*Warning - lots of words, not for the faint of attention spans*
It’s a pretty tall order to write songs as a band when you live in 5 different locations across 2 continents. For the past two records (Casual Sincerity and Faith & Privilege, available at all good iTunes), we wrote a couple of the songs sitting together, but for the most part each person wrote and recorded their layer independently of the rest of the band, which although practical was far from ideal.
We decided that what we really needed was to find a week that we were all free to go away and write some songs. Then we got cocky, and decided we wanted to use the time not only to write but also to record the songs. And then we decided to write a 10-track album. Looking back, this was a ludicrously ambitious idea in terms of the mechanics of the task, let alone the likelihood of writing 10 quality tracks that we could release as an album. Fortunately, the technical side of things was covered by the presence of the one-man recording machine that is Charlie Simpson. He and Tim spent the first half-day rigging up a cottage so that a lounge, kitchen and two bedrooms could each function as isolation rooms. This meant that we were able to record the whole band simultaneously with close-to studio conditions. While I can’t go into a massive amount of technical detail here, I can tell you that we owe a phenomenal amount to Charlie, not least for the calm soothing voice that floated down our headphones at the most tense moments of recording, easing our weary, fraught minds. Charlie, you are a champ.
As for the songs, where to start? Beth and I had been compiling potential song titles for a couple of months and brought this list with us to the cottage. On the first night, we whittled these down from about 50 to 20 and then started picking the names we liked the most. This approach was founded on the belief that if a song title is interesting and eye-catching a musician is more likely to be inspired to write a good song, and a listener is more likely to select the track to listen to. Or so the theory went.
In any case, relying largely on the power of an evocative title to inspire a track, and knowing we’d have to average 2 tracks a day to finish the project by Friday, we set about a process of jamming for two hours, recording a rough vocal guide track and then capturing the band in the following one hour. Our timetable looked something like this:
Sunday 19 Feb
- Arrive, have one or two catch up drinks
- Play some song ideas to each other
- Work out how to transform a cottage into a recording suite
Monday 20 Feb
- Charlie arrives and sets up recording equipment
- Write and record Gold and I
- Use the evening to plan the rest of the week
Tuesday 21 Feb
- Write and record Fine Print in the morning
- Quick walk to the beach for fresh air and inspiration
- Write and record Tow the Lion
Wednesday 22 Feb
- Asphalt lorry arrives (as does half of the West Wittering road-layers squad)
- Find out they’re about to dig up and re-lay the road outside the cottage
- Write and record Gimme a Light
- Write and record Skylarking (quickly, Tom returns to Cambridge for a gig)
- Lots of whisky on the beach for those remaining in West Wittering
Thursday 23 Feb
- Tom returns to Cygnet cottage, frantically writing lyrics on the train
- Write Souls to the Coast outside the cottage
- Muck about in a phone box
- Record Souls to the Coast
- Dinner (Elliot’s cooking was phe-no-me-nal)
- Write and record The Gossamer Tree in a slightly hazy, haunted state of mind
Friday 24 Feb
- Wake up
- Realise we have to write and record 3 whole songs to finish the project
- Eat breakfast
- Go for a walk and work out drum beat for Ongoingone, beatboxing with Elliot
- Write and record Ongoingone (nearly breaking Elliot in the process)
- Ali Winter arrives to video the delirium/tension of the end of the week
- Record a comedy song (not on the album) apologising for kidnapping Charlie
- Write and record Brick by Brick
- Eat another fabulous dinner
- Write and record Tiger Tiger
- Have a celebratory beer and a Joyshop cocktail
- Strip the house of all the equipment
- Whipped cream
We waved goodbye to Charlie around 6 in the morning, and slept for a while longer. The Saturday was spent largely in disbelief at what we’d managed to achieve and that we hadn’t killed each other in the process. Ali then very generously offered to put together a video for Souls to the Coast, which was very fun and a lovely antidote to the arduous program of writing and recording.
You may gather from the above list that this was an intense week. It was also one of the most satisfying projects we have undertaken as a band. Even by the traditionally last-minute Joyshop standards, we had ridden our luck, but somehow it came together.
The album was finished off with a couple of weekends in May when we re-recorded all the vocals, and then added parts for flugel horn (Tim Bliss), clarinet (Rosa Malone) and cello (Tom Wraith) to a few of tracks. And there you have it: an album in a week (and a couple of weekends). Hope you enjoy it.