November 9th – Day One
I have packed as if for an Arctic excursion: thermals, fingerless gloves, lemons, energy balls made (by me) from dates and desiccated coconut, camera, bottled water. Coloured pens for notes, Green and Blacks miniature chocolate bars for novelty value and sustenance. Assorted chargers. The morning is grey and rain-tinged, but somehow hopeful. In the taxi I sing along to En Vogue and the driver, Taofik, tells me to go on X Factor.
‘It’s easy,’ he says. ‘You go on X Factor, and you’ve made it.’
I tell him it is not so simple. I also tell him I wouldn’t do very well on X Factor. A vision of myself on a plinth, wrestling with an overproduced, hysterical, key-changing backing track and then being asked how much winning means to me by Dermot O’Leary hovers for a moment, and then is gone.
As I’m unloading supplies from the boot of the car, I receive a text. It wishes me: sunbeams and gods smiling and electricity and black magic.
The studio, Wreck 7, is a warren of rooms at the top of a flight of stone steps in a warehouse in the Millmead Industrial Estate. For some people in the building, it’s home; others work there, recording, rehearsing, holding photoshoots. There’s no heat apart from three CalorGas burners, and it’s this stark, chilled openness that gives the music recorded there a kind of beautiful clarity.
Studio co-owner Mike is there, helping producer Paul set up the drums with Guillaume. There are men on the roof, waterproofing it with blowtorches; we hope they’ll have ceased work by the time we start tracking.
I draw a picture.
I am drinking green tea in the blue-curtained den of the mixing room while Paul and Guillaume move drums around, experimenting with different setups.
The screensaver on the computer is a slowdancing kaleidoscope, and there is a skull with jewelled eyes on top of a stack of preamps (including two Neve 1073s, which we’ll be using for the grand piano). The faint cries of sirens echo from the street outside. I warm up my voice, going through a handful of arpeggios, and draw another picture.
Guillaume and I discuss our favourite Metallica albums. Paul finds a pocket piano by Critter & Guitari. The size of two remote controls, it yields a Gameboylike sequence of avant-garde noises, mostly midway between R2D2 and dialup internet.
We start tracking piano, voice and drums, as the panels of daylight visible through the taped-up windows being to fade and the studio is lit instead by orange lamps. This is where I lose track of time, measuring it only in mugs of lemon and honey, and in takes. Five songs we record with Guillaume, who – despite very little sleep after a long drive back from Cardiff early this morning – has played like an angel. After he leaves, Paul and I track just voice and piano for the four remaining songs. The night takes on a kind of timeless energy, like we’re midair over the Atlantic. At two in the morning, with everything done, it’s time to go home.