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our albums riot act

Riot Act is 10 (part 2 recording)

There are defining moments in every band; a time where the bond between musicians can be strengthened and the foundations laid for a more positive future. The recording of Riot Act was one of those moments.

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The cottage (centre) surrounded by breathtaking scenery

I packed up my old Ford escort with recording gear, my new Tascam 2488 was carefully bundled into the rather ample boot of the old Maroon car. The rest of the gear was flung in any available space.

I met up with Greg, Derek and Stu. Stu would ride shotgun in the Ford, Greg and Derek would team up in the transit hire van which was packed with enough food and beer to sustain a small country (that likes its drink).

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We headed off up the A9 through the epic Cairngorms. Stu switched on the radio and we were greeted with a radio station that I had never heard before. Gone were the annoying presenters, absent were the frustrating adverts, instead Stu and I were treated to track after track of solid rock. ‘Stu what is this station’ I asked? Stu had no answer; he just made the devil sign and smiled. ‘Well wait until we tell Greg and Derek about this radio station!’ I smugly stated. However I did get frustrated as the music would briefly fade away most notably as Gerg and Derek’s van fell behind.

We stopped for petrol in Inverness. I jumped out of the Ford and ran over to tell Greg and Derek about our discovery. As I explained our find, they started to roll of some of the music that we had heard. Alice in Chains? Yes I said. Guns and Roses. YES I said, did you find the station as well? Nah, said Greg, it’s my iPod I had it set up to a radio transmitter. They both chuckled as they walked away to grab a sandwich.

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The road to the Riot Act sessions could not have been calmer

As we drove on from Inverness towards Cannich I started to realise that we had booked a cottage rather far away. As time passed we were soon sharing a single track road with sheep and eventually deer; then it became clear just how breathtaking the Cannich valley was. Further in the distance, sheltered by some trees, was the Leattrie lodge. It looked just like the brochure, that is until we drove up its steep drive and saw it looked a little run down. Just perfect for four lads who wanted to play loud music and drink a lot of alcohol.

The excitement was palpable, a whole week surrounded by the hills of the beautiful valley. The guys charged into the cottage and as I heard their excited voices fade the deeper they got into house I could hear the silence of the valley and a river far in the distance.

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I turned and headed into the lodge. It was modest, it had small rooms that ran into a narrow corridor. The living room was open plan to the kitchen. This was the biggest area and I suggested we record here but Derek pointed out we’d be dining in this room and we’d have to dismantle the drums every time we wanted to eat.

 

We headed upstairs, the bedrooms were small but Derek’s room was a little longer. There was no escaping the ceiling, which due to the nature of the upper level of the cottage, sloped inward, For some reason we decided to set up the drums upstairs. It would prove to be a mistake.

Once all the gear was dropped into the nooks and crannies of the small lodge we started to pack the fridge with beer and had our first meal. I unpacked the Tascam 2488, marvelling at my new purchase. 24 tracks of digital recording. I carefully laid my first condenser microphone; a cheap Stagg, basically a budget version of microphone that I liked. I had recorded the Armour is Broken (a solo lp) with this mic.

As the light faded on the first day Greg lit the fire and we opened our beers. We wouldn’t be sober for the next 6 days.

We recorded Riot Act in batches. Drums and bass for 3 or 4 songs and then we’d layer the guitars and vocals. We’d repeat this process until we had all the tracks down. The drums were crammed into the biggest of the bedrooms upstairs, the low ceiling made the drums sound a bit flat not that I was aware of this at this time. I used various methods to split the signal of the guide tracks and sent a feed through to Greg and Stu who were in another room. It was a crude method but it worked.

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Derek has fun but the room wasn’t suited for drums

The small rooms lended well to a tight guitar sound which translated fairly well on the record. The bass was a direct input. All of the songs were recorded this way with the exception of Weekend All Over My Face where we used Stu’s practise amp to record the bridge that worked really well and room mics for Only Had A Shandy, but that’s another story.

The vocals were sung in another bedroom where the windows overlooked the valley. I remember the guys headed off to the small village at the foot of Cannich. I was left alone to sing It’ll All Work Out In The End. I’ll never forget that afternoon. Alone in a remote part of Scotland, I was singing a song about hope while my head was full of troubles. My late father in law was very ill and it was the first time I was truly alone to think about it. The emotion would spill onto the record.

Every night the fire would crackle and beers would be drank. The laughs would get louder as the darkness surrounded us. Greg would often go out for fresh air… Sometimes I would join him in the darkness of the night, it was breathtaking, There was no orange glow from any nearby cities. Whenever the clouds cleared, stars would hang in the black sky and I’d sway as I tried to focus on the patterns above.

During the day, at down time, we would hang around the outside of the cottage. At times the weather was good. Sometime we’d go our own way and take a walk. A week in a small cottage with the same guys could be cramped and you needed your own space. Greg and Derek took this to a different level. Literally.

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walks led to beautiful country

They headed up the hill that was our back garden. When I say a hill I mean a proper hill climb, the cottage had no fences or boundaries. The hill rose far into the distance, Derek and Greg filmed the adventure, off they went climbing higher and higher. Stu and I would look up, the pair of them getting smaller.

As they reached the top, flakes of snow started to drift in. Most people would head back. Not Derek, he stripped off and shouted ‘I’m naked at the top of the hill!’ and went off on a merry dance much to Greg’s amusement.

Life in the valley of Cannich was serene, we were visited by a cuckoo on a number of occasions and I managed to capture our visitor on record. The days and nights merged into one long party, recording, beer, jigsaw puzzles and music. At night greg’s fire would continue to crackle as we took stock of life in the band and life in general. We were in our thirties, married or getting married but without kids.

Thursday was a special day, I did a half day of recording and settled down to a BBQ in the small woodland next to the cottage. It was the last change to have a proper night of booze. As I wandered into the woods to gather some firewood I heard an almighty explosion.

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Riot Act… lard bombs aside it was a peaceful recording…

I ducked and turned towards the flash of light…peering through the trees I was trying to make sense of what happened. Then I heard Greg laughing, with Derek proudly standing over the fire ‘Lard bomb!’

Then came the dueling banjos, Stu and I pulled the best banjo posies with sticks, only for Derek to snatch mine and fling it in the fire. He redeemed himself with the BBQ’d chicken which was simply wonderful.

The sun slowly set as we got merrier, I left the gang and headed back into the house to set up some microphones. When I was ready I asked the guys to come into the living room. I gave Stu a guitar and some headphones. He played along to the end of Only Had A Shandy as the rest of us sang a drunken chorus of random words. Derek and I spilled over the couch into the floor, mics came crashing down. It was all recorded.

The night grew longer as we gathered around the now small fire out in the woods. I can’t remember what we talked about but it was probably deep and meaningful. We all headed into the cottage except Greg who waited for the sun to rise on the final day.

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a beautiful moment from the riot act sessions

When I awoke on the last morning with alcohol on my breath and hunger in my belly sadness crept into me. I was hungover and despondent that our recording week had come and gone so quickly. A long quiet drive awaited us, the party was over, our jobs awaited our return on the Monday.
So we set off home; there was a subdued mood in the car as Stu stared out the window. I muttered with anger as a Ford Transit overtook us. As I was about to slam my hand on the horn I saw Derek lean out of the van’s passenger window with a big smile, Greg wearing a smug grin as he was overtaking me.

It was a wonderful experience that changed the band for the next ten years. We hired another three cottages after this one. Each growing in size but we never quite matched the drunken madness of the first time.

 

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the making of weird decibels 2 the Recording of weird decibels 2

Recording Weird Decibels 2

Recording Continued after Springfield

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The trusty Korg D3200, love it.

You can read about the Springfield session here parts one, two and three . Looking back I’d happily go back there again with more knowledge and perhaps record only the drums and bass along with basic rhythm guitar parts. Time was never on our side and this was often when the mistakes were made.

The recording desk.

Released in the UK in 2006 the Korg D3200 was and still is a classic multi-tracker. By chance there was a music auction where my wife Kirsty works, I put a cheeky bid in for it and it was mine.

In reality it is a fairly basic machine that’s delivered reasonable results. We recorded the album on the desk highest sample rate of 48kHz and 24 bits. Higher quality that a CD but it falls short of what you can achieve on a typical DAW running Pro Tools etc. (digital audio workstation).

The beauty of the Korg was how cheap it was and the number of mic inputs, 12, for simultaneous recording. This allowed us to have 10 mics on the drums and a couple on the bass.

Rightly or wrongly the Korg was used for recording, mixing and mastering. This album as not recorded with Pro Tools etc.

Substantial planning went into preparation for the album, its predecessor had taken nearly a year to mix and master. We were determined not to make the same mistakes, to a certain extent we didn’t, we just made new ones.

From the early mixes I could hear that the drums sounded great in the big room. I had the option for a direct sound or allow some room spill to add a bit of air to the album. The bass came out fairly well, with a mixture of cabin and DI. To this day I’m not sure how effective it was but I found a good sound quickly.

Happy with the drums and bass I had a listen to Stu’s guitar and here was where I realised that I had made a big mistake.

Bad Angles

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One of the many mic setups. We should’ve called it a day after the drums and bass and came back to this fresh.

I remember the afternoon that I turned to Greg and asked if the Stu’s guitars sounded too bassy. As he tapped the A and B buttons on the Saturn controller trying to break Derek’s numerous Athlete King records he didn’t seem to think so but to be fair he had been playing the bass all day. I had tired ears as well but something wasn’t sitting right. Against my instincts I decided to keep the mic in place (it was probably too close to the grill) and recorded his guitars.

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Greg beats Derek’s Athlete Kings records AGAIN

Back in the studio I wrestled with this frequency for weeks; the mixes were starting to build though. Then came in the indecisiveness.

The vocals recorded at the lodge were a mixed bag. Some sounded really good while others sounded weak. For months we would take the desk down to the practice room and re-record them. Then one afternoon while listening to the ever present influence; Nevermind I heard Kurt’s doubled vocals and decided that would be the key. Eventually double vocals would play a big part in WdB2

Overdubs were next. A few parts of acoustic guitar were added. Sitting back over the whole project there were a few songs that, to my horror, started to sound poor compared to others. Quoted didn’t feel right at all.

I removed the ‘Springfield’ vocals and my guitars and completely re-recorded them in the home studio much to the delight of my neighbours. I had nothing to lose with Quoted so I free styled some distorted guitars in the style of Nirvana; then I added a voice changer to the vocals and recorded the newly written lyrics. Mixing this song was fun, a few automation tricks were used to enhance the middle of the song to build up to the crescendo

Greg had made a mistake just before the end, I couldn’t cut and paste a clean part so I left it out. The part without the bass sounded brilliant (no offence Greg!), it added so much to the build when the bass comes back in.

The Morningday Effect

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Its morning and I have coffee and I must mix

It’s hard to explain exactly what happened halfway through the recording of this album.Springfield was weeks behind us, the drums and bass were in place. The guitars were touch and go, the vocals were hot and cold.

I was getting fed up with the shouty vocals. Morningday had done reasonably well and for some reason I tried to merge the two music paths which in reality should have remained separate.

The albums balance began to veer towards quiet vocals peppered with acoustic guitar. Medicine was the biggest casualty of this.

I was unhappy with the my original distorted guitar, it swamped the verses and sounded awful so I recorded an acoustic guitar and some guitar vocals and sat with that for a while. On it’s own it sounded OK but within the album it didn’t sit. Weird Decibels 2 was becoming unfocused.

I remember walking out of Camelon Tesco with a couple of bottles of red heading towards Stu and Lisa’s for a wine night, I had my headphones on. The album just didn’t sound good at all.

This was a real low point. The money spent on the cottage, the hours spent recording, re-recording and mixing seemed to be in vain. Every time I saw the guys they’d ask how it was going, it was hard for me to admit that WdB2 wasn’t working. But it’s amazing what just a few changes can make…

I ditched nearly all the changes I had made. The Medicine acoustics were scrapped and replaced with chunky Soundgarden like distortion that was like the original riff but more control. I added double tracked vocals at a higher octave and screamed my lungs out for the ending.

Feeling choruses, the vocals were shortened and more punchy. Sorted

I took the decision to drop Smash the Glass entirely (it is now a B side to Kill it Kill it), the band supported me on this…just.

Curtain hits the cast, end vocals doubled up to epicicity (new word)

Suddenly the album, albeit short, was now leaner and far more focused.

Then there was the Dancer…

The dancer changed a few times, clean guitars were replaced with finger picked acoustic, subtle backing vocals were added. Stu’s acoustic pedal recording didn’t fit so I sample it, delayed it, reversed it and made it sound like rain to fit with the lyrics. It worked. Stu then dubbed acoustic over the verses.

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Stu, is a patient guy. Most of the time (has the odd fall out with cars). Here he is laying the new guitars for The Dancer

The ending vocals were doubled. The Dancer went from filler to single.

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Setting a deadline was a mistake.

Mixing was still in full flow, mastering was near. I felt happy to announce a deadline date. Something I hadn’t done before. It was mistake and cost us nearly six months and I almost walked away…

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Weird Decibels 20 years

50 Weird Decibels songs as chosen by the band. Part 2 40-31

In the run up to the launch of Weird Decibels 2.0 we look at part 2 of our countdown to the bands favourite song…

Here comes the acoustic album. We have done one acoustic album to date.
Here comes the acoustic album. We have done one acoustic album to date.

40 Grand day out, Quiet Act 2008

The first pick from our acoustic album Quiet Act, Grand Day Out describes a day out in Edinburgh drinking with close friends. Indeed much of this album’s lyrics were about drinking; 6 albums in it was becoming clear that my song writing was getting lazy.

Grand Day Out is a warm upbeat song that builds to the sing along finale. At the time I was pleased with the sound. We were learning more about recording and thinking more about where the drums should be recorded; this album has an airy feel, more open thanks to the acoustic guitars and more subtle drums. Much like the album, Grand Day Out doesn’t change our musical landscape but it is good fun. It was recorded at a beautiful lodge in Gairloch near Baddachro. We had a grand day out at the Baddachro Inn. Pure heaven.

39 Woman In My Dreams Quiet Act 2008

It was a laid back approach to a laid back album
It was a laid back approach to a laid back album

Another take from Quiet Act; this time a pretty obvious love letter! At its heart it is a simple two chord song summed up in the title. I really liked the way we recorded this song, it felt like we were making progress. Stu plays an effective guitar pick over the rhythm, we doubled his part and you can hear the slight differences in his takes panned left and right. It gives the track a kind of ‘sparkle’ which suits the lyrics well. The track ambles along nicely with Greg’s acoustic bass and Derek’s gentle drums giving it flow. Certainly one of our best sounding songs

Like Grand Day Out before it and most of Quiet Act, Woman in my Dreams is simple in its nature although I do feel the lyrics were stronger in this track than most of the album. Not everyone who listens to the band liked this direction… it would not be long before we switched the distortion back on.

38 Fighting With Forever One More Solo 2004

Fighting with Forever sessions recorded at Dereks flat no beer in this shot?
Fighting with Forever sessions recorded at Dereks flat no beer in this shot?

Distorted guitars? Check. Screaming vocals? Check. Clearly this wasn’t from Quiet Act; One More Solo’s final third kicks off with this belter. It bursts in with a solid rhythm before we stop for some toms and guitar build before the song launches into an exasperated look at the formula of adult life, the lack of sleep and fear of getting left behind. ‘Night and day, it just seems the same to me’.

Fighting rolls along before the satisfying screams at the end; my voice barely held out for those as you can hear it burn out towards the end, hence the big FX.

We still play Fighting With Forever at practise but it hasn’t made our set lists for years.

37 Crazy Head Coldhome Street 2000

Crazy head was originally on my solo album ‘A Twist and a Turn’; it had found its way onto this album as have one or two tracks over the years. The rattle at the start of the track is my broken acoustic guitar! We did mention the budget for this album, didn’t we?

This is a bitter tale of broken romance and blaming someone’s past for their actions. It is not a song we have played for years and it is very much of its time.

36 All Good Things Firkin Outburst 1998

That old bridge is now the blue bridge on the Camelon bypass
That old bridge is now the blue bridge on the Camelon bypass

From Firkin Ourburst one of the songs that survived the alcohol laden writing sessions that had an impact on our second album. We were flying high after Whapper Stormer, our first gigs had been a success, we had recorded our first demos and our friendships were growing. There was a Haddows off license across the road from the practise room. We frequented this place every week.

Often we would head home so drunk we wouldn’t be able to remember the songs we had written; All Good Things was one of the 9 that made the album (we recorded 10, Today Was Insane did not make the record).

This track was recorded on our 8 track years after we had written it, again at Derek’s flat during our mad recording weekends.

It has the acoustic/ heavy mix sound that we adopted after Whapper when I was playing more guitar but had yet to purchase an electric.

Lyrically simple there is no complexity to the song, it’s a good riff and has a slightly different feel to our usual tracks.

35 Summerhigh Firkin Outburst 1998

Look at that hair!!
Look at that hair!!

‘Summerhigh, a good day to die’ a lyric straight from Star Trek and the Klingons! This upbeat tune was one of three recorded at our second visit to Random Rhythms, a great wee studio hidden in the outskirts of Edinburgh near the airport. The first sessions, for Whapper, were excellent however this time the recordings did not reach the previous heights. The sound engineer seemed to have lost interest this time around.

Summerhigh sounds slightly thin but the performance was good that day, particularly from Derek who really enjoyed recording in that studio. I sing of getting older (despite being in my early 20’s…) and starting to realise that I had to take some responsibilities; however there was still time for days in the sun.

There is a good live version on our first bootleg, Central FM were very supportive of the local scene during the late 90’s, they had recorded the gig which was part of an all day festival. This Martell performance reflects much of the swagger we had then.

34 Love Hate Thing Riot Act 2007

there is something amazing about rocking out in the remote parts of our land
there is something amazing about rocking out in the remote parts of our land

Sometimes you get a little fed up of the town in which you live; then you go for a stroll look over the forth valley and think, it’s not so bad. Love Hate Thing describes those feelings when out at night. Much of Riot Act is based around nights out in Falkirk (or the aftermath)

Nestled near the end of the album Love Hate Thing starts to wind things down with its moderate pace; at nearly five minutes long it includes a build and a solo. Riot Act is a mixture of fast 2 minute rock and this more measured number.

‘Streets with no name, streets with no shame’ Its not a song we visit much any more. It’s perhaps overly long but not a bad number.
33 Beauty Queen Coldhome Street 2000

This was us doing the 'live' guitars. Made it up as we went along well i did...
This was us doing the ‘live’ guitars. Made it up as we went along well i did…

Given the throwaway nature of Coldhome street it would be surprising if there was not a live jam on the album. That’s what Beauty Queen, the last track on Coldhome, was. The track was recorded in a small studio just outside the centre of  Stirling. I believe we recorded the drums prior to Greg, Stu and I jamming the guitars in the studio. Much of the solo work and possibly the vocals are improvised.

We mixed it on the same day, the engineer seemed to struggle a little and asked if we would mix the track. It’s quite a poor mix; the drums lack the impact needed for a live jam but it is a fun song with some daft lyrics. ‘oh my beauty Queen she loves technology, My beauty queen wants part in a home made movie!’

We all have a soft spot for Beauty Queen; perhaps because it was the song that was never finished. To my knowledge Beauty Queen has never been played live

32 Stand For Your Rights One More Solo 2004

Pensive? Or empty beer bottle?
Pensive? Or empty beer bottle?

Another album ender comes in at 32. A long slow burner of a rock track Stand For Your Rights is the first song we wrote when Stu re-joined the band after his brief hiatus.  Big choruses , dueling solos and a big ending this was our first hint at writing about politics. I’ve always liked the line ‘if you stand for your rights you’ll die young but you’ll die healthy’ it’s a bittersweet statement.

Recorded onto the 8 track along with the rest of One More Solo it was fairly straightforward to record despite the number of different sections of the song. While we were laying tracks at Derek’s flat there was a biblical rainfall shower outside. I grabbed a mic, careful not to get it wet I recorded to the sound of the rain. It was so heavy it ended up sounding like static. My shitty Renault 19 was flooded where it was parked, pity it didn’t float away. I added a little bit of keyboard to give One More Solo the closure it deserved.

31 Crown. Weird Decibels 1

we always look for a recording location with a good pub. Ettrickbridge had the wonderful Cross Keys Inn
we always look for a recording location with a good pub. Ettrickbridge had the wonderful Cross Keys Inn

At number 31 the first track from Weird Decibels 1, a high point in our history, the album was a return to more meaningful lyrics and carefully considered arrangements (well most of it!). Crown is one of the many ‘character’ songs. I was fed up writing about getting drunk at weekends, to be honest I had little to write about so i made up characters. Recorded in Ettrick Bridge (nice pub here as well) we were on a working farm in the middle of the borders. Stunning.

Crown was the murderer, the guy who snapped. He had committed a horrific crime but still attended his mundane office work as normal. ‘Perfect smile it makes me sick, he shakes my bleached hand,  i wonder what makes him tick’. I enjoyed writing about the meeting between the murderer and his perfectly groomed boss.

Crown also asks what happens in our town and cities that we don’t know about as people go about their own business.The vocals during the crescendo are ‘borrowed from a certain Mr Vedder and the song Jeremy. A similar story!

This concludes part 2. nearing the mid table now. next part has a rather big surprise for regular WdB gig goers…