First off I think we need to give Ed a massive pat on the back for this one. He took many many tracks of “stuff”…strings, brass, keys, guitar, vocal, 2 pianos which just went on and on and on….and sculptured them into something beautiful. Ed and I have often had words over his previous form of not seeming willing to remove stuff when I felt it needed taking out but he did such an incredible edit job on this. Incredible. A talent.
The song in it’s very basic form was originally written about 4 years ago for a theatre project I was working on with Small Change theatre company. They wanted some live music in a show and had a period of “R and D” where I came up with a few bits of nonsense. I wrote the melody and some of the words whilst commuting to Cambridge from Leeds! Since then it’s never been far from my mind and we’ve played it in several forms and it very nearly made it on to the last record. I’m pretty sure there are some more lyrics lurking somewhere but I cannot remember where they are.
So this time round it all happened very spontaneously. I seem to remember Hux was away and so it was a bit of a slow day. I started playing this on the guitar and Goff sat down at the keys and started playing a repeated string line. A few minutes later Gary sat at the piano and started trying to work out the fast piano melody. I’ve had the song in my head for years and it’s one of the rare ones I just keep playing again and again on my own so I was happy to just keep banging away on it. Ed just hit record at an appropriate moment and a pretty good demo was made. I hope our good friend Ben won’t mind me saying that he made an unannounced visit to the Crypt that afternoon and wandered in through the unlocked door whilst we were doing the demo. He just waited in the foyer and when we finished walked through the curtain, tears in his eyes. A very lovely day.
Demo done we shelved it for a while and then came back to it in one of the snatched recording days whilst gigging at the end of March. We’d had 3 gigs on the bounce with very little sleep but we all knew we were really against the clock so we dragged ourselves in and laid down the bones of the track (guitar/piano/keys/vocal) in live takes. You can her how tired my voice is at the start. Ed will say more about this but it really is very live!
James had this idea for a single note to be played on several instruments through the song (what’s this called James?) and this eventually morphed into the brass swells you hear on the record now – created with the ensemble from thin air again, James literally carving out the sound, ams waving and mouthing notes to players as the tape rolled. Goffy added some great strings and we were left with a bag load of lush sounding tracks but not much shape. Ed holed himself in the studio and produced what you hear now. I knew it was going to be good because I could just tell from Ed’s tone when he got home that he thought he’d done good!
So many people have come up to me and told me this track makes them cry. It does come from right in there… and it’s a mixture of a whole load of emotions and times of my life – it’s not totally coherent and I don’t want to say too much because it’s a very personal one….it’s about making the big decisions, the one-off decisions…
[Ed] It’s all about the vocal. Always, always, always. Especially on this song and although I’m happy to take a little bit of the credit most of it should go to Si… The vocal on this is just one single live take and is really really great imho. Si tired, sat on a stool in the crypt singing into an SM58 as he played guitar, Goff played keys and Gary played piano. The first 1 minute 20 or so of the song is just that 58. Everything you hear up till the flutes come in is just the sound that was around Si in the room as he sang. It’s a lovely sound I think… And all the more lovely for being so natural… we weren’t recording SIMON’S BIG VOCAL MOMENT, a few of us were just making music together in a room and Si was singing as we did so. When I went in to build the mix (and this mix is definitely a build) the sound of that single channel and that vocal just told me what to do. All I really had to do was listen and not let my ego get in the way. And just try it… turn it up loud and close your eyes and listen to Si just in front of you and all these beautiful random moments around him.
It was a mix of 2 parts. The first was just tedious. I knew I was going to strip the mix down and then rebuild it because we had all these great parts for the song but no structure but I didn’t know exactly how. That meant that any part could end being really exposed so I ended up spending a good 4 hours just tidying stuff up. The sustain pedal on the upright Gary recorded the 2 piano parts on was clicking and it was super distracting. It took me a good couple of hours to remove all the clicks from those by hand using what’s called spectral repair which as far as I can explain it is pretty much black magic. Going through the brass (we only did one take of James and his merry men doing those beautiful off the cuff swells) and muting or replacing bad notes – luckily there weren’t many. The same for the strings as well and the keyboards, just getting everything to a place where if I bought up any channel of any instrument and it would sound lovely. And the second part? I just muted everything except the voice, played the song and reacted… What could it need now? What could happen that could reflect and support the vocal? Bring the strings up, bring the french horns up, bring the flutes up, bring them all down again. It was kind of fun and kind of painstaking. Having big bold quick ideas followed by fiddly, delicate work. Took me about 3 hours to work through the track section by section, doing very delicate automation and then another couple of hours of fractional tweaking. Major thought? “Don’t fuck it up. The song is great. The vocal is great. Don’t fuck it up.” Major feeling? A quiet excitement. It was a bit like being an explorer… Helping this beautiful delicate thing rise from chaos in from of me. We definitely had some luck on our side as well, even the mistakes I made on this one helped and Si’s tiredness helped and the brass just worked and the strings were great etc etc The mix you hear on the record is that actually that first mix I did with about 3 tiny tiny changes.
I was pretty proud when I did the mix and sent it round everyone. A bit nervous as well as I’d hacked peoples parts around and we hadn’t really talked about it before. (And I might have gone insane with tiredness and made something horrible) but everyone in the band pretty much loved it so we knew it was pretty good but the reaction of people to it, even on the day of release was quite amazing. Really really humbling… When we did the launch gig at the Brudnell we played it live for the first time and it was actually was genuinely the only song on Sleep Sound that we hadn’t rehearsed at all. The only one we said “nope, definitely not, too hard to recreate…” Halfway through the gig Si just starts playing it and everyone joins like it was planned from the start. I love this band (bunch of idiots)… Because I don’t play on it I snuck out into the crowd and got to watch like everyone else gets to and be very very proud indeed to be part of it in someway. As lovely as anything we’ve done I think.