Feels good to feel good …The thoughts of Chairman Sack (Making the Banjaxeld album Part 4)

Banjaxeld Album

Mixing the Album @ Gary’s 13-04-14

 

Quiet the mind to find the space for reason

We finally settled the album naming debate… or rather, the album decided to settle the naming debate and choose the name for itself… and it chose ‘Feels Good to Feel Good’. Not a song title on the album, but a line from our track ‘Rhythm of Life (Groove in B)’. As these things do it jumped out at the last minute and demanded to know why we had been ignoring it…! We just couldn’t find an argument to say no. It does kind of sum up the feel of the album, the philosophy of the band, the positive direction, and the fact that we just love creating and making our brand of music! …And after all it’s about ‘feeling good’, not about feeling ‘out of control’.

The lyrical depth of the album explores both the beauty and the darker side of life, yet always looking in there for the positive energy of the story. Whilst you find yourself tapping your feet along to the beat (…and everyone who’s heard it so far has!), the catchy hooks, slick harmonies, and assured musicianship somehow embrace the subject matter of the lyrics and elevates their perspectives. Some of the lyrics will challenge you, some will caress your imagination, some will invite you to sing along, other just demand to be heard. Stories, reality, points of view, even a little paying homage to the past whilst always searching for reason and truth. You might even find yourself singing along before you realise the meaning of the song… don’t worry it’s infectious …but not fatal!

Banjaxeld - Percy

Banjaxeld – Feels Good to Feel Good Album Cover Pics – Percy 21-05-14

 

Quiet the reason to find the flow of life

We finally managed to decide the album track order for the CD. Something that is seemingly so innocuous and simple, yet often fraught with superstition and exotic mumbo-jumbo, hypothetical mystical equations based on small very select examples, folklore or popular myths… But it’s never that simple, or complex to Sack whose whole approach to this album has been to view it not just as 14 tracks… but as an organic and holistic entity in its own right. His approach was just like planning a journey, with connection changes that still take you to the final intended destination, using an emotional map of reactivity and momentum, to balance personally influenced preferences in an attempt to discover the ‘magnetic core’ that will give life to this collection of recordings. Feeling good is a science.

So here’s the track listing in full, as it will appear on the CD. But instead of just the track list, we’ve included Sack’s complete sales pitch to the band rationalising his methodology and process… make of it what you will…

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Feels Good to Feel Good Album Track Running Order (27-02-14)

Track order on the album is vitally important and can affect the listener’s perceptions of individual tracks as well as the overall listening experience of the album. An album should be more than just a collection of songs and tracks. It should have a reason for being, a built in desire, an aim and a purpose beyond its marketability or commercial edge.

Popular music lyrics have a propensity to focus on the self and identifying with being the self, they can then manipulate the position of the self and the perception that the self is the central philosophy of a self-gratification culture, and creates the illusive desire for the superficial nature of popularity. And then they throw in a few throwaway musical hooks and novelty noises to fill the gaps where meaning should be.

More sophisticated forms of music have a worldly maturity and externally driven awareness, lyrics tend to lean toward deeper observational, recreational, political and philosophical topics often through the use of metaphors and more intellectually rational connections. Often the lyrical stories create a mood in their own right, and this is further supported and enhanced by the music, the arrangement, and the transition from, and to, the adjoining, or disconnecting sentiment of the preceding and subsequent pieces.

Unlike a concept album that is constructed to flow and follow a complete and often visually motivated storyline, an album of individually created works should strive to support the concept of linking feelings and emotions produced by the individual tracks into a collectively compelling experience that allows and even encourages the listener to impose their own images on the moods and metaphors of the songs.

If we think of the album as a song made up of fourteen lines that loosely narrate the story of the song, then some of them will be more suited for positioning in a chorus or verse positioning. We need to give the song a pulse and pauses for breath. We need to create moments to savour and moments that make those moments possible.

My ‘Old School’ philosophy suggests that the dynamic and aesthetic of a good album should work as a continuous uninterrupted piece from beginning to end, as well as separate pieces with individual voices both musical and lyrical, that warrant their place creatively.

The aim of the overall feel of the album should be to draw in the listener and take them on a journey they will not want to entirely anticipate, that will lead them to places viscerally diverse and yet comfortingly uplifting.

We all have our favourites that appeal to our personal tastes, but in my more objective opinion, there isn’t one ‘weak’ song on this album. However, to bring out the strengths of each one individually they need to work together to achieve an overall result that means individual tracks are more likely to be played by the listener as a part of the ‘whole experience’, rather than just singled out in isolation. If someone buys this album for just one track on it, we want to be confident that they will want to hear the rest of it, and will fall in love with it!

And… if we only ever make one album together as a band… let’s make sure it’s a good one, and make sure not a track is wasted, hidden or undervalued. And remember, even if we do make another album together it will never be this album. This is our unique statement of our here and now, we are responsible for what we release into the public domain, lets not hide it behind convention supporting superstitions, popular myths, or disingenuous hearsay and advice.

This is our castle; we can build it to our specifications, our desires, and our vision. But it needs to be more than just a fortress; it needs to be our monumental declaration of power and knowledge.

Thus….

Track 1:        Lay Me Down.

For me this is the obvious choice to open our account. A foot tapping introduction to the album, that kicks straight in with a great little guitar hook. The first line of the song invites you into the story, and by the time of the introduction of the bass line and harmonies half way through the first verse, you’re already hooked into the beat with tapping feet. It works like a musical snare. Its bluesy, upbeat with a hint of swing, seriously sobering lyrics, and just a hint of wild abandon!

Track 2:        16,000 Feet of Groove

Takes you almost directly to a different dimension and feel, from a foot tapper to a groove, teasing lyrics, cleaver disguised references, engaging characters, open ended story line! Great music for driving to with lots of little hooks and subconscious recognition, simple riff and two fingers up to Mr Jagger to boot…!

Track 3:        No Fear

A nice development of pace and groove into a more commercially tight ‘ska’ feel. This has big hooks… musically, lyrically, and vocally. Perfect first peak for the album, clears the senses and the sinuses, and hangs out the end nicely inviting something a little different.

Track 4:        Summer’s End Blues

That change of pace and feel comes with the crisp clarity and the ‘sit back and relax with it’ refreshing oasis that is has a ‘resonant bathroom sing along’ charm about it, whilst connecting with everyone who’s ever wanted to get away to the sun to escape the British winters. Its dreamy quality is hypnotic and leaves the listener with a need to be gently lifted and nurtured back from their first deliberate dip in the murky depths of an emotion-sensitive blues.

Track 5:        Will I Be

The gentle introduction soothes the passage from ‘Summer’s End Blues’, the first line of the song delivers a positive sentiment, and then the song asks you to explore the questions. The music builds by degree, layers almost seamlessly evolve and interlace, dancing and lifting the spirit back to existence, the music is emotionally charged but not out of control and relaxes back down at the end perfectly opening the door for a reminder that we all need to relax from the serious stuff occasionally!

Track 6:        Kickback

Set up aesthetically and emotionally by ‘Will I be’, ‘Kickback’ manages to both pick up the pace, and prescribe relaxation at the same time. With its ‘arm-chair swashbuckling’ swinging pace, chorus hooks, and the guitar solo that makes even the hair on a bald man’s neck stand erect, Although there is some suggested controversy surrounding the harmony ending, it does prove the ideal resolution to slip into something a little more aggressively laid back and proudly different.

Track 7:        Just My Point Of View

The perfect change of pace and feel to follow ‘Kickback’, and the perfect pivotal centre of the album. Crammed with subtle hooks that don’t try to be something they’re not, no guitar solo, a Vinny rap that gives it a real edge musically, and a staggered fade out ending that will phase the senses allowing Broken to subtly grab you before you even realise it’s happening.

Track 8:        Broken

The harmonies opening this track bring us beautifully back from the Island feel of ‘Point of View’ drifting into another change of direction back into a stompy blues, with strong harmonies, and an almost immediate ‘got yer foot tappin’ beat. The relentless pace gives it a anxious edge, and the tight harmonies give it the velocity of a stalking predator, with the tight end finish a musical metaphor for the kill.

Track 9:        Be-e

The tight end of ‘Broken’ just begs to be followed by the funkiness and cheeky Intro of ‘Be-e’. There’s a continuity of feel and pulse even though the beats are different. Frenetic, aggressively funky, with a lyric that’s ‘in your face’ but asking YOU why? Musically the funked-out fade out end allows us to drift away with the feeling of wanting more, whilst slowly being enveloped by the creamy, soulful, change of gear and emotion to follow.

Track 10:      No Time

No time then invites us to draw a breath, take a change of tempo and indulge in some soulful intensity in direct contrast to the preceding couple of tracks, and in that respect it re-humanises us. With the changes in feel, and sensitive breakdowns, building anticipation and dramatic dynamic into the ambiance of the song, and its positioning in the running order reflecting the melancholy feel of the lyric in relation to its symbolic position in life.

Track 11:      For The Road

‘For the Road’ picks up the pace a little again, moving forward with a positive intent, reigniting the positive movement of the album with strong hooks, and lyrics that don’t allow you to dwell on the residue of ‘No Time’. Transitioning to the final straight of the album ‘For the Road’ sets up a blues groove all the way to the funky highway intersection.

Track 12:      Rhythm Of Life (Groove in B)

Raising the groove, raising the key to the natural 5th, a roots funk with an Island influence, this is a lifter, with great hooks, great grooves, a retro vision and a ‘feel good’ feel. The fade out end allows the listener to drift along with the funky feel whilst regaining a sense of their own identity, and readjusts the mood of momentum, like a chattering audience subconsciously quieting with the dimming of the house lights in a theatre.

Track 13:      Rolling Home

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, we take off on a different mode of transport to your personal heaven. Seems trite to say it, but this is kind of feeling like our mini ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

‘Rolling Home’ opens with a reverence that is almost ceremonially evocative. The lyric immediately engages the curiosity and provokes a strangely empathic identification. By the end of the first section the theme is firmly established, but then it is reborn a feistier creature, through a process that causes pleasure waves to involuntarily ripple through the soul. The third transition into the rock groove is the ‘money shot’, and the ending is the divine afterglow. If this were the last track on this album it would be the kind of completing track that album bands strive for and dream about. Finish with a flourish, a little bit of self-indulgence, and a delicate little harmonic orgasm. This track is a microcosmic voyage within the macrocosmic journey that is the album. It’s in the classic ‘Freebird’ position as far as the original material is concerned, an epic track and almost an album finisher.

Track 14:      Hoochie Coochie Man (Willie Dixon)

Except… we all agreed that as this is the only cover on the album, it would be the closing track. And as the bluesiest, dirtiest, rock out bluesy groove, it’s a fitting ‘don’t give a damn’ blow out to the end of the album. If it wasn’t here… you’d really want it to be.

Conclusion:

This is my preferred choice of track running for the album and the reasoning for these choices. I’m not saying it’s the definitive order, but I’ve tried quite a few different combinations, and I feel this is for me, the most balanced mix of songs that have harmonious relations to their immediate neighbours and locality. Obviously I’m looking at the album as a continuous listening piece, the flow and mood changing sequences, and how they relate as they go along with each other.

I’m more than happy for you to challenge my view of this, I’m aware I have a slightly biased objectivity, I have tried to take into account views I have already been given by other members of the band, and I’m more than happy to find out the changes you would make to the running order and the associated reasoning that maybe I haven’t picked up on. Needless to say I didn’t use any divining rods, didn’t consult any occult shaman, didn’t offer any organic sacrifices to the gods, didn’t even check my horoscope, or knock on wood, as an aide to reaching my conclusions.

Sack

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Surprisingly there were further discussions and deliberations …before we all agreed on the running order as above. But the more we hear it the more we think it sits like a grand feat of human engineering that resonates with a natural harmonic creativity. All of which basically means that we’re happy with it.

Oh …and Sack’s therapy is coming along nicely!

 

Last day blues and the balance between productivity and sanity

When we started this project back in November the burden of all the guitar solo work was pretty much on Jimmy’s young shoulders. A conspiracy of factors took over, such as his work demands and personal life changes, changing the field of play, and for us that meant that Matt was hurriedly drafted into taking on more solos and guitar parts for which he hadn’t initially been prepared. Matt is of the type of guitarist that prefers to structure his solos methodically, so having negotiated song choices with Jimmy he set about the business of not only creating new solos, but also creating a new, evolved, more experimental style of playing for himself.

Banjaxeld

Matt recording @ Gary’s 25-04-14

We had a one day window with Gary’s availability and Matt went over to Gary’s to do what were planned to be the final guitar recordings. As ever with these things, not everything went to plan, and despite Matt realising that he’d left his pedal board stood up against his gate, and having to do the 60 mile round trip to frantically rush back and pick them up for the session …most of our remaining intended objectives were actually met, and we were then all set to start ‘psyching ourselves up’ for the final mixing of the tracks.

It was almost a month later, the weekend of the 12th and 13th of April Jeff and Sack went over to Gary’s place to really get into the process of mixing the album. There was the little matter of a couple of vocal repairs to be done, and the changing of a certain ‘numbing’ to ‘coming’ vocal part in Broken, which (…compounded with the slightly ‘less-than- sympathetic’ teasing of the rest of the band) had been irritating Jeff for a couple of months. Right from the start of the recording process Gary had been progressively programming some of the basic auto mixing, and through the portal of an open band communication thread, he was able to post intermediary mixes, gaining almost instant feedback and reaction. By the time Sack and Jeff arrived for the mixing session, Gary had been able to perform most of the editing tasks requested via the internet based scrutiny of the band, which meant that the mixing process was in essence, more of a return to the traditional analogue style of using our ears, and concentrating on the sound and balance of the tracks in preparation for the mastering process.

What it ultimately meant was that we got all fourteen tracks pre-mixed, but identified that there were a couple in need of guitar attention, and a missing solo for No Time. A final, final day was set for ten days hence, when it would be make or break for Matt’s guitar work… so no pressure there then!

 

An Alliance with imperfection

Banjaxeld Matt

Matt recording @ Gary’s 25-04-14

The eve of the concluding recording session, Jeff, Sack and Matt got together for the final album rehearsal and preparation. As an early start was necessary for the next morning Matt had the unqualified pleasure of Sack staying over, which meant a chance to work the solo for ‘No Time’ into the early hours, before remembering that we had to be up at a hideously un-musician hour of the day!

So eventually on the 25th April Matt, accompanied by Sack, ventured over to Gary’s place to finish the final solo on No Time, and redo the lead on Lay Me Down. It turned out to be a most productive day, as well as many essential cups of coffee, the groundwork of the previous evening paid dividends with Matt hitting the ground running, nailing the ‘No Time’ solo and being totally focused at the task at hand. There was even time to finish off the mixing with a few extra tweaks. Sack and Gary also sailed through the session, and by the time the late afternoon arrived and sat in the corner twiddling its thumbs for a bit, we realised that we hadn’t even stopped for lunch!

It was a strange feeling driving away from that session; there was a sense of relief, of the reality that we had at last ‘completed our part’, but there was a also a little sadness, a melancholic awareness of the journey that the making of this album had taken us on over the last six months, and the very different ways that it had impacted on each of us individually. It would be easy to call it ‘studio fatigue’, but in reality we have only spent 8 days actively as a part of this recording process, with most of it completed in the first 4 days. Outside of this however, there have been many changes going on, both in our professional and private lives that have had their individual and collective influence on this product. On the other hand there was of course, the overriding sentiment of satisfaction that the job was ‘in the can’, and just a cat’s sneeze away from being the real deal.

Time to pop the Champers…? Well, not quite, in fact with the focus now off the recording the awareness immediately shifts to the tasks at hand to get this CD Mastered, presentable, marketable and ready to be officially launched …all the admin and organising stuff that it takes to get this out there …all the mundane stuff that mere musicians like ourselves have been dreading. There’s still a lot of learning to do, and a limited time to do it in. Luckily we have some good friends in the business who are willing to offer us some sound advice.

 

Banjaxeld - Feels Good to Feel Good Album Cover Pics - Shaun Speight 08-05-14

Banjaxeld – Feels Good to Feel Good Album Cover Pics – Shaun Speight 08-05-14

Zen and the Art of Feeling Good to Look Good

Having already started the ball rolling with Shaun Speight on the CD cover design, Jeff & Sack have made a couple more visits to watch and work on the progress of Shaun’s illustrations. On one occasion we even managed to jam a couple of ideas for the new songs we already have for the next project, with Shaun’s wife Holly, an excellent session violinist who will be one of the invited guests contributing to the planned mini-album for later this year (more of this at a later date).

As an illustrator Shaun has been a pleasure to work with, eager to provide mugs of coffee as well as creatively interpreting some of our more ‘off-the-wall’ ideas. Take a look at some of the development stages that the album design has gone through. We’ve actually had the pleasure of watching him do most of this while we’ve been at his home studio…

 

 

Shaun’s initial sketches, based on lyrical content drawn from ‘Kickback’

Kickback Ideas

Kickback Ideas

 

The original layout and design, using key phrases and references to the band…

Banjaxeld Album Cover

Banjaxeld – Feels Good to Feel Good Album Cover Pic 30-04-14

Another incarnation proving it’s sometimes better not to listen to the psychedelic ramblings of hyped up musicians….!

Banjaxeld

Banjaxeld – Feels Good to Feel Good Cover v2

 

And finally it’s all coming together… with a few tweaks and extra bits of text, this is pretty much how the finished cover will look… even Shaun’s cat Percy was impressed…!

 Folding Cover

Banjaxeld – Feels Good to Feel Good Album – Folding Cover 21-05-14

 

The Time Division Multiplex Paradox Dynamic

The process of getting from 14 completed recordings to Mixed and Mastered album tracks (…and two extra tracks edited for Radio consumption), was an intense and strangely unifying experience. We already knew that the Mastering process would change the frequency response ranges and dynamics of the mixed recordings, so it was just a case of mixing for the mastering process. Just in case you’re not aware ‘Mastering’ is a process for reducing noise, polishing clarity, compressing certain frequency ranges, expanding the spatial positioning of instruments and sound… and generally making it sound good on almost any player or device… providing of course that it is from the abode of good in the first place!

Sounds simple, but it’s easy to over-compensate, and we wanted the levels, clarity and balance to be just right, so it took Gary a couple of time consuming adjustments before we all arrived at that point where we were happy to say we’re happy. It has been a lesson in communication and the joys of technology, and we’ve learned to love the advantages of using ‘dropbox’ for exchanging, and proofing mixed tracks and sharing ideas. Gary has been dedicated to making us sound good, and has provided working mixes of the tracks at every stage of the process. In the end he presented us with the CD Master Copies (…as well as the ISO versions online) and now it’s ‘all systems go’ to get these dressed up and out there.

Banjaxeld Album

Banjaxeld – Feels Good to Feel Good – Master CDs

 

Fittingly our first listen to the finished and Mastered Album, complete as it will be, was in Matt’s living room, the same place that the recordings started almost six months previously.

 

Feels good to take six months to feel good

As this project draws to its intended conclusion, with objectives achieved and in some cases even surpassed, though not without a measure of frustration and impatience, thoughts naturally gravitate toward evaluating the process and execution in relation to our plans and preparation. I think we would all agree that it has been engagingly inspiring, personally challenging at times, hilariously joyful, and notwithstanding all else… a pleasure to have been a part of.

The making of this album has defined not only what Banjaxeld are, but who we are, both personally and musically. There have been changes along the way, and we’ve learnt to either live with it or take an alternative path. None of us expected it to be the journey that it has been, to feel the emotional connection to the album that we now have. It’s a damn fine product, and one that we’re all proud of, but it’s more than just ‘a product’ to us, and the reasons we’re proud of what we’ve achieved with it go far beyond the mixed and mastered offering on that 12cm radius, circular bit of laser etched plastic.

 

What’s next….?

Well that’s about it for the Making of the Album… until the Launch shows… however, we’ll be keeping the album blogging going and over the next few months we’ll be presenting you with the lyrics from the songs on the album… one by one… offering up in-depth and personal views on meanings, inspirations, evolution to finished product, and what each one means to us …the aim is to give an insightful flavour of what we’re about. Hopefully you’ll find it entertaining too!

So far we have 2 dates arranged to launch ‘Feels Good to Feel Good’, with a few very special guest acts at each, and even Gary will be there to do his keyboard parts. There’ll be special offers on the CD package and we may even be giving away some quality T’s, Hoodies, and other ‘merch’ …plus we’ll be playing the album live:

 

Friday 27th June 2014 …Official Album Launch

The Fat Cat Brewery Tap

98-100 Lawson Rd, Norwich, Norfolk. NR3 4LF

 

Friday 4th July 2014 …Official Album Party

Club Uniquity @ The Duke’s Barn,

The Duke’s Head, Slugs Lane, Somerleyton, Suffolk. NR32 5QR.

 

Saturday 5th July 2014

We’ll also be chatting to Bryan Halsey and presenting him with his very own copy of the CD, and hopefully playing tracks from the Album as guests of ‘The Band’ @ Felixstowe Radio 107.5FM

Broadcast goes live from 6pm.  107.5FM or Listen Online (Link below)

 

For up to date details of these …and all our other gigs, check out our website, facebook events page, or Norfolk Gig Guide listings …links below.

It would be a real blast to see you at one of these.

 

Get loose and get funky people!

…and may the Groove be with you. x

 

Recommended Links:

Gary Frost (MDM Recording / Icecube Records Ltd): Icecuberecords.com

Broken Seven Events: facebook.com/pally69

The Fat Cat Brewery Tap: fatcattap.co.uk

Club Uniquity: clubuniquity.co.uk

Shaun Speight illustrations: behance.net/speightartist

Felixstowe Radio 107.5FM: felixstoweradio.org.uk

 

Banjaxeld Links:

Banjaxeld Website

Banjaxeld at ‘Soundcloud’

Banjaxeld at ‘YouTube’

Banjaxeld at ReverbNation

Banjaxeld at ‘Facebook’

Banjaxeld Gigs at ‘Norfolk Gig Guide’

 

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