Saturday, 29 March 2014

Goodnight Lenin: 17 hours, 2 studios, 2 finished cuts, 1 7 inch.

This is about doing it differently. It's also about Record Store Day, the annual Indie record store bash where 700 UK stores – yes, there still are that many – celebrate their independence, and, often, survival. 

This follows on from last week's, on the Album format. If artists are using the format the way last week's post suggests, Indie record stores are where you'll need to go to get them. 

On Record Store Day, a world of lovingly prepared, unique and mainly indie collectibles will be on sale. Pressing runs will be insanely limited. I really can't see any acts gaining financially: it's done to highlight a retail sector which supports independent artists, sometimes in very difficult trading conditions. 

On Sunday 23rd March, Goodnight Lenin were in Birmingham's Highbury Studio to cut two songs for Record Store Day. The tracks were mixed at Artisan; all done in under 24 hours, with a limited 7" vinyl run to come from the results. The songs? vintage Crosby Stills Nash and Young. The band's many reasons, along with session photos, exclusive rehearsal audio and the finished articles are after the jump. 

It's ten in the morning at Highbury. Goodnight Lenin's John Fell is exceptionally cheery at the start of it all.
We're about an hour in so far – we've just laid down the basis of 'Almost Cut My Hair'. We've got the take, and we're working though the individual channels, cos we recorded live. It creates a feel: we're all in the room together. But that can let in errors; there are errors in there. Most of the time we'll leave them.

The intention here is a snapshot, isn't it? This is us, doing this, today...
Definitely. It's great to work like this. You look at Matt, or whoever... you're not sat in a room with headphones on, playing to a click track. We don't have click tracks, we play it as it is.

All photos by the great Rich Shakespeare
It's a pretty intense process, though. You plan to get the whole thing done and dusted in 24 hours.
It is pretty intense, but it's a real nice way of doing it. Eecording can take such a long time. Everyone is under the same pressure at the same time, together. We're going to wake up tomorrow and have the two tracks. 

You're working straight through? I worry about the mixing stage, when you're all knackered – that's' when the mistakes creep in.
We're quite a determined bunch. We'll keep the focus on, for sure. So now we want to get the tracks down, because we've got three-part harmonies to go on as well. I've got to try and nail David Crosby's vocals on 'Almost Cut My Hair'.

Let me ask about the material. Crosby Still Nash and Young? This stuff is ancient, from way before you guys were born, rooted in a 60s counter-cultural vibe...
That was the end of the 60s, that album,even though it came out in 1970. Woodstock's just happened....

...and 'Almost Cut My Hair' absolutely was a political statement. It was about letting your freak flag fly.... I remember, I was there – even though we did think it was a bit over the top, over here in England. I did feel Crosby was being a little over-intense in his sentiments...
He was an intense guy. He was making a point. It mattered to him.

At this point, John was called away to do run-throughs of Neil Young's 'Helpless'. Three vocals, two guitars and piano, live: John, John Joe McCreedy and Liam Conway. I grabbed as it went down. Here it is, on the fly in the main studio room.

And here is the finished article:

We reconvene an hour later. The 'Helpless' multi-tracks are in the can, with vocals still to go down. John's busy live-tweeting. Liam Conway joins us.

'Almost Cut My Hair' – how's that progressing?
John: Lots to do. We've got to do the solos.
Liam: Self-indulgent solos....
John: It'll be fine. Should be pretty quick. Doing Crosby's vocals will be fun.

We're talking three and half hours in – that's damn good progress.
John: Hey, we're a well-oiled machine.
Liam: We know our limitations.

So you expect to get this wrapped by this evening?
John: Yup. Want to get to mixing by six. The mix is going to take a while....

Them once mixed, you send it off to be mastered for pressing to vinyl in time for Record Store Day.
Liam: Then it goes out of our hands. That's the scary part.
John: It'll be mastered tonight. We'll have the tracks tomorrow. We could go down to the pressing plant, in London... We're only doing a limited run. That's the point. We wanted to do something special for Record Store Day. Our album comes out in November, with a single before that. But this is a really nice project. Everybody's got involved.

And the local indie record stores – the guys who will be supporting you?
John: We know the local guys really well – Swordfish and Polar Bear – and there's Left For Dead in the Custard Factory. Each of them will get at least one. And everyone involved will get a copy. Some will go to Manchester, a few national stores. But literally only one in each store!

Crikey. What is your total print run?
John: We're thinking... fifty.

How on earth are you going to break even on this thing?
John and Liam finish each other's sentences: We're not! We're making a loss. Happens quite a lot...

So what, exactly, are you getting out of it?
John: The major thing is that we'll have two tracks online. We'll upload them on YouTube, we'll eventually get them up on Spotify. They'll automatically tell you what the band's like. In the past, we've gone down the folk route, which we didn't exactly mean to do – we just came that way. Our perception was that what we were doing, rehearsing in the lock-up, was very different form what people are seeing. And that's partly our own fault.

This is all to do with your tougher stance on stage. 
John:  Yes. All our back catalogue has been withdrawn. If you've got that, it's now officially collectible. So the next thing, before the album lands, is people seeing us play Crosby Still Nash and Young. That plants a seed.

And with that, it was back to the recording grindstone. At the end if it all, they were pretty happy.... but note the bags under a few eyes. 
Five days on, having listened to the finished edition, I have to say it's impressive work. 

Goodnight Lenin will road test their new songs two days ahead of Record Store Day at a home town gig. Also promised is much of the new album, which has been long in the making, and maybe some future material. And if you want that vinyl? The only way you will get to hear it before Record Store day is at a GNL gig. Better get a ticket, or get to the stores early.

Update: Now we are well past Record Store Day, here's the second finished article:

Record Store Day UK 2014
Goodnight Lenin's
(currently very minimal) website

Artisan Audio
Highbury Studio

Birmingham Indie Stores
The Diskery
Polar Bear 

More music and music business posts on Radio To Go


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