RECORDING IN LOCKDOWN 2020

So all of a sudden we were locked up at home in country Victoria. It was March 2020 and Judy had suggested now would be a great time to record the Stevenson Prayers as an album. Surely lockdown would only last a few weeks, we could get everyone together in a month or so, and record? (Remember those days?) Well, it wasn't long till it became clear that it wasn't just going to be a few weeks.

 

Find links to the great musicians involved in the project here.

 

A conversation with Mischa Herman, our sound engineer and all-round quick thinker, led from one thing to another, and soon we had worked out how we could record the album with all the musicians locked up in their homes in urban Melbourne, or Hobart, or country Victoria. The normal process in the past for us has been to send round some home-made recordings of the songs for the players to work on, then getting everyone together for a few days' practice, then a few days in the recording studio. How would we do things differently now?

Mischa came to us in Newlyn, he and I spent two days recording in our restored old tractor shed. Apart from the interruptions from bird-song and tractors in adjacent fields, all went well. By the end of the second day, we had 12 tracks with guitar and my lead vocal. On three tracks, the vocal was a 'guide' vocal, because I had it in mind that three other singers would sing the songs on the final recording. I had asked them what key they would sing the song in, they had figured that out and I provided a guitar part in that key with my own squeaky or too-bassy vocal as a guide for them. 

Mischa mixed my guitar and vocal parts, and we sent the sound files off to Dan Witton, incarcerated in his flat high above the city of Melbourne on the corner of LaTrobe Street. Like all the musicians, he has often recorded at home, and has all the gear. He and I had zoom meetings and I sent off notes on what I was imagining he would play, what other instruments were to be added, to help him get an idea of 'how much' to play. Difficulties arose, in that in that first lockdown there was much intensive building work happening all day and night around him, and it was hard to find a time when there were three quiet minutes in a row to record a bass part. One lovely part had an emergency vehicle siren appear in the middle, others were marred by loud bangs from the building sites around. But in the end, the circumstances meant that there were many chances to re-record, and after a couple of weeks, there were absolutely beautiful double bass parts for each of the songs. Dan was sending me the parts as he completed them, and, of course, his contributions changed my approach to the tracks. I now considered a couple of tracks more or less finished after he had added his bass and vocal parts, and I discarded ideas I had had for other instrumental additions. 

Mischa remixed, and made some changes to the sound. Obviously, the background 'sound profile' of the tractor shed where I had recorded, and Dan's flat in the city, were different. Mischa used his expertise to make a bit more unity in the sound.

Then half the tracks were sent to Luke Plumb in his family home outside Hobart. Luke and I have worked together before, and again details of what he would play and where were discussed by zoom, email and phone. He sent me back trial versions, and these were just fabulous. 

Back again to Mischa, and each of the others was approached in the same way to add their contributions. In houses in various parts of Victoria, musicians set up a recording studio in their homes. In the case of Bec's vocal on "Remember Heavenly Days, the most 'acoustically beneficial sounding' place was inside a built-in wardrobe. She had never actually done home recording before on her own, and Mischa sent a microphone and a digital interface to her by taxi, zoomed her and talked her through the entire set-up and recording process. Using another on-line program, he was able to listen in from a hundred kilometers away to exactly the sound she was getting as she tried the microphone in different places in her flat, before they decided on the wardrobe.

And this process was repeated, Mischa mixed down the 'track-so-far' and it got sent on the next contributor. Hamish and I talked about Bob Wills and Western Swing twin fiddle parts, in preparation for his parts on the title track, like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XM_lkXbCto

Lucy Wise and I discussed Mavis Staples as we talked about how Lucy would approach 'Scales of Love'.

Gradually, we built up to completed versions of each song, one by one. 

Mischa and I spent hours on-line mixing, using Zoom and another program at the same time, so I could hear and take part in the mixing process, and a week later, we were ready for the finished article to be mastered and sent away to the manufacturers.