Recording the Album

On the 15th January 2017, we (Plastic Jeezus) headed to Mr. Kyp’s in Parkstone to start recording our debut album. The plan was this: we’d recorded as many drum tracks as we could on the day – then record the other parts separately, at our leisure. (As you can imagine, recording drums in one of our homes was not really an option – plus it takes a whole load of microphones and someone who actually knows what they’re doing with them). So sound-wizard Chris AKA Percy from Pulse PA – and formerly of Plastic Jeezus – had agreed to record the drum parts for us. In fact, he’d record the lot – bass, ukulele, vocals AND drums – but really we only expected to keep the drum parts. Anything else could be recorded in the comfort of our own homes in as many takes as we like – hopefully without upsetting our neighbours too much (sorry Doris!). Oh – and it would be done on the shoestringiest of budgets. Perfect.

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We managed to get through fifteen* songs in one day, which is quite something, especially as we did several ‘takes’ of most them. The drum parts were DONE. Time to move onto the simple *cough* task of recording everything else and then just mixing it. Because it’s probably a piece of cake to mix an album, isn’t it? I mean – how hard could it be?

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We set about recording the ukulele, bass, vocals and any other stuff over the next few weeks. I’d underestimated how long it would take. Each song required, roughly, a couple of ukulele parts, main vocals (doubled up, in parts), backing vocals from Dave, backing vocals from Aaron, bass, percussion (tambourine, shakey-egg thing, handclaps, finger-clicks, etc) and a bit of piano/organ/glockenspiel. On average, we’d get together once a week and get a song or two done each time. I was recording the ukulele and lead vocals in between. It went on for some time…

I was also thrilled to have managed to rope in Khoi Huynh from one of my favourite bands, The Corner Laughers. I’d hoped he could play a bit of honky-tonk piano on the choruses of The Other Place. I’d sent him the basic parts and within a couple of days he’d messaged back to say he’s not only done that, but he hoped we didn’t mind but he’d recorded a ‘ridiculous’ solo too, though we probably wouldn’t want to use it. On my first listen I genuinely laughed out loud. That’s a good sign. It was in. Amazing.

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I’d also asked local legend Si Genaro if he’d play harmonica on So Damn Rock’n’Roll. He agreed and popped over one afternoon. He recorded four or five different takes and they were all amazing. All totally different, but all amazing. It was a shame I could only include one, really. (Note to self: Make a super-long remix with all of them stitched together – that would be so cool).

I was also attempting to mix the songs in the meantime. Anything we’d recorded – even if it was only partially complete – was getting mixed and gradually it highlighted that I’m really, *really* not a mixing engineer. As the weeks and months went on I was getting more and more concerned that the mixes just weren’t good enough. I mean, I was pretty pleased with them, but from a “Hey check out what I managed to do, with no prior experience!” kind of way. The nagging voice at the back of my head was telling me that we simply couldn’t expect people to pay for it. I sought a few opinions from people I knew had some experience in these things.

Most people made positive noises – with the odd “Oh perhaps you could boost to 50K on the kick drum a touch**” and stuff like that. And that was the point at which our pal Phil Cooper had a listen. He gave some really useful feedback and said he’d love to have a go at mixing one of the songs himself. I sent him the multi-tracks (or ‘stems’ as us serious professional mixing people call them) and within a day he’d sent back a mix of ‘So Damn Rock’n’Roll’ that put mine to shame. I played it to Dave and Aaron and explained that we *had* to ask Phil to mix the whole album.

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Phil agreed. RESULT. I sent him what we had (bearing in mind that most tracks were still missing bits and bobs, as they were being recorded piecemeal). I also sent him copious notes on the songs. Loads and loads of notes. And he just churned out the mixes LIKE A MACHINE. One after another, he’d sent them though. I’d share them with Dave and Aaron, write some more notes – and get back to Phil. He’d tweak the stuff that needed tweaking and send it back again. It worked like a charm.

In what seemed like no time at at (compared to the months I’d spent, toiling away) Phil managed to mix and master the album. I’d decided that I’d like some little bits of chatter in between songs, to make it feel a bit more ‘live’. And because I love that sort of thing on an album, like those spoken bits on Surfer Rosa, or even just the cough at the start of Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea. It makes you feel like you’re there with the band. And that was very much what we wanted this album to feel like. I went through the recordings we’d done at Mr. Kyp’s and picked out some suitably inane witterings. We slotted it into the relevant places, made sure the gaps between the songs was right (yes, that’s surprisingly important), and there it was – done. As I write this it’s April 19th and there are still a few very minor tweaks to be made, but it’s essentially completed. It’s been a longer, more stressful process than I’d anticipated, but I’m so incredibly proud of what we’ve got. It sounds like Plastic Jeezus. And that is exactly as it should be.

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*”Fifteen?!” I hear you cry. “But there are only eleven tracks on the album. What happened to the other four?”. Firstly I must congratulate you on your mathematical abilities. Secondly, the other four tracks just didn’t ‘feel’ right. Three of the four had already been recorded and released on our previous CDs anyway, so we weren’t too upset about not including them, and the one that hadn’t just didn’t work, somehow. I’m sure we’ll re-visit it at some point.
**Nope, no idea either, but that kind of confirms my point.

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