This time I look at my first adventure into the recording studio in a nearby recording studio.
I am proud of what I have achieved in making this ep with the lovely musicians who have collaborated with me to create the beautiful instrumental lines and the hard work of the recording engineers. I am proud because it is the first thing I have done like this but also because it was done under extreme personal circumstances, and it is amazing that it even happened.
As I have stated before my journey into becoming a songwriter has partly been fashioned from financial hardship and the making of the EP was done against a severe backdrop of difficulty and family trauma. Last year, when I made it, the delicate balance of living hand to mouth was knocked way off course. My husband, trying to better out situation went to work for an agency that promised him all sorts of development possibilities. Instead they gave him inconsistent work, working nights in a dementia care home with no contract or stability. He then later managed to find more secure work as a social carer for the council…but this was later on. Then disaster occurred, our eldest son was crashed into whilst on his moped by a car. We nearly lost him twice and his resulting injuries were so severe that I then needed to care for him for 3 months. As a self employed music teacher I don’t earn if I don’t work and my money literally feeds the family. I could not work and even owed lessons to people for a while. Life took on the slow motion quality of a nightmare where anxiety was the shadow that followed our every move. Once he was well I returned to my task of making the ep in the school summer holidays. The week I went into the recording studio was the week we also had to make inquiries about a local food bank. Thankfully a family member helped us at this point, for which I am eternally grateful. Anyone who has tried to feed a family in these circumstances and live with dignity on the “living wage” will know that this is a travesty put forward by those who live in more cushioned circumstances.
Having been gifted the money to make an EP, I was determined to make the absolute most of it despite what I had been living through. Thinking about it, fashioning it into a polished state, liasing with and communicating with all the lovely folks involved felt like a silver thread of positive life and creativity against a backdrop of grey. I think it is something to be proud of and I think as a newbie self producing it and making it on a shoe string that it’s “not bad” as they say in Yorkshire ( where I grew up).
I chose 4 songs that represent a cross section of how I am writing: Phoenix ( definitely experimental drawing in threads from early music – using the viol , global- the use of the duduk and contemporary- use of electric echoey guitar and also about the alchemy of transformation – totally what I was having to do at that very moment!) Second song is Skyland and is more folky and Scottish in style influenced by the land and ancient mythology where I now live. It has a definite bridge between the ancient and modern- with the message of living in balance with the world like people from the past. The folky traditional style adds to this sense of place and continuity, it has the acoustic guitar and fiddle for accompaniment. The third song is an anti war song, 8000 Souls but leaves us with a transformative choice of listening to our hearts for a solution. Again it is global and folky in style using the didgeridoo, blues guitar and and duduk.
There is an interesting intuitive aside to this piece that I have only just found out about which I find is an interesting curio about the intuitive unconscious mind. In this piece I wanted to have the feel of a woman crying over dusty dry earth as the wind wailed with her. The other day I was listening to an interview with Ry Cooder on the radio. He was talking about a famous track he had done for a film where they had wanted to get the tonal quality of the wind. He said that they had found the the sound of wind going through dry leaves/across the earth is E flat/ D sharp. Guess where I had intuitively written this piece to start and return to again and again….D sharp! Sometimes our minds absorb more than what we are aware of on an unconscious level.
The last song on the EP is “Summer” which is part of a cycle I am writing about the Seasons and is an appreciation of the beauty of our natural world and the turning of the seasons. It is more contemporary in feel and is trying to be a painting in sound of Summer in the British isles. As it is part of a cycle I have chosen the piano as a constant accompaniment. I would have like to add some electronic sounds and even the sound of the wind rustling in the barley corn- which makes the most magical rustle- but lack of time, studio knowledge/experience , money and self producing with these restraints meant that less was matter of factly more, in this instance. My aim is to put a seasons song in each new recording adventure I undertake. That means – hopefully – three new eps/albums….!!! I have written Autumn, Winter and half written Spring….
The musicians I worked with, Jerry, Dian, Mirabai, Arsen and Paul were fantastic in their collaboration, artistry and sensitivity. I can not thank them enough for what we have created altogether and with the artistry of Joe the recording engineer and Pete who did the mastering. It really is a team effort and creates a product that is more than the sum of its parts. I feel it is kind of unfair to say they are my songs- they are all those peoples songs too- as they have all added creativity, thought, time and love into them.
The cover photo was another element of team work and love. The painting is done by world renowned artist- Yuni Ko, who was a fellow finalist in the arts competition that I had been a finalist in. It fits the title of the EP “Azure Blue” ( a lyric line from Summer) and looks like a beautiful modern day mandala of hope and beauty. I also am deeply appreciative of her generosity in allowing me to use it.
Going into the studio was very exciting: we had everything totally ready and I had made a colour map of how everything sequenced in the songs. (Being dyscalculic I have to have visual aids to help me remember sequences). Two of the songs had to then wing their way over to Armenia so Arsen could put his beautiful Duduk on the tracks. I have never met him and English is not his first language. So it was a huge leap of faith to do this. He is an artist beyond compare with his instrument, so I knew he would do a lovely job. I had to be incredibly precise – down to the mili second of when I wanted him to play and the kind of thing I wanted. It worked beautifully and having his duduk playing on those two tracks adds colour, depth and artistry to the songs. It took about 10 days altogether in the studio, to do everything, including the mixing. I went and helped Joe with this too as two ears are better than one set. Alex Smith from Xponorth kindly facilitated the mastering….which was totally amazing! It makes such a difference, it was great to see the whole process.
I loved every minute of it. I think making a recording is a bit like making a painting masterpiece. It is artistry and it is polish and it is all the elements you imagined putting into a song. ( I think I could develop this more, with more time, experience and the guiding hand of a great producer ). Performance is also great- but in a different kind of way- I will look at these first steps next time.
Now, I am waiting with bated breath to see if I get funding from PRS women make music fund for releasing and professionally promoting the ep through Wildcat, music pr and promotion company. I simply can not do this on my own- my IT skills are not up to the job, I live out in the sticks and I have no industry knowledge. I am hoping that I will receive this funding and that this promotion will give me visibility and then hopefully requests to do gigs and build a fan base……
However, I am now without a guitarist and pianist as Jerry has retired……but where there is a will there is a way. I have asked all my musical friends to send the word out and I believe someone just right will turn up….somehow, on this serendipitous adventure of mine, that oscillates between being creative and exciting and flat, where nothing happens for a while. This can leave me chewing my lip and wondering but usually by listening to the whispers, I have found a way forward.
Next time I look at developing performance…..somewhat slower and more gradual due to circumstance.