Bitter July

On the last day of July I wrote an email to a Sydney friend noting that July had been bitter at my home in the mountains. I did also talk about good things that had occurred, and the fact that I’d actually enjoyed being warm in my home office while it was cold and miserable outside. I sent the email, then its subject line – ‘Bitter July’ – lodged in my head.

An hour later I had the song completed. That’s how it works. I wrote my friend and sent her the lyric, told her I’d do a demo of it for her.

Then I made leek and potato soup. Yum. However it turns out that leeks aren’t quite as firm as I thought, with the result that the great sharp knife in my right hand found itself co-existing with half the top of the middle finger of my left hand. It’s quite surreal to see a knife embedded in your finger to that depth. Ow, and … ow! I got it bandaged up, but there was no guitar playing going to happen for a bit.

A few days later I went to hospital for a double hernia op. Been meaning to fix those hernias for a while, and this year I’m doing all the self-repair I can manage. This is not the middle ages, so surgery like that is pretty minor. That’s what I told myself anyway, and it was more or less true. But then again, it did involve a masked man cutting large holes in me … and I soon learned that minor surgery is still actually surgery, and surgery that cuts through your stomach muscles is going to have some side-effects.

It was, as it turned out, surprisingly debilitating. More than two weeks later I’m still in discomfort.

However, my finger came good much faster than I’d imagined was possible. When I could play drums and hold a guitar on my lap again, I set to work on getting that song recorded.

Recall that I’m now recording on my Mac with the Profire interface. It’s a very different prospect to the old analogue mixing desk, but I’m getting used to it. I’ve transferred over a bunch of songs-in-progress from the old platform, but quickly discovered that the timing was loose. I’d decided to re-record all the drums, so I pulled up some new tracks to do that. Listening to the click track (rigid timing) at the same time as the already-recorded instruments (loose timing) results in drums following the click sometimes, the guitars other times – with a predictably shitty result.

So Bitter July was an opportunity to practice a new workflow. First I create a rough drum track from the loop library, then record rough bass, guitar and vocal tracks. At this point – with a nice loud clave sound in my headphones – I can record a tight drum track. I love this step, I must admit. I’m not a good enough drummer to lay the drums down flawlessly the first time – plus I’m still crafting the emphasis within the song – so I get to play it over and over. The neighbours love it.

What I love is that after the first take I can apply the EQ, compression, even a touch of reverb, so that after every take I’m listening back to a nearly-final sound on the drums. Mind you, after a bunch of experimentation I’ve decided to stick with an unsophisticated mic setup: Rode NT-1000 on the kick, a couple of large-ish condenser mics as overheads (widely spaced to my left and right, nearly at ear level) and a Shure 57 on the snare. I’m lucky that the room has a sloped ceiling, solidly-filled bookshelves on one wall, and is open on the other wall – it’s a nice-sounding space.

With the drums down, I record final versions of all the instruments and voice. At the moment the only non-analogue instrument is the organ. I play in a rough track via MIDI then fine-tune it onscreen, adding the expression and Leslie effects after the fact. I could try to play it all neatly first time, but I need that keyboard to sit perfectly towards the back of the mix … and I’m just not that good a player!

Anyway, here’s the song for your listening pleasure.

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