Tag Archives: 90’s music

Studios In Which We Have Recorded part 2. Split Level ’98 (2nd session)

Split level part 2 February 1998

Split Level Facebook page

stu firkin outburst era
The Firkin Outburst Era and the around the time we headed back to Split Level.

The heady early days of being in a band are irreplaceable from the euphoric high of writing your first songs to the adrenalized buzz of playing your first gig. A band in its infancy can produce a surge of creativity often known as the ‘early stuff’. Then there were the large high school Martell crowds, the first articles in the Falkirk Herald all the first targets were being met.

So as the dust settled on our arrival at the music scene we knew that new songs had to arrive. By now we were students at college, drinking at every practise and generally having a laugh. We wrote many songs, probably forgot more than we remember. The tracks that did stick had to be recorded; there was a need to be back in the studio. There was only one choice for us. Split Level. Around the local scene our first demo had been a massive success, The Rain, Vancouver and Chameleon had been well received by the local radio station. With this in mind we had to pick three songs that would propel us further.

So here are our thoughts and memories for what would be our last session at Split Level. Also joining us for a look back is our long time friend John Baines who with our late great friend Dave Brown visited during the session.

Pabs

The choice of studio was a no brainer, we just wanted to go back to Split Level, it had been around 18 months since we recorded our first demo. The choice of songs would prove to be more difficult. We had written a number of songs, we had forgotten a lot more, so much alcohol flowed and we lost focus, it was just a bit of a laugh at this point. I remember Culture Creature was pretty much certain to be on the demo. Summerhigh was an early choice as well I think but trying to pick the third track was tricky. We couldn’t agree on the third song and the studio was booked so there was like a deadline. So I don’t think we had decided, so on the first day in the studio we were picking the last song and that turned out to be Today Was Insane. I didn’t think it was our best, but we went with it. The excitement was still there are we drove to the studio, the place was still a bit of a scrap yard, a wee house hidden by trees just outside the Edinburgh airport.

Derek

I remember Neil’s cars, he had loads of VW Scirroco’s (in the yard)

Pabs

The set up was the same, the studio hadn’t changed which was fine. Neil arrived, he could remember us from the first time and he still had that laid back approach to everything.

I think the atmosphere was different this time, it didn’t have the same feel for me, I don’t think we were ready to be honest.

John Baines

It’s all a bit hazy now but from what I can remember you’d blitzed through the majority of the songs on your first day and spent (most) your time there on 1 song. Am I right in saying it got a bit smoky in there too? Bizarrely my main memory is of Dave flicking a lit fag into his mouth. Lit end first obviously!

Pabs

I would’ve paid money to see that! I must’ve been in the vocal booth at that time, I spent many takes trying to get Culture Creature right, not only the vocals but the little guitar part in the middle. Stu and I play a strange dual solo that I don’t think we’ve properly nailed since!

Culture Creature was difficult, it’s a sad song with dark lyrics, I remember after a few vocal takes coming back into the control room and everyone just looked flat.

Stu

I Remember deciding to record Today Was Insane either just before or when we got there. Culture creature depressed everybody! Neil wasn’t quite as jovial as the 1st time. Did we crash at Deeks flat in Edinburgh in between days. Can’t remember.

Derek

I didn’t have my flat then!

Pabs

John and Dave were just sitting on the couch. The rest of the guys were quiet and yeah Neil looked a bit bored. I agree with Stu he didn’t joke or have a laugh like he did during the first demo.

John

I’ll put my poor recollections down to repeated concussions (and alcohol perhaps). Was it not Culture Creature that took the longest? Well worth it in my opinion

Pabs

Yes definitely, it took the longest. Summerhigh was pretty seamless, I can’t remember how Today Was Insane took but to be honest I didn’t care much for it. Culture Creature was worth it, it was worth the effort to get it right. I think it is one of our best songs, even if it sits in disjointed (but fun) album, Firkin Outburst.

Culture Creature

John

Is the studio still there? Always look out for it when I’m going past.

Pabs

It is! It’s still nestled behind the large trees, the airport parking edges ever closer though. I think Neil still works in the studio. I’m the same, I’ll take a wee glance over, we had great times in there but to date, sadly, we’ve not been back.

 

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Studios in which we have recorded part 1. Split Level

We did record in professional studios, most were pretty bad but one did stick out as a fantastic place to record. Split Level studios in Edinburgh; we look back at our first recording. We put down three songs in that session, The Rain, Vancouver and Chameleon.

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Pabs
We got this studio recommendation from Chris Mason; Cage had recorded their single there, Collapse if i remember correctly, for Baghdad records. He gave us a number and I got in touch with a guy called Neil. We discussed dates and a price and I booked us a slot. I put the phone down and I couldn’t be more excited.
We had a few songs ready, The Rain and Vancouver were definite choices. We had entered a competition to write a song for an anti drug campaign in Falkirk. So we wrote Chameleon and decided to record that at the studio so we could submit the song.
Greg drove (again), I remember heading to Edinburgh, the studio is just outside the city’s airport, you take a sharp left just after the turnoff for the main terminal. We were heading up this dirt track and i’m thinking we’re lost. Then past the bushes there was this yard, it was a bit of a dump really and there was this cottage and no one was there to meet us.
I remember Neil tearing up the drive in a car and parking next to us, out jumped this tall fella with a mop of red hair, he was a friendly laid back guy who fitted into the ramshackle surroundings. He led us up to the cottage and unlocked the front door. I think we first went into a kitchen and it was untidy, then i think there was a toilet. I was a wee bit taken aback. Then we got into the control room and I was blown away.

There was a huge mixing desk ( I was starting to have an interest in recording) a reel to reel and through the window there was a drum kit and a vocal booth. It was amazing.
I stepped into the recording room, it was small, cosy, and there was this door that led to the vocal booth. It was padded out in green sound absorbing panels at that time i thought we were now a real band recording in the studio!

wedb 20 yrs11 - Copy

This was the first time I was recorded playing the acoustic guitar in the studio, it was nerve wracking! I learned that every chord scrape, every open string was heard and i quickly had to improve my playing.

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I can’t remember the order of the songs or even the process of putting the songs down, i do remember screaming my lungs out on the Rain and Neil gently mocking my lyrics, ‘Trousers that keep us alive’ I also remember Greg placing his amp in the toilet to get the sound for the bass.

Derek has always had a knack of putting drums down quickly, I can’t remember how we did the initial tracking but I do remember the overdubbing.
I felt at ease in this environment, we’d flop down onto the big couch and listen as Stu laid his tracks, we were well rehearsed so the whole thing went quite well.
Greg

wedb 20 yrs 4 - Copy (2)

I remember having a bit of a jam with Neil on drums at some point. Also that i felt very relaxed doing the recording. It was also the first time you really heard the individual parts being played in isolation as everyone recorded their part.

Remember thinking that was cool. I still love that shot someone took of me taking my bass off in the sunlight from the window. I recorded my parts Sat next to Neil at the desk I think
Stu
The studio was a hidden gem. A bit like Dr Who’s travelling police box. Just looked like a run down wee cottage from the outside… Then once (we got) past the ‘cold trainspotting loo’ a wonderful studio with huge mixing desk and sound proof glass. Amazing stuff I remember feeling under pressure to nail guitar parts but it was quite a relaxed atmosphere so it felt really easy to layer double tracked rhythm parts.

On the track The Rain i use a lot of wah wah and coming back into the studio on the 2nd day Neil had added a delay effect over the top which sounded incredible…..needless to say I had to invest in a delay pedal shortly after this so the overall sound would be replicated live

Pabs
The mixing was quick, Neil asked if the tracks were for an album or a demo, we said demo, and away he went mixing rather quickly, in the background the tape reel was spinning back and forth. He had an Atari computer with music software and a huge rack of FX. Derek liked the drum sound, later he would reflect that the cymbals could’ve been louder. I was mesmerized at the speed that Neil worked, with a cigarette in hand he flitted between the desk, the reel to reel and the atari.
We started to hear the music back through the speakers and it was amazing, really amazing to hear out songs this way. Neil seemed to like the songs so I guess this made the job easier for him (we’d return a year or so later and it was a slightly different outcome) it wasn’t long before we were done.

wedb 20 yrs11 - Copy (2)

There was time for photographs of us larking around in the studio, it was a fantastically optimist time for us, everything was new and we had youth on our side. We thought the world was waiting for us. I guess deep down I knew it would be a long shot making it in 96, Oasis had exploded and our demo that we had just cut was heavier rock. I shook this thought from my mind when I heard the demo played on the car stereo, it sounded amazing on the tape player.
The story of the demo and what it led to is another story, however the legacy of the Split Level sessions would last until this day. These recordings are what we measure our home recording by and they still stand up well today. The three songs would all appear on our first album Whapper Stormer which remains one of our best albums. We recorded the rest of the album some ten years later on an 8 track, the quality of the Split Level sessions forced us to try and match what Neil had achieved.
It was a fantastic experience, we would visit a few more studios but they would never match our first studio.

pabs studio ws

In the years that followed we distanced ourselves from studios, we had a couple of poor experiences and I was getting more involved in sound production. I think the band would’ve loved to have returned to a professional setup, I wanted to learn though, and I suggested we invest in our own gear. Eventually we would take our recordings a step further and higher remote cottages and lodges to record. This was a fantastic experience but we still look back on the professional studio experience with fondness. Perhaps we’ll do it again.

Words Pabs, Greg and Stu

Our Influences. Nirvana, Derek

 

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Bleach! In Utero! Bleach! In Utero! Bleach! In Utero! etc etc

 

Our dear drummer takes Pabs through the first of his favourite artists in our current series of band influences. Seattle’s Nirvana

It was probably the mid 2000’s when we were re-recording some of our early albums and Derek and I got into a healthy debate about Nirvana. Bleach is best he said. I spat out my Carlsberg and protested, how can Bleach be the best. Surely it’s the raw power of the Steve Albini produced Cobain curtain call that is In Utero? No he said, it’s Bleach.

In later years Derek would confess an admiration for Dave Grohl who as we know has stepped from behind the kit to become perhaps more commercially successful with the Foo Fighters. It was clear that Nirvana would have a huge influence on him, his drumming and indeed the band. Derek explains how Nirvana has influenced him.

When did you first discover them?

“I first heard of them (Nirvana) when Scott (a good friend of Derek and the band) of all people, pointed me in the direction of a tape entitled Bleach. I put it on but at first listen I didn’t really get it, I was 11 and I wasn’t quite into music yet although I was listening to Queen and a bit of Guns n Roses. Then, like so many of my generation, I heard ‘that’ song – Teen Spirit and my mind was blown. The rest is history.”

nevermind
Nevermind is a classic.

In the early 90’s as our young minds were soaking up our first musical tastes Nirvana did indeed explode onto the scene with Smells Like Teen Spirit. It would have a huge bearing on our first album Whapper Stormer. Educational Suicide, the opening track, was directly influenced by Teen Spirit. Educational was the first of many many songs we would write. On the same album the song ‘Vancouver’ addressed the tragic events that led to Cobain’s self inflicted demise.

Why do you like them Nirvana?

“Probably the same reason most of us like Nirvana, the utter shambolic brilliance of their music. Scratchy vocals, massive riffs and pounding, pounding drums, how can you not like them? Their almost anarchic attitude was exactly the way to get to a young teenager, who in times of angst, could literally let his his hair down and blow off some steam. Nirvana was the perfect soundtrack for that.”

kurt smashing
I wish i had the guts (and money) to smash guitars, but i get attached to them! Pabs

 

It was true that the punky anarchic attitude of Cobain and co directed our behaviour. Our early practise room videos show a total disregard for our futures. It would be mid week and we would be drinking to excess, generally giving a middle finger to the working life ahead. While our peers were revising for sixth year exams we would be planning our next gig, our studying would suffer and at times so did the music. We got really drunk at practise, we traded insults, dived off sofas (yeah I know anarchic) and hung around Earlsgate garage causing low level mayhem.

How do Nirvana influence you or the band and are they still a favourite today?

“Very much still a favourite today, they shaped my music taste from the word go. I wish we could have got another album out of them, but I don’t think we would have got much more than that even if Kurt was still with us. I would say they massively influenced the band, especially in the early days. For at least 3/4 of us they might not have been our favourite band but they were definitely in the top 10. Probably the reason some of us picked up an instrument. Definitely the reason I picked up a set of sticks. So blame them!

nirvana-by-anton-corbijn-24
Nirvana in 1993 (from left): Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl.

Even our latest album has threads of Nirvana. Quoted not Voted is perhaps an example of recording what you want to the harddrive and it paid off. Most modern rock bands still go for the large sounding chorus a technique that Nirvana helped make mainstream. My style of guitar playing is heavily influenced by Cobain.

How have Nirvana changed the music scene or the industry itself?

Difficult one to answer for me, I don’t really take much notice of the scene. I don’t listen to music radio at all and I don’t get too many gigs. As Pabs will tell you I live in the past a bit with music. I don’t download and I don’t stream. So for me to comment on how these, or any bands have changed the scene or the industry would be a bit like me trying to design the instrumentation for an a biomass upgrade of a power station…….wait a minute!

With regards to the structure of today’s music industry you could argue Nirvana don’t have much of an influence as they were at their powers during the CD boom of the 90’s however their song structure can be heard everywhere and they opened the door for a huge alternative rock scene.

There probably would’ve been no Weird Decibels without Nirvana.

Kurt Cobain File Photos
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)