The birth of an album: a cautionary tale?
The result of several years of writing, a year of planning, and nearly ten months recording. Finally the Tugboat album is finished and pressed and sitting in my hands (figuratively speaking) and looking utterly gorgeous (me being one of its proud parents).
When we started planning our follow-up release to our 7" single in June last year, we had no idea what the next year-and-a-bit was going to be like, and what the result would be. Originally we had planned to release a 7" single, which then became a plan to release an EP. Originally we were going to record the whole thing on (the bass player) Jeremy's 8-track home studio, which was shelved in favour of working with the esteemed local music legend Richard Andrew, formerly of Underground Lovers and Crow, and currently doing his thing in Registered Nurse. Richard's studio is an 1" analogue 8-track housed in a fairly decrepit and massive house in North Fitzroy.
We started recording with Richard in October (or was it September?), on the same weekend that Paula Yates was found dead. At this stage, our plan was to record seven songs for an EP, which was meant to be finished by January. We recorded the main tracks for the first six songs at a public hall in South Melbourne on one sunny spring Sunday, and then spent the next three months painstakingly recording overdubs for the tracks we'd started.
The number of times I wanted to throw the whole process in over the next few months steadily became countless. I'd be unhappy with a guitar part, a vocal, I'd want to scrap an entire song.. At this stage the record had little shape and was not much more than a random collection of half-finished songs that to me sounded a bit on the crap side.
Around January, Richard made the audacious suggestion that maybe we should record a whole album, mainly because he thought that albums get better recognition and attention than EPs, plus he enjoyed working with us sufficiently to make him want to go the distance. Also, we were nowhere near finishing the tracks we'd started anyway.
In March, I was between jobs for a month, so I spent most of March commencing the recording of the next batch of songs. With Richard, I recorded five songs that didn't require the whole band, mainly those that didn't require drums, or used loops and electronic percussion. Three of these songs didn't reach the completion stage and never made it to the final cut. Come April, we repaired again to South Melbourne for an entire weekend to record the live tracks for a further seven songs to round out our total of 18 songs from which we would choose the final track listing for the album.
By this stage the record was starting to cost me (as its sole financier) quite a deal of money. I had no idea it would cost me a darn sight more than it had so far. Over the course of the next few weeks I worked quite steadily at overdubs, and it was during this time Richard's talent as a producer was shown. Lots of little ideas, sounds, percussion, samples.. It was at this point the record really started to take its shape. Also, during this time Bek (the drummer/co-vocalist) was away, so Richard and I commenced mixing down some of the completed songs (about 4 or 5 songs were complete at this stage). For me, the mixdown is one of the most enjoyable parts of the recording process, because it's where all the bits and bobs and glorious mess of the raw tracks are brought together to form the final version of the song. A few of the initial mixes weren't up to par, but we had the luxury of time to go back and re-do anything (and indeed, most things) that weren't quite there.
By now it was June, and we were probably 90% finished. So to make sure we got off our asses and finished the damn thing, I booked a mastering session at Studios 301 in Sydney for mid-July. During June we feverishly worked to try and get all the songs finished. In fact, three of the songs didn't even have lyrics or a finished melody until the last week of June. Ironically, these three songs ended up being among the best we recorded, which to me bodes well for our future (since we don't really have any songs written for our next record).
The last week of June was spent completing overdubs, re-recording vocals and some guitar parts, and mixing down the final versions of all the finished songs. It was our intention to have all 18 songs finished so we could pick and choose the best, but in the end we only completed 15 songs, and 1 of these was not considered good enough for the final cut. This was a mixed blessing, as it was one of our strongest and most popular songs, but we felt it was probably better to save it for a future release anyway.
The waiting was the hardest part in the lead-up to the mastering. Studios 301 is considered the most "prestigious" mastering suite in Australia, and most of the Australian chart releases are mastered here. Needless to say the mastering was a very expensive process. It was probably an unnecessary extravagance to master our vaguely lo-fi album at the best studio in the country but by this stage I was hell-bent on the getting the best for this record I'd laboured so long over.
The weekend Richard, Bek and I spent in Sydney for the mastering was an absolute blast. We were staying with a friend and ex-bandmate of Richard's, Peter Fenton (ex of Crow and also star of the film Praise and ABC television series Love Is A Four Letter Word) who was a warm and gracious host. The mastering was a lengthy, arduous and quite stressful process, but the satisfying feeling of listening back to the finished and sequenced album at the end of the session was so tangible I felt I could touch it.
Richard, Bek and I celebrated the completion of the record by trailing the streets of Sydney, hopping from bar to bar and getting utterly trashed. We also caught a drag show on Oxford Street, did cocksucking cowboy shooters until we were licking the spilt Baileys off the tables, and smoked our weight in Benson & Hedges. We flew back to Melbourne the next day hungover and triumphant.
Yesterday I got back the finished compact disc from the record label, complete with its beautiful sleeve part-designed by my friend Kate. It was worth every cent, it looks so beautiful.
We decided to call the album "All Day" in tribute to our friend Paddy, a Melbourne songwriter in a band called Grand Salvo, who has a habit of using said phrase in almost all of his songs.
What happens from hereon in I don't know, it might make us popstars or it might disappear into obscurity. I'm still unbelievably proud of what Tugboat have achieved.
What does it sound like? It's hard to be objective about that sort of thing, but I'd like to think those years spent listening to R.E.M.'s Murmur, those wacky Brisbanites the Go Betweens and My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything had some effect on what I write..