In the latest instalment of Andy Price’s blog: The new album-train begins to gather speed, but there’s some barriers to smash through first…
“My brain had been working on the problem in background while I was busy eating beans”
After a week and a half of internal deliberation and awaiting the arrival of my new six string it’s now finally time to really crack on with the writing and demoing process for my new album ‘Red Noise’
The first song I attempted to record was perhaps the oldest of my new ideas, yet I fell at the first hurdle, that being the basic framework of the track recorded acoustically to a click. I had the arrangement and melody tightly mapped out, however I just could not find a BPM that suited. I tried a few, some 140 + and others below 80, but nothing stuck and I wasn’t satisfied with any. Despite hearing it clearly in my head. I hate it when that happens, for it tends to happen a lot!
I’ll be completely honest here – rhythm has never been my strong suit (for many years I recorded lots of beat-less music and audio) and I still occasionally find it difficult to target the accurate BPM. Last year I really hammered through this and wrote songs drums-first, I did find it a much more effective way of writing powerful and punchy songs and got me out of a dreamy acoustic rut. Here is a groove centric track I composed last year for my album The Fall this one is called Rising Tide.
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/60986030″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Originally this track was titled Ticking Clock a reference to the arpegiatted picking pattern and tightly tense bass part before exploding into the big chorus – but then Cornish-based lyrical inspiration and bits of Paradise Lost (I was lost in a mad-concept-album-thing — don’t ask!) really fuelled the song’s development. So going back to this new song, I decided to set my brain to work and get on with another new idea.
This particular idea was born in the guitar shop on the day I was testing out my new Tele, a circular chord sequence of C/G – F – G and back to C/G again that I just naturally started playing. Later that day I remembered that chord pattern and started weaving melody ideas around in my head, adjusted the key a little and started demo’ing some initial ideas on my iPhone.
My new Fender Telecaster, alongside my digital effects pedal collection – I’m trying to avoid making this blog too guitar-heavy but as it’s my central instrument and main creative instigator it’s very important to the generation of my new music.
Once I’d picked up my new toy (I mean er… new tool), I started working on this track in earnest. I fired up Cubase, plugged my gear in and recorded the chords. The BPM was easy to target – a comfortable, standard 120 which was easy to find a decent set of loops for (using ‘Solid Rock’ from Drums on Demand) closely followed by a melodic and thunderous bass part that I found after around fifteen minutes of jamming with the root notes. I then launched my synth-plugin of choice (the incomparable Absynth 5 from Native Instruments: the cream of the crop in terms of virtual synthery as far as I’m concerned) and added some lead parts to the basic drums/acoustic and bass, a dry evolving sound that added a touch of otherworldly menace.
The track was really beginning to start to take flight when I realised that I didn’t really want to add any more to it before I’d recorded the vocals as I knew from past experience that having a complicated and melodically heavy backing can really work against a decent vocal melody. However at that point, despite having some strong ideas for parts of the song, I had zilcho lyrical content.
I had little idea of what I wanted the song to be ‘about’, not that songs have to be about anything particularly, but as a songwriter I feel that some kind of lyrical anchor at least is vital. However inspired as I am by the great David Bowie – and in particular his sonically adventurous and vocally dexterous ‘Low’ album – I’ve decided a more phonetic, scattershot approach to lyrics and vocals may be more beneficial and perhaps more expressive than sticking to the conventional mores of songwriting. So that’s an idea for lyrical approach that I think I’ll definitely adopt. But as this was well past midnight and I record my music in my small flat – recording loud vocals during this intense session was out of the question. So I powered down and went to sleep, uncomfortable and uneasy with the half-formed song-embryo I’d started building and eager to continue the writing process.
My cosy little recording area – You’ll note the lack of monitors (as I live in a shared building it’d probably be unwise!) So I monitor and mix through headphones.
Strangely enough the following day I was struck by a very precise and clear beat/tempo idea for the first track that I’d struggled with, as if my brain had been working on that problem in the background while I was busy eating beans and generally living my high-octane life, so I switched my attentions back to that and am currently trying to find an adequate loop or pattern that I can replicate.
One of the things that I’ve realised over the last few years is that although I do believe there are some people with a certain aptitude that gives them a knack for making great music, it is essentially a technical skill that is learned, honed and developed. No-one is born with a god-given ‘talent’ for making good music, it takes a lot of hard work, a great deal of face-slapping and mountains of terrible before ultimately hitting on the winning formula (or formulas.)
I think calling a competent songwriter or performer ‘talented’ takes away from the pure graft and difficult creative challenges that have been overcome to reach that stage. Making it seem like an inevitable course for them to have taken.
Rant over! Next time I’ll (hopefully) have something new to share with you, right now the songs are still cooking and I’d hate them to be heard without all the trimmings!
Read the previous instalments of Andy Price’s Blog