Making music together….apart…
Two weeks ago we were due to pick up where we left off with writing and recording the next album. Unfortunately due to the current world situation we were unable to all be in the same room and make music the way we most enjoy. With the novelty of Joe Wicks wearing off and clarity of government advice muddying more every day we decided to try a different approach to making something together…….. apart……
“SENT is a six week, public facing, composition experiment born out of the limitations of creating music together in lockdown.”This is what we would’ve written on a funding application if anybody had any money left. But they don’t. So in plain speak, this is what it actually is.
We all create a short musical idea, on our own, in our cold damp bedroom/kitchen/van studio, then pass it on to the next person via the magic of the internet. We have a week to add to, change, or delete that idea before passing it onto the next person in the chain. Every Tuesday we get together to have a chat and after six torturous weeks we’ll have 6 musical things that everyone in the band has had some input into.
(YES, WE KNOW THE POSTAL SERVICE SORT OF ALREADY DID THIS, YES, WE KNOW THAT’S MUCH BETTER MUSIC, YES, YES, YES, PIPE DOWN!)
Making it public
We’ll document the progress here for the 8 people that will read it, including the audio outputs of each week. We’re not actually going to listen to the progress of the music, what we receive each week will be a nice little surprise for us. YOU on the other hand will be able to follow every iteration as it happens. It’ll be like watching a small audio car crash in slow motion. It wasn’t the original intention to make the process public but it adds an element of peril for us, will mean we actually have to see it through and it saves us having to do anymore of those bloody what’s app sessions for a few weeks.
See Everybody Next Tuesday!……see what we did there…..
IDEA #1 – JAMES
Starting music is hard. Staring at a blank page or screen scares the sh*t out of me so in order to stop myself spiralling into a pit of self doubt and fear I surround myself with distractions, shiny synths, plugins, effects, not so shiny synths, whatever I can get my hands at the time. This week the distraction is Logics new sampler plugin and a guitar that I can’t play. I recorded some guitar harmonics, loaded them into the sampler and I felt like I was Dr Dre. The piano sound is a software version of the crypt piano made by WESTWOOD INSTRUMENTS so even though we can’t be there, there’s still a little bit of the crypt in this. It’s turned out to be a bit of slow, melancholic, dirge thing, I was hearing a more stompy thing in my head but now it’s Gary Stewart’s problem.
IDEA #2 – GARY
‘So. As we’re all getting older and uglier by the second during Lockdown (admit it-you are all looking at your faces daily and wondering why you’ve aged as quickly a PM who went into Parliament all fresh-faced), we thought-instead of parading our shaggy, tired visages with our Whatsapp Sessions-that we could create a different ‘Art’. Ladies and Gentlemen-SENT (or C*NT-whatever you decide James). Basically 6 individual musical premises (premisee?),shared and added to week by week by the other H & S rogues. My offering this week? Drums of course. Well,they were already set up for my own recording. Did I tell you I’m recording a new Album…??
IDEA #3 – SIMON
I reckon this could be the worst music we ever make.
My partner agrees.
IDEA #4 – FLETCH
I would always start writing songs with some sort of lyric to stop myself from trying to be too clever with chords etc. It worked a charm this time as I managed to miss clever by a country mile and land squarely in the middle of the road. Middle of the road isn’t a bad place to start a song I reckon. I quite like an obvious song as a base that you can try and hide later with some bleepy scratchy shit. A bit of something that you can pretend is innovative but deep down you know is really just a rehashing of Blue Suede Shoes with a glitch plugin on it [writes down that idea in his Moleskine for later]. After spending many hours working out the two chords that went with the derivative tune I’d written I did one take of me playing those chords along with some of the other things my hands can do on a guitar and then topped it off with a vocal and a very hissy bass part (my hiss is the glue that holds this band together). I’ve haven’t done any editing. I figured I’d let the next person decide what samples they want to take from it to turn into a real song. At this stage it’s just an idea cause I guess the whole point of this process is…… I’m not sure…….What is the point of it???…….What’s the point of anything????…..I can see the edge of the void………..
IDEA #5 – ED
I’m not very good at writing music by myself. I love being in a group of people making music and I love that whole process and I’m super proud of what I can add but by myself? TUMBLEWEED. And very cliched tumbleweed at that. There’s only so much blues scale the world can take. So I started where I figured no one else would…. With a sampled bar of the Rock 1 beat from a Casio MT540. I then spent about an hour messing with distortion, bit crushing and compression (which is very much my happy place) till all kinds of extra notes were popping in and out in a fun way and then it was late so I threw down some keys on my Yamaha Reface CS which is possibly my favourite instrument in the world. It’s half battery powered toy/half slightly off kilter analogue synth emulation and excellent for pretending to be John Carpenter whilst on the sofa. Did a pass of chords which I made up on the spot and then a pass of slightly arhythmic ring modulation that kinda slides in and out of the chords (and any actual notes)and finally a bit of low FM stuff to fill the bass out and make some of the “not chords” more like chords. It was made a bit random by the fact that as soon as I finished playing the chords on I obviously couldn’t remember them so the other two parts were slightly off with the first track. I think it’s pretty cool to be fair. The vibe really reminds me of something but I’m not sure what! Grandaddy? Wheat? Not long enough to be a song so someone else is probably going have to use the magic scissors and sticky tape. I deliberately didn’t fix any timing issues and left a bad edit in there just so that if Hux gets it next it would annoy him.
(NB. I also left the bad edit in because I try to avoid Logic cos the editing workflow doesn’t make sense and I couldn’t work out how to fix it. Which fucking annoyed me because I really shouldn’t have to google how to do a crossfade at my age. So I didn’t. HA! Showed you who’s the boss here didn’t I? Jumped up Garageband for graphic designers…)
IDEA #6 – HUX
I’ve been itching to make some music with my best pals these past four months. We were due to be recording our next album right now, and not being able to be in a room with my favourite musical collaborators is without doubt one of the hardest things about lockdown (and the risks associated with singing and brassing together). You can probably tell the pleasure I\ve had of playing along with just one of H&S at a time by my face during the videos for The WhatsApp Sessions. As we still can’t be in a room and create, together, this project is an anchor and a crutch for me.
Starting points – As James intimates, different instruments and different sounds inspire different pieces of music, and styles of playing. As I’d recently put a new “Mastery Bridge” (made by Frank Deimel, brother of Peter Deimel of Black Box Studios, where Si, Ed and I once recorded) on my Rickenbacker, that was my weapon of choice for starting this one off. Once that was plumbed into my gigging pedal-rig, I plumbed that into my new toy the Strymon Deco, using that to tame some of the high end on my Fender Champ.
From there, I started playing a sequence based around the delay setting that was dialled in when I powered up. From here, I opened up Logic, found the tempo, and popped some basic beats down that I thought would lock with and bounce against the guitar part, then recorded the guitar part. During this, I noticed that when I muted the drums, I could get lost in the timing of the triplet-feel guitar. I really like that thing you get sometimes when you turn on the radio and you don’t know where the beat is landing, where beat “1” is. With that in mind, I then laid two more guitar parts down, playing parts that harmonise with the first guitar, but are syncopated from original and each other. Now it’s been passed on… so we can fully expect everything to be deleted apart from the drums. But hey, that’s the game here. Pass It On.