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.

Unspoken Words

How can I try to explain,
When I do he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

© Cat Stevens, from the album “Tea For The Tillerman“, 1970

These lyrics just fell together in about 20 minutes back in early September 2016, from what I remember. And then, the lyrics just ended up in the box file and nothing has happened to them since then, until I recently took a fresh look at them and thought damn, this is a really good lyric.

I cant describe it any other way. A conversation led to it just toppling out where five minutes previous, it hadn’t existed and I had no notion of it coming from anywhere.

I had been spending a writing and recording weekend with one of my dearest friends and closest collaborators and the conversation came round to probably something that I only understand tangentially; I have been a son, but I’ve never been a father and I never will be. I didnt have much of a relationship with my own father, being estranged from him for 40 years before being reconciled two months before his untimely passing in 2012 but the perspective I’d never seen was that which my friend was going through; that is not only watching what was happening to his own father as he was getting older but how he was dealing with the responsibility at the same time of being a father himself to his only son, a job for which I’ve heard so many of my friends say that no handbook has ever been written – you can only do what you believe at the time is right and if you allow yourself to worry about whether you’re doing something right, or what you did ten or fifteen years ago, whether it was the right things – it will eventually eat away at you and you spend years questioning your own judgement with the benefit of hindsight. And that was before he began to think about what kind of a world was he leaving for his own flesh and blood… How much, if at all can he protect his son from the world he and his peers have made without much of a care, compared to the world his own father and his peers left for him, which he previously never gave a thought to, until now? I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like.

So, thats what led to these lyrics. A father in his autumn or winter years talking in reassuring tones to his son who may, or may not comprehend the wisdom that is being imparted to him in genuine sincerity at the time they are being said.

These were not words I heard from my own father, nor my friend from his, not that I am aware of, anyway.

They are words that I guess, if I were ever to become a father that I would like to say to a son of mine, but thats not going to happen.  Its one of those subject matters that is tricky for an artist to take on from another writer, I guess. I haven’t written any music to it yet, but as I develop as a lyricist I have learned to recognise particularly good words that say all the things that I want them to – so this one will be recorded and when the KOAS project is eventually complete, this one will see the light of day. In quite what form, I don’t know yet. But I’m very happy with these lyrics and what they say and how they say it. It deserves to take on a life of its own and go on its own journey.

A few notes on individual lines; “you’ll learn to fit in where you’re meant to stand out“, I think I heard the idea for this from an online life coach. So many of us spend so much time trying to be something or someone we’re not meant to be, in somewhere we’re not meant to be, instead of just finding our place in the universe where we’re meant to stand out and shine and be all we’re meant to be. “All of those old records and songs I dont understand“; my own father was a damn good jazz musician and I am not the worlds biggest fan of the genre to put it mildly. Tracks that would have meant the world to him, I just couldnt get a handle on… but I’m now starting to learn and see them through the eyes he gave me. “Little Man, I’m so endlessly proud of you“… Not something I ever heard said to me, but I’ve seen it said so many times in the mediums of film and TV; I guess every son is always going to be a little man to their mother or father in one way or another, no matter how old they grow up to be. I guess they are words that I would have liked to have heard when I was younger but now, when I hear them its almost as if its a little too little a little too late to be absorbed as anything more than a platitude. Again, I’m kinda putting words into my own mouth that I’ll never say, and they might be slightly cheesy and schmaltzy, while wearing their usual scarf of darkness, but hey… sue me. It gives it the effect to the song that I need it to. You’re doing good, kid. No matter what it is, so long as you do it from your heart, I’ll always be proud of you.

All of the things you are will never be undone“; we all write our own life story, our own legacy and everyones life is an inspiration to someone. What we do with this short time on earth, the legacy we leave behind, is what defines us. The goal is not to live forever: its to create something that will.

The rest of the words, I dont think need any explanation.

Unspoken Words

v1/
Dont you worry, son
None of this is your fault
Just try to be honest about all the things in life you want
I know that this is not what you want to find out
But you’ll learn in good time to fit in where you’re meant to stand out

v2/
Playing all of those old records and songs I dont understand
And there are others that are familiar like the back of my hand
Dont wait for that song that may never come
Because all of the things you are will never be undone

Ch/
Ah, it all comes down to this, this day near the end
I’m not just your father, I’ll always be your friend
Little man, I’m so endlessly proud of you
You remembered to yourself you should always be true
But I know it was never easy

v3/
Pressure seems so relentless, you cant catch your breath
You feel chained to a treadmill, walking in a wheel without end
It seems no one’s listening when it makes you cry out
But dont you forget son, this is not what your life is all about

Ch/

Mid8/
Time will come for your children to raise little ones of their own
Dont forget that they could reap the seeds of all the things you’ve sown
Please tell me son, when the weight of the world gets too much for you to bear
Just close your eyes, think of me for a moment and I’ll promise I’ll be there

Ch/

© Lyrics by Steve McCarthy-Hunt 2016

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…

 

 

Update

Although I’ve recently posted details of one of the songs that has been written/reworked for the KOAS project in the last couple of days and also some of the edits and rewrites of some lyrics that I discussed in my last update nearly two months ago, its been a while since I last took stock of how far down the road this project is.

As is often the way of the many of us who have a day job as well as doing this thing that we love and have a calling for, the day job tends to swallow an awful lot of the available time meaning that the timelines for projects such as this, particularly complicated ones (like trying to write/record/produce/mix/master two release-quality albums at the same time, almost single-handedly… who has dumb ideas like that, ferchrissakes?) tend to end up moving sideways. So, my apologies for my lack of updates/progress, but a lot of things have been achieved since I extracted my digit a while back.

And, as these particular tasks have been achieved, they now bring other key milestones into sharper focus as they are things that have to be done and will take their own time before they’re exactly right and ready. So, I’m afraid this isnt a “its all done and y’all can buy it next week!” post. Sorry about that!

The three key things that have been achieved so far are as follows:

  1. Album covers/artwork, sleeve notes etc, all done and ready for both London Road and No Expectations. Many thanks to the fabulous Aminah Hughes for her photography for No Expectations. I knew from the moment I saw those photos that I wanted to use them for an album cover, if she gave her permission.
  2. There is only one track left that is at the “needs almost everything doing to it” stage, and that song is Doesnt Matter Now, which has always been a bit of a problem child. Everything else is at a very highly advanced stage of recording and arranging. Most of them, so far as tracking/recording are concerned only need occasional solos/overdubs and vocals.
  3. I faced up to the fact that some of the songs needed to be re-jigged/re-arranged/new lyrics needed to be written and did it – and in doing so, managed to unlock the potential of the songs from ideas to (almost) completed works. In this respect, I have been particularly heartened by the progress made on Manhattan Lullaby (such a departure from what I’m used to listening to and writing), Elia (forty years of pent up synchronicity), No Getting Over You (especially the pre-chorus, the chord pattern of which is my happiest possible accident, it sounds truly beautiful and evokes exactly the emotion I wanted for it), Fear Of Missing Out, Five Years (one of my most intense, honest and direct lyrics) and Let It Go (one of my most musically ambitious).

Doing all of those things only at weekends has been quite challenging. But it is happening.

Next, after these remaining overdubs are done comes the vocals. Given that there are going to be quite a lot of BV’s/harmonies to go on, which will all be (for want of a better word) mechanised (using a TC Helicon Voicelive Touch, tech fans!), this is likely to be quite time consuming too,  as its not just oohs and ahhs, much as I love them and some songs need them (and they will be there too, they have their place) but not as time consuming as it would be doing root/3rd/5th/Octave for real without the aid of technology. The  Helicon is a very useful piece of kit and has already been used on an AlterZero track, Brand New Wave, nearly two years ago. The time is soon arriving for it to really start earning its keep and I’m confident it will without the BV’s sounding in any way obviously robotic, which is always the downfall of such technology in inexperienced hands. But, if done properly, it can be a real boon to any track.

And thats not forgetting the real vocals as well. With three notable exceptions that are slated for the London Road album, specifically Heroes, Are You Coming Home With Me and Without You, which will be feature lead and backing vocals by my BASCA collaborative partners who were involved in the writing, performing and recording, the rest is likely to be down to yours truly to deliver. That in itself is going to be a whole other mountain to climb and a real rubicon for me to cross, personally but one that has to be done, because there is, pretty much no-one else to do it, so it has to be me who steps up. Its that thing of hearing your own voice being played back and getting used to hearing that tone that takes a lot to learn to be comfortable with.

And, once that minor thing is done, then comes mixing and mastering.

I’m pretty confident that all of the overdubs, solos etc will be completed by the end of March, given the current work-rate; Backing Vocals I’m expecting to have done by the end of April at the latest (given that my current day job contract is up at the end of March, freeing up more precious time to devote to this project) and I’m hoping that all the lead vocals will be done by the end of May, at the very latest. My goal is to have both albums mixed and mastered and ready by the beginning of September.

So. Only a year behind schedule, but whats a year, huh? The best things in life are always worth waiting for, so we’re told…

 

 

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?