Every music fan living in Southampton is aware that the city has a thriving music scene. From the small up-and coming-bands that perform at venues like The Joiners, to the big stars that play at The Guildhall, every musical taste is catered for by a thriving local scene in which acts of almost every genre can find a fanbase and – hopefully – thrive. But, what many people don’t know is that great music isn’t just performed here, it’s also made here.
There are a couple of small independent studios in Southampton focused on providing bands of all sizes with the best possible quality recording equipment, so they can make the best possible music to caress our collective ears with. One of these studios is The Ranch production house out at Nursling, which has played host to quite a few exciting bands, from big acts such as Welsh emo pioneers – and Takedown 2014 headliners – Funeral for a Friend, to smaller acts such as Gloucestershire punk band Black Art and Bristol-based goth rockers Ashestoangels. Recently, The Edge spent a couple of days in the studio with Ashes, finding out a bit more about the trials and tribulations of recording an album, and what really goes into making one.
Obviously, the first step when making an album is to fund it, and with recorded music no longer being the reliable income generator it once was for bands, there often has to be some ‘outside the box’ thinking to raise the necessary cash. The was especially the case for Ashestoangels, as they had to find the money to fly producer Wil Francis (of William Control and Aiden) over from Seattle in addition to normal studio expenses. So, as many smaller bands do, they turned to Indiegogo, in the hope of crowd-funding the album process. Guitarist Falkor spoke about the response they got from fans: ‘I really didn’t expect it to be anything like the reaction we got, it turns out we have some absolutely amazing fans, and it’s brilliant that they’ve supported us to this level. It’s awesome, we never expected we’d raise as much as we have.’
Part of the reason for the excellent fan response to the Indiegogo campaign was probably due to the large variety of different options available for those who pledged their hard earned cash, as I heard from vocalist and frontman, Crilly. He said “a lot of bands just sell experiences and stuff that is only worth money in the context of the band, but we didn’t want to just do stuff which didn’t have any inherent value. So we put up a lot of exclusive merch and stuff that isn’t available anywhere else, like bags and jackets”. However, the band did offer experiences on their Indiegogo page, including the opportunity to spend the day in the studio with the band or pay to hang out with a member for the day, which went surprisingly well according to Ashes bassist Nico: ‘we all got bought a couple of times. People didn’t really have plans for what to do, it was mostly stuff like going to the cinema and getting some food together, it was all quite casual”. Drummer Jim also spoke about his experience of being ‘bought’ for the day: “mine was a group of fans who’d all put a bit of money in to buy me and we all stayed at someone’s house, just eating food and hanging out”.
Although the response from fans has been generous, there have been occasions when Crilly has stepped in to stop their efforts to raise money going too far. “At one point I said I’d perform acoustic anywhere in the world for a grand and a half, and then I read a thing on Tumblr where some poor girl was saying stuff like ‘I tried to become a cam girl to pay for him to come over, but they said I had too many scars and bruises’. Stuff like that makes me sad, I can’t have anyone turning to web prostitution for us, so I just booked the flight over there, and I hope I get picked up for shows when I get there.”
So, with funding secured it was time for the band to step inside the studio and begin recording. The album is recorded in sections, with the rhythm section (drums and bass guitar) being laid down first, followed by rhythm guitar, then lead guitar, with vocals going down last. This can mean short bursts of intense activity for the band members who are recording, followed by a lot of sitting around when they’re not. There’s a lot of time spent practicing, which is fine when it just involves some gentle guitar strumming, but it can be a bit of a shock to the uninitiated to watch someone rehearse screamed vocals. As drums are tracked first, Jim in particular has to find way to amuse himself while recording is completed. “While the others are playing I try to offer gentle encouragement. Mostly along the lines of ‘do it again, but this time, don’t suck!’’
It’s at this point you realise just how close bands have to be. With more than one band working at The Ranch at a time, conditions aren’t exactly spacious, and after nearly a month of living in accommodation that could politely be termed rustic, while working in a studio heated to sub-tropical temperatures, most of us would have throttled even our closest friends. However, despite the odd instance of frayed tempers, Ashestoangels and producer Wil seemed surprisingly tolerant of each other’s habits, and even on the last day of recording are still laughing and joking with each other as if they haven’t spent the previously three weeks living in a shoebox and sharing a shower. As Crilly says: “everyone’s got their own weird things, but nothing really grates on us anymore. We live in a van together a lot of the time, so we’re used to it”.
The main thing that stands out about the actual recording process is how meticulous it is. The sound engineer and producer Wil are constantly listening to the parts that have been laid down before, and checking for wrong notes, noises that shouldn’t be there, and all the other small errors and oversights that can blight an album, with one short instrumental section of a track being examined repeatedly to make sure it’s as good as it can be before the band can move on to recording the next part. While the actual parts are being recorded, Wil is always there, offering encouragement, advice and – sometimes – a bit of a telling off, if he feels things could be going better. As Falkor mentions, “working with Wil’s always good, we enjoy recording with him. He works us hard though and if he thinks something’s shit, he’ll say so!” Vocals are tracked in a similarly painstaking way to instrumental parts and even the gang vocals, which are effectively just shouting, require a fair few revisions to get the right sound. When eventually everything is right, there’s a real feeling of a job well done. The smiling faces of the band when listening back to their – as yet unmixed – efforts say it all. They’re proud of what they’ve created, and rightly so, as when an album sounds good even before mixing and other final touches, you know it’s going to be something special.
For more information, or to book studio time at The Ranch click here.
Ashestoangels new album is due to be released in April 2014.