Wherever possible we try to record live, but as long as you get some of the elements done together it’s pretty easy to make it pass. This 45 wasn't recorded as a band “live in the room”, however I think it does a pretty good job at not sounding like it was done separately through overdubs.
One of the main reasons that this wasn't recorded live is that it was initially intended to be a demo. However, it turned out so good that we didn’t see the point of re recording it in the end. Most of our writing sessions start with Pete (my label partner) and I laying down a rhythm track with myself on bass and Pete on drums, and from there sketching a melodic idea and structure. It often works well as a process for us.
I often spend so much time trying to recreate the magic of a demo. There is nothing on the line when doing a demo, , there is no pressure, and some real magic often gets captured. When the light goes on for real, bums clench, people get uptight and that elusive carefree vibe of the demo is suddenly gone forever. The Moral of the story is to record everything as if it’s the final recording. Whether it’s a demo or not you might capture a truly magical moment of music. If it is a demo don't spend loads of time a building up a piece, just get the idea down and move on.
With this kind of music especially some people find it hard to create vibe without the other elements there in the room to record against. I don't quite get that. Of course it would be better, but by the point of laying it down we have the image of what the track is going to be in our minds and work with that. A rule of thumb we follow playing-wise is that we are all working as part of an engine to create a bigger unified sound. We all have a part to stick to and then occasionally colour outside the lines but never start a drawing of our own. Years of working in rhythm sections has given us the experience to know what is required from us regardless of whether the front line is present or not.
On this recording I only used one mic on the drums. At some point in the future I will do a blog on micing drums, as I find it really fascinating, but for now I’ll keep it short. I used an RCA varacoustic pointed at the snare drum about a foot away. I find with a bit of fine tuning this often picks up the kick snare and hats quite adequately (especially if you have a good drummer who understands how to balance his kit). If I want less hats I might tilt the mic more towards the floor moving the hats out of the direct field of the mic. I am not a fan of loads of mics on a kit. I find it unnatural and for what I do it can make a kit sound quite sterile. Again I was putting myself in the head-space of the recordings I hold myself up to standard wise. Would these studios have had a lot of mics spare to throw on the kit or even a desk that would have accommodated that many channels? I doubt it. So to try and emulate this kind of sound I would give myself the same restrictions. Of course, there is also the possibility that I’m just lazy.
I really enjoyed recording the bass on these tracks as I was experimenting with trying to get a certain sound that I felt was more appropriate to this type of music. With the size of room I have to record in I don't want sound to travel too far and swamp the room. When recording other artists my heart sinks when they bring in amps and speakers that are really meant for live performance, as they really fill the whole room. Due to this I started experimenting with lower wattage amps and smaller cabinets, and very quickly started to hear a sound that was more akin to what we were trying to emulate, which is more of a low mid area that it is low subby bass frequency. With this session in particular I had borrowed a DIY clone of an Ampeg Portaflex. It had been built as a practice amp with really low wattage and only a 10” speaker. It sounded great! who needs a big amp? It paired with my 60’s 3/4 hollow body Greco bass beautifully and provided just the thud I was looking for.
Another discovery I made on recording these two tracks was to do with recording tambourine. Tambourine plays a pretty important part in the music of soul, funk, rnb etc, but is often the last thing that is thought about and generally thrown on last. The sound of overdubbing this has always really bothered me, something about it being on its own, separated from the performance, on its own mic always irked my ear. I can never find the right place in the mix as at a certain volume it sounds too separate from the rest of the music, even with reverb. Thankfully, in the documentary “Standing In the Shadows of Motown” about the Motown session band “The funk brothers”, there are plenty of interviews with legendary tambourine player Jack Ashford. In the film he talks about how he would often stand close to the overhead mic for the kit. Kind of makes sense really. I am sure that most recordings around that time would have just had the tambourine in the room rather than giving them their own mic or channel. So, when Pete overdubbed some congas I stood a bit behind him and played the tambourine. With little effort the tambourine sat in the track exactly where I wanted it!
By Neil Innes