Right then let’s delve back into the memory banks and try and string a few thoughts together about the nine songs on FEEL. It’s been quite a lengthy process spread over three years and several sessions down the Crypt but over the next few weeks we’ll try and write a few words about how each track came into the world and how it developed during the recording. And to kick us off let’s start at the start…
FEEL was one of those tracks that came out of nothing really. I think we were on the way to the studio and I was driving in separately to the others and just started singing the melody to the verse in the car. I seem to remember it was partly inspired by listening to I Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode. Possibly. We arrived in and we started playing around this new idea. Within half an hour we had the main groove and feel for the song. There’s an internet full of interviews with songwriters about the joy of writing songs so quickly, and to be honest it very rarely happens that way, but we must have fluked it that day.
At the time we were doing a week of work trying to knock our many many fragments of ideas into actual songs and so we’d forced ourselves to put aside any new tools we’d used to that point (synths, drum machines), in fact anything “electric” and just sit round a guitar and write. It was lovely and I remember at one point we actually considered just doing the whole album like that. So we made a quick demo of FEEL in that way. Rich and me on acoustics, James on mini organ, Gary on drum, Goff on bass, Ed on piano. It was a really fruitful week and proved what we already knew that no matter what you wrap around it a good song still has to be a good song – melody, chords, words – and if that’s solid then the rest will just help to bring that out. You can ruin a good song with bad production or arrangement but you can’t fix a bad one no matter what you do. There’s just not enough glitter. Anyway…we really made some progress that week, writing Southfacing and Come What May (both originally all vocal songs). We made some rough one-mic demos and assigned them to the pile marked “fix in post”.
Fast forward to the second half of the process where we reconvene to try and shape these ‘songs’ into the record we wanted to make. We’d had grand plans of creating something a little more produced, more thought-through, not the usual approach of getting in a room, writing some songs and then recording them as they are (give or take the odd choir or brass band!). We’d even had a weekend away to discuss such matters and make a plan (on a pizza box), a thinly veiled excuse to sit in the pub with each other, listen to some tunes and spout some bollocks. We came away with a manifesto, some of which was useful, some of which was nonsense (“What would Dre do? Wax an owl” for instance) And now we had to actually do it. We had a whole bunch of new toys to play with – synthesisers, drum machines, sound effects, new guitars..not to mention a new bass player, Fletch – but we had to actually create a new (ish) sound. At least for us. We’re not talking about reinventing the wheel but five albums in there has to be something to explore and something to challenge you. We really tried to be sparing, minimal I guess, and try to leave room. FEEL was our first test, built bit by bit over a very simple drum loop from Gary…and it was a really really exciting day. OK, on playback a few days later it was massively flawed but it was a start.
So several days, a helicopter sample, an elephant noise, some tea cups, a fantastic bass sound, a lot of discussion and a LOT of backing vocals and there it was. And Hux played the most amazing solo he’s ever pulled out the bag…even if we did have to goad him into making it more and more out of control. Unleash the inner Neil Young and ignore the notes.
And what’s it about? Well, I guess it’s about the fragility of relationships, especially in this battlefield of middle life. The porcelain heart…perfectly encapsulated and enriched in the video by our good good friends Shot by Sodium. We deliberately chose not to tell the videographers too much about each song and it’s fascinating to see how they’ve been interpreted. This beauty from Sodium really gets it…”Come on and give me a signal there’s a reason to keep fit”!
Fletch – This was the first track I recorded the bass line to after joining the band and, if I’m totally honest, I just nicked the bass line Goff had written on the earlier demo. From the earlier recordings I was handed, FEEL stood out as being one of the more fully formed ideas and the bass line was a big part of the appeal to me. It’s a pretty simple song and structure but I really love all (most) of the unmusical nonsense throughout this track and enjoyed the process of layering all the different textures over the song. My only regret with the recording is that my Stylophone solo was slightly overshadowed by Huxley’s manic guitar noises.
Ed – it’s all about what you try and steal. Sometimes I felt during the making that on this album we weren’t stealing enough but there’s thievery all over the details in this one. The weird sucky reverb coming off the snare drum that helps the drums groove is a simulation of the AMS RMX16 that Prince used all the time (you can really hear it on the bass drum in Kiss). Gary played percussive coffee cups is a direct nod to Michael Jackson playing glass bottles on “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough”. The toy rave piano part is me day dreaming about the Madchester tinted piano house that soundtracked a fair amount of my drunken youth, James (who is a trumpet player in case you weren’t paying attention) doing his best Bowie sax in the middle verse. I kinda love the fact that Fletch playing bass on this was basically his audition (he had never played bass with us before). And I really enjoyed when we decided to re-add the strummed acoustic from the demo quite near the end and Si W was away so couldn’t play it again. Fletch stepped up and we had to instruct him to stop playing like a guitarist and to play more like a lead singer. “Stop being musical! Just play all the beats…” All the way through the process we were trying to make something light and fun and surprising but there’s probably a year between the start and the finish. It was a bit like trying to sculpt bronze with the world’s smallest spoon. Can’t wait to play it live…
Until the next time…