Introduction

Today, somewhat out of the blue, I’ve decided that instead of my lyrics and songs existing purely on other platforms (like Soundcloud and Reverbnation) or being held in an A4 folder in their own individual sleeves, that they should have a life of their own; sometimes with their back-stories, or with other media; sometimes with the music that has been written to accompany them.

I’ve known for many years that deep down, I’ve had a lyrical calling in one form or another – either in the form of poetry or songwriting. This is something that has been in gestation for a long time but only in the last four years has it found its natural outlet and only in the last two years have I learned to develop my own style and my own lyrical voice.

Like many other writers, I have been inspired by those that have gone before. The observational style of Jarvis Cocker and Chris Difford; the story-telling ability of Neil Peart and Gerry Goffin; the imagery and emotive word-play of Steve Hogarth, James Grant and Neil Finn. Among many other legendary writers who’se works have been the soundtrack to the lives of millions (Graham Gouldman, Paddy MacAloon, Jimmy Webb and  countless others), I am starting to find a way to articulate what I’m trying to say.

Taking part in a BASCA songwriting retreat in Wales in 2014 was a formative experience – being the first time that I had written collaboratively outside of the comfort zone of friends and fellow band members, especially against the clock and to a brief and with people I’d never met before. I found the experience liberating and empowering and highly productive. Watching an idea of yours grow quickly from a planted seed and take shape and through the efforts of your own hands and others, within hours not only reach a recognisable form, but one that has the capacity to make a complete stranger smile, think, cry or even just sit there in silence and absorb the message or the story, is something that I will never tire of.

While turning a latent desire to write into something with a tangible output was originally born of a need for catharsis,  the intervening three years have seen the perspective change. Nowadays, I find my inspiration in so many different places. It can be mis-heard words or phrases on a radio or TV broadcast, it can be from watching a film, it can be from a real world experience, it can be a narrative. It can take the most innocuous spark to start a fire of ideas or conversely, it can be an idea that just pours out in minutes, as if born fully formed. I’m sure that this is a lyrical journey that is not a unique one and that many others who have trod the same path would feel the same and continue to experience the same as I do.

This blog is a record of my journey along that road.

I hold the copyright in all of these works as the sole writer, unless indicated otherwise. I am also open to licensing either songs, lyrics or music to other interested parties.

I hope you enjoy what you read.

S M-H.

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Album Release Day

London Road and No Expectations are now released and out in the wild and available to listen to on this website, in both wav file and mp3 formats, depending on your available bandwidth. They should also be downloadable too.

This draws the creation stage of this project to a close and it is almost time to start the next one which I am looking to get going around early June; there are some other production tracks which I have been recording and working on for friends for some time but have been on the back burner while this project has been in gestation. These can now be brought back to life before the next KOAS album project starts.

I’ll start a new series of blog pages as the new tracks are all being recorded and in some cases written and the journey will begin all over again.

Thank you for your patience in waiting for these songs to be brought to life; it was a long old road, but the objective has been reached; a musical legacy to the important people in my life which immortalises their contribution to who and what and how I am.

I hope you like them and are also going to join me on the next musical journey when it comes along.

KOAS Album News

I’ve just returned from Florida in the last 36 hours and there was a lot of time not only for contemplating the subject of what to do with the KOAS album/EP releases but also to discuss the matter with two experienced professionals who have been there, bought the T-shirt and much more on many occasions and also to examine some options.

Previously, I had looked at both TuneCore and CDBaby as possible outlets for a formal release of both London Road and No Expectations and I’ve also considered doing a small print run of CD’s. All these options are still in the background and may be taken up on but a number of conversations and reactions while I was in the US have led me to the decision that I have taken today. The first was one that I already knew anyway, but was confirmed by a highly reputable US Producer and Mix Engineer re-emphasising how challenging it is to get songs cut these days by professional artists (and theres no reason to believe that the US and UK are any different in that respect); the second was that given the strongest part of my suit is that of lyricism – and I was aware of this anyway and had been reminded of it before – the words are largely lost on those who were listening. Part of that comes of them being very personal, which I was aware of anyway and proceeded with full knowledge of that fact; and lastly that I never set out to make either of these offerings to make money. That was never a factor. The intention in the case of London Road was for it to be a calling card for collaborative writing, like an actors showreel. The intention of No Expectations was for it to be a cathartic musical legacy to four important people in my life.

So, the decision that was taken was that the albums will be released on here and will be free to download by anyone who wants them, whenever they want them. No need for any registration, no pricing – just simple downloads of either Apple m4a tracks or .wav files at 16bit/44.1khz, which despite being several times the size, are also more open and sound much better as they have more dynamic range. If anyone wishes to donate anything when they download the music, they can do, and if they dont want to, they dont have to. The key thing is that the songs are listened to, regardless. The only person who puts any real financial value on these songs as memories (yet), is me. But their emotional value to me is obviously, much higher than what it cost to record and release them.

Over the next week or so, I will finalise the artwork and the mastering output levels for the files and add the appropriate buttons on this site to enable easy access to the albums. As it stands at this precise moment, everything has been mastered with the requirements of iTunes and the two aforementioned aggregators in mind which are to put it politely, quite conservative – nothing peaks louder than -8.2db, so it never gets really loud at all and if anything for domestic consumption, they’re probably a tad too quiet and can be boosted a bit (this was the main question I had for the Producer/Mix Engineer as he has vast experience of finishing mixes prior to mastering and his Maximizer plugin is permanently glued into the red). These tweaks are minor ones which will take only a few short hours to accomplish, so I’m targeting the May Bank Holiday as a release date for both offerings. I can then close this particular project and then move on to the next one over the summer, which I have to admit, I’m quite upbeat about. I’ll be able to apply all the many lessons I’ve learned during the gestation of these two which should  – hopefully –  mean the time to releasing the difficult second album should be shorter (famous last words, no doubt, LOL).

So.. in closing… watch this space. The release date for both London Road and No Expectations is imminent.

Latest News on Project KOAS

You are far
I’m never gonna be your star
I’ll pick up the pieces and mend my heart
Maybe I’ll be strong enough
I don’t know where to start
But I’ll never find peace of mind,
While I listen to my heart
People…
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will…. If you let them….” 
© George Michael, Kissing A Fool, 1988

Well… its 9.45 in the evening in the UK and as it stands right now…. the mastering work on the albums is now finished.

Its been quite challenging and educational for someone who has largely been a hands-off engineer and aspiring Producer  – when it comes to putting together demos of both my own work and those for others, at least… I’ve had the ideas but there has always been someone who makes a living from engineering or mastering or producing to put that final fairy dust on the finished product.

When it comes to putting together something in your own name though, the goal was always to make it as good as I could with the experience that I had. And…. as I’m the closest one to the project, I can hear all the lumps and bumps and imperfections and things that make me think “… yeah, I should really go back and fix that…” So, it’ll never be perfect. Such things very rarely are. Indeed, some figure that all the lumps and bumps make it a bit more honest and… real. FWIW, I think the jury is out on that.

But, with respect to the other old adage which goes along the lines of  “there are never any finished mixes, only abandoned ones”, I can honestly, hand on heart, listen back to the final 2 track masters and be glad of what I have and I’m happy for them to be let loose on the world as they are… They are as good as I can get them to be (and believe me, I’ve tried, LOL), with my level of expertise as a player, a singer, a writer and a producer… at this stage of my career, that is. Next time… now that might be different. But more of that later.

There certainly were some interesting challenges along the way in trying to get the completed .wav files to sound as good as I could when mastering them into “lossy”/compressed formats like m4a, MP3 and so on. That took quite a lot of test pressings to get right and finally getting hold of Mastered For iTunes tools from Apple as well. Once that particular hurdle was out of the way, the rest of it was pretty much a downhill run to the finish line although it did take quite a few late nights, which I think have started to catch up with me recently!

As per the last blog update, the albums have been sequenced, they have all been put through a good mastering package (Izotope Ozone 7) and then treated with another very handy vst, Waves Abbey Road Vinyl which gives them that kind of old vinyl warmth and fuzzyness around the edges, taking off some of the harshness.  They were all recorded, mixed and mastered on headphones (Beyer DT770 Pro) –  the intended listening medium for these songs has always been headphones, never monitors and I would venture that a lot of people who may well listen to this music will do so over earbuds or headphones; it has been mastered with them in mind. I’ve also very consciously made sure I’m on the right side of the loudness wars as well and everything has been mastered very conservatively, peaking at no more than -8.2db, to ensure that if it gets submitted to the likes of iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc that the songs can make sure they’re within the loudness restrictions that these providers have stipulated.

Ah yes, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc. There comes the big final question and the one that I have not yet decided to answer: After having waved my own flags so hard for the last two years on this project, its not lost on me that I have to make a decision (always a bad thing, LOL) about what to do with these songs now I’ve given them life. Do I keep them locked up in the proverbial basement on a diet of bread and water (obviously not, I’m not that creepy) or do I let them fly with the best chance they’ve got of reaching new shores, but charge them a Club Class ticket price for doing so?

Or…. to be less cryptic/obtuse…. “Do I give them away for free, or do I sell them?”

I’m kinda torn where this is concerned. London Road is and always has been a calling card, almost like a demo album to advertise my ability to to other musicians, writers, producers, etc as a marker of my ability as a songwriter and lyricist, proving that I can play nicely with others, LOL. No Expectations was always a musical legacy to not only my late father (who kept on sending me damned jazz music to write, from the other realm… I used to hate jazz. You’ve no idea how much, hahaha…), but also to three very, very important women in my life who came into it and when they left it, they left leaving huge footprints on my heart that no rainstorms will ever wash away. It was never, ever going to be about money. It was about doing something that I hoped would be remembered, so that neither they nor what I thought of them would ever be forgotten. It is much more thematically coherent than London Road and that was always the intention.

So, I’m in a bit of a quandary. Part of me wants to go the Radiohead way and just put it out there and invite people to just take it and if they want to make a donation, they can, but if they dont, then so long as they give the material a listen, I dont mind. In the most recent distribution from PRS4Music that I’ve had, songs that I have co-written are starting to earn me some royalties, which is great. It’ll never be enough for me to retire on, but I never expected it to. All of the material is registered and if it ever pops up anywhere and gets played where the collection societies get to know about it, a few cents will roll into my hat. And thats fine. I’m happy with that. Limousines, the devils dandruff and private jets are all so passe anyway, LOL. 

The other part of me says that if I’m to put the material where it has the best chance of being heard by not only the wider public – ie, aggregators like Tunecore, CDBaby and so on – there has to be some kind of concept as to how much it is going to cost. So, I have to bring money into it, whether I like it or not. I can distribute it myself via this site or a similar one, but the reach is not going to be as good as what it would be through an aggregator.

Lots of food for thought then, while I go to Florida on holiday to see the family for a week…

Ultimately, what it boils down to is that both albums, regardless of which way they walk out of the front door of my life, to find their place in the world, should be released digitally in early May 2018.

And then onto the next project. I’ve already got half an idea as to what I’m going to call it (but thats for another post) and I’ve already got some tracks that are in gestation that I would like to feature on it and the overall musical direction it will go in. And this will be something that I will record with the motivation of selling it, as opposed to being so open to the idea of giving it away.

The big difference this time, I’m not going to be so dumb as to chain myself to a timescale. It’ll be ready when its ready. When I’ve returned from Florida and that final decision regarding distribution has been made, then I’ll put up another post announcing what it is, and where the material will be available from and so on and so on…

 

Project KOAS Album Track Listings and Running Orders

The decision has been made on the track listings and running order for the upcoming album and EP that have formed the KOAS project. As per the original goal, one album will be comprised exclusively of collaborative material (London Road) and the other will be self written (No Expectations).

As mentioned before, there is always an exception to every rule and the exception in this case is Five Years, which is a collaborative track between myself and Robert Pearce, but is thematically much better placed to be on this album than London Road.

Track Listing and Running order for No Expectations:

Stay
The Fear Of Missing Out
Stars
Let It Go
No Getting Over You
Doesn’t Matter Now
What Became Of Love
Castles In The Sky
Five Years

Track Listing and Running order for London Road:

Elia
Escape From The Shadows
Come Talk To Me
South To The Sun
Without You
This Time

I don’t expect any changes to be made to these listings following final mixdown and mastering; I’m confident that this is going to be the finished running order in both cases. I also expect both to be completed and available by early May at the very latest.

I’ll share more detail when it becomes clearer.

 

Update on Project KOAS

I normally post some lyrics from a famous song at this point, but right now I’m pretty sure that what I was going to use, I’ve used already somewhere else. Much as I might repeat myself thematically for now where my songwriting is concerned, I try not to make a habit of it when citing other songwriter’s works, LOL.

It has been a long while since I posted an update though, so without further ado, I’d better get to it.

The mixdown of the KOAS albums is going very very well and in a couple of cases some of the tracks are at the pre-mastering/test final mix stage which I’m finding quite encouraging. Much as I’ve done this kind of thing before with either a band or as a Producer/Co-Producer for friends and others, doing it with your own material is a new experience for me and one that I’ve learned a lot from and am continuing to learn. Elia and Five Years are both at a very advanced stage now, pretty much at the point where they just need final balancing/eq’ing before mastering which I’m very pleased about. Others are following close behind, like Manhattan Lullaby (although it does need a new lead vocal), The Fear Of Missing Out and No Getting Over You (both likewise) This Time and Talk To Me. Some I’ve re-done the vocals for several times and as a non-singer, finding a point that you can settle on and decide that you’ve finally captured what you’ve set out to express can be quite an elusive thing. FOMO, NGOY and Manhattan all fall into that category. They’re achievable and the guide vocals have been OK, but are some way short in my estimation and still need another big final heave to get them over the finishing line. All should be happening within the next two weeks though. The music for all of them, I’m completely happy with. Its just the vocals that are requiring of a little more work.

The whole project then, these minor jobs notwithstanding, for both London Road and No Expectations is on course for mixdown and mastering to be complete by early April with a prospective release date very shortly after that. As mentioned before, I will do my best to try and produce a very limited run of physical CD copies of both but the main release is going to be electronic.

So, as opposed to my usual thousand word ramblings, this post is quite a short one. After having moved to Warwickshire in Autumn last year, it has been a long process of getting settled in, having to concentrate on the day job and getting the studio space set up and whatever remaining tracking needed to be done for these projects, but pretty much every spare moment since the turn of the year has been spent on inching forward with this project and it is starting to bear real proper fruit, not just the low hanging stuff. The goal of this project in the first place was to put together a personal musical legacy that my late father didnt really get the chance to do, inspired by both him, my late wife and other significant people in my life and that objective is emerging out of the fog to be realised in its own right. Its taken the best part of two years tracking and mixing and learning and many, many takes and heaven knows how much editing and comping.

But, I can actually put up an album cover on social media these days with the words “Coming Soon” as a strapline and actually mean it. And for someone who started all this as a somewhat accidental bass player nearly 30 years ago, to realise a goal of releasing works that he has singularly and collaboratively written, played and produced pretty much completely in house in either a garage in Aylesbury or in a spare bedroom… Its a personal milestone and for the people who follow my efforts and my writing, plus for posterity, it is only right that I show my face above the parapet from time to time and prove that both I and the goal are still alive and breathing – and even though the day job is still the main earner, it is possible to have a personal musical dream, chase it and make it happen.

I’ve already got half an eye on the next project after this one and its hoped that some of the other tracks that are on this site will see the light of day too, maybe in more than their first iterations – Birds & Butterflies, Last Dance may get brought back to life too, plus others. We’ll see how it goes.

Meantime, thank you all for your patience. Not much longer now and all will be revealed. I promise I wont keep you waiting for much longer.

Been A Long Time…

Well, I’ve duly noted that my last post was back in late July after the day job problem had been solved. It has been a long old time since I last put down my thoughts on what was going on.

In that intervening time, I have indeed taken on a new day job, which is going well and allows me the time and resources to be able to devote to my musical passion; I have moved house from Wiltshire, to the county of my birth, Warwickshire. I have downsized massively and decluttered on a scale I never would have got round to had I had not had the impetus brought on by the move. They were all things that needed to be done anyway and my stay in Wiltshire had come to its natural end and it was time to move on.

Having been surrounded by boxes for the first few weeks, it took a while for the Cubase/iMac rig to be unboxed and set up, but this has now been done and the studio is up and running and functional. I would say “working”, but finishing off the last parts of unpacking has meant that I have not yet picked up on the remaining work on the KOAS project yet, but the intention is to do so, starting this weekend, as there is still quite a bit to do and also some re-recording as well of some of the vocal cuts which after a listen back during the August Bank Holiday proved that the first attempts were not up to scratch. Which means that the lead vocals for Manhattan Lullaby, Stay and Stars will be re-done at some point in the near future. And considering that December will be upon us soon and that I was targeting January and February as the months in which the mixing would be done, time is of the essence.

I also have to admit that I’ve not been doing any new writing in the meantime either – I’ve not really exposed myself to the kind of subject matter that has led to the tracks that I’ve written and recorded so far. There are a few ideas floating around generally, in terms of themes, atmospheres and the such like, but nothing that is taking any real form yet. I’m hoping that the new year will bring the opportunity to carry on working with my collaborators and get back to writing again, but in the meantime, London Road and No Expectations remain the bigger fish to fry.

But… I am back and the goal remains the same. To make music from the heart that speaks to someone and tells a story. Hopefully after this weekend has been and gone, there will be more developments.

Oh, before I go, there is one thing. A couple of years ago, in the run up to Christmas, I was invited to contribute a 2 page of A4 piece to a book that was to be published about one of my great songwriting heros, Neil Finn. The work was being put together by three ladies from the MidWest of the USA and even though it was written to a very short deadline, my piece was one that I was very proud of, it told my story very well and I was very happy when they told me that they’d like to use it for the book, which was due to be released in both paperback and electronic versions. Well, the ladies have gone all the way through the publishing process and are on the verge of the first print run starting in early December for worldwide shipping. And, one of the first copies is to go to the man who inspired the book in the first place, Neil Finn.

I dont think I need to say what a wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity it is for not only people, complete strangers across the world, who love the same music as I do, to be able to read my story and engage with it, but also for one of my greatest songwriting heros to read the story as well and see what an incredible print his work has made on my life. Part of my story is about to be immortalised in print… I’m extremely happy about it, its the best Christmas present I could ever ask for.

Oh and I got my first PRS cheque as well. Its only from the annual distribution, but its still something. Maybe now, that makes me a professional… doesnt it? *grins*

Life has definitely turned a positive corner and the pathway looks very interesting. Its up to me as to what pace I take down this road, but I think I’m finally on one where I can look around, take time to smell the flowers and not wish I was somewhere else, or waste my time wondering whether somewhere else would be better. Thats a place I haven’t been in for the best part of seven years. It has definitely been worth waiting for.

Back with more news soon.

 

Without You

“Take the last train to Clarksville
Now I must hang up the phone
I can’t hear you in this noisy railroad station all alone
I’m feeling low
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no
And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home…”
©Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart, 1966

Another track that I thought had been written up on here, but alas not. And, lyrically, it is one that I’m very proud of so in reality, it should have been put up a long time ago.

It was written on a Saturday afternoon at the 2015 BASCA Summer Songwriting Retreat at Monnow Valley with a very talented collaborator called Jess Slowen. Great piano player and a fine voice and also hailing from my home town of Coventry.

It came about as part of an assignment, as a lot of the songs written on these retreats were, from a tip sheet. We saw something referring to what turned out to be like a German version of The Shires but a bit darker and rockier and more…. well, for want of a better phrase teutonic. With darker hair and beards and stuff, LOL.

Anyway…. we basically built a scenario or a story around an idea, essentially storyboarding it like a short film; concept being that the camera follows a woman leaving a house and getting into a taxi. Nobody knows why. Who she is leaving, why she is leaving, where she is going, only that she is leaving a house with a small suitcase and thinking about her decision, whether it was the right one. The camera follows her to a station where she keeps on looking behind her, but going on her way, checking her phone, getting on her train, finding her seat and then looking out of the window as the train pulls away, again, wondering if she’s done the right thing.

Camera then cuts away and comes towards her from behind through the vestibule of the carriage, but we dont see who until the camera pulls back and reveals the person she left who couldnt bear to let her go and knew his place was beside her.

Sorry, I should have given a spoiler alert there. What I like about this is the imagery and the wordplay, how it suggests urgency but without hurrying, how it is observational without being cluttered, how it lets the listener into the mind of the protagonist without being overly dramatic and how it is a complete three minute story.

Most of all though, its that second chorus. It keeps the same vocal melody as the first one, but without blowing my own trumpet, I think its one of the best lyrics I’ve ever written as it says whats going on and what the protagonist is thinking in the clearest, most direct terms. I love it to bits. Jess’s piano part, her vocal melody and her voice brings it properly to life beautifully.

The middle eight incidentally, was meant to be sung by a man, but at the time was a part I wasnt able to deliver and another collaborator of mine wasnt able to put down. So, Jess sang it instead. Its the part where he realises he’s let the main character go without much of a fight and has been thinking more about himself rather than the decision she had faced. Luckily, he comes to his senses in time.

Without You

Verse1/
Caught the last cab to the station
Didnt want to leave, but you already knew that
Trying to deny my isolation, but its no consolation
That you’re not here with me

Ch/
One last look at this place I can see every face
Without you
One more dream, so it seems I’m the one who will leave
Without you

Without you

Verse 2/
Take my chance of a lifetime, give me a lifeline
You know you wanted to.
Now I’ve got time for reflection, to pray for intervention like I never knew

Ch/
One last look at my phone while I stand on my on my own
Without you
One more wish left to use and you’re what I would choose,
Just you…

Middle8
I made a promise and I couldnt face a single day without you here
When I saw your taxi pull away, the rest was clear
No reason to hide
I need you by my side

Verse 3/
I look at my reflection in the window, where will my dreams go without you?
Trying not to think about tomorrow, another day will follow, just like they always do
I close my eyes and I wonder why I can feel you here
I always knew I could count on your love to make everything clear…

©Music by Jess Slowen, Lyrics by Steve McCarthy-Hunt, 2015

Milestones on Project KOAS

“And the piano it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, “Man, what are you doing here?”

© Billy Joel, from the album “Piano Man”, 1973

Almost a month to the day, but not quite from my last update and a lot has happened in the intervening time. Thankfully, my previous worst-case-scenario of having to have a fire sale of everything in order to keep going has been averted as I make yet another comeback into my chosen day job in the next few days, but it will mean relocating away from Wiltshire ultimately… so things are likely to go quiet around here for a while I make that the priority for the next few months.

But, to get back on track; the last update I put up nearly a month ago saw all of the backing vocals done across all of the tracks, with a degree of nervousness about the task ahead which was lead vocals. Well, that has all now also been completed. All 18 tracks now have their lead vocals recorded. Not necessarily comp’d and treated yet, but they’re all in the can.

And only in one case did I need to ask a singer to take my place behind the mic and that was for Elia. Mainly because I got too close to see the wood for the trees and didnt really have the deepness in my voice. So, I asked my dear friend and collaborator David Barnes to join me and he delivered a great interpretation of the melody for the song and it really has done it justice. The background vocals do exactly what they are supposed to, they support, embellish and add to the track but without getting in the way of the lead; I’m very happy with it.

The rest of the songs, I’ve had to work through myself, starting with Five Years at the beginning of July and ending with Talk To Me this afternoon. And, as I alluded to in a previous blog, it has been educational. Some of the songs have ended up with a slightly different feel to what was originally conceived; Let It Go is more MacAloon than Skellern, Stay has ended up sounding like it has been done by the bastard offspring of Gareth Gates and Barry Gibb (its not as bad as it sounds, honest it isnt!), Escape From The Shadows comes across as more Jarvis Cocker than Bernard Summer or Mark Hollis; This Time didnt get the Geldorf/Tudorpole sneery tone that I originally envisaged (couldnt quite get it) and The Fear Of Missing Out ended up being more Tom Waits/Bob Seger than Donald Fagen (try as I might, I couldnt really get Fagen’s really languid New York drawl and believe me I tried. Really tried. Just didnt suit the track, although my minds ear can still hear it as clear as day. Oh well…). Manhattan Lullaby ended up being more MacAloon than Munro (not what I had written the track for, but shooting for Matt and ending up with Paddy is fine by me, haha) – but Stars, Talk To Me, No Getting Over You, Castles In The Sky and Doesnt Matter Now ended up being very much how I hoped they would be. As did Five Years: Its not George Michael (and it never will be, in all seriousness, Different Corner was an inspiration, not an aspiration), but it has the right feel for the track.

And in each case, as it always is, the more I did it, the more comfortable I got with the process and started, to use that hackneyed old saying, to find my (singing) voice at long last. It went from taking hours with Let It Go and Five Years (and up to dozens of takes with The Fear Of Missing Out and No Getting Over You… you’ve no idea how many goes I had to have at the opening line of the chorus to pitch it properly, LOL) to doing Talk To Me in less than an hour from start to finish and then hitting the STOP button and thinking “..Bloody hell… it was that easy?”

So… there is still a lot to do. There needs to be a lot of comping done on pretty much all of the tracks and there is going to be quite a bit of minor pitch-fixing and use of some of the plug ins like Zplane Vielklang to have another look at some of the more prominent harmonies, especially in Talk To Me, The Fear Of Missing Out, This Time and Escape From The Shadows. That is likely to be very time consuming and chances are, it is going to have to be line by line, verse by verse, which means that its likely to be quite some time before we get everything to the point where mixing can be completed.

So, as well as learning to be a writer over the last three years and learning to be a singer of sorts this year, its soon time to learn how to be a mixing engineer as well, if this project is to sound as good as I know it can. Listening to some of the roughs like Five Years, Elia, The Fear Of Missing Out, Stars, No Getting Over You has given me some real lump in the throat moments (in a nice “..oh my God… I’m capable of that??” way, just to clarify, LOL) where the vision of the original song has come very close to being realised and sounding just like it had in my minds ear, which is incredibly uplifting and in some cases quite emotional.

As I said before, most of my emotional content up to this point has been in my lyrics as opposed to my musical performances, but I think that is changing now, for the better. This is something I’ve always lauded my heroes and inspirations for and while I’ll never claim to be in their league, if I’ve earned the right to walk on the same dusty roads as them, thats good enough for me.

As of Monday next week, I have to concentrate on the day job until that is stable and then move house. I’m hoping to snatch the odd few hours on weekends over the next few months to do as much of the comping as I can and will probably commence the mixing and mastering when I relocate, although I might change my mind on that over the coming months.

Its been a very educational journey so far and about 70% of it is done. The remainder may well see the tracks evolve and change again between now and the finish line, based on what other new things I learn between now and then. But as an amateur writer with a vision, I’m very heartened to have got as far as I have on this road with the prospect of finishing the project still being fully intact. No doubt there are many others who have set out on journeys like I have and abandoned them part way through for a multitude of reasons. But, doing something as a personal legacy above everything else is quite a spur to get things finished, no matter how long they take.

I’ll keep on posting updates as the project matures. Meantime, it’ll go quiet for a little while, but that doesnt mean that nothing is happening.

 

Escape From The Shadows

“What a fool I’ve been
Didn’t get to him in time
What’s been happening?
Its so hard to sleep at night…
Its so hard to sleep at night..
Hard to sleep at night

I don’t like to read the news
D’you know anything I’m going through

And she calls…”

© Mark Hollis, 1982, from the Talk Talk album “The Party’s Over”

Now I’ve got to the point in the KOAS project where I’m down to the last three songs to have lead vocals recorded, I checked the blog as I have taken to using the lyrics on the blog on an ipad as a cue when recording – I thought I had added this one quite some time ago, but it turns out that I had not.

Theres a bit of a complicated story behind this one. My long time collaborator and inspiration, Robert Pearce, had a set of lyrics and a piece of music which had originally been meant for each other back in the 1990s, but he found they didn’t work together in the way he wanted them to.

Fast forward to 2014/15 and my other collaborative partner, Dave Barnes took away Robert’s lyrics, wrote a whole new set of chords to go with it and recorded a great original track based on those words; I on the other hand remember hearing the music that Robert had got – mainly guitar, a Korg M3R being triggered by a MIDI guitar and a drum machine track and liked the structure of it and the possibilities that it gave and decided that I had to do something with it. So, a year or two back now (cant remember exactly when, but I think it was back in 2015), I decided to write some words for it.

Now, this song is in quite an advanced state in the KOAS project and my original vision for it was a sort of Talk Talk/New Order (circa True Faith) kind of feel – a sort of four on the floor, quite synth-y, but with jangly guitars and the like. As a lot of these things do, it has somewhat morphed since then. Since then, I have bought Maschine, which has a lot of options around drum tracks and use of samples and also trying to find the right synth voices was quite challenging. There is the mixture of old Roland Jupiter 8V and Oberheim and Fairlight sounds with newer Steinberg VST, Heavyocity’s Vocalise  and Native Instruments FM8 synth voices too, plus four different rhythm tracks (Toontrack’s Superior Drummer and EZDrummer2 Electronica, NI’s Maschine,  and Steinberg’s Groove Agent 4), so that side of it is rather beefy, if I can describe it that way.

So, if anything, it has gone further away from 1980’s New Order and more towards a 1990’s/early noughties club track – I guess like a Talk Talk meets The Orb kind of thing, which is a long long long way away from my comfort zone. Vocally, there have been some BV’s – usual synthetic female oohs and aah’s – that have been put down and the original intention was for it to have that Bernard Sumner kind of lead vocal. I’m not sure that’s quite how it is going to turn out when it comes to recording it for real in the next few days though. Chances are, it may take another different turn.

It is going to be challenging to mix though, that I do know because there is so much going on. The track count on this so far is up at 70, which by my standards is monstrously high and I can imagine a lot of Group and VCA tracks being used  – not to mention a whole pile of automation – to keep it under control. But, all that arrangement has been worked out already.

To get back on track and talk about the song’s words though: Its yet another one that has at its core the themes of abandonment and escape, running away, moving on, starting again. Fake Red Flowers refers to three silk poppies that I’ve had in a vase for the last half decade. A lot of the rest is thematic wordplay.

The exception being the last two lines of the chorus: The Hold Me Tight… line refers to clinging onto the memory of something precious that you know you ought to let go of, but its the only thing you have left of them – if you let it go, thats it, theres no going  back and once its gone its gone. Its a metaphor for the healing process – as a current meme says, if you can tell your story without choking up, you’ve healed. But in order to do so, you have to let that thing go that has a power over you, no matter how beautiful it was and how much comfort it gave you in dark times and no matter how much you still think you need it, like a comfort blanket. This leads onto the I Cant Escape While You’re Still Around line, which is its natural pay-off and roughly translates as: I dont want to let the memory of you go, I still love you more than you can ever imagine, but if I’m to survive, if I’m to move on, no matter how much it breaks my heart all over again, I have to do it. So, just hold me, one last time, under the stars and then… its time for you to leave.


Escape From The Shadows

v1/
Every time we kiss goodbye
The words still sound the same
Fake red flowers and darkened hours
Make me wish I’d never came

v2/
Moving On, Autumn sun,
Old Man Time says walk away
A strangers touch led to bridges burned
No matter what was said

CH/
And the lights come on to take you home
Bitter pill hid a truth I couldnt know
A promise costs while time is lost
And shadows fall to ground
Just hold me tight on this moonlit night
I cant escape while you’re still around…

Middle 8/
Another place, a different time
This vision always comes around
Hollow faces, old embraces,
The book of love comes unbound…

v3/
By and by, sunlight dries
Tears on sodden ground
Promise broken, soft words spoken
Haunted in a dark hour

v4/
Moving on, to winter sun
Time has come to fly away
A strangers touch cost me far too much
And left a bitter taste

Chorus/
© Lyrics by Steve McCarthy-Hunt, 2015, Music by Robert Pearce, 1997

 

 

 

Progress on Project KOAS

I’ve just noticed that it has been the best part of two months since I last posted any new work or an update as to what has been going on and gave any kind of indication as to how the project was going. Well, time to put that right.

The main thing and the big positives are that all of the backing vocals are done – this ended up taking two weeks longer than what I had bargained for as in the beginning especially where The Fear Of Missing Out was concerned. Part of the initial problem was the lack of familiarity with some of the technology concerned, especially the TC Helicon Voicelive Touch which I was dependent on for harmony voicings. But, as most things are, initial notions of “s**t… how am I gonna deal with this?” were addressed pretty quickly by doing some serious RTFM and trying different inversions and part-chords as opposed to using multipart voicings, then splitting them over separate tracks in Cubase.

The only track that this hasn’t worked for is Elia. And, there are times I have wondered over the last few weeks whether there wasn’t a good reason for my uncle Angel left it as an instrumental for forty years, LOL. I think it was more a case of not having the arrangement for the backing vocals as clear in my mind as they should have been before I started it. But, with every other track that had backing vocals – Stay, Fear Of Missing Out, Let It Go, et al – they all worked pretty much as planned.

So with that milestone passed, albeit slightly later than originally planned and a lot of lessons learned, the latest task revolves around the lead vocals, a process that is currently underway now. And, just like the backing vocals, it is proving to be highly educational on a number of levels.

Not being a singer of any note, much less a trained one, or even a natural one, learning how to get the best out of your voice and making the lyrics and the melody fit in exactly the way they did in your minds ear when you wrote them is indeed a series of lessons. As a result with each track that is being done, there are subtle but noticeable changes to some of the lyrics in each of the tracks that have been done so far. I’m now also starting to understand terms that are more singer-related such as a “strong core”, “diaphragmatic support” and so on more than I ever did before. There are, as I somewhat casually referred to yesterday, a large number of technological “buckets of glitter” that Cubase 9 has which I was unfamiliar with before this work began, particularly their Melodyne-like tools, where small amounts of pitch correction, indeed pitch shifting up/down by upto 12 cents, which have proved to be very useful. And, a lot of the plugins that I bought years ago such as Waves Kramer Tape, SSL’s Duende Channel strip (very very handy for de-honking and de-nasal-ing my voice) are finally coming into their own. Somewhat surprisingly, I’m finding that the Neumann TLM102 which I bought a couple of years ago is not really suiting my voice, so I’ve been using an elderly AKG C9 hand held condenser mic instead, through a DBX286S pre-amp. While I thought that the use of the Voicelive processor was over when the backing vocals were completed, that may not be the case; my lack of bottom end range in my voice may prove to be problematic for some tracks like No Getting Over You, Castles, Doesnt Matter Now and Manhattan Lullaby. Its highly likely that the rest of this weekend will be spent exploring these options.

But as it stands at the moment, the lead vocals that are on these tracks at the moment – Elia excepted (as this may end up being re-done with a different singer, a more seasoned one than I) – are ones that I’m certainly happy with as guides, if nothing else and my production style tends to be to record the vocals, monitoring them directly with no reverb, no processing, to reduce the effects of latency, and then once down, eq’ing, compressing and processing to a rough mix stage as I go along and then coming back to them a few days later to make sure I’m happy with the results.  In the can so far are Five Years and Let It Go and bits of Elia. So theres a long long way to go yet and it could be that this may take another full month to complete the vocals.

Which given my change in personal circumstances is a double edged sword. I left the day job at the beginning of the June and have to devote a lot of energy towards finding another one as I dont have the savings that I used to have. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that all of the instruments used in the recording of these albums will have to be sold in order to preserve the more fundamental task of keeping a roof over my head. Time will tell though. I hope it doesnt come to that and it also gives the recording of the vocals, the last real set of tasks before mixing and mastering of these albums, to be completed.

We shall see though. Lots of work still to be done and it is proving to be highly educational. As I thought I would, I’m learning a lot about not just about my singing but also about myself. Recording your own songs isnt just about the therapy and catharsis in the writing process; its also about trying to capture the emotion of the performance and thats not something I’m used to doing as a performer, especially as a singer. All of my emotional content has previously been as a lyricist more than anything else. And, unlike 12-18 months ago, I can now listen back to my singing voice and be objective about it instead of cringing and reaching for the stop button on the transport panel, which used to be the case.

So, all progress, no matter how small is good. And, as my uncle Angel reminded me, a lot of artistic masterpieces took years to complete. Not that I’m saying that this project is my masterpiece, but I can see what he was driving at, LOL.