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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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