Towards the end of 2003 I was asked to submit a song for the documentary being made about Bob Moog. I decided to write and record the song using one of his instruments, a Voyager. During promotion for the film the producer, Ryan Page suggested I write and entire album of music the same way. The resulting album “The Truth In Me” was released on October 24th 2006 on Great Society records, this is the story so far
MY DAYS The opening track of the record, ok so this isn’t going to be easy, describing these songs in words, as some of them are really abstract and didn’t necessarily have one main or direct inspiration. This was one of the first songs I wrote, I was still at a stage where I wasn’t convinced this was going to work. I tried to write in a totally different way from what I would normally and it worked at first but then influences came back in and took over. It starts off quite mellow and then a very emotional theme enters in the middle and changes the feel to quite disturbed and torn.
FOR THE TRUTH IN YOU One of two pivotal songs that made me realise I had an album. Erin Lang sings the lyrics on this which are supposed to tell the story of the end of a love affair, you thought you’d known somebody but then you realise it wasn’t the true person. Love = Truth. I can only ever hear melodies one way so it was quite a trial for Erin to sing this as she had to do exactly as I heard it but then I left her to come up with all the harmonies and other arrangements. Her voice worked perfectly with the Moog, it was just like another layer or another synth voice.
TRUTH IN ME This was the second of the two pivotal songs and is the title track. It really could be the only song you heard on the record and you would understand the whole thing. Basic sequences of loops building up, some short, some long with melodies crossing over them against one another. Organic and emotional and quite intense yet really simple. It’s the way the simple lines overlap that makes it sound complicated and orchestrated. So this is me described in music.
NOT WITHOUT YOU A really simple song with very few parts written about not being with someone you miss and promising it won’t be long before you see them again. As a lot of songs did, it started with a bass line and then one repeating sequence over it then a free melody which plays through the song. This was the first song I had remixed by my friend Jimmy Lavalle from ‘The Album Leaf.’ I gave him free choice of which song to remix and he totally surprised me by choosing this one. He used only sounds that I had made yet made it sound totally different, what a wonderful experience, hearing the new version and what another musician could make of your work.
HE SENT YOU ANGELS This was the last song to be recorded and the only one where I went into the studio with the intention of writing something to a specific idea. I got an email from a girl who told me an amazing story, how she suffered from a chronic headache for years but when she had heard the song I wrote for the documentary ‘Moog,’ it had somehow given her some relief. I was really moved by her story and decided to try and write her a song. When I went over to the studio I thought I would write something soothing and kind of dreamy but what came out was quite different, it was more the story of a headache, the feeling, the emotion and the tension and then finally some relief. It’s the longest song on the record, I think it’s 9 minutes. I sent her the song and her Mum heard it and said “He Sent You Angels.”
TREASURE The second vocal song and really another kind of poppy light hearted one, you need it after the last one! Erin sings it again and it tells the story of a relationship where a person finds all the good stuff that was buried inside another, the Treasure. It’s the first song on the record where there are actually percussive sounds but like all the others they are generated by the Voyager. I wrote the music one Saturday afternoon and I just let it loop on forever and just played along with it. One of those songs you just don’t want to stop writing, the lyrics however were like pulling teeth and I gave up several times and without Erin’s help I would have thrown it out of the window. I knew what I wanted to say and as usual I had the first two lines but that was it.
THIS IS A STORY Erin listened to this song after I’d written it and said “it’s just like a story” and I suppose it is. It’s one of my favourites, it’s very musical and does everything I wanted any of these songs to do. It’s very descriptive and narrative, it takes you from one place to another but like all good journeys you end up at home.
THIS GREY MORNING This is the only song that wasn’t conceived and written on the Moog. I wrote it some time ago on the piano and then wrote lyrics and Erin sung it then. I really liked it and thought it might be interesting to see if I could interpret it monophonically the way all the others worked. Erin sings it at a whisper and it’s another breaking up song, well as they say “happiness writes white on the page.” I wrote the music on a very bleak grey morning. There’s some cool technical stuff going on in it which enabled me to build up chords which were then run back into the Moog and filtered and I used a Moogerfooger effects pedal on this one. There is an homage to Frank Zappa in this song, it’s very subtle and if anyone can tell me where it is they know FZ and me as well as I do !
TIRED OF ALL THIS Quite an abstract song relying on lots of delayed repeating percussive Moog sounds bouncing around. It’s also quite reflective, hence the title. It comes and goes without saying too much but it creates an atmosphere that I liked.
. . . AND SO I CLOSED MY EYES The closing and most dramatic track inspired by my love of Jimi Hendrix. The only time where I use an external source to manipulate the sound of the Moog, well if it’s Jimi it had to be a wah-wah pedal. The stage is kind of set at a festival or a huge arena and there’s a sub bass line and kick drum that just keep playing and the wah-wah just plays through it all, crying in the distance. It opens with a five note theme and closes with the same theme.
And then it was time for tea…
WRITING AND RECORDING
As I said at the beginning, I wrote and recorded this entire record using one instrument. It’s not a concept album though, it’s more of an album concept. If someone told you they’d written and recorded their entire album on an acoustic guitar you wouldn’t bat an eyelid, yet when I say I did mine on a Moog they look at me in amazement. Well I’m not the first person to have done it, in the late Sixties there was a great band called ‘Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’ who used a Moog to make albums. I was also inspired by Bjork’s album Medulla where she just used human voices and the incredible variety of ways in which people can use them musically. The challenge I suppose, not that I approached it as one, was to see if the Moog was capable of such a huge variety of sounds and that those sounds could be emotional and organic and that it wouldn’t sound like some electronic synth workshop. Over the years I’ve used Moogs and other synthesizers to create a range of different sounds within the context of other instruments so I knew I could do it but it was more about whether it could stand up on its own. The Moog Voyager is a monophonic analogue synthesizer, it can only play one note and one sound at a time. Most keyboard instruments we’ve got used to today can play more notes at a time than you have fingers, toes, elbows and anything else you can hit them with. Usually up to 128 notes and about 16 different sounds at a time, so your left hand can be playing piano and cello, whilst your right is playing violin and trumpet. The Moog however creates each sound with its 3 oscillators and processes it through its filters and envelopes and out comes one note. The sound palette is infinite though and you can create entirely new sounds every time you sit down at it and turn a few knobs and that’s what makes it unique. So given these parameters this is how I created these songs, I would sit down at the Moog and play around with sounds changing things experimenting and then something would happen. A sound would suggest a rhythm or a melody or a sequence of notes and I would record them into the computer as a loop of say 4 or 8 or at most 16 bars then I would search for a sound that complimented the first one and again and again until I had a basis for the song. I would at this stage release the loops and let them play endlessly and I would hear a melody to go over the top, I would record that and without learning it I would try to replay it again over the top. If there was a line I wanted to harmonise I would play it like the single players in a jazz brass ensemble. They are each playing their harmonies but they add their own character to each part. Within usually an hour or two the song was there. I recorded using an Apple Mac and a programme called Digital Performer. The sound that goes into the computer is analogue and is converted into digital information the programme can handle by converters. Once it’s in Logic you can arrange it and look at it in blocks and do all kinds of cool things with it, I didn’t really use much of it’s capabilities I just used it like a tape recorder in this case. The words were something else entirely, the first line of a song is always easy but then you have to write all the rest and really wouldn’t you think every song has been written? Haha it wasn’t easy but I’m really happy with the results, they are simple yet emotional I hope but don’t expect any books of poetry in the near future.
MIXING AND MASTERING
I decided when I had finished the record I wanted somebody else to mix it, to add another dimension and perhaps correct some of the technical problems and get the levels right. It’s quite a difficult thing to let go of your art and hand it over to somebody else to interpret but I was determined if I was going to get somebody else to mix it I would let them do what they wanted to based on what I knew of them and that I like and respected their work. Mixing is about getting the volume of all the different tracks right and placing the sounds in the audio position where they best fit. In a conventional band it’s about making one guitar louder than another, putting the piano into the right speaker and the sax in the left. Making everything sound like it’s in a concert hall by adding reverb or in a small room by keeping it dry and intimate. Mixing my record was a lot more abstract than that but really the same principal, making one sound louder than another and placing them on the stage in front of you. It took a little time to find the right person but I was very lucky I think to have found Mario Thaler and that he was into doing it. I think his biggest fear was that he wouldn’t really be able to make enough of a difference to the sound but he did, he opened it up and made everything sound how it should. I found Mario by looking at album covers of bands whose sound I really liked, he’s previously been the producer for The Notwist, Lali Puna and Ms. John Soda. I went to his studio in Weilheim south of Munich for ten days to mix and it was a lot of fun. It was the first time I’d been in a studio for a long time when anyone cared about my opinion and I found it quite difficult at first having to make all the decisions and people actually listening to what I thought of it. We had enough time at the end to experiment with some 5.1 surround sound mixes and it was almost as if the music had been written with that intent, it lent itself to it so readily. I’m not sure I will do anything with those mixes but we will see.
The final step in making any record is mastering and I asked Kieran from Fourtet who he used and he suggested The Exchange in London saying ” they had the magic “. Mastering has become more and more an artistic part of the record production business in the last ten to fifteen years. Previously few if any bands would attend ” the cut”, so called because the metal stamper for the vinyl was actually cut. It was more a technical procedure, a part of manufacturing and as such is paid for by the label. Now it’s become another place where you can change the sound of your music before it’s finally made into a cd or vinyl. I used Guy Davie, he brings the files of your final mixes into his computer by way of some very, very expensive equipment and listens back to it on some very, very, very expensive speakers. His aim is to make it sound as good as it possibly can on any stereo it might get played on and to this end he will add frequencies, take frequencies away and finally compress and limit the music to make it as loud as it can and should be. It’s quite a black art but Guy is a very open person and tells you exactly what he’s doing. He has a kind of A-B button so you can hear the music before and after the effects he’s added and its incredible, it just opens the whole thing up. It’s a standing joke in studios if a song isn’t sounding too good everyone say’s ” we’ll fix it in the mix” then when you’re mixing and it still doesn’t sound good people now say ” well we can fix it in the mastering” and to some extent you can but its always a case of “shit in, shit out” in the end. So when you leave the mastering studio you have a production cd which you give to the factory and they make a glass master and the stampers from that next thing you know you’ve got a cd and then there’s nothing more you can do….
ARTWORK AND PACKAGING
One of the worst things about cds is the size of the packaging. A vinyl album was 12″ square and the artwork was substantial, now its about 12cm square. I went to art school to study design when I left school and before I seriously got involved in bands. I met Ian Wright on the first day and we have been friends ever since. Strangely, whenever we discussed what we were striving for in our arts it had a parallel, it was just that he painted and I played the piano. When we first started discussing the art for this record we decided we wanted it to be as strong and equal in as many ways as possible to the music. I was insistent that it should be more art than package and that it shouldn’t be covered in type and info and legal crap and it is, in fact it has very little info on it, just my name and a bar code. We also liked the idea of a poster, so that’s where all the info is, like a film poster. Ian created the art using a photocopier, something that he’s explored in the past to create really interesting abstract images. We did think at one time that he would try and do illustrations based on each song but maybe that will come later, he is in the middle of putting together his first gallery show right now in New York City.