November 10th – Day Two
I make my way to the studio, running slightly late, stopping at the Hale Village Tesco for additional supplies en route. It’s a clear, crisp morning; the sun twinkles on windows and car bonnets, and the Millmead Estate is calm. There’s a lot to do today. First, I make coffee (I will end up drinking more coffee, in three days, than I normally do in a week) and Paul fires up the life-saving heaters; then, he goes through the takes from last night, choosing the best ones to track the other instruments to. There’s only one song, Robber Bride, for which I’d like to re-record the vocals later on this evening, when I do my BVs.
The first musician to arrive is Mark, who is playing bass on the record. We’re only using double bass, not electric, and for the majority of the songs it’ll be bowed, not finger-picked, but there’s a couple with played parts, and we do these first. One is a sulky, waltzy, bluesy number based on a book and film that I loved, called We Need To Talk About Kevin. The other is also based on a film, though it hasn’t been made yet, about Vikings. A Viking love-triangle, in fact. These don’t take long to do: as the sounds of tracking fill the mixing room, it feels like the bass has always been there, along with the piano and the bass.
Rob and Alexandra – playing cello and viola respectively – are next to get here, along with Vin, who’s going to be singing a duet with me later. So it’s a cheerful gathering for croissants and cups of tea, while some fashion photoshoot folk to and fro across the room, assuring us that they won’t make any noise during takes. Paul sets up the room mics for the strings (which are going to be recorded all together, itself an enticing prospect) and the room is flooded with pale sunlight which goes a little way to counterbalancing the chill.
‘What kind of tea is this?’ asks Vin. ‘It tastes quite fragrant.’
‘PG tips,’ I say firmly.
Later, he works out that I have inadvertently flavoured his tea with Fairy Liquid.
‘I drank it anyway,’ he says. Vin is really nice. In fact, everyone is really nice. All weekend, there’s not an ego in sight.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Alexandra now teaches at Rob’s old school, and vice versa. In their graceful row of three, Alexandra, Rob and Mark play so beautifully – and so patiently, given my clueless Grade One conducting and some eccentricities in the scores (‘Blame Cubase,’ says Paul) – that they could almost be figments of orchestral imagination.
It’s growing dark as Vin records his vocals for our duet, the ironically-named Home Is Where The Heart Is. All week he’s had a bad cold, the residue of which is a slight hint of gravel in his voice that’s perfect for the world-weariness of the song. In a few takes, we’re done, and he lays down some low oohs for another track. They are low, growly, Nick Cave-ish oohs. The kind of oohs I’ve always wanted to use on a song.
One take is a little different:
‘Ooh! There’s a mouse running around in the kitchen!’
I’m just glad it wasn’t a spider.
Our last guest is Andy, who is playing tuba. A sensitive, dynamic performer with a giant roar of a laugh, Andy spent ten years in the orchestra for Chicago and has a Pavlovian reaction to the opening bars of All That Jazz. The first tuba part has an improvised, Tom Waits-y feel to it; the second is a mournful wail, supposed to echo a cry from the Underworld. For this, the sound is relayed to a mic in the stone stairwell. Someone comments that it sounds like the Titanic. That’s totally the right vibe.
After tea and Werther’s Originals and stem ginger biscuits, Andy’s on his way home, and the only thing left to do is the backing vocals. These are always my nearly-favourite thing to do, and I sometimes have to be forcibly prevented from layering them up like sedimentary strata. Not every song will have BVs: we choose wisely, discarding unwanted minor thirds here, doubling other parts there. At one point two people come and sit on the sofa, in silence, watching.
‘It’s just BVs,’ I tell them. ‘It can’t be very interesting.’
Sure enough, they disappear after a while, but I quite liked my quiet audience.
It’s an earlier finish than last night: Paul and I make the last tube home, and suddenly there’s only one day left.