Tuesday, 30 September 2008

"Clap Your Hands, Clap Those Hands"

Song 1 is sounding HOT... :)

We've recorded lots of hand clapping today which was very amusing, I kept wanting to go 'Woo Yeah!' like a 90s dance record, but something tells me that wouldn't quite work... oh please??? Sean??? Picture it, me going WOOO YEAHAH, WOOO YEAHAAAHH!!!

Actually, Sean just told me that some of my Woo Yeahs actually MADE IT INTO THE TRACK!!!!! OMG!!!!!! OMG!!! OMG!!!!! I AM THE WOO YEAH LEGEND!!!! :)

It's all a blur........ or is it????


Sean Mcghee writes the blog: There's nothing more pop than handclaps. It's true. Everything Motown, "We Will Rock You", "Joy" by Temposhark...yes, all the best pop combos end at least one session with bruised hands (I've done this, and more than once.)

But, I hear you ask, what's the secret to good handclaps? Well, it's easy - flamming. Or, in layman's terms, making sure that the people clapping are all slightly out of time with each other. There's nothing worse than getting a bunch of really rhythmic people to stand in front of the mic and asking them to clap - you'll get something so boringly regimented that it'll be unusable. No, what you need is the people who can either fake being a bit rubbish, or those who are genuninely not that great at clapping in time. One of us is the former, and the other the latter, although I couldn't possibly say which one is which. Well, I could, but Rob would slap me, and who can blame him? Bet he'd miss, though.

Anyway, my advice is to put down some flamtastic takes of clap "action" and pop perfection is but a moment away. Here's us glamourously handclapping, earlier :

My favourite claps on any record are probably the ones on Radiohead's "We Suck Young Blood" - a fantastic song, and made even more entertaining by the funereal tempo and death-march handclaps. Radiohead aren't exactly competing with Girls Aloud, mind you.

So, Song 1 approaches a conclusion. I feel like I could spin some great advertising speak now, as it's at least 50% more funky and 100% more satisfying than it was yesterday. We have, however, identified a problem vocal, so we'll be starting tomorrow with some more singing. But we're this close to greatness now...and then it's time for Song 2!

My, my, that's a good photo.

Monday, 29 September 2008

"It's Contagious, What's The Latest?"


When I arrived at the studio this morning, Sean and I listened back to yesterday's vocal session and I decided to re-sing two lines in the opening verse, as I wasn't happy with it. It just didn't feel right somehow so we had to get it perfect. Really happy we did as the whole track sounds great now - really in-your-face!!

Sean's been adding in lots of new production today, it's all started to really come to life. It's a lot beefier than the previous demo version, much clearer... In short, I love it sooooo much... and show this by repeatedly doing silly dance moves every time something in the track excites me!


A blurry Sean, tonight.

Sean McGhee writes the blog: Ah yes, the eternal problem of how to make the song sound amazing. We've been lucky so far, as almost everything we've written already has enough going on musically to suggest a clear direction for me. Song 1 is no exception; it's built over a very simple groove, so my aim is to make it as big and funky as it can possibly be without adding too many parts.

This is hard, as it means that every tiny detail you add has to be exactly right or the whole thing tumbles to the ground. Fortunately, my groove muse has been hanging out with Timbaland and 80s Prince today, so I've managed to add some cool parts into the track without disrupting its relentless flow. Often I'm trying to add something that's almost invisible - it should make you want to move your body (to the rhythm of love) but without screaming out, "LISTEN TO ME" or, heaven forfend, getting in the way of the vocal! (.....which = a very happy Rob!)

I always work with a "scorched earth" approach; I can tinker around with an idea for a short while, but if I'm not happy it goes in the bin. Partly this is because I don't like flogging a dead horse, but mostly it's because I'm very easily bored. I do feel that making record should be fun (at least some of the time!) because if we don't enjoy it, neither do you. I should be bouncing up and down at the computer or shaking my hips at the keyboard if we're getting it right - and if I'm not, the part goes into the bin and I try something else. Rest assured that you will be spared footage of my dancing... for now...

We think that we should have Song 1 nailed by the end of tomorrow. Fingers crossed...


I meant to say earlier, I chatted with Mark, Mathis and Luke today as we're doing a gig on Sunday for Channel 4/Sony Ericsson's event on Sunday, 'Run To The Beat' - it's a half marathon to music, where people run for their chosen charity, and us bands play live as they run by to encourage them. It's a free event so come down to Greenwich and see us perform - a little warning though, we're on VERY early for a Sunday - we're on our own dedicated Temposhark stage (number 6) in the MORNING at 9.55AM during the run!!! :) But we'll rock out as we always do, so it'll be a fun way to wake up for us!

More tomorrow!


Sunday, 28 September 2008

"Sunday Sunday"

Sean McGhee writes the blog: Seeing as Rob was talking about songwriting yesterday, I thought I'd continue the theme. The new Temposhark songs were almost all written over the last 12 months or so, in 3 distinct bursts. We set aside time to get together regularly, which was very important - sometimes inspiration strikes when you least expect it, but a slightly regimented approach can work too, because it puts you in the right frame of mind to write.

One approach is for me to come up with a groove idea for Rob. I might spend an hour or two working on an idea for Rob to sing over; anything goes, as long as it's inspiring. Sometimes we'll get the beginnings of a song from his piano jam sessions - one song we've written for the new record started as a long, improvised set of ideas Rob performed at the piano. He brought it to me and I sifted through it until we found a part we liked. We took took this idea as a jumping-off point and wrote a whole new song around it.

As soon as he's ready to sing an idea, I'm ready for him - the handheld mic and his headphones will be set up ready before he arrives, and with just a couple of clicks in Logic, we're off. Often, his first pass through will be full of goodness, and it's a question of finding the great ideas and refining them. You're always looking for the moment when the track stops being a jumble of ideas and starts being a real song - and it regularly happens without you realising.

Canonical, Sunday evening.

There's a lot of passing the microphone back and forth; we'll both throw ideas into the pot. We want the song to be the best it can be, so we're critical and picky about what goes in and what stays out. Often I'll start doing the backing vocal arrangement whilst we're still writing so I can flesh the sound out at an early stage. Lyrically, we take ideas from anywhere - a piece of gibberish buried in a melody idea might suggest an angle, or a story; sometimes Rob has some lyrical ideas he plays with as he sings melody ideas. Once the melody is set, we'll work on the words. Sometimes this takes minutes, and sometimes days. Song 1 was quite a simple one lyrically - the (proper) title came very early on while Rob was improvising, and it was simple enough to extrapolate a lyrical angle from there. A couple of hours work, and we were done.

Of course, once the song is sung for real, things might change - what seemed like a clever piece of alliteration or a flowery way of saying something simple might go straight out the window if it doesn't feel right when it's sung. Rob keeps the worst of my lyrical excesses at bay - if I try to be too clever, he's brilliant at getting a simpler, more direct way of saying the same thing. It works both ways - he knows I'll pull him up sharp on a bad line! I never let a duff lyric go unchecked, so there's often a lot of tapping on the keyboard and frustrated grunting until I'm sure it's the best it can be. And I never ever ever ever ever use rhyming dictionaries. My songs are free of any toast / ghost / most nonsense.

You can't write a great song every day, though. and plenty of songs go into the bin on the way to the final album. A couple of weeks back we had a run of songs which would have been perfect for the end credits of a crap 80s teen movie - we managed to escape them.. But the time, the sweat, the swearing, the desperation and the endless Madonna impressions are always worth it - nothing beats that feeling of nailing a good song.


Not too much to say after that amazing piece by Sean! We did lots more singing today and managed to COMPLETE all the vocal sections for Song 1! Woohoo! :) It was a good day, hard work paid off... more tomorrow!

I'm going home now to watch the movie Atonement on DVD to wind down... hope it's good.

Putting my shoes back on... going home now... night...

Saturday, 27 September 2008

"Home And Dry"

I was at home today as Sean had to do a writing session with another artist so I got the day off! Back to work tomorrow though, yes it's a Sunday but when we record we forget about the conventional week and work pretty much every day! This means after a few days in the studio, you forget what day it is, and you don't remember any 'days of the week' until the album is completed and you return to the world outside!

Tonight I've been playing the keyboard in my flat. This is where a lot of the Temposhark song ideas come from... when I write alone this is how I do it - really simple, me and a piano. I prefer real pianos but this keyboard is perfect for my London flat as it's not as noisy, I can just put on headphones and disappear... I love it.

Me in my writing room in January 2008, by Stephen Dupont.

Some songs from my last album, like Not That Big, Winter's Coming and It's Better To Have Loved, were written in the middle of the night on this keyboard... at 4am when I'd wake up from my sleep and suddenly need to write! This time round, I've written LOADS of song sketches, verses and choruses, and then taken these to Sean's studio and we've co-written completed songs out of those initial sketches.

It's proved a really fun way to work, but I also really love writing directly over Sean's backing tracks, where he creates a music track - drums, synths or other sounds - which I will then sing over, it's instant, whatever comes into my head. It's good to have different starting points for songs, as these different methods provide different kinds of songs, keeping it interesting.

I get inspired by so many different things. There's never one set way that I'll write a song. Sometimes it's something someone will have said to me, that can give me a song title or a strong lyric... at other times, I'll read a book or be reading about an artist I love, and a phrase will spark off a whole thought process.

My keyboard at home...

A keyboard, earlier.

Othertimes I sit in my lounge, play the piano, and a whole song appears out of nowhere... usually sparked off by an extreme emotional feeling - like if I'm furious with someone it'll all pour out into the song... or if I'm feeling super loved-up, it's the same thing...

I used to stress a lot if I was finding it hard to write a new song, if I felt like a creative block had hit, but I've learnt over the years (I've been writing songs since I was 13) that you just have to relax, and not to beat yourself up too much! The moment I chill out is always when something really great happens...

Sean and I both keep a lyric book too - where we'll jot down lyric ideas, as and when they come to us. As a songwriter, well for us anyway, this is something that becomes part of your everyday life. If I forget to take my book out with me, I usually end up making notes (or even singing into the recorder/answer phone) on my mobile phone - last week I got to grips with the Note Pad on my new iPhone, just in time before I forgot an idea!

I think it's important to write songs as much as I can... I like being productive... and in fact I'm at my most happy when being creative. I may not even realise that it's happening, but if I go for a few weeks without writing, I get into a bad mood! So it's something I need, something I can't live without.

Julie Verhoeven's bottles...

Bottles by Julie Verhoeven.

These awesome bottles were made by my dear friend, the artist and illustrator Julie Verhoeven, and sit right next to my piano and often provide inspiration as they remind me of Julie's world... she's magical and inspiring. I love her! I took these off a table she had decorated at Maureen Paley Gallery's dinner last year at Claridges - it was a very posh night, and when I was leaving I asked Maureen if it was OK to take some souveniers, and she said YES!! :)


As I know I'm not going to get much time off until late December, I decided to go into central London this afternoon and walked around for a good 5 hours! I was exhausted by the end of it as I was speed walking, which is a bad habit of mine that my friends will all confirm - I tend to annoy most people walking with me! I'm like 'People I'm walking!' and off I go... ;)

I went to the INCREDIBLE National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, filled with Saturday tourists, I really enjoyed the Love exhibition currently showing. It has one of Tracey's embroidered works in it, and a wicked work by Grayson Perry, a small ceramic sculpture of a rabbit. The whole show was great, and the best bit is it's free to get in, so if you live in London, visit it before Sunday 5th Oct when it close (next Sunday).

I then walked through a sunny Green Park, by Buckingham Palace... I'd never actually walked there before and enjoyed seeing the ponds, really pretty. I arrived after about 40 mins at Tate Britain and saw the new Francis Bacon exhibition. GO SEE IT! Really fascinating. The only thing that annoyed me was that all the paintings were in big frames, behind glass, and I would've enjoyed it much more if they'd been out of the frames... but what a LEGEND!

Funnily enough, Metronomy (who remixed our Temposhark song Not That Big), was doing a live gig at Tate Britain while I was there today, so that was cool too! It reminded me of when we did our own live gig there a while back, nice memories! I'll try and set something up for when our next album comes out, as I love playing in unusual venues!

Anyways, after window shopping for a while, and walking LOTS more, I popped into White Cube and the Royal Academy in Green Park, then I came home and started writing...

Right well that's enough for now, I'll be back at Sean's tomorrow so speak then...


Friday, 26 September 2008

"Where You From, How's It Going?"

Sean McGhee writes the blog: Comping (short for compiling) is an essential part of recording vocals for almost everyone who makes records. After Rob performs, I chop his vocals up into lines or words and use my comp sheets to navigate through what he's sung. I pick my favourite sections and put them all together. We'll listen through; if one of us isn't happy with something, it's sung again. We very rarely tune any vocals.

Song 1 is more time-consuming than usual as we wrote it at a slower tempo, then decided it was dragging a bit, so we sped it up. Speeding up the music was easy as it was all based on synths and samples, but all the BVs had to be reperformed.

I'm singing quite a lot of backing vocals these days (hi, Alanis fans!) and most of the new songs have got me in there somewhere. I prefer to do the vocals in small sections, looping around a small section of the song and repeatedly singing it again and again. And again. Yes, it's maddening, but it's necessary, and it's always worth the effort.

Don't listen to Rob - it's all about me...

When I know I've got it right, I'll select my fa
vourites, delete the rest, then move on to the next section. After a while, the Logic screen looks like this :

Comp, comp, comp.

Meanwhile, Rob's next door, listening to leaks of Britney Spears' next single. Yes, it's a hard life.


Er... actually Sean, I'm not just sat next door listening to Womanizer!!!! Well I am, but I've also been very busy posting the video clip (see below this entry) for all to watch on the wonderful land of YouTube! Incidently, HOW GREAT IS THE NEW BRITNEY SINGLE???!!! Ha ha...

"You got the swagger of a champion", Sean, but the mic is mine!!!

Sean is almost done now with his backing vocals, which means it'll soon be time for me to steal back the microphone from him and sing the last chorus section... I can't wait - well I can actually, I'M STILL WAITING SEAN, stop hogging the mic!!!

Gimme back the mic Sean... I'M WAITING!!!!

"Hello, Is It Me You're Looking For?"

Thursday, 25 September 2008

"Day One, Day One, Start Over Again"

Hello everyone, it's Rob here writing to you from Sean's recording studio in London, and I have some good news: WE HAVE STARTED to record the second Temposhark album today!

Me at Canonical, earlier.

We'll be working on this new record almost every day for the next few months and thought this blog would be a good way to both keep us sane, and let you guys learn more about how we make this album.

Today we've been recording my vocals for.......Song 1! This meant starting off with a vocal warm up, which I really needed today - having just been on holiday for 10 days without singing at all!


Sean McGhee writes the blog: Hello, I'm Sean. Welcome to Canonical, my studio.

Rob has done quite a bit of vocal recording with me now, so we're very comfortable with the setup we use. I have a corner of my room set up as a vocal area. It's surrounded by acoustic panels and I use a Reflexion Filter on the mic stand to act as an acoustic "fourth wall". This device kills off any nasty "springy" reverb bouncing back from the walls of the room, so it sounds comfortably dry and well-balanced.

I use a Gefell condenser microphone for Rob's vocal. It sounds clean and warm, but crucially it can take high sound pressure levels, which is very important to get a good sound from Rob, as he sings very loud when he goes for it!

Rob's view from the vocal area - the Gefell mic and the Reflexion Filter.

I used to use a TL Audio Ivory preamp for him, but I now use a Focusrite ISA220, which is a great all-in-one preamp, EQ and compressor. This was an invaluable part of my rig when I worked with Guy Sigsworth, so if it's good enough for Britney and Sugababes, it's good enough for Rob!

very fuzzy photo of the preamps and the mixer - the blue box is the Focusrite preamp.

We both monitor on headphones when he performs. I have a 4 way headphone amp with 2 mixes available - I either hear what Rob hears or I can set up my own separate mix from the Aux sends on the mini-mixer. In my opinion, all engineers should be forced to be a singer for an hour to realise how critical a good headphone mix is - make the vocalist feel comfortable and they'll deliver at their best.

While Rob sings, I make notes. Here's a comp sheet from today - I number takes and use my own arcane system of symbols to keep track of the best parts of all the performances. Then it's just a case of comping it. Of which, more another time...

A comp sheet, today.