013 was not the most fun year for me personally. There were quite a few highlights though and one of the biggest was the recording of my upcoming album "Not Sleeping"
When I recorded and released the last album "Hand In Fire" I learned a lot. I learned the next time I recorded an album there were certain things I would do and certain things I wouldn't.
What I didn't want this time was to use click tracks. Joe Leach at Cowshed studios was a bit of a time keeping nut and he prevailed in the concept of click tracking 95% of the album. We would use the click when recording lives drums and bass with a guide vocal and my rhythm guitar, then we would add master vocals, strings, piano etc.
"Hand In Fire" is an album I am very proud of and it is beautifully recorded but it left me with a real urge to make the next album as live as possible especially the rhythm section.
So I went a browsing for the right studio. What I had in mind was a studio which had a great room and not too expensive so we didn't have to look at the clock too much. I didn't mind if the studio did not have top end equipment. I felt strongly that if it was the right studio with the right vibe then the performances would shine through.
I eventually remembered that an old friend of mine, who I hadn't seen for some time, was a partner in a studio based in East London called "Soup Studios". I gave Sam a call and not only was he thrilled to hear from me but he invited me to see the studio right away.
Within a few days I was standing in the room admiring Sam's collection of guitars and amps with my daughter Ava having a run around while my wife was keeping a watchful eye - I knew right away it was perfect.
PART TWO - FIRST THREE DAYS RECORDING
I rounded up the band.
We arrived on the first morning as a 6 piece:
Dan Hale - drums
Charles Benfield - bass
Vlad Soriano - acoustic guitar
Alberto Manuzzi - hammond
James Forster - electric guitar
Niall Kelly - vocals, rhythm acoustic guitar
There was quite the busy bee vibe in the first hour of arriving as I told the engineers I wanted us to be in a circle, facing each other. This would maximize eye contact for signals regarding starts, endings and dynamics. To achieve the circle the engineers set up temporary sound walls which went to chest height as you're sitting down.
The format for most of the songs would be where we would be all wearing headphones which had a live band mix as it was being played.
I would be singing the guide vocal and guitar right there in the room in the hope there would not be too much bleed into the other mics. Therefore when we made a take it would have that live room ambiance.
No click tracks. No separation. All feel.
Some of the songs the band did not even hear before which I felt helped the vibe of the album.
For example the song "Poor Elias".
"Poor Elias" is a composition which has an improvised "final act" and an ending which was improvised.
I simply told the guys there would be a point where we bring the song down and will eventually go back into the riff and then finish the song.
During the take I realised we did not discuss an ending to the song but luckily through eye contact and watching for my signal we all made the exact same perfect ending. The Rolling Stones had the same thing with their song "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?"
These kind of moments occurred quite often which made me very excited as I knew there were great little gems caught in a bottle and we would have them forever.
On this template, we bounced on.