The Studio's Appendix

The studio space we use is the dusty, three-roomed corner of a mysterious ‘business park’ near the Curry Mile where, I imagine, all sorts goes on without anybody really being able to describe precisely what.

This morning we’re recording strings. This afternoon, backing vocals.

EP2 - working title ‘Trees’ - has, to this point, taken about 9 days of studio-time to get four tracks to something like completion. They will all then need to be mixed and ‘mastered’; an enigmatic final stage that I still don’t understand at all.

The recording process isn’t glamorous. It isn’t Elvis at 4am in Studio B taking invisible direction from the gods.

It seems to happen in 7 hour slogs, punctuated by coffee and characterised by constant repetition. Nothing happens once but five, six, seven times. The best parts of each run at it are chunked, chopped and magpied into a shiny collage of useable goodness.

We began, back in the spring, by getting the whole band in together to record the basic skeleton of each track. Since then the producer and I, accompanied sporadically by the guitarist, pianist and various special guests (a lap-steel player, today’s violin aficionado) have been building layer upon layer of instrumental extras on top.

Last came my vocals and our collective backing vocals - a whole seven hours of oohing and ahhing until our larynxes were fried. As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve got a female singer heading in this afternoon to add her own oohs and ahhs - a little silvery shimmer to sit on top and hopefully add a final touch of magic to the whole thing.

A good producer, I learn, hears musical black swans that you don’t yet know you don’t know about. They pull snippets about and hold them in a mental field of strange weight and gravity. They tell you to do things that don’t feel normal. Only weeks later do you see how it all made sense to them in the first place.

When I record my parts I feel totally at the mercy of the process. When other, more seasoned session players arrive, like they have this morning, they call the shots. They known how they want the mics positioned; which sections they want to focus on and when; the difference between a take they like and a take they don’t.

I’m an observer today, tapping these words into my iPhone, hearing new flesh put to the bones of words and chords I wrote months, sometimes years ago. Songs that started foetal and helpless, just ideas of what they might one day be.

The producer and the string player talk letters and numbers I can just about follow, searching for adjectives that always seems to lie awkwardly adjacent to the sounds they’re trying to describe. I do little more than sit, type this, and, occasionally, nod.

It’s a fairly glorious experience, but one that grows on you slowly. And though today I feel like the appendix in the studio, I also feel pretty good about the whole thing. Even if the appendix is a now-pointless relic of our evolutionary past, it must have been important at some stage.

EP2 will hopefully be with you around the end of the year, but subscribers will be getting sneak previews of each track before release.

Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

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