The origins of this song are lost somewhere in the depths of time. It might even go back to a time when some of us were in another band. We shall mention no names. (Although you can buy all of their back catalogue somewhere on the internet and in doing so clear some space in our studio!). I recorded a very very early demo of it on GarageBand on my laptop which was my one and only attempt at solo pop, complete with a drum machine, synth brass and some samples. It wasn’t very good but I’ve kept coming back to it again and again as an idea.
Towards the end of our second writing sessions I brought it out again for another spin and we did a couple of very loose demos of it with all acoustic instruments. To be honest, when listening back to the demos I though it was dead in the water: out of tune, boring, But when we reconvened for the recording sessions it seemed worth another bash so we set about making something of it in the most random, bitty, disparate way!
As with a lot of the album we started by laying down a basic guitar part for some sort of random structure and then put down a rough lyric-less vocal. We should release those vocal takes at some point so everyone can hear how much I use the words “sun”, “hold” and “give me” when I’m just making shit up!
From there we got deeply involved in just randomly piling stuff on top of this basic recording. It was an incredible piece of luck that one of the most arbitrary and un-planned recording sessions created one of my favourite Hope and Social songs to date. It just sort of fell into place and we all locked into the same…er…vision (for want of a better word). It was certainly the most complex layering of a song we had ever done with each part made out of something we wouldn’t normally think of.
When it started life the song was a reaction to a series of terrible “music industry” gigs in London. 6 hours driving for 20 minutes in front of a soulless audience of A&R guys. Thankfully those days are gone and the song transformed into a much more meaningful and maybe grown up response to the ongoing dominance of a London-centric centre right power! It was, in part, a response to waking up on the edges of London the day after the last election and feeling an overwhelming need to get home, to a simple place, where I understood people and the world.
The video…made by a very old friend who now lives in San Francisco. It was a little fortuitous really but who better to make a video about a distant view of London than a man who once lived in the city and now lives on the other side of the world.
It’s a close call but I think this track just pips it as my favourite. I’m a big fan of Sufjan Stevens’ sound, I love the instrumentation he uses. I only found out recently that he plays most of that himself which blew my mind a little. The “flute” flourishes here in the first verse are a bit of a nod to that, it’s actually a tin whistle multi tracked and then pitched up to the right key. When we started working on the album I was listening to his “The Age of Adz” record a lot and it was a big reference for me in terms of how it compares to some of his previous records. It’s a big dirty-electronic-soundscape of a record. He’s using all the same musical language but frames it completely differently sonically. That was very much our ethos on this record.
There’s a nod to Bowie before the last big chorus in the “Lets Dance”-esque vocal stack. Once upon a time there was a brilliant sounding monkey sample in here but nobody had big enough balls to keep it in. Losers!
I remember this one as getting completed in two main chunks. Drum machine, drums, acoustic guitar (not played by Simon… let’s see how he gets on playing this one live!!! [SIMON – CHEEKY B*STARD – I DID PLAY THIS ONE!!!), the little riffy guitar, bass locking in with the rhythm of the acoustic guitar, a bunch of mellotron stuff played in from an iPhone, and James’ many many channels of brass and tin-whistle in the first chunk. [side-note: James Hamilton has used so many channels on this album that the recording industry now refers to audio channels on all recording equipment as “Channiltons”]
In the second batch we added the end guitar riff, the percussive vocal “oh oh ee” backing vocal, the lead vocal and harmonies, the end brass, and some judicious editing. The way the ending breaks up is a bit of a sonic nod to a traffic jam with beeping car horns. We did talk at one point about going and recording a car-horn orchestra and to fade to that but in the end, we kinda fell in love with the ramshackleness of the edited version as it is on the record.
Looking forward to playing this one in London. [gulps]
I think this one is my favourite too… The process we followed on this album sometimes led us to a place that we could get to by other means but I thing we could have only made this on in this way. It feels very complete but it kinda only just works… It’s got a real confident fragility that I just love. I remember it that we had most of the stuff in the verses down but none of the end and nothing really in the choruses and me, Rich and Fletch came up with the idea of doing the alternating backing vocals so we did the first chorus as marker. The rest of the magic was all James really. He took that idea and just came in one day on a proper mission to do the Sufjan chamber pop thing and just layered instrument after instrument after instrument. It was quite amazing tbh… He slept most of the next 2 days. We did have a 5 second cackling monkey sample in the breakdown before the end section but it felt a bit too jokey and we didn’t know what to replace it with so I nicked some massive crowd noise from Kiss Alive II and Kiss Alive III and a little bit of football crowd (the crowd were singing “You’re only singing when you’re winning” which I kinda loved but it didn’t really come through) and then we put the rising Beatles/Bowie harmonies over the top.
Like a lot of these songs I tried to do super shiny amazing final mixes but couldn’t make it much better than the slightly instinctive rough mixes that we had at the end of tracking so ended up going to back to that and just doing the smallest tweaks. When I’m tracking big, complicated stuff like this it all needs to sound like part of a record as soon as possible or else you can’t decide what to do next. Rich had the idea to slow the ending down and spent a couple of hours and headphones stretching and editing. I think he still has to finish it tbh but we all loved it. This one had about 100 channels by the time we had done and the only bit I actually played was the big piano chords at the end. I think James had got a bit tired by then so he let someone else have a go at recording something.
I mainly play the drums loud in this tune except in the chorus’ where I play them louder.