Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Recording Jon Kenzie's album.

I have recently been in Blueprint Studios recording some acoustic guitar and mandolin for Jon's new album. Jon Kenzie is a singer-songwriter who can be heard singing on a recent Acer advert on T.V. We were running on quite a tight schedule, as Jon was trying to record 10 songs in two days with a rhythm section which consisted of Jon and I, plus Stevie Williams playing ukelele bass and Eryl Roberts on drums. Later backing vocals and strings would be added.

We had a couple of practices the week before the studio session to tighten up the songs. Eryl and Stevie were laying down some incredible grooves and the tracks that Jon had recorded at home as demos really started to develop into something exciting. Once we got into the studio there was quite an intense working atmosphere as we endeavoured to stick to the schedule. Not as many tea breaks as I have experienced in some studios. Everything ran smoothly though, and Gaz the engineer was really on the ball. Jon was less concerned about each song being note perfect, but more focused on capturing the ideal feel and vibe for each song. This approach helped us stick to the timetable, as we generally found the best performance to be one of the first three takes. Hit the jump key to read on...

The session required me to play in a couple of different guitar tunings, and also play some slide guitar. But the real challenge was playing the mandolin. It's only something I've got into in the past year or so, and I was wary of being in the studio with these great musicians and not really knowing what I was doing. Time for some serious practice. A mandolin is tuned in fifths like a violin, rather than in fourths like a guitar. Once I'd got my head around that and practiced some scales, things started to fall under my fingers a little better, and I started to feel more confident. The trick was to play simple things and make sure I played them well, rather than try anything beyond my reach. I also discovered there are special mandolin plectrums which are bigger and thicker than guitar plectrums. These made a surprising amount of difference to the sound I was getting out of the mandolin.  There are some really helpful Youtube videos in which Chris Thile (a great mandolin player from the band Nickel Creek)  discusses mandolin techniques, and how to adapt to the mandolin from the guitar.

I co-wrote three of the tracks on this album with Jon, and we really worked hard on the lyrics, making sure every word deserved to be there. In a future blog I'll discuss the techniques and ideas behind our writing process. I feel really proud of the songs we've written and really pleased to be playing on the album. Can't wait to hear the finished product.

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