Sleep Sound track a day blog: Back to the Green

Out of tiny acorns…thank goodness. This started as one of the worst demos we’ve ever made. I had a tiny idea on the way into the studio one day – a sort of calypso hybrid of Laid by James and I Fought the Law… We played around it without Gary for a morning and just laid down some really really rough ideas to come back to later. Terrible. Really terrible but somehow enough to give us a belief that we should leave it as is and have one magical day in the studio with the full 8-piece H&S animal and write, arrange and record the song in one day. There were some great flourishes from Ed on pump organ and Rich was hinting at a lovely Gracelandy guitar part again but there was no magic. Every time we played the demo Ed said “it could work” and oddly I believed him.

So the day came – I’d written enough lyrics and a basic structure and we were going to have a magical fun filled party-on-the-beach type of day, spontaneously writing parts and getting it all down in live takes. Eight of us turned up to the studio that day. Six had flu. Typical, absolutely typical. Anyway…no bother, we set up and set about putting as much fun into this breezy song of non-politics as our snot filled bodies would allow.

The brass just ripped away immediately coming up with three or four great lines in close succession. In fact so speedy was their output that the original and what I remember as spectacular line was clean forgotten by all three of them in an eagerness to move on to the next section. No bother again…they came up with part after part and moulded the arrangement that is now on the record without even much vocal communication. Brilliant. I absolutely love the brass on this record – it’s all about them for me…that and the groove…a word we didn’t even dare to use until this year!

Gary, Si G and I toiled a little harder – just like Family Man (in it’s simpler format just a faster version of this!) we struggled to gel and seemed to detract from the brass rather than wrap around them. I still had no voice either from the flu so I couldn’t really sing my way through it all. Anyway, we kept going and by hook or by crook it started to move. James eventually sat out because of increasing illness and blown lips and I seem to remember Ed eventually standing down because he couldn’t really hear the pump organ but the rest of us did a few takes and eventually got a keeper.

It was certainly one of the more troubling ones after this – laying down extra guitar, keys and trumpet to a song that relies on movement as a whole band is pretty tricky – not helped by some kind wizzard error during recording which I’ll allow Ed to elaborate on… But over the course of a couple of days of playing and mixing it really fell into shape. I was talking to Ed the other day about the how there must have been a lot of faith in the band through these sessions that that the final outcome would work – because my voice was shot and because of the speed of writing/recording some of the tracks were laid down as live backing tracks without us knowing exactly what the vocal would do, how the backing melodies would work…certainly what the lyrics were. This is a classic example…there wasn’t really much apart from the “Take me back to the green” chorus and one verse. Vocal days became really special because the song sort of fell into place – usually due to backing vocals more than the lead.

I think the origin of this song’s sentiment lies in an argument I had with Ben Denison about communism! We had been drinking. That and watching a number of separate riots/protests in London on TV recently and just wondering how many people actually knew what they were fighting for.

[Ed] We intended this to be nothing but fun to record… just the whole bundle of us in the room (including our “dream team” brass section of James, Katie and Rosie) all writing together and just having a laugh, egging each other on to get one totally live perfect take, sunlight and laughter filling the air. That’s just not how it worked. There is sunlight there in the recording though and that’s of credit to everyone.

Not much to say about recording the live stuff… just standard really… when you only have 16 channels to record 8 people you make sacrifices. Gary set up some temple blocks (bit like wooden cowbells) along with his kit and I didn’t have enough channels to close mic them which I regretted at mixdown I seem to remember that it just tailed off with people saying “Well, I guess that’s as good as it’s gonna get…” Not exactly depressing but not the waves of joy we were hoping for. Especially on a song that was all about vibe, energy and sharing a groove.

Overdubbing Si’s rhythm guitar part took ages. This was one of the last songs we recorded so we’d got very used to being able to quickly get sounds in the room and tracking live and it just working. We hadn’t actually done many overdubs… and this took AGES. Si just couldn’t seem to get it in time… it actually turned out that a bypassed plugin on the master buss was adding loads of latency to what he was hearing as he recorded so everything he recorded was about 1000 samples late. Massive pain in the ass! Once we worked that out everything went much smoother (and it explained some problems that we’d been having with other songs as well…)

When we did the demo it had this light acoustic calypso feel and I was playing pump organ, trying to give it make it like an accordion part bouncing off Rich but when we played it with the band that didn’t work… the pump organ felt too slow to actually play the notes and I couldn’t hear it well enough to be sure I was doing the right things so I stepped down so I could get another drum channel and concentrate on the recording. In the end I recorded it with my trusty Casio through one of those tiny Marshall belt amps (which sounds cool but depressingly rather like my Casio through an amp rather than some AMAZING NEW LOFI SOUND). I was thinking ‘transistor, transistor’ and again, just trying to get it dance around the other parts a little bit… We recorded me last (apart from vocals) and that made sense again and I was quite painstaking about just getting into the spaces that were left in the groove…

Both this song and “Sleep Sound” are cut from the same cloth to a certain extent, us rocking the idea of being the house band at some beach bar… Just this smiling easy groove that does something to your hips and despite all the problems it does have that. The way the parts just loosely interlock with each other, everyone showing off a little bit but no one trying to steal the limelight is actually really lovely. Si says that it’s all about the brass and he isn’t wrong but this one is all about everyone for me. Every part is pulling it’s weight to get that groove working and if you pull one of them out it all collapses. On the way through I seem to remember a lot of little arguments about looseness and there was little bits of micro editing and nudging of parts to get it sitting perfectly right (Rich editing, me then doing little nudges to push and pull it slightly when he wasn’t looking…) There is also a shitload of reverb on this one. Possibly more than is legal in some indie states… It just felt like the right thing to do again, trying to make it sunny and open! It always makes me smile when I hear it and definitely encouraged me to play air instrument to every single part at some point in the mixing. Air trombone is particularly good fun, you should try it.

UPDATE (by Rich)

Just found this video of Ed recording harmonium for this one, I think we reverted to his Casio if remember rightly… but it’s ellish (as they say in Hartlepool) fun to watch.

1 Comment

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Susan Thomas (& Ophelia & Uly)
June 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm

This song makes me smile too! But almost every Hope & Social song does, come to think of it. This may be my favorite on the album; I’ve been listening to it first, then the entire album, and then this one again! The brass is invigorating and makes me wish I knew how to dance the Samba or something like it! It is hard to keep my hips still on this one (much to my 9 year old son’s dismay–“Mom you’re embarrassing me!).

Just letting go and enjoying the imperfections of life–thanks for the amazing music. We love you guys.