Today Dare and I were in the studio from 11AM till 11PM. It was an intense 12 hours of guitars and tinkering. It wasn’t non-stop (we had a break for the FA Cup Final but the day isn’t over till you’ve put the guitars away and flopped down on the couch). It was certainly an intense journey trying to find the sounds in the guitars and uncovering the ideas whilst following Ahad’s demos and keeping important elements – riffs, ideas and chord patterns, whilst attempting to realise what is needed and complementing the songs with parts that weren’t originally there but are compatible with the parts on the demos. There are so many choices, so many guitars, amps, effects and whoever it was playing guitar, it would sound different, different ideas would come through and every musician has a different touch, I’m trying to finesse mine without compromising the integrity of the project, sticking to the plan whilst taking it somewhere else.
We started this morning with me brushing past the cafetière, grazing the handle and knocking it off the table and watching it explode onto the floor in a tangle of glass, metal, hot water and coffee. We are hoping for an unstained carpet, we’ll see, but it must be the 19th cafetière we’ve had – they break. So next trip to the charity store I’ll find another one, probably not quite as posh as this one but there will be one with the studio’s name on it. So Dare cleared it up and put it in the bin and when we went up to his house to watch the football I tied the bag up to dispose of it and in doing so pressed my thumb onto the broken glass and cut it. Oh, the sweet taste of blood, it wasn’t too deep but it bled profusely. Not the best situation when you are in the middle of recording guitars. It’s just about ok to not hinder me too much but I have to grip my plectrum just about where the cut is. It’s not anywhere near as serious as previous accidents like this, did I ever tell you about the one with All About Eve?
It was St. George’s Hall in Bradford some time in the nineties. The band was pulling serious crowds in this era and this was no exception. Out there the masses waited in anticipation, the band were in the dressing room preparing to go on. Just before it was playing time I put my hand into my bag to grab something, I can’t remember what, and as I did that I thrust my finger forwards, straight onto my razor, and put a pretty deep cut on the tip. It was my left hand, the hand that has to play all the shapes, all the solos and remember in that band there was only one guitar player, the responsibility was all mine. I couldn’t believe it, I had to play but with a cut there on that finger on that hand it was going to be a major problem. The trickiest moments were where it was just me sitting on the drum riser playing the acoustic guitar, no bass, no drums, just me and the singer playing the band’s biggest hit, staring down at the cut in a spotlight as I accompanied the voice with an intricate arpeggio. Terrible. I go through it without incident but if you imagine a string getting caught in a gash in your finger, the pain and the shock of that you can imagine how intimidating it was whilst trying to avoid a disaster.
So we went up and watched the FA Cup Final, Chelsea vs Arsenal, Chelsea lost, somebody has to. It was 2-1, a penalty, deserved, a dumb mistake from the Chelsea captain Azpilicueta and a really great goal from the Arsenal striker Aubameyang later on, his second. An equaliser from one of Chelsea’s star players, Pulisic, who later went off with a hamstring injury, as did the captain and another player, Kovačić, was undeservedly sent off for a second yellow card. All in all, it wasn’t the greatest, not just because there was no crowd but with bad injuries and sending offs the balance of the game is lost and although the win was deserved, Chelsea’s luckless day was a disaster for them. Aubameyang’s goal was great, so let’s say they deserved it just for that.
I’ll be getting onto emails before tomorrow’s sessions but today I am just so tired I really have to go to sleep. So farewell July, hello August and please Mr Pandemic, GO AWAY!
Music today was picked to try and keep me awake so I went to Spotify and listened to the last Battles album Juice B. Crypts (2019) because I knew it wouldn’t allow me to doze off and I hadn’t heard it yet. Last time I thought about this album was when I was in Liverpool with Stuart, The Wild Swans drummer. We’d taken a break from recording and gone to HMV and that was the record he bought. So I listened to it today and I’m not sure, it’s all about the drummer in this band for me and that’s probably why Stuart bought it but beyond him, it’s a little too much space-age fairground for me, too many novelty rides, one squeak too many and the experimentation has turned to the cold machines rather than the souls of the machines.
So I went back to the first album Mirrored (2007) to see what I was missing and once you brush away the experimental sheen there’s definitely something happening then that isn’t happening now. The band were originally made up of four members, John Stanier on drums, Ian Williams on guitar, keyboards, Dave Konopka, bass, guitars, effects, and Tyondai Braxton, guitar, keyboards, vocals. Braxton, son of the great Jazz avant-gardist Anthony Braxton, left after one album and Konopka left in 2018, so down to a duo they seem to be overrun by the machines that they once ruled.
Don’t listen to Battles unless you know what you are in for. It’s like eating snails or oysters, be prepared (or eat mushrooms instead). When they are on or should I say off in a positive way, they are really something. Challenging, yes, creative, yes, experimental, yes, daring, yes, mad, yes and unique, yes but then the genre can leave you behind if you’re not careful. Despite all their trickery and deep knowledge of recording in the modern world, it’s the human side that makes them so good, like Kraftwerk, it’s not the machines, it’s the men operating them and although they are seen as an experimental Electronic/Rock hybrid project, Stanier, Battles’ great drummer, needs the robots to come to the party in their best foil dress. I saw them live once in Sydney and Stanier was something else. On their second album Gloss Drop, they worked with Gary Numan on the track My Machines and when they played it live they had some kind of holographic screen imagery that seemed to bring him onto the stage. Stanier also had a cymbal placed so high it was almost out of reach but every time he hit it, it was somehow dynamic, something so simple.
After Gloss Drop, I also missed La Di Da Di (2015) so I’m listening to that one tonight as well and so far I’m liking it more than the latest album. I guess the latest album gets another chance but I would suggest that you listen to their records in order and if you don’t like the first album, don’t bother listening to the next three, there would be no point.
So if you like Math Rock, image is not on your agenda, intellectuals don’t make you mad and The Residents meets Phillip Glass sounds like a better way to spend your day than with hip bands that are trying to trap success using their credibility as a snare, then you are home. Enjoy, I did.
Songs Of The Day – The Yabba from La Di Da Di (2015), NYC Live Session 2015:
Atlas from Mirrored (2007), live on Later 2007:
And if you want to see The Yabba video and hear the recorded version: