The Vocal Thing

Microphone ready

I made a decision early on in making this album that I would do more singing.

Dom and Stac in particular had always been encouraging me to do more, despite being quite adamant that I didn’t want to. Then songs like A Promise started going down well. Then a few comments at shows.

Don’t get me wrong I love singing, in theory, I just find the experience really stressful. I used to do more when I first started making music. Plus I was in performing arts at A-Level so there was always singing, meaning that I was kind of permanently warmed up and practiced. I’m not anymore.

I’ve had many discussions about how singing your own songs can help you communicate what you’re trying to say that little bit better, more precisely.

There’s always the advantage for live too, keeping the band small and compact means more gigs, means getting to more people, more work, more money – kind of.

I was doing more songs at gigs last year and figured if I didn’t give myself more work and more challenges I wouldn’t get better and the problem would persist, on and on and on…

So I made the decision to get back to writing vocals. I can’t quite tell you how much I’ve hated myself for that over the last few months.

Starting from this point and having to get good quickly in itself is a pain, but I’m so quick to be incredibly critical of myself that often I’m chasing round in circles, not getting anywhere at all.

Then there is the lack of knowledge of myself. Because I don’t really know what I’m capable of I often end up writing things I can’t really pull off but then feel committed to, because they seem to be the best treatment of the music. Which again leads to failure, self-criticism and angst and that cycle, round and round.

There is at least one s0ng on this album that I’ve written completely differently at least four (maybe five) times – up to the point of recording the vocal and harmonies and mixing. Then two days ago, when I should be near the finishing post, I decided to scrap the whole thing and start again. Cue eight hours of misfired ideas, vocal struggling and straining, stomping about and huffing and puffing.

With the rest of the writing, the instrumentals, this time I’ve felt more confident in putting down an idea, believing in it and knowing I’ve done the right thing – the first time in three albums. This vocal thing really reminds me of how I was with the entire writing process last time around. So I guess in a way you could say it has something positive.

Of course none of it is made any easier from having spent years around incredible vocalists that are of course constant inspiration but a hell of a comparison to be making with yourself. I have seen their struggles too and self consciousness. But I’ve heard incredible performances and technical brilliance, genuine understanding of the skill.

Anyway, I hope this decision will have paid off. I know for certain that through persistence I will improve and the idea that a few years from now I could be the sort of vocalist I will be proud of makes me feel it is worth while. But for now it really does hurt.

I remember being told that A Promise was good, better than good. I remember thinking what a disaster it was and that I was lazy in not making it better. I remember hearing it on the radio for the first time and feeling embarrassed, surprised and then excited. And amazed.

So how I hear myself I guess will always be pretty harsh. You’re so much meaner to yourself than you would ever be to anyone else. Cruel almost.

Better just get used to it.

Out of control

album 3 iTunes track list

I’ve been meaning to write to you for ages, but I’ve been quite focused on other things.

Pretty much as soon as I pressed “publish” on the post about getting started on writing again I started writing again.

I picked up my guitar two days later and began playing with ideas. Ideas turned into solid concepts and progress and by the end of that day I’d written the basics of a song. Guitar, beats, keys, a start, a middle and an end. So the following day I did the same; got on with my day-to-day work at Wah Wah 45s, soldiered through a good 4 or 5 hours up to lunch, worked out, ate lunch, picked up my guitar, wrote a song. Something strange was going on!

Two for two!? On day three I heard a song and decided to cover it, went into the basement, recorded drums, guitars, rhodes, piano. Came upstairs, mixed it, job done.

Day four I took the end of that track and messed with it and sampled it and morphed another track out of it’s dieing sounds. Another keeper. And this has continued.

I can’t write every day sadly, there is a label to run, there’s a band to sort out and an existing album to promote. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of last week I was either picking up equipment for a video we’re making this weekend or I was playing at gigs. Monday we released the Part-Time Heroes new album, an incredibly exciting day, one of the best bits of running a label.

But today after a meeting, I came back and have just written a new song. Maybe the best of the bunch. I’ve committed 9 ideas to tape so far, with beats, some vocals and full production and first mix. That’s approximately 1 every 2 and a half days. One needs some serious attention and has sat on the back burner over the weekend. Two just don’t feel quite right in the scheme of things, but six I care about. So right now I feel like I want to try and finish album 3 before the end of March – at least from a writing point of view.

It might be a silly goal, but maybe not. I’ve not written this prolifically, or enjoyed the writing process so much since I first started making music. It’s quite intoxicating.

But for now I’ll try and keep it simple. The main reason this keeps happening is because every day that it is humanly possible to do so, and almost without exception, I give myself the opportunity to be creative and to write. I give myself at least 30 minutes to just play and play around. If ever the urge takes me I allow myself to stop working and pick up an instrument.

It might sound silly but it is important. More often than not I’ve denied myself that like it is a luxury I don’t have, I don’t have the time… But I’ve made the time. I haven’t made excuses and I haven’t dissuaded myself. I’ve just gone and done it. And I’m all the happier for it.

A Promise Is All It Was – live, acoustic, in the snow…

candles

As the snow finally came down on Saturday night, I grabbed all my candles, my camera and tripod, my scarf, two tshirts, a jumper, a heavy coat, 2 pairs of trousers and headed out into the snow.

I came back for my guitar shortly after too.

And more candles. Then I tried to take a lamp out and severely cut a finger on my right hand and thought I’d screwed the whole thing up.

Taped up and ready to go I went back in to the garden and recorded this video of A Promise Is All It Was. I hope you like it. I enjoyed it as the snow came down, regardless of my cold fingers and my guitar not wanting to stay in tune. It was cold and lovely.

Good days, bad days, other…

I cannot deny that over the last few months I have been a moany bastard. It’s annoying, I used to pride myself on not being that man. But I’ve kept losing perspective. Perspective.

I’ve been hearing the word a lot. “You need to take time to get some perspective”. But time has been at a premium and I’m ashamed to say I lost perspective. Oh well. Today is one of those days when you can get it back.

After weeks of hectic work, it is no less hectic, but I have managed to find my perspective and commit the time I need to commit to my album. And after just a few days I started to feel better again. Tracks started to make sense. Organisation started to appear. A path towards completion even reared it’s head.

Even with all that of course the odd knock would come – a recording session would get put back indefinitely, a piece of work would stop making sense, several days work would prove fruitless. But progress doesn’t always travel forwards.

So today, I’m sitting in the garden about to do a final edit of an arrangement for a track called “Home” featuring Faye Houston (Who is currently probably having the time of her life playing with Resonators at Glastonbury in the blazing sunshine).

This one has gone around the block. But today marks the beginning of the end I swear.

I also have another track near completion. It’s called Afar. I’ll tell you it’s full story some other time. But for now I have some footage of a recording session with Jessica Lauren which took place last Friday. We created a whole new keyboard part for it and I am utterly in love with the track now. So I wanted to share some of how we made this final part of it. How’s that? You get a good minute or so preview of this brand new track in here – so I hope you like.

Must stop typing now, these black keys are getting VERY hot in the sunshine.

Warm ups… Getting you in the mood.

I’ve been having a rest from the album. My reasoning is that I can’t actually complete 3 of the tracks at the moment and can’t do anything about them (they’re collaborations) until March. So rather than hammer away at the existing tracks I’m taking a break from them to come back with fresh ears and, hopefully, fresh ideas to give them a final lift.

In the meantime I’ve been staying busy. I recently mixed two tracks for a band called High-Hopes Society. They’ve got considerably more guitar distortion in them than you might expect from me usually, but I’ve been in that kind of mood.

I’ve also resumed work on a soundtrack that I began over a year ago. The film is finally coming to fruition and is off to Cannes in May, so I need to finish a few pieces before then.

And, I’ve been working on some additional material to give to people as a kind of warm up to the album. First up I have a track that I resurrected from about 11 years ago! I never quite got it right, but I think it’s time to give it away now. I’ll be posting it here on Friday, so please come and check back or subscribe to the newsletter list over there¬† —-> and I’ll let you know.

Fixing problems with “Through a Window” – Video

Here is a shortish video of me in the studio trying to work on a section of a new album track. Get a quick glimpse of the new collaboration with Stac “Through a Window” and see me kicking about putting things together.

Thought I’d share the process I’m going through making the new bits for the album. I hope it gives you a little bit of an insight into how it’s being made.