Sunday, 27 April 2014

Making Second

I wrote these words to give a little context and history to anyone that's interested in the making of the new Mute Swimmer record Second

Second can't be called a spontaneous thing for lots of reasons - creative, personal or financial. Even by my own standards, it's taken a long time. 

Recording for the album actually began in May 2012 when, on the invitation of friend, musician and sound engineer (Troels Nygaard) I de-camped to an old out-house on a farm in the Danish countryside. I had the idea, strange to me now, of putting down guitar tracks and vocals for a band to later play along to. Second could conceivably have been this record, another kind of record completely - an acoustic guitar-based suite of songs backed with some discreet textures and effects - very much the follow-up to my self titled, lo-fi, kitchen-recorded debut. Perhaps this part real, part hypothetical record will find it's way out into the world at some point.

Second LP Cover Draft
However, often throughout these sessions, rather than my own acoustic guitar, it was an electric guitar sat in the corner of this old hut that I kept picking up. They say you learn more from your mis-steps. I can say it was thanks to this largely abandoned session (and that electric guitar) that I realised the songs I had written were demanding a different approach. A band certainly, but not a backing band, not an accompanying band working around the typical centre stage guitar and voice of the song-writer, but a band band. Equal parts vocal, bass, drums, guitar. I also heard brass. Sometimes I have these thrilling but utterly frustrating insomniac visions of entire arrangements for songs in my head. Frustrating because I have no adequate way of transcribing them. I'm merely left with some absurd nocturnal muttering on a muffled, over-compressed phone recording. But I heard the brass in my mind - arrangements that bordered on a portentousness that the songs themselves, lyrically or musically, undercut. I often found myself describing them, slightly facetiously, as sarcastic horns but they were also supporting or 'framing' the tracks in more traditional ways. Anyway, these Danish sessions flew by and I hadn't sung a note. I had some acoustic guitar recorded and a lot of material that sounded like someone re-familiarising themselves with an electric guitar. 

Berni and Nicolai - playbacks
Touring commitments prevailed throughout the summer (Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia) and then I moved house in August. It was autumn before I could return to the tracks and, despite having no opportunity to record as such, my ideas about the sound of the album, as a full band, had begun to take shape. I started messing around with midi horns on the train between venues on tour, just to try things out.

In November of that year when I played at an art opening I ran into Berni (Bauch) who asked me, apropos of nothing, if I had ever thought about having a drummer play with me. I told him that I had been thinking about that a lot and that, yes, if he knew someone, to please put me in touch. I'd known Berni two years and he'd never once mentioned that he played the drums himself. It was with a degree of trepidation (as when a friend suggests themselves and you are afraid to hurt their feelings should things not work out) - that we met up in a little rehearsal space in Kreuzberg to try some things out. I think we played 'Time Song' first, which went well enough, but it was his skittering hesitant insertions on 'The Idea of Zero' where I thought, not only that he was a great drummer, but he was a great listener (and as the old cliches have it, these qualities are not always combined in a drummer).

Recording Brass
It was a month later that Nicolai (Schorr) joined on bass. I'd met him the year before where we both played a show in Bremen and I became a firm fan of his own music (both under his own name and as Canoe Man). It wasn't really planned, I simply mentioned the idea of having a bass player over coffee, not considering how effortlessly Nicolai might adjust his talents from guitar to a bass. He suggested trying it and remarkably, thrillingly, in a very short time the songs began to approach the sound I had heard in my head when I wrote them. 

Between Nicolai's and my own touring commitments and Berni's work the three of us practised as often as we could throughout the winter '13.  Around April we figured we were ready to put the tracks down, but I had nowhere for us to record. A studio was out of the question - with no other source of income apart from my modest touring spoils it was, even at friendliest hourly studio rate, inconceivable - and it's simply impossible to record a full band in a Berlin flat, at least if you intend to stay there.

During that winter I had the good fortune to tour with My Sister Grenadine, these three individuals came to play different significant roles in the story of the album.
Vince overdubbing e/guitar 
Felix (Koch) accompanied me on one or two songs on that tour and took an interest in the brass parts I'd written. He helped me augment and realise these sketches and began playing with the band on our occasional live outings (eventually joining the band full time)

Angelina (Kartanski), violin supremo, provided us with Rue Bunte, a hidden little rustic sanctuary off Neuk├Âlln's busiest street. Rue Bunte became our recording studio/home for a week in May 2013. I was given the space for the smallest of donations and an agreement that I sweep the yard come autumn - outright charity in other words.

It was Vincenz (Kokot) who introduced me to Niko (Jeremic). Niko recorded and mixed the basic live tracks over our week in Neukoelln for less than a Tesco minimum wage. It was also Vince who later put me in touch with Antonio and Daniella - Wolfin Sound - who mixed Second and finally it is Vince who provided the amazing guitar squalls heard in  'A Melody (Strands 1-3)'. So in short, Seco:nd probably wouldn't exist without these three individuals. 

Nicolai with the bass 
Berni and Niko looking
like rock stars outside Rue Bunte
In August we began rehearsing and recording the brass section. Hitches abounded, technical and otherwise, the sessions were largely abandoned but the input of Frieda, Askin and Felix taught me a lot and many of their ideas are woven into the final arrangements you here on the record. However at this point I thought I'd never get it done and considered dropping the idea of brass all together. (I felt out of my depth, that it was an over-ambitious idea and crazily unpredictable in a recording situation). The reason the brass is there i guess is down to a kind of bloody minded stubborness to stick as closely as possible to the sounds I heard in my head when I'd written the songs. Eventually  I enlisted the help of some players from outside and recorded on and off throughout the Autumn, when i could afford it and with the continued charity of Rue Bunte.

it was a bit of comedown, having finally got the brass down to realise I still had the vocals to do. Again without the possibility of a studio and in need of somewhere relatively echo-less and quiet Nicolai suggested his back room workshop which we hastily converted into a child's den packing as much soft furnishings as we could around myself and the microphone. The rest of the year was spent touring, editing the tracks from the three different sessions (Band/Brass/Vocals) and wondering how the hell i was going to get the record mixed and made.

And so finally to the present point at which you find me - trying to fund the mixing, mastering and production of this crazy two year project. I'm pleased to say that with your help so far we have been able to mix most of Second. I have to say a few words about Antonio and Daniella at Wolfinsound, since I have lost count of the hours they have put into the mixing and editing of what will shortly be dropping through your letterbox. If I gave Antonio the entire money raised from the funding it wouldn't cover the time he has spent attending to my impossible requests, changing whims, perfectionism and blatant cul-de-sacs.

Patience. Antonio at Wolfin Sound
We now have the funds to master the record properly. This way it can sit alongside Beyonce on Radio 1 with no noticeable difference in audio quality. Thank you all.  We are also halfway towards getting enough for the actual product - the vinyl and CDs.  

I hadn't meant to write all that but I wanted to attend to the context and story of this record for anyone who cares to read it. This documents the challenges faced and, at the risk of sounding like a Hollywood trailer, of trying to stick to an artistic vision without compromise and to create something unusual and wonderful with no external financial help. But more than that I hope it makes clear the work of all the people above who believed in the project. Thanks.

Guy / Mute Swimmer
April 27th 2014