Updates from the studio (all Four-Letter Words studio blog posts appear here)

[Six blog posts from the recording of Four-Letter Words appear below.]

October 31, 2010

Well hello there!

It’s been so long since my last formal blog post, that my brain seems to have suffered from the decreased online activity and has reverted back to 2nd Millenium capacity, with such indulgent elaborations as “wow, that’s funny” when a simple LOL would suffice, and a preponderance for snail-paced living, as evidenced by my 10-minute encounter with the vibrant colors of autumn leaves falling into the Prospect Park Lake against a low-lying sun this morning.

Today, however, marks a shift.  I’m back.  BTW, it’s the first day since early spring that I have needed to wear a scarf at home to stay warm, and looking at the date of my previous post, it’s also the first time I’ve written a blog post since early spring.  That means there’s a big gap in the middle: summer (of the Northern Hemisphere variety).   The purpose of this particular post is two-fold: 1) a concise catch-up of the past few months, and 2) a concise summary of present circumstances.  No more elaboration – I’m out of songwriting mode, and into every-minute-is-on-the-clock studio mode.  This is as simple as I can make it:

Notable summer activities:


Preparing to record my second album

Michael Chekov and Balinese Mask Technique study

Meeting with potential producers for this album

Alexander Technique study

Writing on a rocky shore in Maine

Exploring what I really want for this album

Writing at home in Brooklyn

Working out the timetable for this album’s release

Discovering deeper and deeper inspiration for my music and for this album, and watching it create new songs

Exploring exactly how I want this album to sound

Getting excessively excited and impatient to start recording this album, while at the same time becoming equally apprehensive that I wasn’t quite ready to begin

More writing

More inspiration

More excitement that I get to make music

Deciding to record a single with production duo Rich Mercurio and Lee Nadel and beginning with “Liberate Your Love” in July, in NYC

Deciding that these guys kick some major ass and that we will make this album together

Current status as of October 31, 2010:

Two singles recorded and mixed; three more half-way through; a total of eleven to complete by the beginning of December.

“Liberate Your Love”, lead single, to be released in New Zealand during November.

As always, and perhaps more than ever before, being in the studio recording an entire album is one of the most intense experiences I have encountered…we’ll get to that in upcoming posts.  I’m going to write every Sunday.  There’s so much to talk about.  Of course, I post photos and updates at www.facebook.com/simonspire as well, but from now on, I want to share the news from the studio and beyond in a weekly update.  I.e., BRB.


November 7, 2010
I don’t usually whip out the old laptop on the subway – firstly because it’s just not that kind of place, and secondly because I’m paranoid about EMF’s around that part of my body (much to my friends’ amusement) – but it’s a bit of a hike from my place in Brooklyn to the studio in Midtown, and it’s time for another blog post, so here we go.

The plan is to work on “Light Survives” tonight (it’s a very late start today, being a Sunday, because Rich has been out of town for part of the weekend). It’s the sixth song we’ve started and I’ve always imagined it as a slow, mysterious and vocal arrangement-driven song…so we’ll see what happens tonight. We’ve already done a little pre-production on it earlier in the week, and will be recording some basic tracks for it tonight.

Earlier this week I received the first two tracks back from mastering. We recorded these two – “Liberate Your Love” and “Knocking On An Open Door” – before starting the process for the whole album, so that we could choose one to release as the first single before the album is complete. I remember writing “Liberate” back in 2009 and wondering to myself if it would be the first single from this new album…I had a feeling it could be. And it is! It’s scheduled for release later this month. I’m so excited about that song – it points to the commitment to being true to oneself no matter what and the struggle involved therein both on an individual and collective level, and I love the color and buoyancy of the sound that came of the studio. Then again, I’m pretty excited about “Knocking” too, which I never envisaged as a ‘single’-type song, but which went through a few changes in pre-production – namely, cutting out a repeat of a bridge, a subtle key change, and placing the focus more on the chorus of the song – and is now sounding pretty pumping too.

Anyway, enough of me talking about how much I love my own new songs J This coming week will see us finish off two other songs that are nearing completion – “A Four-Letter Word” and “No Solid Ground”, as well as probably “Light Survives”…our third song, “Turn Away” was finished this past week and has been sent to our insanely rocking mixer Brian Malouf.

See you in a week.

November 14, 2010

It’s the proverbial calm before the storm, with tomorrow morning marking the start of our longest studio session: nine consecutive full days, as we near the end of the main recording phase of the album. By the end of those nine days (i.e., by the arrival of Thanksgiving) we plan to have completed the tracking on the four remaining songs, two of which were begun last week.

That’s the storm part. I hate to do this, but to add insult to injury, I’m going to invoke yet another cliché: the ‘perfect storm’. I cringe to write it, but the truth is, this final leg of consecutive days is a useful challenge for me, as my tendency is to get stuck in perfectionism, placing every note and beat under a microscope and making sure it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. I do have a particular aesthetic when it comes to music – I notice details, I like to build layers and textures in the songs – but this can also become a crippling obsession, for example, agonizing for days over a breath that I’m sure is too loud, while everyone else looks at me as if I’m mad every time I bring it up.

Hence the ‘perfection’ of this storm, in which we have a limited time period to bring these songs to life. I think this deadline that’s been looming for a couple of months now has been good for me – it’s forced me to decide on what’s important and what feels right in a song for me, while still allowing some time for reflection, but without encouraging the endlessly circular mental juggling of pros and cons that really is fruitless in my experience.

This past week saw the completion of “Light Survives” (I’m really happy with how the vocal arrangements were able to accentuate the mystery and groove of the song), “No Solid Ground” (well, almost…just some editing of drums and final tweaks to go) and “A Four-Letter Word” which is seriously pumping now. Tomorrow we’ll hit vocals and more for “I’ve Been Told”, which I brought in as a straight-up rocker but we’re molding into more of a loop-driven funky rocker (well, early days yet, so we’ll see). We’ll also be recording “Today” and “Find”, as well as “Whisper From The Dark” …Ahh! That seems like a lot in the time, but we will continue work after Thanksgiving – it’s just unlikely that there will be recording of new parts at that stage.

And that brings me to the calm of today (yes, extended cliché! I’m so proud…and ashamed…), which I have spent exploring some guitar part ideas for the upcoming songs, catching up with family back home in NZ by phone, and immersing myself in some autumnal sun and air before descending into our windowless studio to make some noise.


November 21, 2010

OK, surprise surprise, my dramatic battle-cry on entering the final nine days of recording seems almost to have never occurred and was immediately forgotten in an anti-climactic reassessment of our timeline. This past week has revealed that we are not going to meet our Thanksgiving deadline, and the final stretch has turned into a final lap.

I’m certainly not complaining. The reality is that, in many ways, these precious few weeks determine my life for the next two or three years, and nothing is more important to me than getting the music right. The schedule’s still going to be tight, but now we have the obligatory Thanksgiving break later this week.

The current song is “Whisper From The Dark”, for which my live band here in NYC came into the studio to record some parts earlier in the week. Usually the lineup in the studio is as follows:

-Double S (that’s how I’m known in the studio) – vocals, guitars, perpetual questions beginning with “yeah, but…” or “do you think…”;

-Rich Mercurio (producer) – drums, programming and keys, stories-with-no-basis-in-reality-that-Lee-and-I-almost-believe-for-a-second;

-Lee Nadel (producer) – bass, programming and keys, music/bedroom analogies that somehow succeed in conveying their message.

However, for Whisper, I wanted to have my band come in and play, since they already know the song, do a great job of it, and I wanted them on the album. The reunion with Massimo, Neil, Oscar and Tom was a blast – we hadn’t played together since April…I posted a photo on my Facebook feed from the day, and there are more on the way.

In other news, I’m a little disappointed that “I’ve Been Told” – a song that I wrote in August and was very excited about – may not make it onto the album. We’ve demoed the song a couple of different ways, and we’re just not sure if it’s fitting in with the overall concept of the album. We shall see.

Back to the music. “Whisper” is to be finished tomorrow, and then “Today” begun the day after, as in, “Shall we record Today tomorrow?” or “We already finished Today yesterday”. Wow, that was genius. How am I supposed to sleep tonight with jokes like that on my mind? Whoah, I should really go and write a new song with inspiration like that flowing out of me. Better go.


December 13, 2010

This time I can say it with full confidence: it’s the final stretch! And I know it’s true because I leave New York in less than a week, bound for the New Zealand summer.

Rich and Lee have ducked out of the studio to forage for their dinner. I have elected to remain in the studio to post an update, which is made possible only by my superior nutritional organizational skills (I’m a geek who brings food for the day with me, either straight from home or collected on my way to the studio).

We’ve just recorded the lead vocal for “Today”, which is song #9 and which we expect to be completed by tomorrow night. As I was singing it I was remembering writing the main melody and lyric of the song a couple of years ago in the middle of the night in Washington state. I had woken up at 2 a.m. to watch the lunar eclipse (which I had a clear view of, given that I was on a tiny island with almost no light or air pollution, and it was a clear night), and I heard the opening line, chords and melody of the song just coming to life as I stared at the red moon. This is the oldest song on the album I just realized…though I didn’t actually complete the song until maybe a year later. It was fun to remember that beginning as I was in the vocal booth.

Lee and Rich have just returned with pizza, and Rich’s frisky dog Mimi is barking because, like any dog, she’s perpetually hungry. I have to post some more photos of Mimi, and from the studio in general, at the end of this week.

And what’s left in our musical adventure after “Today”? “The Blue Pill”. Our final song. This particular song is going to appear on the album in stark contrast to all other nine tracks: I wrote the entire song in one morning; we plan to record and complete it in one day, aiming for a stripped-down and whimsical setting (instead of our typical 4 or 5-day turnaround); it’s sarcastic, despondent and bitter. Yes, definitely the counterpoint to the other nine tracks. Our hero, Brian Malouf, is mixing the tracks as we go, so there will be some tweaks to be made in the ensuing week, and then I pretty much have my second album. It’s going to take a while for that to sink in – it’s getting hard to remember what daylight feels like : )

“Today” is sounding cool. We worked on the song a couple of days ago and I came up with a simple open-wah guitar groove that formed the basis of the verse. Rich laid down a dance-driven groove and now there’s no turning back. Time for some high vocal harmonies in the chorus. 

January 9, 2011

The studio is in NYC, and I’m currently in NZ, so although we’re no longer in the studio (and yes, believe it or not, all of the recording is complete!), we’re still only halfway through the mixing of the album, so still a couple of weeks away from the completed Four-Letter Words.

Yeah! That’s the first official mention of the title, which is a good way to begin the new year. I’ve had the title in my head (amongst other candidates) ever since I wrote the song A Four-Letter Word in May, and decided on it for sure in October. I could talk endlessly about the various levels of meaning the title holds for me…but I won’t. It’s summer here – no need to get so serious so early in the year 🙂

We recorded right up until the day before I flew out of NYC for New Zealand – just before Christmas – our last night being an all-nighter during which we began recording The Blue Pill at 10pm and finished at 6am. I always knew I wanted to make The Blue Pill a one-day affair (I wrote it from start to finish in a morning) and it seemed a sensible way to end the album after so many marathon songs for which we went into minute detail. We explored a couple of different approaches for this song, and ended up with a very simple and sparse sound.

Being a detail-oriented person (and potentially an unhealthily-detail-obsessed monster), I find being a part of the mixing process every bit as challenging and satisfying as being in the studio…the only difference is, someone else is doing all the work! Whereas Lee, Rich and I would bring the songs to life in our little Midtown bunker, now our main man Brian Malouf has taken over and is working his magic in Los Angeles, emailing us versions of the songs for our input along the way. He is the man.

So, although we still haven’t fully emerged from the alternate reality of creating Four-Letter Words, we have emerged from our submarine-like existence of two months. And for me, the change has been somewhat dramatic: from days spent underground from the moment I left home and hopped on the subway en route to our basement studio, until I returned with a few other scattered subway-goers late at night when the frequency of trains had slowed and we all waited sleepily, gripping our coats and scarves close, I now find myself flooded in sunlight and surrounded by leisurely New Zealanders in shorts as I make preparations to walk the Milford Track tomorrow. It’s a five-day walk (only three of which are real “walking” days that entail 5 – 8 hours of hiking), and a NZ experience I’ve had my eye on for some time now. I will post photos! Here’s my first, from the waterfront bench where I’m writing. Happy 2011! It’s gonna be a crazy year!

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