A String Quartet, You Say?

Simplicity should be, well, simple in the indie-pop game. I wonder why it isn’t.

I’ve recently been re-visiting some older recordings, primarily removing the samples (for that old chestnut, copyright), but also giving them a bit of a spring clean in preparation for up-loading to that there internet. I must admit, I do tend to throw the kitchen sink into my mixes – partly to cover up all my blemishes on my guitar playing but also to drown out my singing voice, which I’ve always dreaded hearing back.

As a result, the finished songs tend to sound either cluttered and noisy, as if someone has thrown a heap of biscuit tins into a row of metal dustbins or woolly and mushy, like the inside of a marshmallow factory after an explosion of pillow cases and candyfloss. Furthermore, my acoustic guitar playing is atrocious. I once prided myself on my rhythm playing; I could leap about on stage, a tall, willowy figure with more enthusiasm than ability and more nerve than dress sense without losing where I was in the song or my strum pattern.

In my earliest of early band days recording was efficient and rudimentary – marked boundaries set by (a) cost, (b) time (which was set by cost) and (c) the number of people in the band and their sole part – bass, drums, lead and rhythm guitar and the one vocal. In-house engineers high on dope and their own sense of self-importance often meant the results were poor to mediocre at best and poor to shambolic at worst. When you’re paying however many pounds an hour it was and three of those hours were spent miking up a hi-hat, (between natural and un-natural breaks), then it’s no surprise that the cruddy little tape you left the studio with, (along with your secondary-smoke filled lungs and doped-out heads), might have better been recorded at home on your little sister’s tape recorder.

These days, with LogicPro and MacBooks my head is swimming with ideas … how about a string quartet here or a flugelhorn quintet there? The trouble is, I have absolutely no musical training to justify these grandoise notions. You simply cannot replicate years of dedication, training, ability, talent and hard work with a click of a mouse and the selection of ‘Staccato Bass’ on the laptop. It was recently demonstrated to me, by way of a real, live Mellophone being used on one of my songs. I was in seventh heaven, (F or Eb seventh to be precise) …

I will never be a producer or arranger of note, that much is true. But as long as music continues to send those shivers up my spine the way the Mellophone player did then I will continue on my merry way …


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