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Experience can be a wonderful thing you learn that for every failure there can be success, for every disappointment there is joy and for very lull there are peaks. I can say this now, as a singer who has sung verse and chorus for over two decades I now have the advantage of experience; although I no longer have the distant time of youth. Back in 2008 it was a very different story.
Around 2006 and 2007 Weird Decibels were very much forgotten around the music scene. We were playing an increasing number of cover sets and slowly edging towards the well paid but soul destroying cover scene, Behind The Wall (which thankfully has recently put on a number of local events for original bands) was, at the time, notoriously reliant on cover bands.
I was a guest of many weddings in those years, I’d be sipping away on some overpriced beer listening to some well played but empty attempts of whatever chart hits happened to be popular at the time. I’d look at the band, some would clearly be enjoying the night, after all getting paid a few hundred quid for playing music, not bad… Others would have that dead look in their eyes as the robotically strummed the guitar that they once had a passion for.
Although I felt we were slipping this way in the mid 00’s we were still writing and recording our own material. Riot Act and Quiet Act were released within a year of each other, partly inspired by Foos Fighters double album In Your Honor. (which I feel was also a band going through the motions, in my opinion the 2000’s were pretty poor for music).
Riot Act had come and gone, we didn’t play many gigs to support our 2007 album. We reflected on our next move and Derek suggested an acoustic album. This would be a huge departure from our usual brand of rock. I felt Stu was a little reluctant to switch off the distortion, I was fairly open to the idea. Surprisingly Greg just went with the flow.
Writing the Quiet Act
It was never documented how we wrote the album but it was a fairly quick process, we had a number of songs written. Playing a full set of acoustic numbers was alien to us, it was known that we’d always have a quieter song on our albums but never a full set. Lyrically Quiet Act delved deeper into songs of alcohol and guilt. Riot Act was the night out, Quiet was the morning after.
Back then I was in my early 30’s, married and settling into a modest house on the outskirts of Falkirk. The rest of the guys were still living just outside the town centre (Greg, Stu and Derek all lived fairly close to each other although Stu would soon move away around this time). The booze culture was flowing and there were many party nights. Life had taken the expected course, the house, the car and the microwave.
While the lyrics were were still flowing out of the pen the stories were drying up. I still had many things to say through my songs but i’m not sure i wanted to tackle them at that time, so I took the easy way out and mainly reflected on the boozy aftermath of nights out. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I would find a new way to write lyrics.
We stuck to our tested formula of writing the music. I would create and idea and the band would develop it. It was not the more collaborative method we use today. So I’d be writing solo albums and music for the band. Naturally spreading I was spreading these ideas a little thin. (As I write this I find myself being rather harsh on Quiet Act, and I was for a while, but listening back its not as bad as it seemed at the time. There appears to more depth to my thinking than I thought.)
With the songs not written I turned my attention to the recording. This is where I started to become more enthusiastic. The year before we had headed out to a remote corner of Scotland to record Riot Act and it was a fantastic experience. The thought of doing it all again was fantastic. I spent hours trawling through a printed catalogue of castles and cottages doing research, trying to find if the property I was looking at would be next to no other being. I toiled for days and then weeks before finally my caught a beautiful small cottage nestled discreetly near the shores loch Gairloch. Sealladh Na Mara, a glimpse of the sea was calling us. We packed the van and headed off.
On the 1st of September 2007 we packed all our modest musical belongings into a hire van. We left around half the van for our carry out and food. The excitement was palpable , this was something different for us. We were getting away from the daily loop of work. All the cover gigs had paid off and now we were able to pay for the hire of the cottage and record the album.
It was a long journey, very much similar to the trek we had for Riot Act however this time we were heading further north. This would be our longest recording trek to date.
The single story cottage, ‘sealladh na mara was perfect for us at the time. The living room had a wooden finish with large glass windows that stretched from floor to ceiling that overlooked the sloping garden that disappeared into the trees. Beyond the thick growth was a glimpse of the loch and Gairloch beyond it. It would be in this room that we would record a majority of Quiet Act.
Using a Tascam 2488 and a selection of cardioid mics including our shiney new rodes (the NT2A) we set up in two rooms. The drums were hustled into the corner of the room, the ceiling was a bit low but the reflective nature of the room lended to a nice open roomy sound. In the kitchen was a makeshift control room with the Tascam 2488 a the centre. A mesh of mic leads from the living room snaked through the serving hatch. Further along the corridor were two drunken musicians Greg and Stu, who during the setup, had been sipping cider in the Autumn sun.
The recordings went well with each song only taking a couple of takes; Derek grew increasingly frustrated at the antics of Stu and Greg but we soldiered on and capture the drums.
All the other instruments were recorded in the living room, much of them picked up by various paired Rode NTA2 formations. Additional work was done once we had returned home and much of the mixing was completed in Falkirk. Kevin Byrne lended an ear to help finish off the mixing, it was useful having a fresh set of ears.
10 Years On.
Quiet Act was more of an exercise for me to explore new studio techniques including better use of EQ. I was cutting more frequencies than boosting and this really helped the sound breath. As an album Quiet Act stands on its own right in our collection.
There are a number of tracks I’m really fond of now. Who Are You is not a cover of the Who song, instead its about four guys reaching an end of one chapter in their lives and heading to another. The music fame dream was distant now and we turned to face a normal life in an average Scottish town accepting that we were fairly content with what we had; albeit with a slight taste of regret.
Woman in My Dreams is hardly ever mentioned these days but it was one song that I felt i had mixed well and that maybe i was string to learn how to record and mix. Buy You A Cape and Breathing Space is the angry strike out section of the album, Grand Day Out celebrated many of our days drinking in either Glasgow or Edinburgh (where the song is based). The second half of the album is laden with guilt and feels like a rather sobering Sunday morning.
It is completely different to what we have recorded before, however it refreshed our musical palette and paved the way for Weird Decibels 1 and a whole new era for the band.