Sleep Sound track a day blog: Family Man

This track had been kicking around my guitar for a while and I’d put it down on a couple of Garageband demos just with me and an acoustic guitar (have a listen here if you’re interested) I’d thought it wasn’t really appropriate for this album after all we’d discussed – mainly because I thought it would be too indie almost – but I’m so glad we gave it a go. It was there right from the start in terms of writing – it seems like in every session there’s a song that you keep coming back to – maybe it gets partially written right at the start and put on the shelf saying “yes that’ll work, we’ll fill in the details later”. It was Sunlight on Architect…Follow Me Into on April…and then Family Man on this. I think it’s songs that feel on first inspection to be the easiest or most comfortable but can sometimes turn out to be the hardest to fulfill their potential.

It took quite a while to get the feel right – the groove if I dare be so bold as to use that word! It was all down to Gary, Si and I gelling as a rhythm section and we just couldn’t hit on a pattern that worked. I was pretty set on the guitar part I’d written but it pulled it all back. All solved by perseverance and I think it really really kicks along now. James’ brass licks bouncing off Rich’s guitars are one of my favourite parts of the album…and this is the only vocal to be recorded before the dreaded flu struck us all and took our voices away which I think you can tell if you listen hard.

I think the sentiment of the track is pretty self-explanatory really…it’s hardly T.S. Elliot…although the “Phosphor-coated smile” couplet is one of my favourite lyrics…it set a bench mark which I struggled to hit again. The end section came from a little song I used to sing to my little boy when he was first born to try and soothe him…

Over to Ed/Rich…

[Ed] As Si says getting the groove right for this was really important. In the end we tracked this totally live without a click track, just the 5 of us in the room with no headphones, so it could dance a little better. It was a lovely way to record, no sense of pressure, just turn the lights down and press the big red button as 5 people in the room make music. No click did mean that taking stuff from different takes was a little bit of a mare but Gary was so consistent that even without a click that it was much easier than you might expect. Another bit of great work from the rhythm section tho. Bass and drums are basically just the last take we played. I think we may have nudged the whole bass track forward or backward in time just a couple of milliseconds. It’s something we did a lot on this album on various parts to absolutely find the spot where parts grooved best together. I’m also a big believer that stuff should be tight but also that stuff shouldn’t happen at ‘exactly’ the same time. If you imagine a band at full tilt and if everyone hits a note exactly together then you’ve got 5 big loud things ALL struggling to be heard at exactly the same point – everything is masking everything else. A real nightmare to mix… However, if some parts are fractionally and consistently ‘loose’ then it’s much easier to let everything be heard and you can actually make everything be louder. AC/DC are a great example of this working – listen to how the bass, rhythm guitar and drums just sit around each other, all loud, all clear as a bell, all tight but the guitars are often slightly ahead, the bass slightly behind.

Toms sound great on this as well… (combination of pure luck, Gary’s lovely Ludwig kit and CAD M179’s which make amazing tom mics). If you get chance to listen on some great speakers it sounds like you’re actually IN the drum kit.Recording quick and live like we have been doing it’s always a bit of a risk because you don’t get chance to fully assess mic positions and sounds so we ended up doing very standard things a lot of the time just for safety. There’s one spot in the crypt where we pretty much always place drums because there’s a stream that used to run under the church to power the organ and the stone floor is just a bit more hollow in this one spot. It adds this really lovely bottom end to the drums when you get it right. James had loads of other work on during the recording process so couldn’t make a fair number of the live sessions so we did the trumpets a couple of days later. We really wanted to try and record the brass section live on this record but this is just James by himself (well, James x 3 or 4) and it sounds ace to me… Really makes the choruses.

I nearly made a mess of the mix though. It sounded great when we recorded it but somehow over time I managed to somehow neuter it in some way. Right towards the end with just 2 days left and LOADS to still do I stripped it down and had another go… Used a different bus compressor on the 2 buss (the Stillwell Bombardier which is actually fully awesome and I wish I’d tried earlier) and pushed the compression a lot harder than I was before. There’s a couple of reasons to use a buss compressor 1) to glue the track, it can make everything just sit together better and 2) if the track is well arranged it helps you by almost self mixing – louder things push quieter things back naturally. The Stillwell managed to do all that cool stuff without loosing any of the attack of the drums etc… Liked it a lot and really glad I took the risk of taking another stab at the mix. It’s actually something I’ll do quite a lot. After the initial attempts some mixes are just a series of polishes, just making it sound better each time – mainly left brain stuff. Others need you to start again, let it become instinctive again, get back to that same reactive place you’re in when you start a mix. I’m a firm believer that if 70% of a mix isn’t done in the first couple of hours you really have big problems and sometimes you need to go back to the start again and re-approach, let the mix become emotional again rather than technical for while… I’ve spent so much time in the past trying to fix a mix by trying to do increasingly finer and more technical polishes but what it really needed was taking back to the start and building the foundations differently.

Recording the backing vocal “ooohs” was a real giggle (again all together, no headphones). The parts are SO high… I think Rich worked out that his highest note was actually outside of the range for an operatic soprano and when he recorded it he looked like he was having an intensely painful toilet experience. During writing we tried it in lower keys but it always seemed to take something away so we went for it and the guys just had to force it out. I actually really like it… I love the sound of human beings trying to do something, of voices breaking and cracking. It’s all that real world human shit that makes stuff genuinely affecting…


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Simon Wiffen
May 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Yup, yup yup “My memory’s like a sieve, It captures all the residue and grime. But you’re lighting up the present, with your incandescent phosphor-coated smile.” is my number one favourite lyrics on the album as well. Nice work sir…

Dean Stewart
May 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Yeah that lyric jumped straight out at me too. Lovely. On a par with “Harden my heart to the selfish insensitive whims of the rain” which was my fave from April,