The ‘Evolutionising’ of Banjaxeld
Almost a year after we morphed into Banjaxeld, and with a journey under our belts that we would have been forgiven for having expected to take at least twice as long, condensed into a relatively short, but intense and satisfying blink of an eye, we have finally (…and indeed some would say ‘already…?’), got round to making the very first Banjaxeld Album. In fact it’s the first official Banjaxeld shiny round laser-cut, digital sound producing offering… to boot!
After a couple of date changes and shuffling of schedules November the 19th was at last etched into our conscious beings as ‘THE ONE’…!
The whole process had begun back in September when we struck a deal with Gary Frost to record and co-produce the Album with his mobile studio at Matt Graver’s home, a converted chapel in Ormesby St Margaret, Norfolk. Gary had recorded us live at Vicfest back in August, so we knew he had a good idea what to expect, however he even turned up to a gig a month before our recording was due to begin to check out our live sound, equipment setting etc. And then Gary diligently came and made several separate checks and acoustic assessments of Matt’s house during the preceding couple of weeks.
Because of shifting the start date back a couple of weeks, we were left with some extra time to get together and put some last minute work into the Album material. With a couple of small, harmony focused rehearsals at Matt’s, and a full on, full day rehearsal in the nearby Rollesby Village Hall, confidence was fair brimming…! It didn’t entirely overcome the stress and anticipation, the nervous compulsion to renew strings and polish instruments etc. However, it was obvious we all wanted this to go well, we’d all bought into the music, were prepared to put in the extra effort, and freed up our time as much as possible to concentrate fully on making this a very special event.
The term ‘evolutionising’ came from Matt during this time… and we thought it quite apt and pertinent to where Banjaxeld currently are, where we came from, and how we got here! Banjaxeld has evolved as a band, and as individuals, both within the band and personally, but we’ve not just evolved, we’ve been proactive in that process. So you could argue that we’ve actually created some of that evolution process… ‘evolutionising’ … creating evolutionary processes! And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now with, and through the process of creating and recording the Album.
Originally we had planned that we could make a nine or ten track album, but we re-considered and decided we had twelve tracks ready to confidently record. During our rehearsals we realised we actually had thirteen original tracks…! And then somehow came to a further decision that if we managed our time well we could add a live take of Hoochie Coochie Man, partly as a bonus track… partly as a ‘self-indulgent pat on the back’ track… and partly due to popular demand from our audiences. I’m all for incentives… especially as long as the carrot stays dangling on the stick until we reach our destination!
The final list of the 14 agreed tracks going onto the album… in no particular order, and possibly subject to later change… but this is what we’re working with:
- For the road
- Rolling Home
- No Time
- No Fear
- Rhythm of life (Groove in B)
- Lay me down
- Just my point of view
- *Will I be* (working title)
- Summer’s End Blues
- 16,000 Feet of Groove
- Hoochie Coochie Man
The total length of this album will be more than an hour of music. We decided as this is the band’s debut album we wouldn’t be featuring any guests …we want to show what the five members of Banjaxeld have to offer …we want to make the statement… ‘This is what Banjaxeld are about’ …but we also want people to understand that we’re not for standing still and admiring our own work… we’re a creative band, looking to move forward and onward. We’re already mooting the second offering, and the second album, we have an abundance of ideas, writers, and potential collaborators, and we love what we do!
Engage the Groove Particle Accelerator
Sack’s idea of a ‘do not disturb’ sign for Matt to put outside the house during the recording sessions… ‘Recording In Progress, please be aware… you do not matter’ …says it all really…!!!
At last… ‘day one’… finally arrived… early…! No… real early…! Jeff, Vinny and mysleepyself arrived at Matt’s about 10.30 having gotten up about 7.30 and having only had about 3 hours sleep… not to mention having travelled the 17 or so miles from Lowestoft to Norfolk behind every original farm vehicle ever invented…! Gary was already there and still in the process of setting his kit up, the place looked like…. well, almost like… a studio! It took an hour or so to plug in instruments, tune up, get levels, there were a few studio technical hitches to be ironed out, but only to be expected with setting up a mobile unit in a strange environment. Thinking positively, we viewed this as somewhat good fortune as it allowed for copious quantities of mind reviving coffee to be imbibed … some slightly more unhealthy lung clogging, tube de-scaling, system ECGing warm-up exercises… biscuits stealthily disguised as breakfast to be devoured … a few scratches, sniffs and farts …and then we were finally ready to blast off…!
I actually can’t remember the order in which we did the songs, but I remember we started off with ‘Kickback’, and nailed it in two takes, and I remember we had problems getting into the Rolling Home groove, I think five attempts before we wisely deciding to move on and come back to it later? It’s strange now because one of my strongest memories is of loosing concentration on one of the later takes, because my mind wandered into the thought that no matter how much I knew I needed to savour the moment, the event, the being here… I would probably only really vividly remember some insignificant, silly thing and forget all the important stuff..? In reality I now think it was just a case of the abundance of intense concentration and focus made me aware that there was no brain space left for storing large bites of vivid memory… obviously I’m still using the old 128MB memory, that we all used to think was vast… that’s my excuse anyway!
Matt’s partner Emma French popped round for a couple of hours and was promptly volunteered into making drinks, sandwiches and being a very much appreciated general dogsbody. Of course it all genuinely helped the process along, but I think that the initial adrenalin overload had taken it’s toll and drained us all after the first five hours, so we agreed on an early night, an early start, and pinned our hopes on a bunch of fresh heads and ears in the morning for what would be a long and demanding ‘day two’ ahead. All in all, it has to be said… we did lay down five good backing tracks in shortly over five hours, so it was a bit of a short first day for us, but without a doubt …a productive one.
50,400 Glorious Seconds of groove
With the unavoidable cerebral analysis of day 1 pulsing through the brain, and the exasperating anxious anticipation of day 2 …both fighting for attention on the battlefield of my trying to sleep… and with the impending early start niggling away at that secret part of my being that still believes that Joseph Stalin was fundamentally a kind and generous man… I managed about 3 hours of unconsciousness before the reality that was ‘day 2’ hit me like a bucket of icy cold water…!
Eventually, back at the mobile recording location some hazy time later, yet still early, as if time was frozen at this inhumane time of day… Day two began with a short review of day one… five backings down and nine to go! A repeat prescription of coffee breakfast was gratefully ingested, and then it was heads to the grindstone, fingers on strings, and a slightly different approach, as we stripped back several of the songs to the drums, bass, and guide guitar & vocal basics, to get the backings of four songs done in one take bites. This gave us a great head start and all of a sudden we’re nine songs down… with only five to go!
The lovely Emma came along again to oversee the proceedings and keep the momentum going on the refreshments duties… this time though she managed to escape and make a bit of time to take a few photos of the session. She was kind enough to comment that she really liked what she was hearing… and she’s heard us loads of times… so she has a good degree of knowledge of what we think we’re about.
As ever in these things… as the last few backings were completed, and a few mistakes re-recorded or dropped in, the process did begin to slow down as time marched us from the late afternoon toward the evening. Listening to the tracks became an increasingly serious affair with half the band reviewing via the solitary isolation of the headphones for concentration, and there were the inevitable demands for different mixes of the sound to hear various different instruments. In the end we had all managed to retain a civilised discipline and agreed that the most important part of these sessions, to get the drum tracks down and be totally happy with them, had been successfully accomplished, and quite a lot more besides.
And then the scene was set for the carrot to finally be munched…! A few changes in the instrument set ups, a quick live style sound check, and then a totally live ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ blast of a take that went just a bit too much off the scale, swiftly followed by the second and final take of the session which we ‘nailed’, Jimmy’s live guitar solo sounding like the devil’s own dark tornado ripping through a packed town of wooden houses and tearing to shreds the helpless unsuspecting souls like chickens in a Bernard Mattews slaughter palace! You should’ve seen the look of incredulity on his face when Sack asked him afterwards (…with a completely straight face), if he wouldn’t mind doing a double track of the guitar! I think he saw the funny side eventually?
Nine backing tracks in nine hours of recording time, and the five from day one, makes a total of fourteen backing tracks in fourteen hours, or one track per hour if you prefer? All this achieved in two passionate days by five musicians, an engineer / producer, and a visiting caterer, means that there will now be those fourteen excellent tracks on Banjaxeld’s debut Album. However that is just the backing tracks done… we still have to re-do the Main Vocal, harmony vocals, Matt and Jimmy’s guitar bits, Vinny’s percussion, and a re-record of a Bass line on one track … then we can think about mixing it…!!!
Different location, same destination, cooperation
Monday 9th December, a day I personally shall not forget easily…! It was our first post recording session at Gary Frost’s house to lay down some of the vocal and backing vocal… which meant an early start…! Now, I know I may have mentioned it before but it is in the nature of what we do as musicians to usually be doing it later than peoples in ‘normal’ professions, so it’s a consequence of lifestyle that shall we say, makes early mornings something of a rarity, and it was one hell of a shock to my poor old system to have to be up at 5.30am… closer to my usual ‘give up on the day’ time. Anyway, I shouldn’t complain too much… I am the only one in the band who doesn’t / still refuses to sing, so my main reason for being there was to set the video to auto focus (…most important, can’t trust the eyes that early…!), and point it at Jeff, Matt and Vinny, whilst they weave their magical tonsils around the digital delights painstakingly prepared in a previous daytime.
There was a certain tension about the journey to Gary’s for the recording today. It may have been the subconscious influence of previous, not so successful or easy-going recording sessions projecting onto our expectations, or it could have just been the autumnal ambiance, dim days and fatigue? Either way once we got started we managed to work the Main Vocal and Matt & Vinny’s harmony vocal on five tracks. Vinny also pulled out a wicked rap on ‘Just my point of view’. Gary had even thought to provide some nice bread and various fillings for a lunch break… pre-empting that we’d obviously come along for a day’s recording without any supplies or thoughts of preparation.
After a very relaxed and welcome lunch break, the afternoon session seemed to take on a surreal life of its own. It could almost have been six tracks but by the time we got round to doing ‘Summer’s End Blues’ Jeff’s voice was getting a little tired and we decided to call it a successful day at that, and not push things unnecessarily.
Gary has been very much a guiding influence throughout this process, happy to sit back and allow us to work, until he feels we’re in need of some objectivity or technical enlightenment. Most pleasing for us has been that on more than one occasion during takes or playbacks he’s got into the music and been spotted doing the occasional air guitar, bass or drums! He can actually play the piano as well, which means he has a depth of understanding of music and arrangement beyond the mere capturing of a performance. His musical knowledge is also impressive, and he’s a really nice guy!
Another of Gary’s strengths is anticipating reactions, appreciating motivation and effective communication. The day after this recording session we got the first basic mix mp3 with vocal sparking an on-line communication conference that allowed everyone (except for Vinny, who doesn’t have internet), to put their views, opinions, ideas, concerns, etc… into one big discussion pot… and hey presto… Gary produces a basic mix of the five most completed tracks, which I have to say are sounding great already…. and we’re all left buzzin’ at the prospect of getting this album completed and out.
Six hat thinking in seven hat time …and other solutions
Monday 16th December was put aside specifically for Jeff to lay down the main vocals on the remaining tracks. Accompanied by Sack with his extraordinary out-of-hours navigational skills, and thankfully, Jeff’s Sat-Nav, we headed out to New Buckingham in Norfolk in search of the vocal recording session that was once again to be situated at Gary’s house. Coincidentally, we spookily arrived just as the kettle boiled again, and predictably proceeded to attempt to drink Gary out of coffee! That wasn’t the only stimulant available on this day… the mega-motivating power of the humble mince pie are often overlooked in these situations, but thankfully Sack was able to acquaint Gary with the benefits of their healing influence, via a practical demonstration on himveryself, showing how filling his face full of them can be the cause of keeping him quiet for five minutes, and thus can increase production.
Hydrated and with less distractions, Jeff was able to keep his voice warmed and consistent, his focus on the task at hand, and fairly cruised through the session with only the odd re-take, drop in, and vocal re-examination! There was one song though that just wasn’t happening… ‘Broken’ was just too fast for Jeff to get all the lyrics in! After several attempts to find a sensible solution, with the only other option to completely re-record the whole track from scratch, it was decided that Gary would try to digitally stretch the track a bit …thereby slowing it down slightly closer to the speed we normally play it.
It is more common for tracks to be speeded up slightly to make them sound tighter, slowing down has the opposite effect, emphasising anything that is not originally spot on, and making some things sound more obvious and even worse. Something that became evident a couple of days later when Gary had successfully slowed the whole track down by 11 seconds, using a re-sampling program that created some 8.5million new samples in the process. There was a significant loss of quality evident on first hearing and it’s unclear as to whether we will still use this backing at the moment, but the bass and other instruments need to be re-recorded in real time, so we will probably keep just the drum track to work with and see about EQing the slightly fattened drum sound up a bit.
This being our last opportunity to work on the album recordings before January 10th with Gary’s busy schedule, we wished Gary and family happy seasonal sentiments, and headed home with our increasingly frequent extra passenger ‘happiness’… he gives us quite a buzz you know!
Actually we must be the most boring people to get a lift off of… all the talk in the car to and from these things is work, work, work…! (…but then that’s music to us, that’s what we do!) …Stuff about the recording, the tone of instruments, the tightness, the possibilities of adding strange things… the harmonies, the solos, the gauge of strings, dream additions such as a moog or a horn section! The phrasing of certain words, metre and breathing! Trouble is, Sack’s memory for words, names and musical terms is in the 128MB class, so technical speak quickly degenerates into decoding, realigning and restructuring basic facts to the ‘barcode language’ of ‘thingymebob and whatsitsname’. So, while we’re here… this may help explain the band name… ‘Banjaxeld’ …if you find it doesn’t… then trust me… it definitely does…!!!
The proof is in the pudding… A small serving of the Banjaxeld pie
I’ve added this bit as an addendum to this post… rather than post as a new post… because it is particularly pertinent, crucially significant… and I like to tickle as many of your senses as I can at any one time…!
I must admit it wasn’t initially my intention to put up samples from our recording sessions. And as ‘a work in progress’, it comes with the following description / health warning… these few samples are not completed tracks yet, they’re taken from the initial sessions and consist of the instrument backing track plus some of the vocal… they are only rough mixes, and completely unmastered… so you… and we… can expect the finished product to be something a bit special.
Gary Frost (MDM Recording / Icecube Records Ltd): http://www.icecuberecords.com/Home.php