Up on the Downside…
And so, here it is in all its ramshackle, badly-recorded glory. An album. A solo album made with naught but my own blood, sweat and tears. And a dash of more competent guitar playing in parts from a friend of long standing – and to whom I owe a great deal for his loyalty and friendship over recent years.
It’s been a longer journey than I anticipated. It was on January 3rd 2017 when I published the first ‘proper’ version of one of the songs: Sex Dream (which I have, naturally re-recored 411 times since. ) I was so excited by the achievement of making a listenable version of one of my own tunes that I set myself a goal of recording the full album by Easter.
But it wasn’t until the 29th December that I actually published it officially on proper official grown up music channels. Today, you can find it on Spotify, Napster, Google Play and all those digital corners of cyberspace where music goes to die – as this most assuredly will.
The delay was, with hindsight, entirely predictable. It’s easy to like your own song, but easier still to hate what happens to it in recording. None of these tracks have a live drummer, and I am a perfunctory kind of bassist, so there is basically no rhythm section as such. I’ve long believed that the rhythm section is the most distinctive part of a band and actually is the make-or-break element to a band’s success. Imagine, if you will, what The Who would have sounded like with Ringo behind the kit. It’s that indefinable element that lends a cohesiveness to a band’s work, and the crucial element that often differentiates a ‘band’ from ‘a singer with a collection of session musicians’.
At it’s most extreme, it’s the difference between Abbey Road and, say, Flaming Pie.
So the short answer is that I will never really be happy with every aspect of the album. There are dozens of little moments when I wish the drummer would push onto a beat, but as he is a collection of digitised sounds played in predetermined sequence, he is deaf to my exhortations.
And I have the singer’s constant gnawing hate of the sound of my own voice. I want to sound like Eddie Kendricks… John Lennon… Elvis… Wilson Pickett… Gram Parsons… Dylan… Shaun Ryder. And of course, I don’t. I sound like me, with my wayward pitching, grating accent, and unsatisfactory phrasing.
And all the musicianship? Well I hear every duff note, bad recording choice, and moment where I almost dropped the guitar. In the background, if you listen closely enough to the isolated vocal tracks, a beer fridge can be heard humming quietly in the background as I recorded in the conservatory.
So over the year, the task great more complicated as I realised I actually wasn’t happy with this vocal or that guitar part. I would have to wait weeks for a snatched hour alone in the house, without kids to burst in halfway through a chorus or a visitor to ring the bell mid-guitar solo. Some songs – such as Rising Up – became mini epics of construction in themselves as new ideas came to me during recording. An experience further from the recording of Exile on Main Street is hard to imagine.
Lyrics took long, agonising months to come – even for songs that had existed for years beforehand.
And, I was always distracted by shiny new things. Alongside the 12 songs that made it to the album, I experienced a rush of creativity that I haven’t had in decades, as new songs came pouring out. Sometimes to displace things long planned for in the album’s running order, but also to form the spine of another album that has already taken shape over the last six months.
And in the background to it all, I continued to fight my demons and the ghosts of past mistakes that hang in deathly pallor over every thing that I do now. Not for nothing have I adopted a nom de guerre for this project. As honest as this project is, I must still hide behind a mask of sorts. Sometimes, overcoming this side of myself has been the hardest thing of all. Many of the songs obliquely deal with this, and sometimes that knowledge has weighed hard on the creative process. Should I even be singing about these things? Fits of depression have consumed me for weeks on end and made recording seem futile and meaningless.
But, all self-criticism aside, I have done it. I set out to record an album of 12 tracks, and there it is. And for all its faults, it is authentically me. The words and tunes are mine and mine alone and every note means something to me.
My prior experience of digital music releases means that I am under no illusions about how I will measure the ‘success’ of this album. It cost me hundreds of hours in time to create, but I will be lucky to even recoup the £35 it costs to put your music out there.
And in the end, that’s irrelevant. All I’ve ever wanted to do is to be able to point to something and say: that’s me. And I have.
But now, it’s time for that difficult second album. Half the tracks have already been published on this blog, so I know that my pace has picked up considerably as I have learnt the skill of recording on GarageBand in my own limited way.
I expect it to be completed by Easter.