September Answers To Your Questions, Part II
10/5/2010 (updated 10/5/2010)
Hi Richard, I've heard a good few "Acoustic Demos" in my time, but I think your latest offering is a cut above the rest, truly wonderful! My one little gripe is the lack of information given about the recordings. So come on, how about the where, when and with what etc for the demos? Thanks, Shaun.
Right off the top I want to thank you for Dream Attic; for the new songs, the live recording approach, and the second disc in the deluxe package. There is a little discussion going on line (the RT Discussion list in particular) regarding whether these are demos or an acoustic version of the live electric set. Can you confirm for us what your intentions are with regard to the second disc?
I confess I have assumed that they were demos and I have some questions regarding your songwriting and recording practices. You have said that you prefer to write away from a musical instrument. Are we hearing in these demos the initial recording of these songs or is there a "sketch" phase where you may work out the chords, their voicings, intros and outros etc. before doing a demo? Or does this vary drastically from song to song? What are your goals in creating a demo?
There is a lovely period in the creative process of many artists in which the unfinished creation has considerable substance yet is full of potential. It would be a state where the work could still either take an unforeseen exciting development or find a beautiful and complete resolution. Do you experience this state often in your work? Is there a hesitation or resistance on your part to recording the songs in sketch or demo form?
What would you say is the riskiest part of the writing process? The most satisfying? Thanks so much for this and all the fabulous music. David Langdon
Firstly, my intentions. These demos were made not for me - I don't like making demos for myself - and not for a record company. I always hated doing those, and there's no point to that these days. These were made for the band - Pete, Joel, Taras and Michael to give them an idea of the songs, how they might sound, and the general structure. As you can hear from comparing versions, sometimes things change when we start routining the material. The demos save us time when we get together to rehearse. There was talk of having some kind of bonus disc with DA, and we considered releasing the live 'set 2'. We thought the demos were more interesting, and with that in mind, I went back and cleaned up a few things, and had Simon do a proper mix. They are still crude. you can hear dogs barking and planes going over, but hey , they're demos! They were recorded at home in my garage, using Digital Performer on a Mac G5. I used a Peluso P12 for the voice, and a coincidental pair of Neumann KM184s for guitars and other instruments. Universal Audio LA60 preamp/limiter.
In answer to the 'sketch' idea, I don't record anything at any phase of songwriting. I just write down lyrics and musical notation, and sometimes give tempo clues or feel indicators ('Ramones meets Margaret Barry' - 'Ravel on acid'). The down side of demos is that they can be better than the final thing, and it's painful to give yourself choices like that, and admit that you just spent $450,000 on recording and the demos sound better. Springsteen's Nebraska, I believe, was the demos, but only released after spending a lot of energy trying to improve on the original.
I agree that sometime the music sounds better before you nail it down, while it's still floating around. Sad to pull it down to earth, but we have to play something!
Is there is a risky part of songwriting? Shouldn't it all be risky, or risk-taking? If we don't dare, we'll never find the new stuff. When we dare to expose ourselves in song, that's a bit risky, I suppose, but necessary. Satisfaction comes from the whole process. Even the frustration is satisfying.
A recent link on beesweb showed this old photo of you with what appears to be an odd sort of Rickenbacker 12. Odd, because the tuners are all in line like a conventional 12, rather than on two adjacent planes like the ones Harrison/ McGuinn and Townsend used.
Was this your guitar, and if so, can you tell us a little more about it-or was it something put in your hands for a photoshoot? Max Cuthbert, PDX.
I bought this guitar in London in about 1971, I forget the seller's name, but he was a guitar repairer and maker. He said that McGuinn had broken the neck on this particular instrument, and left it in the UK. The seller had repaired the neck, and sold it to me for a modest sum, around 100 quid, I think. Somewhere in '71 or '72, I broke the neck again, and left it in Fairport's lockup, or Sandy's lockup, and wasn't able to pick it up for six months or so. Trevor Lucas found it in one of said lockups, asked whose it was and couldn't get an answer, so took it and decided it was now his, Being a handy woodworker, he put on a new neck, strangely out of oak, not a first choice guitar material, and put on the machine head configuration that you see in the picture. I was round at Sandy's one day, and there was Trevor with what looked like my guitar. When I said that I thought it was mine, and had left it in the lockup, he was apologetic, and handed over the guitar. I thanked him for the fine repair! I used it on a bunch of recordings - Rise Up like The Sun, Henry the Human Fly, etc. I think Linda sold it when we got divorced.
Having just got Dream Attic, I have only had time to listen to the first few songs. The one that is puzzling me at the moment is Here Comes Geordie. Could it be that the person the song refers to is a famous rock star who was also featured on the compilation of sea shanties which gave us your great rendition of Mingulay Boat Song? In a former life he was a member of the law enforcement unit, if I'm not mistaken. It's all hush-hush, of course. Wilfried from Austria
Similarities have been greatly exaggerated. I thought that person you speak of on that compilation did a fantastic job on that particular sea shanty.