Hello, Mike here again.
It’s week 4 of our intrepid blog and I think it’s time I indulged myself. On the occasions when I’m interviewed by blogs and suchlike around the release of an album, I get asked all kinds of questions, most of which are fun to answer. Who doesn’t like talking about themselves? (Don’t answer that.) But, for one reason or another, I never get asked about my favourite subject: guitars and guitarists.
So now’s my chance. The new album is very much guitar-driven, sometimes with both myself and Jeroen battling it out for space, which is fun. As well as being from Ghent, which is an enviable domicile, Jeroen is a fine guitarist. His style is very different from mine, clear, full and disciplined; mine is more scratchy and tinny. He knows how to get a nice sound from his vast array of interesting pedals (one’s called the Worm, and if you imagine the sound a worm makes, it actually sounds like that!), and he has a clarity of purpose. Quite frankly, he’s so good my ego can’t handle it. Luckily he also plays piano quite well, which is nice because I don’t, so that eliminates that bit of competition on a few songs.
I once met a young man from Ghent, who regretted the letters he’d sent. He ate black bananas and played the piana and lived all his life in a tent. (Anon)
Anyway, to move on…and by the way, if you’re a gearhead I won’t be banging on about gear so stop reading now. Instead I’ll talk about my favourite guitarists over the years. And you know what, there are actually too many to mention so I’ll just give you the highlights. Cool?
First up….when I was a kid I loved Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. Yeah I know. The less said the better. Listen if you’ve got 13 minutes….in fairness he really could play.
Let’s move on. After that early infatuation, I got into Chuck Berry, having heard ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ on a juke box in a pool hall at around 15 or so. Which sounds very romantic indeed except the song was 30 years old at the time, and it was the 80s, so I was arriving a little late to the party. No matter. It’s still fresh and Chuck is STILLL playing like the demi-god he is at whatever, 97 or something.
I bought a tape of Chuck Berry and pretty much learned all his songs and licks. For me I guess Chuck’s vault of licks was like the cave from whence all rock and roll emanated. And I kind of still think that.
After that I got into Jimmy Page out of Led Zeppelin in a big way. They had already broken up so again, late to the party (I’m a country boy, there were no record stores nearby) but I liked his style. He did dinosaur riffs! He did great, melodic, bluesy solos! The solo in ‘Black Dog’ is very sexy; check it out at 3:55.
I’m sure by now you think I’m all about the solos. Not true! I’m more into just plain rock and roll, really. If pressed, I’d probably admit that maybe my favourite song ever is Honky Tonk Woman by the Rolling Stones and, although I love Keith Richards, I think Ry Cooder deserves credit for that riff (a hotly contested point by Stones nerds).
Whether he played it or not, Ry could knock out riffs like these all over the place if he wanted to. But what I really love his slide playing, especially on “Into the Purple Valley”, which this song is from.
Now, here’s the thing. All the above I listened to as a teenager. After this, I started to listen to all kinds of other stuff that, though often guitar-driven, wasn’t guitar-centric. For example, I love Magnetic Fields….but they’re not a guitar band. I love Lambchop, but they’re not either, you know? I guess I was more into bands than guitarists. And that went on for another 15 years or so. But in recent years I’ve really started to enjoy, and feel influenced by, guitarists in bands again. One who’s worth mentioning is Ibrahim Ag Alhabib from Tinariwen.
He looks cool, doesn’t he? Now listen!
And okay, as I said there are too many to mention. But here are a couple of guitar bands who I really got into in recent years: one was Akron/Family who don’t really do guitar heroics but DO do great riffs and general craziness. If you don’t believe me,just check out their mental beards!
This song ‘Raise the Sparks’ is amazing.
Another, whom I’ve mentioned before, are Wave Pictures.
David Tattersall (on the right) is not only an enviable songwriter and lyricist on a par with the greatest indie poets, but an amazing guitarist. Once, when putting on a gig at which he played, I had the pleasure of listening to him mess around on an acoustic in my friend’s sitting room and it’s a moment I’ll never forget. So I’ll sign out with this, “The Woods” from their latest album City Forgiveness. If you made it this far, thanks for indulging me.
This week’s blog entry is by Wil, bassist in Groom.
So, I just collected a box containing the CD copies of our new album, Bread and Jam.
There’s a weird finality that comes over you when you are holding the finished artifact in your hand. Even though it’s been finalised for weeks and changes were not possible, they’re really not possible now.
Our job is now to get these CDs (and download codes/vinyl copies) into the hands and computers/ipods of as many people as possible but the creative journey of this collection of songs is over.
I always find it to be a strange time. We haven’t started the next project yet. That’s to be expected, I guess. We’re in a weird limbo between projects now.
I gave the CD the ‘car test’ on the way home and I feel, biased though I may be, it passed with flying colours. The car test is, for me, the final test of any album. If it sounds good there, it’ll pretty much sound good anywhere.
It got me thinking about how we recorded the whole thing. It’s difficult to listen to an album you’ve helped make and detach yourself from the feelings you had when you were actually recording it. Every time I listen to this album, part of me is back there in Soup Studios feeling very nervous.
I never feel nervous when we play a gig or when we’re rehearsing but in the studio when we’re recording I really feel I can’t relax and just play. I’m anticipating the next note or section of the song too much. ‘Is this chorus going back to another verse? Is this the first chorus or the second? Is there a middle 8 after this chorus? Is this the chorus that ends in F# or is it the one that ends in A minor?”
When you’re thinking this way you end up guessing and you’re right about half the time. When you’re relaxed, muscle memory takes over and you just play. So when I listen to the album, I just hear all the bits I’m not pleased with. Most wouldn’t notice but each of us in the band has those sections they listen to and aren’t happy with their part or wish they’d had another shot at. Despite all this, Bread and Jam was one of the easiest and best recording experiences we’ve had.
We recorded this album somewhat differently from the last one.
In 2013 we released our Brothers & Sisters EP. Each band member produced one of the four tracks and most of those were co-writes with Mike rather than being pure Mike compositions.
Groom is a really collaborative effort, I feel. Mike brings in songs that are largely structurally in place but there’s still lots of room for us all to add on to them and the songs evolve over time.
I think bands producing themselves is a sure-fire way to guarantee that the project is going to take a long time. I think the recording and mixing of those 4 tracks took the best part of 8 months if memory serves.
We all enjoyed it but it took a long time. Then we had to make all 4 songs sound somewhat cohesive and make them sound like they were a set. That wasn’t easy either.
We came away from it with a few ground rules for the next record (band guys always say record).
1. We’d record live as much as possible.
2. Minimal amount of overdubs.
3. We would, at the very least, NOT mix this album ourselves.
Our initial idea was that we would record it all ourselves and then hand over the sessions to someone else to mix.
While that seems like a good idea (and it is) you run the risk of making mistakes at your end that could be easily avoided if you worked with a producer. This limits your producer/mixers options in the post-production world.
We thought that we would contact some professional producers about mixing the album for us. We’d collaborate with them as much as we could at our end, take their advice about recording and then send it all on to them to untangle.
We eventually agreed on Simon Trought who had produced one of our favourite albums of recent years, ‘Instant Coffee Baby’ by The Wave Pictures.
Mike made the call to Simon in London and a deal was struck.
Upon listening to our Brothers & Sisters EP, Simon suggested we came to London and record the drum tracks. We could then take them back to Dublin, do all of our overdubs and send back the sessions for mixing.
Getting the drums right is the single most important part of any album, I reckon. If you don’t, your album will never be as good as it could have been. Think of your favourite album. It’s probably got pretty great drums, right?
Usually what happens is, you record the drums along to a ‘scratch’ vocal and guitar. This is just a guide for the drummer to perform the song. It’s standard practice but there’s something genuinely weird about it. You’ve rehearsed all of the songs as a band for months and months and now when you’re recording the definitive version, most of the band aren’t there.
So, we decided we’d all go over to London and play along so Ruan could produce drum tracks that had all the energy of the full band playing together. We knew we’d have to re-record all of our parts but at the very least Ruan’s drum takes would have the energy we needed.
Soup Studio in London is a fantastic place. We instantly liked it and felt we’d have a good experience.
Great vintage instruments and amps line the walls of the live room and we spent the first hour playing with all the toys.
Giles, our engineer, had pretty much set up the space before we got there and It wasn’t long before we were ready to start recording.
I think we started with one of the newer songs called ‘Moving To Athlone’. It was a slightly shaky start but when Ruan was happy with the drums we went in to listen to playback.
It sounded fantastic straight away. We then realised that all of the stuff that Jeroen, Mike and I were playing would all be usable. We thought we’d have so much bleed-through from the drums on our guitar tracks that they’d need to be redone, but clever mic selection/placement and isolation of amps meant that instead of leaving London with 25% of the album recorded, it’d be more like 80%.
Even though we’re all playing together in the studio, the pressure is truly on the drummer. Ruan had to be happy with each take. If he wasn’t, we’d go again. We got most songs within the first 3-4 takes but some took much more. One tiny complicated part could break the song and we’d all screech to a halt. Sometimes all it takes is the engineer/producer to say ‘We’ll go for one more take and if we don’t get it we’ll move on and come back to it later”.
Then we get it right. It’s an old trick but it usually works.
When we left London, we had the core of 12 songs recorded (one song would not make the record).
Back home we did all of the vocals, some guitar licks here and there and started sending the stuff back and forth to London.It was a quick and relatively painless process. Giles and Simon responded to our requests with good grace when we were being incredibly picky.
After that you’re into track sequencing and artwork etc but largely speaking you’re into the fine-tuning phase and the big flashy parts are all done.
Soon it’ll be in people’s hands and ears. Hopefully. Once it’s out there, people will have heard everything we’ve got so far. There aren’t any new songs we’re working on. Whatever happens next will no doubt take a couple of years before we present it to anyone.
It’s an exciting time in a way. One piece of work finished and another waiting to be started at some point.
Some random thoughts on why we do this…
Today, for blog post number two, we’re showing a video for a new song, “I’ve never Been in a Real Fight”, which was directed by Ruan, with help from Wil, Sal, Padraig from Tieranniesaur, and Sandrine from France.
Watching this video made me think, as I am wont to do, about why we do all this. By “this”, I mean this carry-on of making music and putting out records, playing gigs and all the pain-in-the-arse stuff that goes along with it. Surely we should know better, in this climate of uncertainty, and at our age?
There’s no doubt we sure do enjoy it and, for our musical friends, whose numbers are legion, I guess that all pretty much makes some kind of sense. But for all our families, ex-college and ex-school friends and workmates I sometimes wonder. Perhaps it’s viewed as a hobby, like a weekend game of 5-a-side. Or perhaps it would be a source of bemusement, if they ever were to think about it: a distraction, to keep us off the streets.
And maybe some of that is true, but I would say for the record that your average hobby doesn’t swallow up weeks of preparation, hours of amp-lugging and days of back pain for 45 minutes of fun. Playing music is more like having a drug habit, or a child. And we’ve got some of those. We’d know.
In any case, band or no band, there’s plenty to keep us off the streets. Contemporaries will agree, as you get older and responsibility seems to metastasise itself throughout every aspect of your mortality like some kind of damn blood disease; as you inevitably see various musical friends go “Ah well, that was fun…. but now it’s time to take life seriously”; as joints get stiff and flus set in for entire winters; you do start to ask the prickly questions. And I’m not gonna lie, those arguments make a lot of sense. I’ve got four kids, and they’re wrecking the place downstairs as I type this. I don’t have the time to get anywhere near the street. If I make it as far as the front door, I’m lucky.
Having said that…or maybe because of that, this song, “I’ve Never Been in a Real Fight”, which is streaming below IS actually all filmed on the streets of Portobello and environs. And the song itself, which introduces side 2 of our new record “Bread and Jam” (if you get the vinyl LP—otherwise it’s song 6 on the CD) is set on those streets. It describes a pub crawl with a friend who had been through a major life change as a result of something of a midlife crisis. Like all things Irish, we talked through this over many drinks in different pubs. As we got drunker the usual grievances and recriminations that occur between old friends were aired. And that’s what it’s about. The evolutionary biology component of the song is a nod to the fact that we’re both former biologists, but the “we” is also a lofty referral to “we” the human species.
Which brings me, in my usual meandering way, to my point. Why do we do this? To be honest, I’m not sure. I do know that, for better or for worse, we all have to exist in this strange milieu we call society. And despite my best efforts, I have found to my chagrin after 41 years that it’s NOT actually like the game of Monopoly and you CAN’T just sneak off to the jacks when you get bored. Taking part is mandatory. To wit: you, kind reader, who are possibly reading this at work right now, flopped in front of a computer to devote yourself to someone else’s trip for forty hours a week, what is your fight? After your allotment of desk hours, do the subsequent emotional hours—or rather, the emotional transaction that takes place—usurp your energies so much that you are unable to find the energy to quench the fire inside?
To those of you for whom this rings true, and who find it all a terrible bore and maybe even a bit dehumanising—such as myself and my pub-crawl friend (at least on that particular night)—I say hello, traveller. For myself, I feel one must at least try to make sense in our spare time of that thing inside that appears to have been randomly handed to us. (And by what? Our genetic code?) By “that thing”, I guess I mean the longing for meaning and the struggle for truth. I feel it’s not the wisest course to resolve this with a pony tail and a convertible any more than it is with getting drunk and into a street fight.
It’s also probably not wise to fight with a friend. Or, worse, to take it home. It’s probably more advisable to take it to the band practice room. Or to a weekend 5-a-side.
Hello. Mike here. As our new song “Colours” is being streamed at thumped.com right now, I thought I would mark this with a new blog entry. Over the next few weeks, this blog will experience an uncharacteristic rash of activity as we post various things in the lead-up to the release of our new album, “Bread and Jam”. To get started, perhaps we should begin with something brief about the album and how it came about.
After the release and subsequent promotion (such as there was) of our last full album, “Marriage”, we set about planning for the next record. Marriage was an ambitious affair with an 8-piece band that included brass, violin and percussion.
Marriage (Popical Island, 2010)
For “Bread and Jam”, we decided to retreat, make everything smaller and let the songs speak for themselves. With a 4-piece band of bass, drums, guitar and keyboards, we accumulated a large number of songs. We used four of these on a self-recorded EP called Brothers and Sisters in 2013….
Brothers and Sisters (Popical Island 2013)
…and, because this new approach seemed to work pretty well, we kept n writing until we had eleven songs we were happy to release as a full album.
A word about the songs: we purposely kept the songs simple on this record. As the songwriter I intuitively felt that there should be no grand statement and no overarching theme. My favourite albums are those which are a straightforward collection of songs, in which the place they were recorded, the people involved and the mood of the time all add a certain colour to them. So most songs we kept quite short, and there are few twists and turns, changes in pace or ornamentation. Like the eleven team members of a football team (yes, the World Cup is on as I write this) they each do one thing and hopefully work together to produce an elegant whole. Also, with the exception of an harmonica solo played by Paddy Hanna, they’re all played live by the band, and we tried to keep them in the character of the band, if that makes any sense.
For the recording of Bread and Jam, we decided not to do it entirely ourselves, not least because we felt someone else might do a better job, but also because working on your own is laborious and slow, and the constant second-guessing of your own mixing is wearisome. A third, fourth or fifth interpretation is always good.
So we looked into a number of affordable studios in Ireland and then it dawned on us, why stay in Ireland? Why not just think about our favourite records, and take a punt at asking the producer of one of those if he or she would be interested in mixing it? We figured we had nothing to lose and one of the first records we thought of was Instant Coffee Baby by Wave Pictures, which was recorded by Simon Trought in London.
(Blurry photo of Simon)
Simon runs the rather lovely Soup Studios, in which lots of great records have been recorded, including ICB as well as records by Darren Hayman, Let’s Wrestle and many more. We were impressed by the groove these records have, a spirit of fun and no-frills recording. We liked that these were all records with great attitude that belied the simple arrangements and straightforward production. It seemed to us a no-brainer and, when Simon said yes, they’d be into it, we were delighted.
The second song on the album is called Colours, which was one of the late-arrivers (there are always a couple).
About Colours. I guess it’s pretty representative of the record in that it’s bright and optimistic (well, we think so anyway) and contains many of the recurring themes of the album. It references Harry Clarke, who many will know as he was pretty famous. He was a really brilliant Irish artist that excelled particularly in stain-glass. Read more about Harry Clarke here.
The Harry Clarke stain glass windows in Cong, County Mayo, where I’m from, are particularly beautiful and have a special significance for me.
Harry Clarke stain glass window in Cong: detail
ANYWAY. Why not just listen to the song. The good people of thumped.com are streaming it so head on over there and have a listen. CLICK HERE
Fri 27th Jun Supporting Paddy Hanna Whelans (upstairs)
Sat 9th Aug Groom album launch: “Bread and Jam”, The Pop Inn
Fri 15th Aug HMV instore, HMV, Grafton Street, Dublin (17:00ish)
Fri 29th Aug The Revelry 21 Lower Main Street, Letterkenny
Sat 13th Sep Retro Revival, Sweeneys, 32 Dame Street, Dublin
News news news…..the new album from groom is to be called Bread and Jam and is out on August 9th. Here’s the tracklisting.
Rónan Agus Áine, Cá Bhfuil Tú?
Moving to Athlone
Charlie O’Loughlin Fuk Dat Shit
The Old Songs
I’ve Never Been in a Real Fight
Dermot, Dermot, Dermot, Dermot
When Young People Fall in Love
Don’t Listen to the Voices
Just a small bit of news. Groom are back gigging this summer with a couple of gigs already under our belt, having played the Grand Social last week followed by an appearance at the Dublin Writers’ festival alongside Donal Lunny and Alasdair Roberts. With an album out on August 9 we’ll have some more gigs coming up so we’ll keep you posted.