Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Solo Album 2: Blog #4 (Shredding in Berlin)

I've always had a slightly romanticised fascination with Berlin, despite only ever having visited once before (for a 48 hour period, which was spent almost entirely indoors - filming a band)... It largely stems from having read so many articles about David Bowie's time there in the late 70's and my love of the music that came out of that 'new wave' period, (both from Bowie himself and numerous other associated artists). The city is steeped in so much history, much of which is still in (my) living memory, thus adding to the allure.

So when my friend and frequent musical collaborator Markus Reuter recently relocated his base to the city it seemed only natural that I would record his contributions to my in-progress solo album out there. It also presented an opportunity for us both to explore Berlin a little and catch up with a few pals. All of this took place just over a week ago.

It was always a given that Markus would appear on the album. He is one of the most unique and visionary musicians I've ever heard, and we have an extremely good / intuitive working relationship. Each understands how the other works and consequently we get a lot of material out of our recording sessions. For this record (as mentioned in recent blogs) I created more detailed demos than I have in the past, so many of the key guitar parts were already written, nonetheless having them written and having them played with personality are two equally important parts of the desired whole. Furthermore, despite preparing a ton of lines and phrases for him to learn and play I had also earmarked numerous sections for Markus to add soundscapes (loop-based improvised guitar textures) and/or solos, so we had plenty to occupy our time!

There's a mutual trust there, and consequently Markus will generally play whatever (and however) I envisage for a piece, but equally I'm always open to his instinct which often dovetails neatly into the sound world I'm painting - He knows that I like options too, so even if we record multiple takes of a written part there'll often be variations thrown in for good measure. It means more work in terms of sifting and editing, but I'm a sucker for not taking the 'easy' route ;-) Markus also used this project as an opportunity to try out several new pedals and treatments, so there are some unique sounds in there... I tend to record his parts 'clean' where I'm likely to want more flexibility in post-production, but also balance the sessions out with more 'coloured' sounds which I know are more fun for him as a player - It all depends on the context.

During these sessions Markus played U8 (Touch Guitar) on ten songs, which is currently where I'm at with the album. (There are one or two additional song ideas that may be added, in which case we'll do overdubs via the web). Though the U8 is principally designed with touch-style / tapping techniques in mind it's also a "universal" instrument (hence the "U") and on these recordings he taps, strums, picks (with a plectrum), and employs a whole bunch of other guitar playing techniques. I really like that fact that when playing on my material Markus sometimes steps into territory he's less known for, thus highlighting his versatility.

Btw, I brought home a 'guest' with me at the end of this trip - A beautiful white Touch Guitars U8 Deluxe :-) I'll be playing most of the bass parts (aside from one guest spot - more on that later) with this instrument having already written and demoed lines that occupy a slightly lower range than my standard four string bass can easily handle. I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with the instrument and techniques after last summer's TGC course in Austria.

Whilst out walking during a break on Day 2 Markus and I spotted a poster (the first of many) for the V & A David Bowie exhibition (currently 'touring' the world) which was due to open in Berlin the day before my flight home. When first exhibited in London last year I hadn't felt compelled to make the trip despite being a lifelong fan of his work, but the coincidental timing of this Berlin opening felt like a good omen and we decided to end our week by attending... I wasn't prepared for the effect it would have on me - Once inside I was in a permanent (but contained) state of excitement! So much adrenaline, and so much material to take in. I'm not normally that affected by 'stuff', but experiencing this exhibition in Berlin where much of (for me) the most interesting content had a strong connection was something very special. On exiting the museum I felt rejuvenated in a way that I can't easily explain - I just knew that the creative energy I had absorbed would feed into this album project in some way.

Once the album sessions were complete I engineered Markus's final overdubs for Fabio's upcoming Moonbound record. We used the same mobile setup (namely my audio interface, hard drive and MacBook running Logic Pro 9) that had served us well all week. On the other side of the Atlantic Pat Mastelotto completed his drum sessions and sent them over to my Dropbox while Markus and I worked...

All in all a productive, fun and positive week in which Markus and I also made plans and "to do" lists for Unsung Productions (our audio production cooperative), his forthcoming projects, and mine. The city had a great vibe and didn't disappoint - I only had one minor gripe: it's near impossible to use a credit (or debit) card anywhere! ;-) Strange (though perhaps refreshing in an equally strange way) in these 'virtual money' times. I'll know for next time... There's now a huge stack of material for me to work through, which will take at least four times as long as it did to record it ;-) Plus I have Pat's latest contributions to tie-in, and Troy (Jones) is currently laying down further overdubs, so the next couple of weeks are going to be busy. Further album sessions are being scheduled for June - More on who / what / where in the next blog 'instalment'.

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As a footnote - while we're talking about Markus - I should mention that his acclaimed classical piece 'Todmorden 513 (Concerto for Orchestra)' is officially released on the 17th June. I mastered the CD, and lots of great people were involved in its creation, not least Thomas Blomster who orchestrated the work. The accompanying 70 minute documentary (as featured on the deluxe CD/DVD edition) is available to stream for free here: http://breaking513.com

Until next time... x


PS - There are a few additional photos from the Berlin trip over on my Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/leefletcher.official...

[All pics by moi - © copyright 2014 - except the shot of me which was taken by Markus]

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Solo Album 2: Blog #3 (Sax and Drums and Rock 'n' Roll)

So, the next solo record is rocketing along... Although I should be clear here, I'm not looking to put it out until next year, but the instrumental tracking phase is well underway and at this rate I can see the main production being completed this year. New compositions are still emerging, and though I'm at a point where there's a healthy album's worth I've no desire to stem the flow just yet, so we'll see where it goes in the coming weeks. It would be nice to have some 'spare' material that I can potentially use for any single / EP releases, but the album is my focus right now.

Aside from adding a couple of new tunes to the roster since my last blog there's been more in the way of recording over the past week or so: Having already included flautist Vivien Goodwin-Darke in the proceedings I'm delighted to add fellow Billy Bottle & The Multiple member Roz Harding to the line-up of core musicians. Roz is a phenomenal alto saxophonist whose outstanding jazz trio WAVE (also featuring Mike Outram and Jim Bashford) has become a live favourite of mine :-) She's also a member of the esteemed Mike Westbrook Big Band, and if there's any justice in this world is surely heading for great things music career-wise... Since working on the 'Unrecorded Beam' record Roz and I have discovered a succession of shared musical passions and eccentricities, so it was only fitting that I should invite her to play on this record ;-) Moreover her approach to the instrument changed my perception of it considerably - for the better! To my delight she was enthusiastic about joining the party, and so earlier this week we spent more than six hours recording a combination of written parts that I had prepared in advance and blistering improvisations! Speaking of Viv, she and husband Tim kindly facilitated the session at their beautiful and relaxed Dawlish guesthouse Coombe Brook, (which I'd recommend to anyone - particularly musicians / artists - visiting the area) :-)

Here's a snap from the session...

Inviting brilliant players is one thing, but it's especially gratifying (for me, but also them) when they understand what I'm doing musically and are enthusiastic about their role. This is happening a fair bit with the current album I'm pleased to say, which maybe indicates that I'm doing something worthwhile ;-) I'm certainly feeling fired-up by the material and the process of dressing the songs, so for me at least it's a thrill!

[UPDATE: Roz has written about this session in her latest blog, which you can find HERE ...]

I made mention of a "second drummer" on the album in a previous blog, but I'm now happy to announce (even though I let slip on Facebook the other day) that it's Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson / Mr. Mister / Stick Men (and a thousand other great bands) notoriety :-) I've gotten to know Pat over the past few years and have mastered several of his releases as well as assisting with post-production on various Crimson ProjeKCt and Stick Men albums, but this marks the first occasion where he'll be playing on my compositions. It's terrific to have him onboard, and in fact he's already completed his parts for two of the pieces... He'll appear on at least four songs, including a drum-duet with Troy on one!

Here are a couple of snaps of Pat's main kit setup for these recordings (at 'Mastelotto Central', Austin, Texas):

Incidentally I first saw Pat play in 1993 with Sylvian & Fripp at The Royal Albert Hall, London... A very special gig for me, and one that doesn't feel like 21 years ago - Crikey!

Another person joining the ranks for this project is my friend Fabio Trentini who has just recorded some funky-ass rhythm guitar for a couple of songs. He's such a professional - I gave a clear brief and got exactly what I'd hoped for within a couple of hours ;-) After working with Fabs in a number of capacities it's great to finally get him on one of my recordings, (it nearly happened a couple of years back but that's another story), and at the same time I've just completed my contributions for his next Moonbound album: As mentioned recently Lisa is singing backing vocals and harmonies on several tracks, and I've created the arrangements (as well as recording and editing the performances) for these parts. They sound great and Fabio is currently mixing the record.

In a few days I'll be heading out to Berlin to hang with my pal, Unsung Productions partner, and frequent collaborator Markus Reuter. I'm looking forward to exploring Berlin and meeting up with friends, though part of my time there will be spent working on the album: Markus and I plan to devote a few days to recording his U8 (Touch Guitar) contributions which will be a combination of parts that I've written, improvisations, ambient soundscapes, and anything we devise together during the sessions... I guess I'll write about that next time ;-) In the mean time I have a ton of recordings from the recent sessions to sift through and edit, so I'll call it a day for this blog.

More soon - and now that I'm getting into the habit of regular updates I guess I really do mean that!


PS - Kudos to my friend Simon Northcott for this blog title which I stole from his comment on my recent Facebook post ;-)