April 6, 2011 SOUNDS ⁄  F*CK THE NEIGHBOURS

WORKING FROM HOME SOUNDS BETTER THAN EVER, THANKS TO A LO-FI MAKEUNDER

 

Home recording once called to mind some sort of earnest 90s wretch, praying for the worst sound possible from his four-track tape recorder, and grinding out unlistenable demos, surrounded by the clutter and smeg of Unsigned Indie Loserville.

While Guided By Voices and Daniel Johnston centred their early careers on the home recording process, most bands ditched the lovable tape hiss and ran for the studio as soon as a label dangled a meagre advance check in front of them.

Fast-forward to now and musicians are rushing back to the bedroom (or, you know, log cabin, if they’re Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). The dirty socks may still be there, but the future of music is being shaped in cruddy flats and handsome maisonettes the world over, as junior Brian Enos explore the outer reaches with mini-avant-garde symphonies created on their laptops, and lo-fi revivalists use the latest technology to make their music sound as poorly recorded as possible (go figure).

Curious about what goes on behind all those closed doors, some sort of rock ‘n roll hedonism we hoped, we rang the buzzers of three London-based artists who let us in for a cup of tea (sigh) and a poke around their home-recording setups.

A Grave with No Name

Alex Shields is A Grave with No Name. With his disappointingly tidy east London bedroom doubling as a recording space, Alex spends his time at home writing spectral guitar anthems and feedback-drenched soundscapes.

Why do you record at home?

For me, the writing and recording processes are intertwined and I find this only works when I am on my own, as I’m really self-conscious about my voice and musical ability. I like the privacy. I’m also familiar with my equipment, so I can work quickly to make things sound a particular way. It’s easier to do it myself as opposed to trying to describe it to an engineer. Then, of course, there’s the financial aspect – if I had a spare £100, I’d rather spend it on a new pedal or something than a day in a cheap studio.

Does recording in your living space have an impact on the music you create?

Most definitely. I used to live in a converted church and the songs I recorded there were much grander, louder and (it’s a really bad word) ‘rockier’. A few songs were recorded at my parents’ place and these tended to be much lighter in tone and perhaps involved more computer processing and samples. Just in a pragmatic sense, I was way less likely to be playing drums really loudly, late a night, if I was recording there. I’ve just moved into a new place recently and have only recorded a couple of tracks here, so it’s hard to spot if it’s had a major impact on my recording yet, but I seem to have been making really melodic and more intricately arranged tracks of late.

Have any household items worked there way into your music or served as inspiration for a song?

I find it’s more happy accidents that make their way into my songs – I was watching this film Open Water in my room one time, and got super bored by it, so I turned on my computer and the microphone picked up these rhythmic water sounds from the movie which I had left on, and those became the backbone of a track I have which shares the same name as the movie. I also have this other song called ‘Sofia’ and just as I sang this line “having the time of our lives”, my girlfriend’s alarm clock went off. It’s just cool little details like that which would never happen if I recorded in a regular studio.

Any run-ins with the neighbours over the noise?

Not so much when I am recording, but we rehearse above the Marathon Bar in Chalk Farm, and we get the owner coming up and shouting at us at regular intervals. We’ve learned just to ignore the guy now.

Celestial Bodies

Ferry Gouw is a busy man. A member of the currently on-hiatus Semifinalists, he creates warped electronic pop under his Celestial Bodies guise and makes eye-melting music videos and art for people like Major Lazer, Simian Mobile Disco and Emmy the Great. Somehow, he does it all from a cluttered bedroom he shares with his cat.

Why do you record at home?

Money, or lack of money to be more precise. To be even more precise, I’m paranoid of the general nature of the music industry, whereby you borrow a whole bunch of money from a record company to record properly, with a producer, then your musical endeavour is linked to paying it back, so you tour, but that costs more money, so you’re in a loop of debt, etc. Anyway, it brings us back full circle to the basic concept of money and making music and I just don’t want to mix the two, so I record at home. And these days we’re blessed with enough accessible technology and a web of support to be able to do it.

What do you use to record?

Logic software. Which works with garage band files, totally changed my life.

Does recording in your living space have an impact on the music you create?

Up to a point. I don’t know if the fact that I can’t scream loudly makes me focus more on singing, melodies and actual song-craft. The fact that I’m sitting down perhaps makes the whole thing more of a cerebral exercise.

Do you find recording at home to be constraining? Or does it give you a sense of creative freedom?

It’s both I suppose. The freedom from any time constraint is great, but the noise level is a great constraint. I work out the bulk of the songs at home, then try and play them with the band, and it always sounds noisier, bigger, and more interesting. I also find friends who do have proper studios to lay down the extra stuff. Considering a studio nowadays only warrants a pro tools rig and some good mics and pre-amps everyone knows someone who can help them out, so if you really wanna do it, there’s no real constraint at the end of the day

Do you think you’ll ever be tempted into a proper studio or are you happy with the set-up you have now?

I’ve recorded at The Plant (where Fleetwood Mac and Metallica recorded). It was awesome and luxurious, but if I ever dream about that scenario again, it’s hardly ever about the recording process and more about everything around it. So anything that gets the music done, and doesn’t involve me paying through the nose is good.

Any run-ins with the neighbours over the noise?

No. I’m so paranoid anyway, and I’m real friendly with all of them. If anything, my cat hates me more for it. Every time I pick up the guitar he goes to the other room.

Gentle Friendly

Daniel John Boyle and David Maurice are Gentle Friendly. Recording in the concrete surroundings of their garden in Lewisham, the twosome like to play with found objects while making a distinctive brand of lo-fi pop. Their new album, Slow Ride, is out on the super-awesome Upset the Rhythm label soon.

Why do you record outside?

We like to have the limitation of nature on what we’re doing. Plus it feels good.

Does recording in your living space have an impact on the music you create?

We find it promotes both positivity and negativity.

Have you ever used items you’ve found lying around your home on a song?

That’s how a lot of our stuff works. We find a lot of junk and use it. Some of this stuff is so old that you can’t control it, you just set it off and watch it fly. Its not so much like we find equipment in our house and use it but rather find old sound. Trawling through old tapes and samples from three years ago then cannibalising them into something new entirely is what we’re into.

Do you find recording at home to be constraining? Or does it give you a sense of creative freedom?

Yeah it is constraining, but that’s the point; too much freedom is boring. Real freedom comes from constraints. Limits give you something to rub up against.

Do you think you’ll ever be tempted into a proper studio or are you happy with the set-up you have now?

We’re happy with our set-up, but we record all over the place. We record in studios sometimes, but we like it outdoors.

Any run-ins with the neighbours over the noise?

Fortunately not, the house we’re at is semi-detached and the neighbours are super cool anyway. They’re dancers at this nearby academy. They work way harder than we do so they aren’t around too much.

By Charles Ubaghs

Photos Cameron Smith

For JUKE Vol.01