This is the first entry in the diary of a project has been going on since October. Oops!
I’m better at doing things than writing about them. I’ve tried it on and off in various blogs around the internet – Livejournal, Myspace, the awesome Jevon Journal (google it!) which half chronicals my difficult teenage phase… I just looked out my old user name and password, and let me tell you it’s difficult to read some of the stuff the whiny insecure 15 year old Josh wrote. Recording something, words or music, that you can enjoy later without being embarrassed or ashamed is hard, sometimes it’s impossible if the emotions live in that moment.
Yep, recording is tough. Especially when you’re a band that’s built on live gigs, performing, making the most of the limitations you have when there are 4 people, one of whom needs a hand free to swing from the roof. Play rock music loud and the audience can feel it. It hits them like a force of nature. Basslines shake the room. Drums thump chests as fists thump the air. A human voice amplified to many times its normal level is hard to ignore. Live rock music is a force and when you can harness that force you’re in for a wild ride.
Just now, we’re try to record it. Compress it. Shrink it all down and keep the essence of Captain Horizon. It’s very rare that you can just do what you do live and expect it to work, because you are only making an illusion of a performance for people to hear from their hi-fi’s, computer speakers, earphones, plain old mobile phones… 50 years of pop recording has given us a pretty solid idea of what a recording should sound like. Make it just like live sound but much, much quieter, and most people won’t like it – too raw, too rough. If you’re reading this, you might be one who does like that. You might prefer it without the gloss, the extra tracks, the freedom to decide as an intelligent kinda guy how good THE SONG is. But most would get confused without the help of some production, and too often equate raw with bad. I like production, I think it only gets bad when the production gets in the way of THE SONG. THE SONG is the heart of what we’re doing.
So where do I draw the line? I think recording and mixing are art. Art imitates life, but push it a bit harder and it will transcend it. Go too far and it becomes fake, unbelievable. I think we passed that point a long time ago in popular music. Put on the radio now and you hear perfection for perfection’s sake. Vocals autotuned by computer to technical perfection. Drum parts split into individual hits and re-aligned to a perfect grid, graph paper on the screen. The modern sound is a very narrow path. Deviate from it at your peril. Music is the most pure way I know to communicate an emotion. You can hook people, pull their heart strings, show them how you feel. But if everything is perfect there is no feel.
We like feel, but we’re not afraid to use the studio as an instrument. Ever since Les Paul modified his tape recorder to allow the layering of sound on sound, people have done things that they couldn’t do live. I think that’s fantastic. Recording isn’t live. If a song sounds fuller with an extra acoustic guitar, record an acoustic guitar. If it sounds cool to have the same part layered twice, we do it. There’s a bit at the start of Turn Away where I ran the guitar through effects until it became a wash of noise. I could never do it live, but it’s cool and I want you to hear it. But what we’re not doing is making you believe we can play things we can’t play, sing things we can’t sing. There’s no autotune. There’s no beat correcting. It’s a good feeling, honesty, even if it can be a pain when you need to do something again and again until it’s right. Maybe you’ll hear that when we release these songs. The bit where that one fill took 6 takes. The guitar solo that took 20. Or the first take that is absolutely perfect, never to be beaten.
So far we’ve recorded 10 songs, with more yet to be started. I’m mixing every day I can, as the ever mounting piles of empty Coke cans and Tesco sandwich packs either side of the mixing desk testifies. You can follow the trails on the dusty console where my fingers trace well worn paths – volume up and down, check in mono, pull the bottom out the mix to see if it works on shit speakers. Cables snake the room, layers of them, some under the drums, others over – I’m good at plugging cables in, less good with remembering to coil them back up and tidy them away. Luckily (debatable) I’ve got plenty cables. We’re recording onto a computer, tape is a luxury we can’t afford. The battery is going dead, every time I turn the computer on it thinks it’s midnight, January 1st 2007. Mix for three hours and the desktop clock says it’s 3 in the morning. Listening to proto-mixes in a windowless room with carpet on the walls, I sometimes struggle not to believe it.
We’re hitting on a sound though. I’ve always thought we were a hard band to catagorise – descriptions ranging from pop rock to post grunge, alt rock, there are lots of conflicting drives in us. We want to be the next Oasis, the next Incubus, the next Floyd, the next Motorhead. And do it all in every song. We’re making an album that’s going to work together, from hard hitting El Nibre to the stunned, gentle throb of Strong Enough, them, everything in between, more beside, they’re all Captain Horizon.