Day Twenty-Eight: Title Needed.

Aaaand we're done. Eleven songs. 40 minutes. Two fulls days in the studio this weekend; overdubs, vocals, synths etc on Saturday, mixing on Sunday, though we weren't all there for that. We ran over the allotted studio time by one hour to mix the very last song, but it was worth the extra 20 quid. I'm just listening to the finished version, and am pretty much in agreement with John, who thinks it's actually better than our first album. And maybe our second album, which we haven't finished yet. Either way, we like it enough that we're going to put it up on iTunes and press up 100-odd CDs to sell at gigs. Yeah.

We've got artwork nominated; three or four images from my first fumblings with a Holga. But we can't decide which one should be the front cover. Likewise, we don't have a title yet. We all got extremely drunk last night and tried variations on the letters RPM (Rapidly Produced Music? River Pollution Manifesto? Regret Pulling Martin?), but couldn't come to a consensus. The path of least resistance never yields anything worthwhile- that's how we ended up with such a terrible band name, cos it was the only one that none of us disliked - so we'll all have to like it.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll upload a couple of tracks to the jukebox, and John's posting the finished article to RPM HQ.

Well done everyone who's taken part (and lest we forget, John has made another album entirely on his own as Chandler D Obelisk parallel to the Flyers LP!). Maybe we'll do another one next year.



Day Twenty-Six: Mopping up

Wheew. I've spent the last five hours sat in front of my laptop, playing one of the tracks over and over again. I've been pretty good at finishing off songs that I've written, and wouldn't mind having a go at the words for someone else's, but the track known as The Hold Steady One (which, incidentally, now sounds nothing like The Hold Steady) has found me shorn of inspiration. But after a breakthrough last night, it's now finished. It's now called Sunglasses & Shorts, and it's a reminder that the summer will come eventually, and when it does, it'll be glorious.

Today's also been a success in terms of artwork; I got a Holga for Christmas, and have been snapping at random things throughout February, and getting through reels pretty quickly. Sadly, most of my efforts have been pretty terrible, if not totally pathetic, but I struck lucky with four or five pictures that could work as album covers. John prefers the shot of Canary Wharf and the Docklands from my apartment window, Martin likes the cranes and construction site just outside Ealing. Either way, the grainy texture of the photos make them suitably rough-and-ready, which suits the feel. Martin's printing them all out and bringing them in for us to decide tomorrow.

Incidentally, tomorrow is the last day or recording. With any luck, John will have finished his assigned lyrics (basically, his songs and most of Martin's songs) and we'll be ready to go. We might have a curry to celebrate once we're through.

Nearly there...



Day Twenty-Four (ii): Woah, woah, we're half way there

Well, just under halfway. After spending Friday devoting six hours to one song on my own, Saturday's session reversed the trend somewhat, and by 7pm, we'd managed to get a record-breaking nine backing tracks down in eight hours. Considering the drums took about two hours to soundcheck, ripping through nine barely-rehearsed new songs in seven hours is a mega achievement. One can only assume that the intense musical connection between the four members of the band (Sharon is, as always, overdubbing her keys afterwards) is strong enough for us to read each others' minds and determine exactly what's needed where. Either that, or we did such a half-arsed job that it sounds rubbish. I'd like to think the former.

One of the key components of the album's sound was simply: Make the drums sound like The Flaming Lips. This was one of the few points we sat down and discussed at our annual Christmas dinner when we first seriously started talking about doing this challenge. James had become a huge fan of Embryonic, particularly the overcompressed drum sound, and we all agreed it would make a brilliant step forward in our creative lives if we strarted to pretend to be The Flaming Lips rather than The Wedding Present. Mercifully Simon knew exactly what we were talking about, so on top of his wonderfully mic'd kit, he added an extra overhead mic and compressed the shit out of the sound - hey presto, instant Flaming Lips imitators! Combined with my new bass making its recorded debut, we started sounding like an entirely different band.

It was a chore to get started at first; we began with the track now know as 'DJ Shadow', which is as much an exercise in loosening us up as it is a song. The loping groove, however, took about five takes before we got a decent version down; even then John's insistnce on '95% quality control' rather than Simon's usual high standards meant it wasn't quite perfect. Nothing, however, that can't be fixed with a couple of overdubs.

Such sentiments ('we can fix it in the mix') became prevalent throughout the course of the day. But wht we did get down is of excellent quality, and easily useable. There was even time at the end to add live drums to Friday's session track (played by yours truly), and for James and Martin to add alive rhythm track to Martin's home-recorded synth tune. The latter sounded particularly great.

What we didn't get down though, was one of James's songs we hadn't rehearsed (we pressed on him to simply record the drums along to the demo version which we could replace at our next studio session, but after some thought, he decided to simply abandon the song), or Sharon's keyboards. Nonetheless, the latter was a blessing in disguise, as Sharon's been busy outside the band and didn't feel confident enough with the songs to be able to put her parts down. To make up for it, we spent most of last night's rehearsal going over the songs and giving her space to familiarise herself with (and sometimes compose) the songs in time for the next recording session. We also finalised the last song for the album, the only one without drums. We managed to spend the first portion of rehearsal on this as we waited for James to turn up, and the originally-envisaged sole guitar and two-voice arrangement has expanded to include some nicely-played bass (by Martin), the possiblity of claves, and a tremolo guitar solo which I somehow plucked out of nowhere but sounded great. The plan now is to start Saturday's session with that, then overdub or correct mistakes with guitars and bass before putting down keyboards and finally vocals. By the end of Saturday, all the songs shoudl have all the recording done, and we can spend the final day of the challenge mixing. This is going to the wire (especially considering there's still 50% of the lyrics to compose!), but it wouldn't be any fun if it wasn't a challenge.

Wish us luck.


Day Twenty-Four (i): Going Solo

A thousand apologies for not updating over the weekend or after; simply put, we put in so much energy and effort on Friday and Saturday, I could barely string a sentence together, let alone a blog. But here we are now, so I'll fill you in...

Friday was brill. I met Andy from Wintergreen in the less-than-glamourous environs of the Wood Green branch of Morrisons supermarket, and he took me up to the second floor site of Studio Klank. It occurred to me that despite being a recording artist for seven years, this is only the third recording studio I've ever used - outside of Running Frog in Windsor where my first band recorded a three-track demo, and the usual Flyers haunt of Soup Studios, any other work has been done at home studios etc. As it stands, Klank is technologically the most impressive studio I've been in, and despite its early days, there were a multitude of eye-opening ways of recording that led me to be Very Impressed Indeed.

The entire plan for Friday was to record the majority of the track for one song. Since the whole thing is synthesised- more or less - I thought it'd be a challenge to myself to play all the instruments myself rather than waste valuable rehearsal time with the band fiddlign with sequencers and whatnot. I was slightly worried that I'd under-rehearsed; all I had was a sequenced bassline on a MicroKorg with a song structure.

As it turned out, with the assistance of Ableton and the Virus keyboard, Andy managed to turn my scrappy idea into a decent basis for a full track. With what looked like nothing more than a couple of buttons pushed, the slightly dubious BPM of the MicroKorg was sequenced perfectly against the drum pattern that I'd programmed in (that is to say, Andy showed me how to do it, and I simply chose the drum sounds put the beats where they should go). With a couple of extra flourishes, before I knew it, we were done with the synth parts.

Alec, Andy's fellow Wintergreener arrived and we had time to add some extra bits; a subtle guitar part went down relatively easily, but Andy's suggestion for an E-bow drone using an amplified autoharp instead of guitar was met with a defiant jack that fizzled and crackled everytime we tried to play the instrument. Nonetheless, we managed to capture enough of a sound to modify it in Ableton and loop it to make it sound smoother. It sounds nothing like an autoharp now, but it's still a nice sound.

The last bit was the most fun. Wintergreen's drummer Andrew (formerly drummer/ bassist/ keyboard player in the Flyers) had finally got around to building his long-threatened theremin - lest we forget, it's Andrew's homemade synthesiser that's all over our first album, It wasn't housed in a shop-window mannequin as promised, but it was impressive nonetheless. It had to be used. Andy said we had two approaches; we could either painstakingly tune it and work out how to play it, or we could just make some random noise over the top. The latter seemed far more entertaining. So with Andy manning the echo controls, we ran the track, and summoned all sorts of unholy noise from the theremin. It was extreme to say the least. Even mixed in the background, it adds an element of unpredictability to the track. Whether all of it will make it to the final mix or not is another matter, but hopefully it'll be there in part.

By the time the session ended, we'd had so much fun, we hadn't noticed we'd been working for six hours instead of the original four. Still, I came away with the beginning of the RPM album. Saturday's session would certainly add more to the stockpile...



Day Eighteen: Bar by bar.

Anticipation is brewing. On Friday at midday, I'm heading up to Studio Klank to start the first pro recording for the album. I've never recorded on my own, but since Friday is a day off for me, I have time to kill constructing a song that would be too time-consuming to teach everyone else, especially since there's programmed drums (something entirely new for us again) and mostly synthesisers.

It doesn't have a title, but I've sat down and pretty much worked it out bar by bar. Hopefully Andy (whose day job is part of the brilliant Wintergreen, a band who we played with at our first ever gig) will be a guiding hand in putting the whole thing together. Even better is that I won't have to lug aything more than an e-bow and a couple of FX pedals with me. Bless 'im.

Proper recording with the band starts tomorrow. Today's session is an apertif for the main course. God, I'm excited.


Day Fifteen (ii): Refining

The guys have just left Flyers HQ, on the boat back to Central London (the HQ is only accessible by water), and we managed to sort out everything ahead of tomorrow. We even wrote a new chorus and a random middle 8 for a couple of the songs. Now we have 13 songs. 13! Ten of those require drums, so that's what Saturday's session will be; a run through of the backing tracks which require a full band appearance. Despite the number of tracks, some of them are rather short, so it's do-able. Padded out are five or six songs with a bit more length to them, which will make up the bulk of the album. We may not make them all, but we're damn near trying.

Tomorrow's final rehearsal will be arduous. But fun. We're all excited.

Day Fifteen: Convergence

Flyers HQ will be ringing with the sound of five indivduals feverishly engaging in some collectively rewarding tasks tonight. Mainly, that is, eating pizza while some guitars and keyboards sit around waiting to be played. Once our stomachs are full to bursting, the plan is to pick up said instruments and work our way towards getting the music part of the songs into coherent shape. We've got 13 songs or parts of songs that need attention, and at least five of them haven't been rehearsed.

What's more, we're due to start recording as a band in six days' time (after my solo turn on Friday). So, we need to concentrate pretty hard to work out what exactly we'll be doing once we're in the studio. This means planning the songs tonight, and rehearsing the fuck out of them tomorrow - even the ones we have recorded we've not set structure or parts worked out. It may mean dropping a segment or two, or modifying them slightly.

John (and to a lesser extent Martin) seems to thrive working like this; John's finished all the backing tracks for his Chandler LP already. I'm slightly more neurotic when it comes to recording, as is Sharon. I can live with imperfection, but messy imperfection- which is the usual result when there's five people playing instead of one - is not something I relish. Discipline will be required - even at our quickest, we've only ever managed six backing tracks in one day at the studio and they were well-rehearsed.

Tonight is the acid test. If we can coalesce everything tonight and get it prepped tomorrow, we stand a chance of doing this justice. Fingers crossed.


Day Fourteen: Stockpiling

Over the last couple of days, James and Martin have between them sent round six new songs, or song fragments. James insists he can never tell if a song sounds okay unless he demos it fully first. Fortuntely, most if not all of his songs sound brill, and the new ones are no exception, especially the newest one sent round called 'Slaves Of Stars'. Apart from that one, the others are incomplete, as are the two interesting bits that Martin sent round. Hopefully we can work out a way of stitching the songs together into something that sounds coherent and natural.

We've not had much of an opportunity to touch the RPM for the last couple of days or the weekend; we're still basking in the reflected glory of Wednesday's gig with The Features, pretty much agreed to be our greatest moment as a live band. Sweating our way through an energetic set in front of a sell-out crowd who seemed to have only good things to say about us was certainly a confidence booster; we even managed to make some money out of the whole thing! Mark from The Features liked us too.

Anyway, we're now fully focussed on spending the remaining fortnight getting this thing together. I think we can do it.



Day Nine: Progress, Progress, Progress.

Things are looking up; I'd spent the last couple of days slightly concerned that we only had one dedicated RPM rehearsal left before recording started, since the focus of this week's practice was to get our gig skills up to scratch for our gig with The Features in London. Was that enough?

However, even with time set aside for running through our 30-minute set three times (which sounds really, really strong now), we still had a productive RPM bout. Of chief note was a newsong that John pretty muchcomposed on the spot from two snippets he'd had earlier in the practice. He handed round the chords, demonstrated the beat, and it immediately fit together. In fact, it's probably the best thing we've done for the RPM yet. The feel is really cool- very hard to describe. Hippyish new-wave would be my feeble attempt. But it cooked on first attempt, so we hit record on the four-track for the second run-through, and now we have it preserved to work on.

James brought in two demos of songs he'd recorded over the weekend (with snippets of an article from Grazia instead of lyrics!), plus he brought his guitar to play us another new song. However, since James's guitar approach doesn't involve knowing the names of the chords he's playing, we agreed it'd be easier to get the demos sent round so we can familiarise ourselves with the songs and chords instead of getting immersed in the process of transcribing the whole lot there and then.

Nonetheless, this means we now have pretty much the basis for most of our album. I've dropped a couple of my untried contributions to the lineup since they were slightly inconsequential next to the wealth of material on offer (including the Eno one I was trying to write), so what we do have is very strong indeed:

1 John's New One
2 James's First New One
3 James's Second New One
4 Thom's Acoustic One (Working title: Never Land)
5 The Tindersticks One
6 The Hold Steady One
7 Martin's One
8 E Minor Jam
9 The Kraftwerk One
10 James's Third New One

The last two haven't been heard yet (James didn't get time to show us this), but The Kraftwerk One will present an interesting challenge; I'm really pleased with how this has come along, but don't want to waste time in rehearsal or the studio putting together a track that the others won't have much input to.

So, in a fit of bold experimentation, I've booked myself four hours at Studio Klank next Friday to put the track together myself. This will be a first in many ways; the first 'proper' recording for the album, but also the first Flyers song not recorded at Soup Studios, and the first to not have every member playing on it. It may be that the rest of the band will feature in some respects - it'll definitely need a singer and probably some guitar parts that are beyond my capabilities, but I'm quite looking forward to flying solo. Andy from Wintergreen (the band who co-own Klank) has offered up the use of keyboards and drum machines, so I'll be interested to see what comes out of the session.

In the meantime however, we have a prestigious gig at Water Rats to play tonight. See you there?



Day Six: The waiting is the hardest part

On Wednesday I met up with James in the West End; we spent most of the time looking at Vox Teardrop guitars in Wunjo (did you know they had padded backs?), and James tells me he's got a couple of ideas for songs for the RPM challenge. Since James's songs are always slightly twisted (his performance in last year's RPM Challenge as The Horses of Instruction last year is proof enough), it'll be good to get some of those on board.

Real Life, unfortunately, interfered with any actual songwriting activity on Wednesday and Thursday, but it wasn't all bad news; I got home to find that our new EP (due out very soon) had arrived - 500 copies of the thing! They sound and look superb, and it'll be great to be able to start selling them at next week's launch party, which we're playing with The Features.

I hit another purple patch yesterday and started work on lyrics for some of the existing songs. As luck would have it, I managed to get an entire lyric finished, and another one partly done. I'm going to get Sharon to sing the finished one just to make sure it sounds okay; I hear her and John singing it in unison when wedo it properly, mind.

Inspiration struck again at about five o'clock this morning - if not for an actual song, then a concept. One of my favourite albums is Eno's Music For Airports, and the idea of writing a short tribute to that album as an interlude seemed like such a good idea, I remembered it when I woke up again this morning - it even has a title; Brian At The Airport. I'll drag the MicroKorg out and press a few keys to see what I can do.

But as the title and Tom Petty both suggest, the waiting is the hardest part. We have rehearsal on Tuesday, but the bulk of that is going to be for Wednesday's gig. Although we're bound to get some more stuff done in rehearsal, it does mean we only have one full rehearsal (and two in total) to dedicate to RPM before we go in and start recording. We're having an informal session round mine in about ten days, by which point we should have all the songs in place. If we don't...well, it'll be tough.