We sent the raw sound files for one of our songs, Molotov,
to a friend by the name of Dirk Melchior, to see what the crazy German might make of it in terms of a mix. Molotov
as it stands is the collated results of about seven different recording sessions over the last seven years, piano, bass, guitars, drums (both live and sampled) woodwind samples, re-routed guitar doodles, 40 vocal takes etc etc etc... All of this winged its way to Freiburg, Germany via the magic of t'internet. And a few days later, I received this email, with some ideas as to how an extremely frustrated Mr Melchior might deal with such a huge steaming spewforth of noise:Dear Mr. Molotov, sorry ich muss das jetzt fragen: Ihr meint das ernst, oder ?! ok, kein Scherz, ERNST! ok, ok ich hab es auch ernsthaft versucht, aber... schwierig- Mischen impossible 1. Strategie: Open up as many Plug-ins as you can, make sure they look serious and important. Cover the whole screen with their windows and hope nobody is able to find the play-button. Shit! Keycommands! Ah- Keycomandeditor!!! Change all the Keycomands, f.e. press apple/q to start. No! song will start if they gonna close Logic, witch will happen very soon. Better delete all Keycomands. 2. Strategie: Send them a attached virus called Molotov 22. Shit! No virus on Macs! Create a Virus! 3. Strategie Declare war on Britannia! Arrgh, don't mention the war, i am German! 4. Strategie: Find as many drum-machines as there are at lagerhouse, sync them to Logicsong Molotov21, make them play Acidtrancedrum'n'basshouselambadaspeedmetaldub. Press play. Mute one drum-pattern after the other. That makes the song much clearer after a while. Not clear enough.
De-mute drum-patterns and open as many Quicktimeplayers with as many kinds of rhythmic sound-fills as you can. Open the real live window for real live noise. Arrrgh Live! forget the Drumachines . Open every sound-file on the computer in Live Pitch and sync it to Molotov in Rewire Mode. Make Michele scream at you. Press stop to make song much clearer, and to listen what Michele wants. Can't understand Michele 'cause of the noise in my Ears. Tinitus? No, Helicopter flying to the airfield beside the Lagerhouse. 5. Strategie Take iBook, Headphones, hire Helicopter. Mix during Flight. After you stop feeling sick... Ask Helicopterpilot to fly round your studio. Enjoy Bass-response never heard in studio before. Start thinking of song-lyrics... 6. Strategie Asking Songwriter about Strategy "Songwriter, do you have a) an idea about the song molotov b) an idea how to get the song molotov out of my head by doing a really good mix (clear you say) c)A camera- so we could meet @ web and talk about the song molotov, drink beer and be quiet?" *Liebe, Grüße d.
It's easy to forget that hidden in the layers upon layers of ideas that constitute each song on the LP there is a chain of agreements between myself, Neil and Doug; the majority of them unspoken, and indecipherable from listening to the recordings alone. Every now and then over the course of our 6 years making this record we've sat down, had a drink, and talked about some song or other (just as Dirk suggests we should do at the end of his email) in order to decide where that song might travel next. These conversations have led to mixes and arrangements that have, in turn, morphed into different things as our interests have altered... And so - in my opinion - one of our problems is that we've spent a lot of the last 6 years making the LP we were interested in at the time,
according to the whims of our current listenings and technical interests, only to see it shape-shift as those interests and favourite records have changed. (We're all magpies in angel tech. We swoop for whatever shiny thing presents itself.)
Two months ago -when Dirk sent the email above - the LP was overpowered by its electronica. It was definitely a sample-driven record with a large element of "look at me!" in its programming. Upon Neil's insistence we took the songs into the rehearsal studio with live instrumentation, and systematically went through each track, finding a satisfying way of performing them. Whilst it hasn't changed the fundamental nature of the songs, it has definitely given the LP a more focussed feel, and at the moment it has the sense of record played by a band
Which is something it didn't always have before.Molotov
is a good example of this shift. It used to begin with a cacophony of furious beats, three versions of the same rough-cut sample of me drumming, detuned and filtered in different ways, frequencies battering against each other. In theory, on paper, this sounds fantastic... and it was a great start to the song in some ways. But in others, it was self-concious, flashy... and this was not a good thing for the song.
An artist friend of mine called Alex Bradley listened to a rough mix having never heard Molotov
before, and within seconds of it starting said "Ah. Right. So you've re-mixed your own song." Ultimately, we stripped most of the beats from the track altogether, only giving them a look-in towards the end of the song, where suddenly they take over and the entire shebang collapses under its own weight. But in the version we now play live, for a good 75% of Molotov
it's just me singing over some woodwind samples. You worry about this sort of thing when you perform in front of an audience... you worry that it won't seem honest somehow, or that it will look like a horrible sort of wanky karaoke. But here's the rub: it is
honest. We've spent 6 years wrangling this fucking thing, slapping all sorts of crap onto it, and this is the conclusion we've come to. There's no other way of doing it.
On December the 13th last year we performed our first plugged-in gig (outside our theatrical work) since January 2000. It was a small sort of affair for a friend's birthday party, unadvertised, in the back of noodle bar in central Bristol. The sound man walked out during one of the earlier bands ("I find this musically offensive" is apparently what he said. For fuck's sake. You're a sound engineer.
You expect to go through life and never operate a desk for a band you don't like?) but luckily there were people in the audience capable of running the show, who weren't offended by certain unexpected frequencies. The monitoring proved a bit of a puzzle, and throughout the evening it seemed to be intent on ripping Doug's head off with sheer volume. But all this considered, the gig went extremely well. There were cheers when we name-checked favourite albums or songs in The Jukebox Will Tear Us Apart,
some folks sang along to songs they'd only heard before as acoustic versions, the faces in the audience were those of people either getting swept up in the music, or people intrigued by what this odd-looking set up was doing with its Voyager Space Probe drumkit, violins, coffin-shaped stomp boxes and skittering laptop. All in all? I felt we'd got back on track.
(With many thanks to Dirk for letting me reprint his email, and for all his head-scratching over our reprobate mixing skills. Happy New Year.)* In answer to Dirk's questions:a) Yes, I do have an idea about the song. I read a book recently about the riots which happened in St Pauls, an area of Bristol, in the 1980s. One of the people interviewed in the book (a Doctor, who is currently my GP, strangely enough) said that one of the most remarkable things about walking around St Pauls during these riots was that certain streets were fantastically calm and quiet. You would never have known acts of extreme violence, pitched battles between rioters and police, were taking place only a couple of streets away. Molotov is the quiet streets during a riot, and it's knowing that just around the corner, people are smashing windows and burning cars.b) Do a good mix of Molotov by taking everything out, and only putting back in the stuff that you like. Scrap the rest.c) Webcams/webchats. Now, we've done this. We know that what happens is that we pull stupid faces into the camera for half an hour, then say goodnight. Shall we do it again sometime?