Those of you who have read The Feeling’s Unmutual will know that I tried my hand at song writing during the mid-1990s. Inspired by the music and lyrics of Hue & Cry, the Moody Blues and Gary Numan, I began writing personalised verses and set them to simple but catchy synthesiser chords. Heavily into early-to-mid Gary Numan at the time, I reasoned that with a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, live drums and a girl backing vocalist, I would be able to knock out something half decent.
Unfortunately, all I had access to at that time was my own abilities as a writer, my voice, and a cheap synthesiser which I could barely play. Between 1992 and 1996 I wrote about twenty songs. My method of recording was to learn the chord patterns on the keyboard and play them with a selected sound (say piano or synth-strings) onto a cassette, play the cassette through a karaoke machine, and sing the vocal over it into a tape recorder placed by the loud speaker. The result was a very rough recording of the bare bones of a song.
While most said my lyrics were rather obvious and juvenile (and I concede that some were), there were people who actually appreciated what I was doing. The latter were usually musicians themselves.
For example, I attended a radio course, and the tutors, who loved mucking about with sound and played in a band, were very enthused by my attempts.
A few musical types on my wife’s side of the family were also motivated by them. A nephew asked if he could make the songs available to friends who would respect what I was trying to do, while another told me, “You can’t read or write music, you can’t play a keyboard properly, and you have no gear to do a decent recording. But you did it anyway. And that’s what we love about it.”
Personally, though, I was disillusioned. It aggravated me that I couldn’t even achieve what I knew were only the basic ingredients, namely keyboards, a bit of guitar, drums, a backing vocal, and a decent mix. And so, when, in October 1997, I wrote Is It Me?, I decided I wouldn’t record it until I had the means to do a good job.
Ten years elapsed before I saw a flyer on the notice board in the office where I work advertising the Quax Studios in Huddersfield, north of England. Consisting of Stuart Comins on guitars, Gary Collins on keyboards and associated electronic tricks, and Phil Brown on drums, Quax toured the local pubs playing a live set, and offered their talents for a fee in the recording studio. Bands were invited to go along and record their demo, folk singers could make a CD to distribute at their gigs, and singer-songwriters could go in with little more than a lyric and a melody, and the band would create it from scratch, layer by layer.
I sent Stuart a very rough copy of Is It Me? to give him some idea of what I wanted to do, and told him I imagined synthesisers, an acoustic guitar, live drums and a girl backing vocal. He said it could be done for £120.00 (a day’s session with musicians supplied – a day with your own band being mixed by Stuart is £80.00), but I would have to provide the girl backing vocalist. And I knew immediately who it should be.
Kelly Fry worked for a few months on my team in the office, and I discovered that she used to be the lead singer in a local band. Then one day I heard her singing to herself as she passed me on her way to the photocopier – and I knew instinctively that she would be the person I would approach, should I ever be able to record my songs properly.
She jumped at the chance, she having missed singing generally, and being more than a little curious about the recording process. I gave her the very rough demo on CD and indicated which bits needed the backing. We actually worked out the details over the phone.
Saturday the 24th of March 2007 was the big day. I arrived at the studio in Huddersfield at 9 am to find Phil Brown setting up his drum kit. He had been listening to Gary Numan’s 1980 Top Ten hit We Are Glass to get an idea of what I might want. Stuart Comins arrived at 9.30, followed by Gary Collins, his keyboards and box of tricks, at 10. Again, Gary Numan was the template for the style, but after a little experimentation it became clear that what suited the song was more New Order than Gary Numan.
I stuck to my remit of electronics and acoustic sounds blended together. Sadly we didn’t have time to put on some acoustic guitar. However, the rest of the piece was in place by midday. Phil had created a very catchy beat on the drums, and Gary had found the chords of the song, supplied a funky synth-strings sound (a combination of sounds he had programmed the night before) and even created an extra little melody to make the melody a bit more varied.
Then Kelly Fry arrived. The afternoon was spent going over and over the vocals until we got them as good as possible. Stuart was concerned that I was concentrating too much on the words and not enough on the tune. Phil agreed, observing that I was virtually talking the vocal. Favourable comparisons were made with Leonard Cohen.
As recording was finalised, Gary said it didn’t sound like anything else around. It was a bizarre mishmash of electronic music, folk lyrics, and Leonard Cohen vocals. He also felt it was unusual to have a pop/rock song in the key of C. For better or worse, I was pleased that the band thought it odd, because that meant it was uniquely mine.
When I got home I suffered a bit of self-confidence failure, believing that my contribution as singer ruined the excellent job everyone else had done. The following morning, though (after a good night’s sleep, the session was great fun but very hard work), I decided it wasn’t half bad, and by the third day I was prone to playing the record nice and loud whenever I was left alone.
A friend of mine emailed to say he had played his copy several times over, and my step-daughter liked it straight off.
For anyone interested in music and song writing, and who lives within reasonable distance of Huddersfield (and especially if you’re in a band – it will be significantly cheaper if you share the fee among yourselves), I would recommend that you spend a day with Quax.
I went in at 9 am with little more than a melody and some lyrics, and came out at 6 pm with a record. I consider it £120.00 well spent. I’ve just got to find a way of doing the rest of the album now!
Is It Me?
Written and sung by Will Aspie
Keyboards by Gary Collins
Drums by Phil Brown
Backing Vocals by Kelly Fry
Hand claps by Will Aspie, Phil Brown and Shirley Ridings
Produced by Stuart Comins
Recorded at Quax Studios, Huddersfield. 24 March 2007.
You can download the track from the Quax web site here: http://www.qwax.co.uk/electronic.html