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.

 

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.

 

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.

Latest Developments

“You call me a fool
You say it’s a crazy scheme
This one’s for real
I already bought the dream
So useless to ask me why
Throw a kiss and say goodbye
I’ll make it this time
I’m ready to cross that fine line…”

© Becker/Fagan, Deacon Blues from the album Aja, 1977

Many album projects have slipping deadlines and this is equally true of the KOAS project. My previous update hinted at overdubs being completed by the end of March and this has been the one that has slid the furthest. It has been an interesting month which has been split between finding a new day job to fund this writer/producer life and getting the necessary work done. And now three weeks into April, I’m happy with the way the overdubs have all been addressed. Every track is now in the state of maturity necessary for the vocal work to start being done which I will commence over the first May Bank Holiday.

Some tracks did require some re-arrangement or pre-production work; specifically, Manhattan Lullaby, Escape From The Shadows (a particularly complex arrangement) and Elia. Others needed sections re-writing – it dawned on me rather late in the day that the intro parts for both Castles In The Sky and the problem child Doesnt Matter Now were not only similar, they were too similar. I guess thats one of the problems that comes about from working on these pieces in isolation as is my wont, compared to doing it in a more traditional structured way. But, it was something that wasnt difficult to fix; it is a source of much brow furrowing as to why DMN was such a problem for so long but then seemed to come together rather like throwing all of the pieces of a jigsaw on the floor and seeing them all join together in mid-air before hitting the ground fully formed. I know that might seem like a really odd analogy, but its the only one I’ve got that fits.

But… notwithstanding that, everything has come together pretty quickly over the last month and the next objective is doing the backing vocals, which will start next weekend. I anticipate that this will probably take most of May to complete now that I’m starting a new day job tomorrow. Once this is done the real challenging part of doing the lead vocals will start in June.

This particular phase has been challenging, it has taken longer than it should have done, but its now done. And, along the way, I’ve learned a lot and have even had some moments where I’ve finally learned to play with as much feel as I write with. Two particular parts – the guitar solo in No Getting Over You and the E-bow/sax solo in Five Years have been moments where its only afterwards when you listen back to it are quite moving, especially Five Years. It wasn’t by design, but it does that thing that I absolutely adore in a song, in that it builds, it climbs and then it soars and when it happened and came together it was quite a profound personal moment. And they do say that your music needs to move you first before it moves anyone else. And if this process has done anything, it sure as hell has moved me.

Hopefully those moments will continue to inspire during the journey of putting down the vocals, which is going to be particularly challenging as it is something I have not done with my own voice before, so I’m going to be needing all the inspiration I can get. And channelling the vocal styles of the likes of Donald Fagan, Matt Munro and Peter Skellern and others who have inspired the feel of some of the songs is going to be an absolutely monumental task. But, its what the songs need so it has to be done somehow, if the project is to succeed and it has come too far now to do anything else but succeed.

There have been other thoughts on track listings, what is going to be included and what isnt, whether one of the albums will end up more as a mini-album or extended EP, but thats for another time.

Onwards and upwards we go. More as it happens…

 

 

Elia

This one came about originally (as the more regular readers may recall) from a track that was going to be called The Last Dance, which was conceived some time back in 2013. And while I had an idea for the music, what I didnt have was any way of really making that real. So far, so me. *grin*

So, on the trip to Long Island last year one of the  main objectives was to try and talk to my uncle Angel to see if he could help me find the right music to go with it, given that he had far more exposure to the kind of music that I was hoping to develop. What transpired was that he and a very good friend of my late father, a vibraphone player and close friend called Paul Oves (who played with my father in a New York function band called The Jewels in the early/mid 60s and who had passed away some time ago) had written a track that had stayed as an instrumental because they hadnt developed any lyrics for it.

The story that Angel told me goes that they (by whom I mean the band Intensive Heat – who were akin to an NYC based Toto who deep down aspired to be Earth Wind & Fire) were rehearsing the track in Atlantic studios in New York City (I understand they were using some downtime in the very late hours) some time in 1975, in the company of a then barely known engineer who who subsequently went on to achieve great things with Foreigner (and lots more big artists since then!), called Jimmy Douglass and while they were playing around with this particular track and into the control room walks the great Arif Mardin (check out his discography, its staggering – suffice to say “George Benson” or “Aretha Franklin” or “The Bee Gees“. He’s a record producing legend, sadly no longer with us) who stands behind Jimmy with a growing smile on his face, nodding in approval as the track goes on.

The end of the track comes along and Arif pushes the talkback button with a big smile on his face – “Hey guys, that was great!” to which Mr Oves on Vibes turns, looks up at one of the world’s most pre-eminent record producers and drawls (possibly a little too smugly)

“…yeah…. I know”

… at which point, Angel recalls that the smile melts away from Arif Mardin’s face as fast as it appeared and in pretty short order he says goodbye to Jimmy, he turns and walks towards the control room door and leaves. Never to be seen in the company of Intensive Heat again.

Talk about how life can turn on a sixpence.

It is so easy to look back and say if only, if but for just a little humility and a thank you that their lives may all have been different. But, these things happen and these are decisions that we have to live with. When Angel told me the story, my chin was on my chest and the question “how did Paul make it out of the city alive after that?” sprang to my mind, but… I wasnt there. Its not my place to judge and history always wears 20/20 spectacles.

So…. for the best part of nearly 40 years since that day, the piece of music recorded that day as a basic two track instrumental, known as Elia has lain on a cassette in my uncle Angel’s house in Long Island and had hardly ever been heard by anyone outside the band.

Until the day I turn up asking for help in putting together The Last Dance. Angel played me a ProTools recorded wav file of this recording and its simplicity (only three chords in the entire thing, pretty much) was exactly what I was looking for, without having to make any kind of structural change at all. I was bowled over thinking:

“….s**t… talk about synchronicity.. how strange is this.. a forty year old track somehow is a perfect fit for a song I couldnt find music for, for the last 4 years….?!”

Anyway. Over the course of the next 10 days, I recorded ten guitar track takes with Angel and put together the backbone of the track and then on my return to the UK started to build the rest of it.

And, as it built, two things came to my mind. One, it was still different enough from The Last Dance for that track to still have another chance to be built anyway, in its own right and secondly, I had a lot of lyrics floating around that could bring Elia a life of its own.

So, I elected to write some lyrics specifically for Elia so that she could come to life after nearly 40 years and these were written to the tune itself, as opposed to my usual way of working which is lyrics first, music later. And here it is.

Musically, the track is in a very very advanced state (just needs vox), is true to the original but with my own bridge sections and the only thing that has been kept musically is Angel’s guitar parts. Everything else is yours truly. I hope it will appear on either the London Road album or quite possibly No Expectations.


Elia

Verse1/
Elia
Do you still remember our favourite song
Those summer nights are gone
And I’m left wondering just where I belong
We stood on every rooftop
And fell in love in every town
And the wonders of the world mean nothing
Without you around

Verse2/
Oooh, Elia
I miss you so much, so much now you’re gone
Was there nothing I could do to make you want to stay?
Ooh, these city streets are so empty without your love around
And all that I wanted was just one more day
Just one more day…

Ch/
Oh my Elia,
Oh you’re like a bird on the wing,
I got you under my skin
And I dont know where you stop and I begin
Oh, my Elia,
My sweet Elia,

Bridge/

Verse3/
Oh Elia,
Sing your song like a bird flying home
Just remember, you’re never on your own
Now you’re gone I’m left feeling blue
I’ll always remember my last dance with you
My last dance with you.

Ch/

Bridge/Coda

© 2016 Lyrics by Steve McCarthy-Hunt
    Music by Angel Paniagua/Paul Oves/Steve McCarthy-Hunt

The featured picture is a publicity shot of the band Intensive Heat and is used courtesy of my cousin, Cynthia Paniagua.

 

 

 

 

 

Rewrites…

Its been a while since my last post; lots been going on, but unfortunately the pace of getting things done has moved away from the writing and more towards the production side of things (MIDI editing, quantising, etc) which I always knew would be very time consuming. The thing is though, for the material to be of album release quality, as opposed to just demo “My Ears Only” quality, it means that a lot of care needs to be taken over virtually every single note, every single patch choice, vst, plugin….particularly when one leans as heavily on the technology as I do.

So, the last two months have seen a lot of progress made on some tracks (especially with the upgrade to Cubase 9 which has improved workflow even more), however millimetric it may seem to be. And, although I hoped that I would never do it, especially after having admonished my closest musical collaborator for doing it a few years ago, was rewriting lyrics. Some of the songs (and I cant believe I’m saying it!) were lyrically a bit too dark and I think I needed to move away from that. So:

Let It Go has been rewritten lyrically and is now in its most advanced state yet – four guitar parts, bass lines, synth lines, strings, all been rewritten, re-played and re-arranged. It is now much closer to my original Steinman/Skellern vision, which I’m very happy with. All it needs now, truthfully is the vocals adding and mixing.

Five Years (itself a re-write) has had a lot done to it as well which is somewhat odd for such a sparse track and again only needs three musical parts doing to it – a 70’s string machine part and a guitar e-bow line, and vocals.

Fear Of Missing Out and Elia/Last Dance have been almost finished to the point of just needing vocals.

Escape From The Shadows is in quite an advanced state – I had hoped for something closer to New Order‘s True Faith in its overall feel, but it seems to be dragging itself more into a combination of that feel but transported into the late 1990s instead. I’m letting it pull me in the direction I think it wants me to go in, but I’m not totally sure exactly where it is going to end up….yet.

Oh yes. Elia. The Last Dance doesnt really exist any more, the track is now Elia and the lyrics have been rewritten to fit into the kind of vibe that my uncle and the rest of Intensive Heat wrote in the 1970s and only the phrase “one last dance” remains from the original. I have considered rewriting Last Dance musically, closer to what I originally wanted but couldnt find, but maybe thats just me being a masochist, chasing an uncatchable butterfly purely because I can.

Manhattan Lullaby has been lyrically rewritten as well (much less maudlin as a result) and I’m about to rewrite the lyrics of Accidental Love. I have been kinda happy with Accidental up to now, anyway, but… for it even to be a proper album track that I’m going to be happy with, it is going to need a different focus as I’m starting to think its a little disjointed and at the moment is dependent on soloing and wise-arsed word play… at the moment, it depends on a musical focus that I’m not totally convinced I can offer. It needs a little something else…

And, in the coming weeks, I am hoping that the addition of a proper brushes library for Superior Drummer will allow me to make more progress on Manhattan Lullaby, Castles In The Sky, Doesnt Matter Now, No Getting Over You, Stay and the other jazzy tracks and to get them to have the space and dynamics that they need and deserve.

The entire project is taking an awful lot longer than what I thought it would. But I always knew that it would be a journey of discovery and it would place some big challenges in my path. Even with the much reduced commute, fitting it in amongst domestic and professional commitments is proving to be the biggest challenge I have had. As I’ve hinted at before, sometimes I’ve wondered if the fire had gone out altogether (particularly when trying to rewrite/re-record Dont Turn Away, which I threw several days at but it just wouldnt, wouldnt work, no matter what I tried, which was a bitter pill to swallow, considering how long it has been in gestation. I think I might have to leave that one to someone else to do instead, which is a pity but.. *shrugs* shit happens.

There have been moments where it has sailed close to the wind and I’ve wondered what the hell I’m doing this for, but this project is too far gone to pack it in now. I’m hoping to get more inspiration to get back into continue to developing more new lyrics, but there are already plenty of others that I’ve got that could still be rewritten and redeveloped – Tomorrow Too Soon, Birds and Butterflies, Another Day – all are germs of ideas in their first draft stage that could be developed into something.

Plenty to be getting on with then, over the coming months while the professional/work situation becomes more stable. The biggest part of me wishes (like you wouldnt believe how much) that I could find the energy to charge at it with a real head of steam and get it done, but I dont think thats the way it wants to go.

One thing I’ve learned about this art in the few short years I’ve been doing it is that you cant force it, no matter how much you might want to. If you do, it will not only suck, but deep down in your heart you’ll know it too, even if no one else does – and that is something that I would venture that I’m far from alone in not being comfortable with. I would prefer to put this out when I know that I have done my absolute best and cannot have done any more, that I cannot have put any more of my own soul, my own feel, my own blood, sweat and tears into it. Not because I forced it.

Just as well I dont do this for a living up against real deadlines, eh?