Guest column - Field Recordings. Why it's good to make albums outside the studio by Chris Helme
John Squire isn't the only former member of The Seahorses to be busy this year (something to do with The Stone Roses?), the band's singer Chris Helme is set to release an album, The Rookery on 3 September. Recorded in a rookery in the Yorkshire Dales with former Nine Black Alps man Sam Forrest, here Helme explains why he likes music made in unusual places.
I don't like places without windows, or being told what to do. I don't like keeping track of time, and I don't like recording studios. Recording on location kind of gives you a kick up the arse to do something different, hopefully inspired and hopefully, just maybe, you come away with a snapshot of a special moment in time, rather than just organised noise.
I always preferred the demo version to the final cut, the songs have a life of their own, but the spark is usually stamped out of them by the time you come to record it properly... whatever that means. So why not cut out the demo process completely and record whilst things are still fresh?
I wanted the recording process to be loose, relaxed and ultimately an experience everyone involved would remember and cherish; a week long party in the country, where we get to record between the hangovers. No pressure. Apart from we had to get down as many songs as possible in nine days.
I put my money where my mouth was and bought some recording gear. All I needed was a decent mixing desk, a multicore and a headphone amp and some headphones. I could borrow the rest from friends. I'd been talking about recording for ages, but I wasn't happy with a lot of the material. Fuck it. I needed to do something, and I needed to do it now.
There's a place in the Yorkshire dales called The Rookery, and I'd been there a couple of times before on family holidays and with friends for post tour long weekends or to generally wind down. The Rookery is a beautiful place that is big enough to record, with great sounding rooms. It's in the middle of nowhere with no neighbours for miles. We had 24hours a day to play music in a great environment with no distractions from the soul sucking outside world. No mobile phone coverage, no internet. Just some big old rooms and some great friends who also happened to be awesome musicians.
Before I could go any further, I realised I needed help. Unprofessional help. I called my friend Sam Forrest (Nine Black Alps, The Sorry Kisses). I'd heard a lot of the stuff he'd recorded in his own garage set up called The Factory Of Unprofessional Sound and asked if he'd be up for engineering and co-producing this new album I'd 'sort of' written. Thankfully, he said yes.
Sam has a great ethos: "No one cares. No one will hear it so just relax and get it done". That was easy for him to say... I'd just spent all my money and I was starting to feel more than a little anxious about everything. But, I took his advice and off we went.
Some songs really worked. Others were turds. So I decided to start over and replace them with brand new stuff, made from little ideas that I'd found on my laptop, written in hotel rooms on tour. I'd scrapped 75 per-cent of the material, which was both a reckless and heroic thing to do - but what's the point of being involved in something that doesn't do it for you? I figured we could just make it up as we went along. So we did. We had time. I had a few decent ideas, I trusted the musicians. Sam made me write up some chord sheets in the mornings and then we presented the bare bones to the band. Everyone was itching to play... so off we all went on our merry way, just jamming it out. No one told anyone what to play. Some ideas had words, some just chords and a quietly hummed melody. It took shape very quickly, people just being themselves, aware of what they were doing and relaxing into it. After a few times round we'd go for a take. Usually the 2nd one was the keeper.
We couldn't have got away with recording The Rookery in a normal studio environment. Everyone would have been clock watching or thinking I was losing it, suffering from some kind of delusion that we could still come up with the goods. I'm certain I would have bottled it. I owe a lot to the band and especially Sam and his wife Hayley for keeping things on track. Also to my own wife, Fiona who dragged me back from the precipice in the nick of time.
The album needed to be as relaxed as the house we were in. It was a strange therapy for me. I exorcised a lot of demons that week and you can hear it in the songs. I think we did a good job....I like it a lot, which is rare for me. As I said, we wouldn't have got away with this in a studio. Maybe we're just lucky. We'll see....
Chris Helme @ChrisHelme
For more on The Rookery head to Chrishelme.co.uk, meanwhile here's some more albums recorded in interesting locations as nominated by Chris:
The basement of Keith Richards' French mansion (The Rolling Stones, Exile On Main St.)
Big Pink house (Bob Dylan And The Band, The Basement Tapes)
Sammy Davis Jr's pool house (The Band, The Band)
An empty grain silo (Great Lake Swimmers, Great Lake Swimmers)
Sharon Tate's infamous murder house (Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral)
Jane Seymour's Mansion, St. Catherine's Court (Radiohead, OK Computer)
Rick Rubin's Laurel Canyon mansion (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex
Hunting cabin (Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago)
Switzerland's Grand Hotel (Deep Purple, Machine Head)
Slaine Castle (U2, The Unforgettable Fire)
Church Of The Holy Trinity (Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Session)
All across the USA on an iPad (Gorillaz, The Fall)
A houseboat (Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell)
Johnny Quaid's grandparents' farm (My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves)
A house in the woods (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory)
10:27 AM | 16/08/2012
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