So I’m at it again.
When ‘Prove You Wrong’ was released in March 2013, it felt like a culmination of things; all the years of trying to make the best of my abilities as a muso and come up with an album of which I could be justly and permanently proud. And I felt I achieved that.
I hadn’t bargained for what was to come in the ensuing months. I don’t mean that the album went triple platinum and I got 3 Brit nominations – that was never going to happen! The album sold respectably well and did receive plenty of critical acclaim from all the right places within the rock music industry – so that was all fine and dandy.
What was both surprising and pleasing to me was the sudden reawakening of my song writing instinct, which had in truth been lying somewhat dormant in the run up to the recording of PYW during 2012. I had 2 songs left over from my initial list of possible songs for my debut (‘Simple As That’ & ‘Better Off Out Of It…’), and I thought about getting Alex Cooper, my producer at Arkham Studios, to record them just for a frame of reference.
But then, one day in Summer 2013, I wrote a really interesting chord progression whilst casually noodling around on my electric piano. Over the years I’ve neglected piano playing for a number of reasons, but with a spare room in my new flat that I could dedicate to musical artefacts, my Yamaha Clavinova took pride of place, and I started to rediscover how much fun it was not only to play it, but to write with it.
‘Second Time Around’ was the outgrowth of that little noodling session and it suddenly dawned on me that I could record this new tune with Alex too. Around the same time, I wrote a lyric for a song called ‘Love Fatigue’ based around a melody I’d used before in 2 old original songs that weren’t strong on their own, but benefitted greatly from having their best bits ‘married up’ as it were. Next thing you know, I’m back in Arkham getting these 4 songs recorded and pondering what to do with them.
And that didn’t just mean what to do with them once finished – I was also pondering how much input to call upon from other musicians. One of the nicest things that came out of the reaction to Prove You Wrong was the positivity regarding my 3 lead vocal performances in amongst the brilliance of Lee Small who sang 12 tunes for me. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that I was not that confident about my vocal delivery, and that was what prompted me to enlist Lee’s services - which was 100% the right thing to do, both at the time and with the benefit of hindsight.
The confidence that I had derived from those giving my vocals on ‘Overflow’ ‘Prove You Wrong’ and ‘I Wanna Be A Has Been’ the thumbs up (as well as my increasing confidence as a lead player) helped me to make the decision to truly go solo and do absolutely everything as I began piecing together the demo recordings at home prior to booking studio time with Alex towards the end of 2013
Pretty soon we had the aforementioned 4 songs in the can, and the idea of an E.P. popped into my head. Trouble was, other song ideas were popping into my head too as 2014 arrived. Songs like ‘Chinese Whispers’, ‘ I Love You More’, ‘Mr Poison’ and ‘We Believed’ came along either via a riff, a chord progression or just an opening lyrical idea.
Along with that, I racked my brains about songs from my old bands that never even reached gigging point i.e. rehearsed but never played live. ‘I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today’ (a title that paid homage to Reggie Perrin’s boss C.J. in the TV sitcom) fit that particular bill perfectly.
The final ingredient came when I had an old song which was demoed up in the early 90’s that I thought I’d play for Alex to see what he thought as we were looking for one more tune to complete the album. I’d played him a couple of ideas I’d demoed up which he liked but which he felt didn’t really fit with all the other tunes we had. With this one, he turned to me and said, ‘That’s a great hook!’ referring to the guitar riff that kicked the song off. “However, too many stops and starts in the whole thing though – this will need some major surgery to make it a better song” he went on…
In my bigheaded twenties, any suggestion from a producer that a song of mine wasn’t arranged perfectly would have been a crushing blow to my silly ego. It would have caused an argument as well, I’m afraid to admit. Many a songwriter has spoken of their songs as their ‘children’ and is prepared to protect them from their birth at all costs from those who would try and mutate them.
Alex’s suggestion to a 46-year old man, however, elicited the desired response i.e. ‘Right, let’s work on it then!’ The idea was to make the song more insistent and less of a patchwork of ideas held together by hanging chords. One hour later, we had a much better song and Alex had made his point. Moreover, the rearrangement meant that a complete lyric rewrite was in order too – nothing from the old tune fit well enough anymore to my ear. I looked at a new lyric I was working on, which was ostensibly meant for one of the tunes that Alex had turned down. The more I looked at it, the more I realised that some of the lines scanned in such a way that it fit the new idea. And so ‘If My Truth Is A Lie’ was born, and we had our complete song list for the album.
The ‘truth’ about this upcoming album being 100% me is a slight ‘lie’. I needed some counterpoint vocals in the chorus of ‘Second Time Around’ to complement my melody, but knew it would require a female voice to realise those vocals properly. Jane Gillard is an extremely talented singer from bands like Our Dystopia and Progoctopus, and she was only too happy to come in and help out. In fact, she was so good and so quick in recording what I needed that I got her to add some high backing vox to ‘Simple As That’ whilst we had her trapped in the vocal booth!!
The other contributor wasn’t present at any of the recording sessions, but did help me greatly on one of those horrid occasions of ‘writers block’. Greg Hart is a great guitarist whom I’ve got to know over the years through him time in Limehouse Lizzy and his current Supersonic/Solid Gold 70’s tribute shows that pack ‘em in up & down the country. Greg, like me, is also a KISS/Jellyfish nutcase, and I drove to see him for an initial writing session with a riff idea I just couldn’t seem to expand upon on my own.
Within an hour of sitting down in his house with guitars in hand, the song was pretty much finished! The result - ‘It All Comes Back To Rock’ - is going to be a very important song going forward I think. Having spent 2 albums being happy to write and filter ideas alone I think that, if there IS to be an album No.3 somewhere down the line, then co-writing and more interaction with other musicians in the creative process is definitely the way to go.
But for now, it’s me myself and I. And Alex Cooper of course. My objective with producer Alex is always to get him nodding his head and playing air drums during playback of songs as we add things to them. It must be a challenge at times for him with me, especially on those tunes where he hasn’t heard a demo and he’s placing his trust in me to have the arrangement right as I lay a drum track down to a click track without any other instrumentation for him to listen to. But he’s always patient with me and my little idiosyncrasies – as I hope you will be when this 2nd album finally arrives at the end of this summer.
You have, of course, the chance to hear 3 of those songs already, with the release of the ‘Chinese Whispers’ E.P. via iTunes and Amazon mp3 – I would love to know YOUR thoughts on these tunes which should hopefully have whetted your appetite for the upcoming CD album.
So what do you think of them? Over to you.