Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Wrap up

Hey all,

Seeing as my time in the studio is over I thought I'd give you some thoughts as to the album, our buddies at Sound and Motion studios and working with Gordon Raphael.

Shark - what to expect:

I think a lot of people are going to be quite surprised with the songs we've put together on the album. Hopefully pleasantly so :) If I look at the development of the band, this past year has been the first time we've really felt fully settled in terms of the lineup. We started off as a four piece back in '07 then Giles our guitarist moved to the UK then we were a three piece and had to adapt to that. After getting Arjuna we were pretty much straight into the studio without too much time to write with him. I'm not trying to say that our self-titled EP and "Kiss The Plastics" have bad songs in. In fact we're really proud of them. But this past year we've been really focusing on writing as a four piece and trying to deliver something that's varied and still sounds like us. We feel we also have a better understanding composition-wise on how to write this type of music as, remember, we're from a very punk-based background.

So the cd is almost like a summary of what we've been through in the past year and we've had a lot of time to refine most of our material. Expect the usual dancy type songs, some mellow ones but whatever "categories" you may feel they fall in, we've done our best to make it really melodic and memorable and included some cool rhythmic stuff and more tricky playing to satisfy the muso's :)

Working at Sound and Motion

Our relationship with S&M goes back to the middle of 2008 when we recorded two songs for Kiss The Plastics (Dirty Dancing and Tiny Islands) and we couldn't have asked to work with more knowledgable and chilled out dudes. They've been awesome to us and we've learned a lot from them. I haven't been to many studios in the country but it certainly is rated as one of the top ones in the country gear wise and they've all been in the industry for many years, working with some top artists, garnering a clutch of awards in the process. We're also lucky in the way they believe in our music and Matt and Fuzzy have given us a constant pool of advice to draw on, something really important to us as we're not the most experienced studio band yet.

In terms of tracking they're definitely flexible as they were completely open to our request to track most of the songs live as opposed to laying down each part separately and pulled it off exactly in the manner we wanted. Their live room is one of the best things about the studio as the acoustics are perfect for tracking live. If any bands are reading this, I would definitely recommend checking it out as an option for your next album.

Many thanks to Fuzzy, Matt, Carel, Jenna, Gavin and Tyrone for being so chilled to us and making such a comfortable environment for us to get creative. You've been a big part of our album. We look forward to working with you in the future!

Working with Gordon Raphael

Before "Shark", none of us had worked with a producer before so we went into the process with only vague ideas as to how much one can add to an album. All we knew is that we wanted one to help us with the songs and getting the right sound. So we were really fortunate to get Gordon done all the way from Berlin to work with us.

You would think that working with such a big name would make one nervous and in awe of him, but Gordon's such a chilled and friendly joke-a-minute guy that any feelings anyone would have like this are totally disarmed. It's important for any musician in the studio to feel comfortable and 100% confident in what you play and Gordon's done his job in that way by giving advice and encouragement to each player when they need it.

He's not one of those ego maniacs you often hear about in the music world so always takes aboard any suggestions we might have to get the right sound. As he's been around the music world for a while, he knows many techniques to make whatever sound is in your or his head a reality. He's always saying "That's easy, it's only 2 buttons" and it really is like that. He's got a simple approach in recording - he wasn't worried about microphone bleed when we set up all our amps in the same room (what this means is that the mic on the guitar amp for instance picks up other sounds in the room like drum kit and bass) and this is definitely an old school mentality) and he has loads of unconventional ideas that goes into making everything you hear sound unique and in the right place. For instance we put a microphone in the hallway to get a natural reverb when recording a guitar lead and this sounded really cool. It's all about the final result and if you have to use unconventional means to get that final result, then experiment and do it.

We hope we can work together with him some time soon.

So there it is

It's been fun sharing our studio experience with you. Still a bit of work to be done with vocals, mixing and mastering but that's not really my bag. We're all really proud of the progress of it. It's been hard work but having the cd's in our hands will make it all worth it.

See you at a show sometime soon!

Karl and The Plastics

Final two days of my stint

Hey all!

Friday 22 Jan '10

On Friday I got in a little late after getting a long overdue hair chop. Summer can be quite harsh on long haired peeps and it's good to feel the wind blowing against my neck again! These past few days I've been more of an observer as my parts are officially done so been listening to Scal sing the songs. Big ups to S&M for managing to sort out the sound card issues so swiftly! It was really unfortunate that a day was lost as technical problems really can occur at any time, especially at a studio as they always have complicated setups that I don't fully understand! But Fuzzy and the guys managed to organise a soundcard within one day so we were back on track, full steam ahead! Scal sang on "Caroline" first, one of the more ballady songs on the album. And a really good performance he put in! The lyrics ring out in such a personal way that it's hard to ignore and everyone will hopefully be able to relate to this with their own personal Caroline character. It also features probably my favourite bass line on the album, the one I had the most fun writing as there's a lot of space for me to play the melodic part of the instruments in the song, something I sought inspiration from Paul McCartney's playing with the Beatles for.

Scal also sang on "By Hook or by crook" which is one of my faves on the album. Such a cool vibe of a song and it's packed with hooks and again cool lyrics. That one didn't take too much time to track vocally so by the end it was six vocals down, six to go!

Gordon and Matt also did some mixing on a couple of songs. They've taken the approach of mixing as we go so it was mostly down to some tweaks, making sure all the parts were at fairly consistent volume, EQ'ing (equalising) some of the instruments that sounded a little too bassy or trebly, etc. That way Scal only has to sing two songs a day which helps save his voice to give his best performances.

We also got to spend time with Miles Keylock, a legendary journalist in the South African music scene just chatting about the upcoming album so there should be a couple of articles on us in the press within a couple of months.

Saturday 23 January '10

On Saturday there were a couple of hungover Plastics after my birthday vibe the previous night. But this day was all about recording strings for "Jukebox." Juki took an active role in directing them as he had composed the arrangements. I scored it but we found out there were a few issues, me being a relative newbie at it, so spent a few minutes trying to resolve those. Was beautiful listening and watching the violins, viola and cello playing in harmony on the song and it adds something different to the song which is at times thickly layered and dense sounding. Many thanks to Sarah-Jane, Nadine, Azra and Leana for agreeing to play on our album. You girls rock!

That night we played another Zula show and it was rocking! We were joined by McGuyver Knife, the 357's and the Curious Incident, bands with a lot of potential and definitely worth checking out. Gordon also played a dj set as well, spinning some really cool 80's dance music which helped set the mood between bands.

So my time in studio comes to an end. I'm gonna write a wrap-up shortly just about my thoughts about the album, Sound and Motion studios as well as working with G-Raph so check it out laters!

Till next time...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Penultimate day of tracking - What a fuck up!

Hey Saul,

Today was by far the most unproductive day cos we didn't manage to get anything done! The studio had a problem with the soundcard and it kept cutting out so we decided to call it a day and work later next week.

Ok we did manage to track a rhythm double in "Look out" but decided not to use it as we're going for a live vibe where you can only hear 2 guitars, bass, drums and vocals in the song. So trashed that idea. And Gordon managed to do a bit of mixing on the song.

Juki and my task for the day was to score... not in that way, sheesh! It's my job to notate the string section into musical score and Juki wanted to help me with all the technical parts in the programme he used called Reason which I've never used before. But that also ran into problems as the audio tracks we got from Sound and Motion weren't showing up on the cd we got given and Juki installed a different Cubase version to be compatible with the sessions he's doing for Boombox Troopers, recording Graeme Danger's vocals as he's going to be producing their debut EP. Aaaargh! Back to S&M it was and they let us use their upstairs mini studio SML. Managed to get everything finished in parts in score editor. Now it's just down to me to put everything together and hope it's right for the string players. Eek!

Thankfully the sound card issue has been sorted out so we can go back and continue work on what is my last day in the studio. We've got some cool interviews lined up as well which should be fun! Scal's probably gonna do 2 vocals as that's kinda the limit in terms of him giving cd-worthy performances without killing himself doing it! If you don't believe me, put on your favourite song and sing the whole way through with all the gusto you have, then do it again at least twice. Then it's the little fix ups that generally need to be done. It's a tough task, being a singer!

Hopefully better things to talk about tomorrow!

Till then, time to get stuck into finishing these string parts!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day Nine - Clappidy clap clap and some more vox tracking

In the words of Arjuna Jacob Cyril Burn-and-Turn Born-Lucky Kohlstock, wasabi everyone!

If you've been following my daily blogs you'll know we're quite far into the process. I think we've all agreed that everything except the vocals and strings (for one song) are complete so it's down to the Scal's voice to tie everything together. We did a half day today with Matt "back of the bus" James so we could use half of Saturday to record a string quartet that so kindly agreed to play on "Jukebox" for us and I think this suited Scal just fine as he says he's generally better at singing later in the day as he's been talking during the day and thus warming up his voice.

First up though was recording some hand claps on the choruses of "Save". I thought of a really simple patterns basically following the snare and so the four of us did two takes grooving and clapping to the song. We'd never done something like this before and it's surprising how red and sore your hands get after clapping for 10 minutes!

That minor extra out of the way it was vocal time for "Those Three Words" which is a song we've been playing live for almost a year now and I never get tired of it. The vocals have changed a bit since we recorded prepro on it about 6 months ago and the melodies sound nice and varied. I remember when we initially wrote it Scal was into giving it a more shouty delivery which sounded cool but he's settled on a more relaxed yet energetic performance which he always does so well. He did three takes of it, using the 3rd one which had a bit more of an energetic urgent vibe, plus a few fix ups where Gordon felt he didn't quite nail the notes in a couple of the more difficult parts where he leaps to a higher note. We're into the more distorted vocal sounds but this one called for a more clean sound with a bit of compression.

Next Scal did the singing for "Unusable Block" (might have to figure out the proper title for this soon, but hey might just keep it!). Gordon set up a similar mic sound to "Look out" - a more distorted and compressed sound where Scal could belt out certain parts a bit more. Scal knocked it off in two takes, using the second one if I remember then the usual minor fixups where a word wasn't 100% clear. I feel for him cos he had to sing in the second part of Juki's giant wall of sound evil guitar solo at the high volume required to track a vocal part so I think it left him a bit dazed! Warning: do not listen to that part through headphones at full volume! You'll see what I mean :)

We've been looking through this book Sash brought into studio of the best album covers throughout the history of rock 'n roll so we've started getting some vague ideas as to art direction, etc. Won't reveal any of that to you, let's rather keep that as a surprise :)

Short and sweet day hey! Four of the tracks have now been completed as far as vocals go so we've got eight more to go. Only two days left as well so it's going to be tough for Scal but he's a soldier and doesn't require that many takes so we'll get it done in time. Juki and I also need to do the score for the string arrangements, in other words work out what we wrote and write it out into musical notation for the musicians, so we also have some homework to do.

Don't forget, Saturday night 23 Jan '10 we'll be jamming at Zula. We'll be celebrating the end of the production part of our album so come party with us! Then it's onto the mixing and mastering experts so hang tight!

Love to all!
Karl and the boys

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day um eight I think... losing count - The vocals begin...

Hey all,

Just a quick one cos just got back from dinner with all the guys and Paul and Ingrid Righini, who were kind enough to take us out. Thanks you two, you rock as always! Heading out to a 21st now now so here goes:

Started the day by doing rough mixes on the last three tracks from our first session back in Sept/Oct for "Born in a Restaurant", "Those Three Words" and "Goodbye Hawaii". I realised my bass sound on "Born" was totally bogus so retracked it and luckily I managed to get it first take with one note fix up. Recording through an amp as opposed to D.I. is about 1000000 times better in terms of getting the bottom end and feel in the track so comfort = a good take! They're all sounding really cool and it was good to here the recordings after tracking them so long ago! Now it's down to Gordo to put his little stamp on them with some mixing magic, as well as the vocals which still need to be recorded.

Much of the morning and early afternoon was spent on "Save" with Gordon recording a lot of synths. He's a banging synth player! He used a lot of digital synths from his laptop and played them in on one of the studios small 2 octave (I think) synths. The song is sounding huge and probably one of the front runners for an early single. Scal then tracked the vocals including the synth hook. One of Gordon's strengths is vocals - getting really cool sounds through (sometimes) unconventional ways as well as working on making everything the vocalist sings sound 100% clear so you can make out every word. And wow, the vocals are sounding amazing! Gordo soundbite of the day #1 - after Scal did a take he asked Gordo how it sounded and he was like "I think it kicks shit... and that's a good thing!"

We also managed to squeeze in the vocal for "Look out" which is probably my favourite of Scal's singing on the album. Lyric-wise as well as delivery it's a thing of beauty and he put in an awesome performance, nailing it in 2 takes. Again, Gordon made sure the articulation was 100% there (soundbite #2 - "Wow that sounds like the English Language now" and #3 after Scal used some slang in the lyrics (I think South Africa specific) - It's not the normal use of the language but it's what he said") as well as making sure the whole vocal was the same volume the whole way through. Sometimes Scal moves a bit while he's singing cos he gets into it so the distance between him and the mic changes so he goes a tiiiiny bit softer and louder. So Gordo also worked on that. The way he recorded the vocals was set up two mics in front of Scal, one going straight into the pre-amp with a touch of warmth and distortion and the other mic coming out of Juki's Marshall guitar amp to give a more overdriven sound. The blend of the two, wow! All I can say.

So vocals will be the focus of the rest of the sessions methinks and will be cool to here them tie each song together. Jem took some pictures today but didn't manage to get them from him so will have to put em up 2moz.

Till then...