The Recording Diaries: day 1 – a germ of a beginning

Today I rode my bike to the Music Swop Shop in Carlton and handed over my broken tremolo pedal to be repaired. This is not the first thing I have done for my ambitious home-recording project (I have already put new strings on my guitars; bought a bass amp, four microphones, and some other recording hardware; shortlisted a dozen songs; and spent quite a bit of time recording bits and pieces of songs that I ultimately wasn’t happy with), but it’s the first thing I have done in the block of time I have set aside for it, so I reckon it counts as a beginning of sorts. Everything already done can be the prologue.

While at the Swop Shop I also fell in love with a beautiful 1964 Epiphone semi-acoustic bass guitar

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I’ve been after a nice semi-acoustic bass to use in some of the songs. (I have loved them ever since I first played my friend Isabelle’s gorgeous 1968 Maton one). This one is going for $3,500 or thereabouts, and I was sorely tempted to dig into my meagre savings to buy it (I don’t have a credit card – this is the perfect illustration of why I have chosen thus), but somehow I managed to resist. Partly I think because it was high up on the wall and I would have had to ask the guy to get it down for me. If I had have played it, and it was good, I don’t know what I would have done.

Anyway, after feeling so painfully bereft for having walked out of the shop without it (consumerism is an insidious disease), I drowned my sorrows in Readings and spent some of the voucher I was given by my workmates last week on the occasion of me commencing seven weeks long service leave (this is why I have a chunk of time to record with). I bought Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (on the strength of having loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay), and something that, with all due respect to Michael, seems much more interesting: Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric, a recently published book of photographs taken by Barry Feinstein around Hollywood movie studios in the early 1960s accompanied by poems written by Bob Dylan inspired by the photos. Barry photographed The Times They Are A-Changin’ album cover and Dylan’s 1966 tour; later Bob accompanied Barry on a road trip from Denver to New York, delivering a Rolls-Royce to Bob’s manager Albert Grossman. Bob and Barry became friends, Barry showed Bob all these photographs he’d taken in Hollywood in the early sixties (including Marilyn Monroe’s swimming pool on the day she died, and protestors calling Marlon Brando a “nigger-loving creep”), and Bob was so taken with them he wrote 23 poems inspired by particular shots.

It’s a beautiful book, with striking photographs and sharp but poignant lyrical prose (if you’re familiar with the rambling prose poems on the back of some of Dylan’s early albums, this is what it’s like). Its relevance to the recording project? I’m gonna try to write a song based on one of the poems and put it on the album. My creativity has vanished this last twelve months, and I really need something to kick-start it.

In other news, I managed to cut about 8mm into the middle finger of my left hand (I was trying to open a wedge of goat cheese sealed in plastic for dinner, so I blame my cow-dairy-intolerant son). It bled buckets for 20 minutes and is still terribly painful hours later, so it will probably delay the commencement of recording (I planned to start tomorrow or Friday) and I’m hoping there is no serious damage that could throw all my plans down the toilet. We shall see I guess.

The only other thing is that despite having my iPod on random all day (using a cool iPhone app called Groove that makes up random playlists based on various criteria, including associations between artists garnered from last.fm’s extensive online database) it played shitloads of stuff that has a direct bearing on the recording project – namely songs, artists and albums whose styles i want to draw on in developing the sound for mine. Yusuf Islam’s (Cat Stevens) 2006 comeback An Other Cup (really rich and strong acoustic guitar sounds with solid supporting instruments [as an aside, his cover of The Animals “Don’t let Me Be Misunderstood;” on here is masterful]); various selections from The Smallgoods (60s-flavoured pop-rock), Ice Cream Hands (similar but more rock than pop) and Small Faces (edgy 60s rock and such great energy); quite some Okkervil River (with dominant acoustic guitar and piano amid strong rock stylings and rough Neil Youngy electric guitar); and Neil Young himself of course. This is a really important part of the process, because as soon as you start recording you get beyond the song and the guitar and you have to start thinking about what type of sound you want, what instruments you will use, and all that stuff.

So my thoughts are: an acoustic guitar core (I have a really nice 1950s archtop that has an amazing and distinctive sound), with sparse but upfront semi-acoustic just-breaking-up rhythm guitar (I have this weird-arse late 60s Maton for this and an old Vox valve amp)

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and a little searing, scorching Neil Young-type lead guitar (I have a 10-year-old Maton that is more Les Paul than a Les Paul). Forward-mixed, melodic bass using an acoustic bass guitar for some, an electric bass for others, and borrowing my girlfriend’s brother to play double bass where required. Simple but effective drums. Some piano accordion where you might otherwise have an organ or synth chords (maybe some piano accordion melodies too). And maybe some actual analogue synth lines where it really hits the spot (I have an old Juno-106 – the last of the analogue synths – for this).

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Oh and some harmonica of course – a no-brainer really, since it’s actually the instrument I play best. I should at least use it to cover up the drumming mistakes.

That’s the plan anyway. In reality, we shall see. I’m sure that, like many things, this tale will grow in the telling.

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