The View from Above
The View from Above was the final song to be completed for the album, although it started life pretty early on as a very loose and somewhat synth heavy demo. The recording process broke down into two periods really: the first where we were definitely finding our way and trying to work how to use sounds we’d never used before with James building an ever-more elaborate recreation of the Starship Enterprise; and the second where we discarded much of that work as derivative and uncomfortable, argued some and then worked out the rest of what became the album. This and the original version of Heavy Startup both started life in the earlier batch of songs and made their way through (sometimes painful) transformation to the end. I think it might well have been binned if it were not for the fact that it sounds a bit like the Minder theme tune, and in our world that’s enough of a reason to keep something and call it ‘art’.
The other eight tracks were almost completely finished when we came to work on this. The usual process is that Ed will upload mixes with a collective “album” name so that we can listen to them as a batch – usually with titles such as Songs from the Key of Jazz Shoes or Some Funk Which Lacks a Leader etc. Often they’ll include final versions of what we’ve done and then demos of any contenders for the remainder of the album. We had two left – this and another one called We Can Change which really felt like the favourite as it had a really lovely groove. However, every time the opening snare crack of The View from Above came on it seemed to really make you listen. I thought at the time, and I still feel to some extent now, that it’s not quite as strong as the other songs on the album but as we’re old fashioned and still treat the album as a whole work rather than a collection of songs then it felt like a vital addition. So we went back in for one long day in The Crypt to try and make it sit right with the rest of the tracks.
We took a huge pair of scissors to the whole thing – discarded blasting trumpet parts, vocoder melodies and groin-guitar licks and tried to add a little of the, erm, humour (?) of the rest of the album. Fletch was a good barometer of taste when it came to deciding if we’d gone too far with the 80s synth pop thing and his feeling that this track (and Heavy Startup) had tipped too far towards ABC-style gloss was pretty well founded. So out came swanee whistle, glitch plugins and masses of backing vocals. We still hold tight to Brian Eno’s assertion that you can fix anything with backing vocals or oyster sauce. The clicks and claps remained from the original demo but we turned them down below ear-bleeding levels. We also kept my laugh which was on the piano track as I tried (unsuccessfully) to play the very fast piano riff. Yes, we did have to cut that one up and make it from MANY takes, I have no problem admitting that!
As ever, the greatest challenge with this record was fitting in the recording around six people’s increasingly packed diaries and I think it really shows, certainly lyrically, that we finished this one after the main mass of the album. Personally, I’d dried up on the main thrust of the rest of the lyrical content which focuses around what it means to be in middle-life and this is a sort of aside, a dream about seeing things from a new perspective.
Oh…and the video is a piece of total genius. It’s perfect and, for me, it makes the song whole.
In preparation for the first writing sessions for this album, I collected up a bunch of new toys; a synth, drum machine, Ed’s old DR. Sample (still loaded with Four Day Hombre loops) a sax, a tin whistle (which was always in the wrong key) and a load of free iPad/iPhone music apps. The aim was two fold; to provide a sonic pallet that was different to previous albums, and to present it across a series of unfamiliar tactile interfaces. We talked a lot about coming at things from a different angle on this album. By forcing yourself to make music on something unfamiliar or uncomfortable you come up with ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily find on instruments that you are competent (or semi-competent) on. I also have an extremely short attention span and need near constant short term novelty stimulation. The “click” and “clap” samples were some of the first things we played around with on these sessions. They came from “Figure”, a Propeller Heads app that you can easily loose days in. When you load stuff into the Dr. Sample (a long painstaking process) it does something to it, not necessarily in a good way but it made these sound cool! You can also completely format the memory card by accidentally turning it off in a certain way, which is a nice little built in danger feature.
The first iteration of this song just felt overly serious and a bit pompous so it was a complete rebuild to get it to where it is now. For me it actually represents a lot of what we learnt over the process of the album. Although it might not be the strongest track, sonically it’s a culmination of the new skills we’ve gathered.
The video is amazing. I actually had a little tear when I watched it the first time, it has this bizarrely emotional arc. That cat really loves that paper bird.
I play drums on this track.
My favourite drum is green drum. It goes BOOM!