When talking about the Graceland album, Paul Simon said that is was what world music is all about, “taking your influences and mixing it with other styles and cultures to create something new”. I was constantly listening to Graceland during the recording process of Do Nutty. Whilst it did conjure up childhood memories of Chevy Chase, it was the mix of South African rhythms and sounds, Zydeco instruments and Pop songwriting that kept drawing me in. I thought that it might be an interesting idea to go through my own album in a ‘Classic Albums’ kind of way. Maybe if I keep calling it a classic album people will eventually agree!!
I thought I’d start with the sleeve as that’s the first point of entry into my 35 minute world.
Venue: I have been asked if this was my house. As much as I’d like it, my house doesn’t have a replica of an early 20th Century pub in it. The shot is taken in a pub called The Adam & Eve, a local, one time favourite watering hole of my uncle. It is also where friends and family gathered after his funeral to commemorate, share memories and, well………get drunk basically!!
Glass of Wine: This is a reference to, not only the drink of choice but to the last time I spent an entire evening in my uncle’s company. He and his, then, partner brought around my 6-month-old cousin to my mum’s flat. The evening was filled with red wine and laughter combined with the mocking of, swearing at and plotting the demise of Chris Tarrant. He had been spending a rather large amount of time on my TV with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ To this day, it is still a pass time I enjoy, even though his airtime has been significantly reduced.
The Record: One of the great things about music is the sharing. Whether that’s turning a friend onto something they’ve not heard before or taking in the atmosphere of a live show surrounded by strangers. For Christmas 1987 my uncle gave me a copy of the Prince & The Revolution, ‘Purple Rain’ album. I’d heard of Prince but hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to it and wasn’t quite at the age where I would go out and purchase music I liked. It opened my mind to a whole new world of music. Whether he’d bought the album thinking I would like it or just went through his own collection and thought, “I don’t listen to this any more, I’ll give it to Sean” I don’t know or care. The mixture of R‘n’B, Rock, different production techniques and musicianship had me hooked. The next time I saw him he asked if I liked Prince to which I replied, “Yes”. He looked at me, smiled and then jokingly called me a liar.
Hand written papers: When sorting out his possessions family members found odd diaries, notes, letters etc. What you can see on the table is a sheet of A4 with his scribbling on it (This is much clearer on the inside picture). You can clearly see the opening line of To You…”The world is not square”.
CD: There is a CD to my left, which is the debut album by Zoon van snooK released on Mush records. It’s called (Falling from) The Nutty Tree. Zoon, as I don’t call him, is my brother. Although completely different musical styles and approaches both albums share the same theme/inspiration.
Ireland Football shirt: This is much more of a direct reference. Because my Uncle was both Irish and a football fan it made sense to have both on the sleeve.
The whole idea for the sleeve came as I woke up one morning. It just popped in my head as a fully formed thought. It was completed before any of the music and set the tone for the album. Everything from the sleeve, artwork and music to the recording, production, mixing and mastering has been thought about for hours on end to make sure I was happy with it. The fantastic Debora Lowe took the sleeve photos.
To You: I wanted the album to start with something unusual to draw the listener in. The noise at the start is created by using my effects pedals. Those of you who know or have played on stage with me will know how much I like my effects pedals. The idea came late on in the recording of this track I was experimenting with a noise for another song and when it didn’t work I tried it at the beginning of To You and loved it. Musically I was thinking along the lines of elements of Eleanor Rigby, Glen Campbell and Ryan Adams. The vocal harmonies in the chorus were an after thought. Once I heard how amazing they sounded on ‘Little Star’ I got the girls to sing on as much of the album as possible.
Summer Song: From very early on the other musicians referred to this track as ‘The Pink Floyd one’. I couldn’t hear it until the pedal steel part was added and then I heard what they meant. The Pink Floyd element came by accident as musically I was thinking of something completely different. I was working along the lines of The Band, Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ album and ‘Mother’ by John Lennon. This was initially called Nutty’s Lament but I thought The Summer Song was a much more positive title. This song has become the ‘theme tune’ that encapsulates the whole album. I made a video to accompany it featuring footage of me as a child as well as that of my uncle when he was young.
Me mine: Over time I have tried this song with various feels, structures and styles. Which is how and why it ended up the way it did. This is ‘the Ringo song’ on the album. Although not sung by the drummer I was working along the lines of Don’t Pass Me By from The Beatles’ ‘White Album’. It’s a much more direct, 2 section song than the others and I wasn’t sure if it would make the album to begin with. I wanted a Honky-Tonk piano sound but soon realised that was a silly idea. In the end I used the ‘wonky’ guitar part as my ‘hony-tonkness’. Not many ‘Pop songs’ have a half diminished chord in it. I could go all ‘Jazz Theory’ and explain that the verse sequence is a substitution of the basic I chord to VI chord sequence but I won’t. In truth I played two chords that sounds ok next to each other, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing until I had to explain it to another musician.
What About Me?: This started out with me messing around with extended Jazz chords. That led to the 3/4 feel which in turn pulled me towards the New Orleans style drum pattern. Eventually, thinking “in for a penny, in for a pound”, I went all out and wrote, scored and recorded the Horn section playing a “New Orleans Funeral March” type thing. Lyrically it’s definitely rooted in the ‘Anger’ stage of the grieving process but I tried to keep it upbeat with the horn line crescendo.
Stupid Is: For this track I was working along the lines of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album, which itself was influenced by Bob Dylan. Vocally I was going for a Paul Simon-esque melody. The over all feel of the track I was going for was, again, somewhere between the White album and Harvest. I used the pedal steel as opposed to electric guitar to try and take it away from the standard 4 piece rock band sound. I’d recently watched a documentary about the making of Queen’s ‘A Night At The Opera’ and discovered that Freddy Mercury double tracked all of his backing vocals. Hence, the Backing Vocals on this track and Me Mine.
About Me & You: The origins of this song are different to the others. The lyrics came first. I don’t like it when people explain what’s clever about a song and why you should like it (Ralph McTell, I’m looking at you!!). But this song is all based around word play. The last word of each line is the start of the next one. I liked the idea of each line spilling into the next one. I always wanted this to be a stripped back, String-led track. Unlike the Horn section in ‘What About Me?’ I didn’t have a string part scored, it was all in my head. So when Hannah came in to record the Viola and Violin I simply sang each line and we layered it up as we went. I was buzzing for days after recording the string parts.
The One I Need: The intro to the track came during the recording process. It wasn’t my intention to start the song with such an impact but it was one of those things that developed as it was being tracked. Production-wise the Graceland album directly, sonically inspires this song. I liked the close, unconventional vocal harmonies used on ‘I know what I know’ and the percussion sounds used throughout the album. This whole song builds to the percussive outro. I asked my friend to bring in everything and anything to try and create a complete rhythm section. There’s Latin and African influences as well as the ‘Buddy Holly-esque’ thigh slapping á la ‘Everyday’. This is also one of the few tracks that I create sound scapes with my guitar pedals.
I Have Made My Bed: This is the most recent song to be recorded. I wanted this song to sound like The Band. The guitar parts took me a whole day as I wanted each phrase to echo every line and fill every space exactly. I had recorded a version of this as a demo with a different set of musicians about a year before. Unfortunately it was lost in a computer malfunction that resulted in my starting the recording process again. I managed to salvage some individual parts so the BVs, acoustic guitar and percussion was saved from the old version and used in the new recording.
She’s My Angel: The reference for this song was ‘Tender’ by Blur. I recorded the basic rhythm tracks for the whole album live. The reason being I wanted the songs to sound like human beings in a room playing music together, capturing a performance not just the notes. This track in particular benefits from that approach. The dynamics and feel all come from the performance. The song is written from my uncle’s point of view talking to his daughter.
Worth It: I wanted this song to sound like a cross between Wilco and Ryan Adams. It has become a live favourite and I think it’s the most immediate song on the album. The song also has another memory, other than my uncle, attached to it. It was a favourite of the person who used to work on the door of the Fleece & Firkin in Bristol. She’d always say how much she loved the line “All I want to do is wake up next to you and see you smiling”. Sadly, she passed away some years ago and every time I perform the song I remember her.
Little Star: This song was always going to be the closing of track. I wanted there to be an uplifting end to the album so that the listener went away feeling upbeat or maybe go back to the start to listen again. The obvious stand out section is the Gospel-esque choir at the end. That came to me out of the blue one day. I couldn’t afford to hire a whole choir so I got the girls to sing each line together into 2 mics and built up the harmonies with all three of them singing each line. Again, I sang the parts and they copied me until the whole thing was finished. There were extra tracks of handclaps and foot stomps added in. The applause at the end was an idea from the end of an Oasis song. My favourite part is right at the end. Having successfully sung a tricky harmony line, you can hear someone shout “Get In” and then they all crack up adding a natural, accidental ending to the album.
There were two elements that I didn't trust myself to do, namely recording my own vocals and mixing. Not that I am incapable but I knew that if I undertook those two tasks myself I would still be there now trying to get it 'right'. So I asked a good friend of mine, Dave Lewis, to record my vocals for me. His knowledge and guidance made the whole experience much more enjoyable. Where I would have been doing vocal parts again and again I could trust his opinion when he said "that's the take". The mixing element could be a story unto itself but I can sum it up by saying that it was expertly done by Mark Aubrey.
2013 has been an amazing year. One that I never thought would end up with me releasing an album. Who knows what the next year will bring......World Cup success for England?!
Happy New Year!