November 11th – Day Three
I don’t understand how you do it: the no-sleep, the nights so late they become nonexistent, just darker passages of studio days, the clockless spaces where time is marked out only in barlines and beats. It’s like Marwood’s commentary in Withnail and I: ‘Time change… you lose, you gain… Then all at once those frozen hours melt out through the nervous system and seep out the pores.’ He is not, as it happens, referring to making an album, but this is definitely how it feels. En route to meet Paul for breakfast, I am hallucinating with tiredness, my feet automated by habit alone. I buy coffee in Pret and leave it on the counter, undrunk. I go back, throw myself upon it in the manner of Jack Bauer securing weaponised plutonium, and apologise to the alarmed barista.
‘It’s Monday,’ she smiles.
It doesn’t feel like Monday. It feels like the Day of the Triffids, and I’ve just stumbled out of a deserted hospital into a bleak, bright, undiscovered world. But it is Monday, and it’s the last day of album tracking.
Paul and I have breakfast (him: Full English, me: poached eggs on toast and halloumi) at the Weighbridge Cafe, where the waitress has the most exquisite false eyelashes, even on a Monday. We talk about what we’ve done so far, and what there still is to do. I don’t know a lot about production, and most of the technical terms are lost on me, but I learn from Paul that on this album we’re not using any compression, which is unusual, and – excitingly – no midi instruments at all.
First on the list when we get to the studio (it has endured, overnight, a burst water main but the resulting flood in the kitchen is now under control) is to listen through to everything, from start to finish, focusing on what extras we might want to add to each song. The skeletons and organs and skin are all there; it’s just accessories now, like those false eyelashes, to consider.
For the first song, I get to play – for the first time – my beautiful Celtic harp.
Then we record a detuned organ using a Korg Delta.
For the fifth song, my duet with Vin, I wish for a music box. Paul, incredibly, or not so incredibly since esoteric deconstructed gadgetry is very much his thing, produces one. It’s reduced to a tiny chime bar, so small you’d need to be a Borrower to play it. Having once played the Nutcracker Suite, it’s actually in the right key for the song we need it for; I try to figure out the notes and bend my earring into a miniature drum stick.
‘What we need is a needle,’ I say.
Paul produces one (in a wrapper, and for medical, not sinister, uses). Paul is definitely a producer.
For the sixth song, we use a tiny yamaha keyboard and a Reaktor Synthesiser, put through an amp.
The seventh and ninth need nothing, and on the eighth, Paul adds some creepy, repetitive guitar on the verses.
And so this phase is done; what’s next is premixing, and then mixing, and then mastering. I know the answer to my question, now, about how people do this with no sleep and just coffee and biscuits to sustain them. Music-making provides adrenaline, and that’s enough to keep you going. I have burnt the skin on my legs from standing too close to the CalorGas burners, my eyes are red from tiredness and concentration, and I have lost the ability to speak in polysyllables… but it’s been the most amazing experience.