My blogging record in 2011 has been pretty horrendous. If I manage to post this one within 12 hours I will have accomplished the mighty feat of blogging twice in the past twelve months. Whoop whoop. Another good intention gone astray. i think what is largely to blame is the growing web of all things Facebook and Twitter. Such realms suck you in and devour your time, next thing you know the poor ole 'add blog post' button on your website becomes redundant. So there, that's my poor lame pathetic excuse for not having contributed more to my blog sphere. As always though I will boldly announce that I will make more regular blogging part of my preliminary design for 2012.
And here's to you 2012...
12th January 2011.
Wednesday afternoon in a snow covered Nashville. This was my first Christmas and New Year spent outside of Ireland, so it was a very new experience but one I would not change. Always good to get a fresh perspective. I tasted the southern festivities of Oxford, Mississippi and then rang in 2011 in Nashville. Two weeks on and it all seems like a much longer period has passed. Here’s to a mighty year. During the week between Christmas and New Year, Neilson and I were back in the studio for a few days for me to record my vocals for the album. It was a very relaxed process, and these songs have felt very easy to sing, very easy to tap into their spirit. This whole recording process has been like that. We’ve worked very quickly but more intensely than previous studio experiences. The reason for this is that I have had a much clearer vision for this album and knew what I wanted more so than in the past. It has meant that Neilson and I (and the songs) have been able to arrive at a production place quicker. It’s as if we’ve effortlessly put in a lot of effort (if that makes any sense).We have now mixed eight tracks. We recorded twelve songs in total but made the decision just before we started mixing to drop two (“Cuts Both Ways” and ‘When it Comes To Leaving.”) The plan though is to still release these a B-sides or digital downloads soon. The mix process can be a bit challenging for me, that’s why I let Neilson do all the initial dirty work and then I come in when the track is 95% there and I’m present for the few final tweaks. It’s a system that works very well for us. This of course only works when one has trust in the mixer/producer.
Our mastering date is 24th January so the end of the first stage of “Before The Birds” is close at hand. Now out back into the snow and over to the east side.
Drums bass. Bass and drums. Five tracks down. From the darkness of ‘At The Car Park’ to the new found joy in “Cuts Both Ways.” And in between “Sweet On,” “Trick of The Light” and “When Mexican for lunch. Songs taking turns that I didn’t see coming and being thankful for such twists. Working at a great pace but without any cabin fever burnout that can creep in.
DAY 2 - PA RUM PA PUM PUM
12.43pm: Sound checking the drums may be the most challenging aspect of the recording process for me. Currently Evan (Hutchings) is pa rum pa pum pumming whilst Neilson is tweaking. Crucial noise making though. Evan is an Arkansas man and the last and only time we played together was the Music City Roots gig here in Nashville. Great player and great guy. He’s an Arkansas Razorbacks fan and so we share common ground there. I’m not sure of the reasons why, but last last year I found myself pledging allegiance and support to that particular College football (US) team. Today we’re doing it for da Hogs.
Vietnamese was on the menu for lunch today. Lemongrass chicken. Eating our way around the world this week.
PM - put down the drums/bass on the first three songs of the album - Almost Home/ I am with you/You are the same as the tide. And we’re off..
DAY 1 - IT ALL BEGINS WITH ITALIAN
“what one knows, one sees.” (Goethe)
Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant on Harding seemed like the most appropriate place to set off from. So Neilson (Hubbard) and I met up on the freezing first Monday in December to tuck into some pasta and toast the commencing of the new album. Neilson and I first worked together on “through the noise, through the night” and I’m very excited about the next month or so creating album number 3. Spent the afternoon in Mr. Lemons studio in East Nashville discussing and deciphering what songs are going to make this journey with us. We both instantly agreed on eight, and we were guided as to who the other family members were pretty quickly. I’ve never been so relaxed or at ease at the start of the recording process. In many ways it feels as if this album is already made, our job now is to let it in. “What one knows, one sees.”
BRISTOL (15th Nov '10)
Left sunny Birmingham early afternoon. Very comical car ride to Bristol resulting from our attempts to interpret a review of our Brussels gig. What made this one extra interesting was that it was written in French. Thankfully Tania is a fluent French speaker but the subtle differences between her French-Canadian and the reviewer’s French-Belgian (that term is probably completely incorrect) allowed for some minor misconstructions which were extremely funny. Great review though and thank you to Michel for sending it.
The last and only time that I was in Bristol was a few years ago for my brother-in-law’s stag do. I spent the weekend dressed as one of the Seven Dwarves. Can’t exactly remember which one; I think we were all Drunky. Tonight’s gig in St. Bonaventures was a much more refined and creative experience though. Some nights when you walk into a room at soundcheck and meet the crew who are responsible for putting the gig on - the promoter, soundman etc..- you get an instant feel that it’s going to be a good gig. This was one of them. When a performance feels easy you know that it’s right and this felt right from the get go. The crowd were very receptive and it just felt as if we were all on the one side from the first note. That is not always the case as some in some gigs you feel as if you’re having to convince, having to prove your right to be on the stage. Thanks Bristol. No sign of Snow White either which was a big relief.
gig review: http://www.crackerjack.co.uk/bristol/review/gig-review-mary-gauthier-st-bonaventures/music
1.19pm: Brussels: Sat here in the lounge awaiting the call to board Euro Star. Interesting start to the journey back to UK. Arrived at the train station 3 hours ago to find out that the torrential rain of the past few days in Belgium has resulted in widespread flooding. This has caused major delays. We were supposed to be pulling into St. Pancras station in London right about now, but that aint happening. Going to make for a very tight drive from London to Birmingham for the gig tonight. These things happen though and there’s no point in stressing out. We’ll get there when we get there.
Last night’s gig in Ancienne Belgique in Brussels was excellent. Such a great venue. In the room below us Therapy were playing to 2000 people. The bass player, Michael, is a neighbour of mine as he’s a Carincastle/Larne man. Didn’t think that it would be too often that two Antrim Coast Road boys would be playing in the Ancienne Belgique, so I dropped by their dressing room to say hello.
Before going onstage, Isobel the stage manager warned me that the room was very hot as there was a problem with the air con. And feckin hot it was. Sauna conditions. The set flowed great though and the crowd were great. Debut performance of the new song ‘Cuts both ways” and I knew after performing it that it is a real contender to be on the new album. I have a feeling that I’m going to stick with this set list for the remainder of the tour; Melodies of Midnight/where the lines are/full moon child/too late to leave her alone/atlantic eyes/i am you are/into the mystic/cuts both ways/i am with you.
2.46pm: finally on the train and heading for London. The Belgian countryside is flying past the window. There are large amounts of water lying where water shouldn’t be lying. Two things I learned about Brussels - it knows how to rain and it knows how to put on a great gig. Let’s hope we get to the Hare and Hound in Birmingham without too much delay.
12.30 am (15th Nov)
The gig was made in time. I've heard a few horror stories about driving in Birmingham but tonight it was very straight forward getting to our point of destination. Nice room in the Hare and the Hounds and it was a quite a contrast to my last and only show in this city a few years ago. Then Colm and I played some open mic night in a pub that seemed more concerned with getting the dance music of their club night pumping rather than songs being sung. Mary, Tania and I were pretty exhausted tonight. It was a nine hour journey to get here and with the delays and uncertainties of the travel plans we were pretty beat. Onstage at 8.20pm, over the road for a quick Indian, and then back for the second half of Mary's set. The CD table was made very colourful tonight by the spirited and joyful Katrice. Thanks Katrice for helping us with the sales and for giving us plenty of laughs. I also made another Glenarm and Ballyliffin connection with the audience members tonight. On every single gig on this tour (including Belgium) I've had at least one person ome talk to me about someone they know from home. Small villages with wide webs.
It's just past the witching hour now here in the Copthorne Hotel. I have a feeling morning is going to be here very very quickly. Quite the day.
Sat here in the hotel in Brussels, wishing it wasn't raining so hard out there. This is my first visit to Belgium and would like to get out their and soak it up, but in this weather the only thing soaked up would be me. Mary, Tania and trained it over on the Euro Star from London this morning. One of the conductors on the train is a big Mary Gauthier fan and the consequence of this was an upgrade for us to business class. The perks of travelling with internationally loved musicians. Night off tonight, so a chance to get caught up on emails and hopefully some sleep...
9.43am (13th Nov) - Just woke with Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" in my head. Wondering if I should play it in the set tonight. Another song that's been on constant reply upstairs is "Cuts both ways." I just wrote it two weeks ago, haven't performed it live yet, but past experience has told me that when a song keeps making itself known to you there's a fair chance it's telling you that it needs to be performed. Songs have a way of telling when it's their time, and a important part of this job is to listen. that's all, just listen. maybe tonight I'll give it it's first run out.
DAY 2 - UK TOUR NOV '10
The November sun in Brighton from yesterday was dramatically replaced by some ferocious winds and waves this morning. Drive to north London today mean't a jaunt through the centre of the city. I'm not that used to this traffic intensity; Glenarm doesn't have a similar flow. Quick walk around Islington and in early evening over to Union Chapel, the venue for the gig. everyone who is aware of this gig had told me how great it was and walking in the doors of this church (built sometime in the 1800's) I could see what the fuss was about. Incredibly unique space for a gig. if these surroundings don't inspire a special performance then I don't know what will. Grabbed a some calamari from a Japenese restaurant from across the road - not bad and it only cost a few squid (ba boom ching).
Was finding it difficult to decide on a set list for tonight and it was unsettling me. About 5 minutes before going on stage something made me play a few chords of "Melodies of Midnight". Odd, as I haven't played this song solo for a long time, but for some reason tonight it was telling me to deliver it. So I opened the set with it and immediately I found the right mood for this evening and the set flowed great. This was one of the best feeling gigs I've had in a long time and to stand on that stage in Union Chapel is very very special indeed.
After the show one member of the audience came over to me and said "into the mystic." I wasn't sure what she mean't but thought she was referring to Van's song, so I replied saying 'yeah, it's a great song.' She came closer and said 'no. You. You tonight went into the mystic." That'll do for me.
DAY 1 - BRIGHTON (10 Nov 2010)
Arrived in on the South coast of England early yesterday evening. Our hotel is on the sea front but in the dark the place where the sea should be is just a big black mass. So to awake this morning with the big blue staring back at me was reassuring. This is my first trip to Brighton but I’ve always had an image of it being the quintessential English seaside resort, with the pier and its arcades and chip shops. An early morning wander in the bright winter sun confirmed all that but I have to say it’s a much more attractive town than what I had conjured up in my head. Maybe in the midst of high summer tourist chaos it mightn’t be my cup of tea but today in the heart of November the sights and feel of Brighton won me over. I took a look at the bumper cars in the arcade on the pier and considered a ride on them. However being the only person there I thought that being the sole driver would just serve as an exercise in being passive aggressive.
I stopped to get a drink on the beach and the guy who served me gathered that I was from Ireland. He continued to tell me about his mother’s boyfriend in the 1960s who was a cattle dealer from somewhere in the south of Ireland. For 15 minutes I heard tales of how the boyfriend imported cows from Dublin to Aberdeen over 50 years ago, and about how much of a cowboy business man he was. You just never know what you hear when you order a smoothie on Brighton beach.
November 9th, 2009
Monday morning. Weekend off. Did a photo shoot early Sunday morning in downtown Nashville. Printer’s Alley and the back streets of the city have a very distinctive stale smell in the aftermath of Saturday night revellers.
11.43 am:Andy Hubbard is back visiting us today at Lemon’s. He’s brought his box of toys for a day of percussion. Sleigh bells ring are you listening? Right now he’s tambourining his way through “Monument Green.” Everything is really beginning to take shape. Great shape. Keep it cymbal. (couldn’t resist it).
November 9th, 2009
Day 10 (Monday 2nd Nov) had me sitting in traffic on I 65 for two hours en route to the studio. Spent it listening to sports talk radio, furthering my education on NFL. Thankfully severe road rage didn’t take hold.
This was a week of laying down acoustic guitars, flugelhorn, vibes, organ, keyboards, sparkle magic and engaging in a running battle with squirrels who had invaded the studio attic. This record doesn’t need any tap-dancing rodents.
November 1st, 2009
8.09am: Sunday morning coming down. Hour went back last night. The Week The Clocks Changed comes and goes again. Bright blue Nashville with shining dew. No noise from fireworks or trick or treaters last night. A silent Halloween. Squirrels on the roof were the only tricksters. A day of tracking piano in the fine surroundings of Ocean Way Studios.
6.15pm: Well, the piano for this record was tackled swiftly. Ocean Way is located on Music Row and there’s not much life in that part of town at half nine on a Sunday morning. Neilson was on piano duty for the most part but we did have a very special guest call by to sit in on “I am you are.” John Deaderick (piano/hammond master) and I struck up a deal in that I bring him one of the new remastered Kraftwerk albums back from Ireland (not released in US) and he’ll trade me with performing on a song on the album. I think I came off the better in that deal. John played on my last album and so it was good to have him make an appearance on this one.
Ocean Way is a great studio, one of the best. No shortage of high end gear or facilities. However I did feel that the control room (Studio A) lacked a little atmosphere and was somewhat bland in spirit. It had a bit of a classroom vibe and that makes sense as Belmont owns and uses it as a teaching facility too. I’m not complaining though; the piano sounds fantastic and it was great to be able to use the facilities there.
We finished up at 2.30pm. I was in the mood for some BBQ so paid a visit to Corkey’s for a plate of pulled pork. The chocolate cobbler was one step too far.
October 30th, 2009
I leave Trousdale Drive every morning at 9.30am. My chariot is my fourteen year old Mazda, affectionately known as Millie. She may give the odd chug, growl and grumble but Millie drives with a rusted grace. She’s the finest $1300 purchase I’ve ever made. The University of Tennessee sticker that adorned the rear window when I purchased her has since been replaced by one celebrating Inishowen, Co.Donegal.
I hit I-65 , slip onto I-40 E, then onto I-24 W. Downtown Nashville in all’s it glory is on my left. I first saw this image on the cover of Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album, so you’ll forgive me if I get a little excited when I pass this scene every morning on the way to record. I then hit the hood. East Nashville was an area unknown to me before I started the sessions at Mr.Lemon’s. This was made clear in the fact that on every one of the first five mornings travelling to the studio I unintentionally took a different route. Sometimes losing one’s coordinates is the best method of exploration.
After Shelby I’m on Gallatin Avenue for a mile or two. There’s a real feeling of urban decay on Gallatin. Words graffitied on a wall read “Welcome 2 Da Jungle.” This is not the street to be walking on solo at night, but I have to admit that every time I drive on it my sense of curiousity soars. There’s alot of hardship in this area and I get the sense of things being always on the edge, a place where events could turn very suddenly, and probably not for the better. This is not the brighter side of the American dream. This is hard inner city America and there’s no hiding its rough edges. Precariously alluring in certain aspects though.
I turn onto Cahal Avenue (pronounced the non-Irish “caa hawl” way). After a few more twists and turns in the heartland of east Nashville I’m at Lemon’s Studio. Physically, socially and culturally this is a landscape very removed from home. The affect on me is that every morning this drive raises my alertness, awakens me and always leaves me wide-eyed. It throws me out of any comfort zone and I’m realising that it’s an ideal state in which to begin a new day of recording.
October 29th, 2009
I’m not sure if watching a Charles Manson documentary over breakfast is the right way to start the day. It somewhat dilutes the Ready Brek glow. It didn’t affect the guitar playing of Kris Donegan in the studio today though. The man was on fire. Another five songs nailed. Man City also thumped Scunthorpe tonight so all in all we’re in a good place as the night comes on.
October 28th, 2009
It’s not supposed to rain in the land of milk and honey. First gray skies of the recording overhead. Got to Mr.Lemon’ s by 10am and the engine room was already fired up. Kris Donegan is in today and tomorrow putting down guitars. Like all the musicians who have played thus far on the album my first introduction to them is on the morning of the session. Neilson however has without a doubt pulled together the very finest of crews for the recording. What a geetar player Mr.Donegan is. Great feel for the songs and the tones and sounds he was conjuring up are really making the tracks come alive. A few of his licks were re-enthusing me about one or two tracks that I felt had gone to sleep. We had put a lid on five songs by 6pm and called it a day. Neilson was off to celebrate his birthday which he had kept very quiet from us. It wasn’t until a few clues and sources tipped us off that it was his day to be blowing out the candles. Happy birthday Captain Hubbard.
We had a visitor to the studio this afternoon from our old friend and musician extraordinaire John Deaderick. John played all things keys on “The week the clocks changed” and am excited to say will be on the ivories on one or two songs when we relocate to Ocean Way Studios for a session next week. John had contacted me when I was home in Ireland a few weeks ago to see if I could bring him acorss one of the remastered Kraftwerk albums. Lo and behold I located the very thing in Ballymena. Enjoy the computers John…
October 26th, 2009
7.35am: Monday morning. A weekend of not straying too far from the house. Finished a very thought provoking “Walk On” by Steve Stockman and started into “Conversations with Tom Petty.” Finally got watching “The Wrestler” and was not let down. Rourke was brilliant and I find his character comes back into my thoughts even a few days after meeting him. That’s what we want, characters that linger and hang around long after their footprints have passed. Also attempted watching “Benjamin Button” which was extremely poor and my only option was to put both Benjamin and I out of our misery by pressing eject after 30 mins. And furthermore, CMT - why were you plugging Christmas last night and showing National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in October? Further furthermore, why was I watching CMT?
9.55 am : En route to the studio I pass the pawn shops, the meat and 3’s, the tyre changers, the boarded up store fronts on Gallatin Avenue. Onto Cahal Av. By accident I’ve taken a different route to the studio every morning. I’ll lay a bet that there’s not too many cars in this hood wearing Ireland and Inishowen stickers. Here in the maze of east Nashville I’m thousands of miles from the Antrim coast but this morning I don’t feel the distance.
10.15 am: It’s not often that the day starts with a conversation with someone who tells you all about the eye removal surgery he’s just had. That though is the chat that has kicked off today’s session in Mr.Lemon’s. Kenny Hutson is joining us today to take care of all things pedal steel. Kenny just had his left eye removed a few days ago and his description of the process was pretty graphic and fascinating. Sets the day up nicely. How can a steel player with an eye patch and a Waylon Jennings logo sticker on the instrument not conjure up some magic.
October 22nd, 2009
7.24am: I’m hearing the rumble of early morning Nashville traffic and hum of Trousdale. Had a few interesting dreams last night, one of which included my old music teacher. She hasn’t been in my thoughts for a long time. I used to really dislike going for piano lessons as a child and often would knock on her door and hen run away. I would then tell my parents that the teacher wasn’t home. Of course now I wish I had stayed at her door until she had answered as the piano is the very instrument I wish I was fluent in. A lesson learned - never knock the door unless you plan to enter.
We start recording at 9am this morning. I didn’t think that time of day existed in studios. A day of drums, grooves and laying down the backbone.
10.26am: The early bird gets the worm. The early singer gets a dodgy vocal performance.
By 5pm we had seven drum track in the bag. Andy Hubbard I tip my hat to you sir. Twelve drum tracks in two days. We all agreed that the Dyess Brick is providing some magic.The spine of the album has been created.
We now break until Monday (today being Thursday)as Neilson has to head out of town for a few days.I’ll welcome Monday morning with open arms.
October 22nd, 2009
I introduced a very important addition to the studio this morning - a brick from the chimney from Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas (see blog entry from 22nd Sep ‘09). I’m not especially superstitious but instinct tells me that this brick will be an important element in the recording process! We could do a lot worse than having Johnny’s spirit hanging around the studio.
And so up steps Mr. Andy Hubbard to kick the recording off in style. Day one of two days of drumming commences. We started making noise and rattling the air of air of east Nashville shortly after 12pm. Andy hadn’t heard any of the tracks so we spent a bit of time going through each track and settling on the tempo. First up was ‘Monument Green.’ This song is the oldest out of the 12 that I’m recording and in fact was the first ever song I co-wrote. We’ve attempted to record it a few times in the past but it always seemed to tell us that it wasn’t ready to go on record.
Hearing Andy play his first few takes made me quickly realise that the reputation that preceded him was rightly justified. What a great player. Pretty incredible to see him nail these songs in the first or second take having not heard the song more than ten minutes previous. Andy also brought something else very tasty to the session - a dozen of his wife’s pumpkin muffins - both seasonal and sensational. Excited and delighted that Andy is laying the bones and groove down for the record.
By 5.30pm we had drums for five of the songs finished. We start up again in the morning at 9am and need to get the rest of the seven put down.
October 20th, 2009
Rose at 7am. 30 mins of reading and writing and then out for a run. En route to Mr.Lemon’s studio i really should’ve trusted my directional instincts as the sat nav took me downtown Nashville, not the place I needed to go. A little after 10am I finally arrived at Neilson’s place. Neilson by the way is Neilson Hubbard, the guider of this ship for the next 6 weeks. I’m a big fan of the stuff that Neilson has created in Mr.Lemon’s studio in the past and am very excited that he’s onboard producing my new record.
First time being here in the Mr.Lemons and I instantly liked it. Nothing too extravagant but had it has great feel and atmosphere. Warmed to this environment immediately. Today felt like the first day at school. nothing too taxing. Neilson and I went through and finalised the twelve songs we plan to record. One of the major differences between this new album and The Week The Clocks Changed is that the songs for the latter were written over an 8 year period whereas this album has been written in one year. All these tunes have been co-written in Nashville.
We settled on tempos and made a few little tweaks to chord changes here and there and generally worked on the game plan. Andy Hubbard, who is playing drums on the album, arrived around mid-day and set up his gear. Neilson’s dog Ebi, who had joined us for the day in the studio is apparently not a fan of the drums and made her point quite vocally.
Called it quits at 4pm. we’re ready to roll first thing in the morning with Andy on drums.
Packing the suitcase and loosening the guitar strings for my 25th flight trans-Atlantic flight in two and a half years. Most of these have been of course between Belfast and Nashville. In Glenarm presently. Just back from a wander up through the forest. Surprisingly mild for mid-October. I've had a great trip home, albeit for a short two weeks. Recharged and refueled in Glenarm and Ballyliffin (Donegal). On Sunday night Collie and myself did a gig in Ballyliffin. A very laid back and informal night. It struck me that I played my very first gig in that very place when I was 15 years old. Fifteen years later I've a few more notches on the belt.I have to admit that this is the most excited and enthused I have felt about getting on the plane for the trip to Nashville. Don't get me wrong - I've eagerly got on the plane all previous times! This however feels different. I start recording the new album in six days time in east Nashville and I am itching to get started. There's a great charge, an electricity in the air which is bringing a different kind of energy and zest. Long may it last.