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