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April, Track 8, A Darkness Now is Coming

So we’ve had this song kicking around for ages – but it was in a sort of sub-Aqualung piano pop style until we headed into these sessions. All that really remains from previous versions is the first melody line – “Hear me out / Sound for sound / A darkness now is coming” – it’s one of those lines that I just kept singing and sort of haunted any writing I/we would try to do. I’d been knocking it around in a slight country style and had added a few other bits and lyrics whilst we were doing the initial writing in January and then one day, as I recall after a long session working on Caught in the Wake we just started playing it standing round in a circle. Rich automatically reached for the banjo and Ed, very unusually sat down at the piano. This video is taken literally a few minutes after we started playing…

I know we take the piss out of Ed sometimes for wrong notes/smashing his equipment/alchemy/etc but I’d forgotten what a good blues/rock piano/keyboard player he is when you’re just jamming – one of the best things about this track for me is his playing on it.

When we came to record it we initially thought we’d try and do it genuine Bluegrass style with one mic but in the end we couldn’t get the sound we wanted out of this. So with a few mics littered around the room and the band all standing up facing into each other in a circle we just did take after take until we got one we liked. Everything you hear on the record bar the trumpet solo (and a doubling up of the backing vocals to ‘fill them out’) is a live take. What a great way to record if you can do it and the song and feel allows. Pretty special listening back to Gary and Rich’s vocal answering part – the voices mixing so well together and beautiful effortless harmonies – those boys are good.

The song walks a well worn H&S path – let’s batten down the hatches, gather our friends in and seek out some good times to help us through the darkness…DON’T LET THE SADNESS IN. I think it was in some way inspired by the Will Oldham track “I see a darkness” but only in so far as it started a thought process or was the last thing I’d been thinking about before I sat down at the piano.

I suppose in some way it has to be influenced by the heavy, heavy rotation of Mumford and Sons on the radio around the time of writing the album. We have to acknowledge that – but I think it has more of a genuine bluegrass/knees up feel than the Mumford stuff and that’s certainly where we were heading when we did it. It’s impossible to not take in what’s around you when you’re writing or creating something like this and I’ve started deliberately choosing a handful of relevant albums or tracks to be my staple musical diet before we go into a session so that your mind’s in a certain place and doesn’t just become filled with Biffy/Mumford/Leona or whoever is the fall-back artist on my iPod.

I must say as well – this track is so much fun to play live.

Sunflower Seeds

I hope you have been delighted to find a gorgeous packet of sunflower seeds in your copy of our new album April.

You can sow your seed directly into the garden [cough] from April onwards. Do you see what we have done there?

In a good summer it can take only 60 days from sowing to the flowers blooming, and they can grow up to 12 inches every day… Oh baby.

So, the tallest Hope and Social sunflower by the end of September wins an original hand drawn and signed picture of a sunflower by our artist in residence Simon Wainwright, and a life time supply of Four Day Hombre CDs.

Just email a picture of you and your sunflower to sunflower@hopeandsocial.com before the end of September.

Please, feel free to use your own seeds if you want to join in, or win, I cant guarantee the quality of our seeds.

For best results you will need a sheltered sunny location, which pretty much rules out you Scottish lot!

CAUTION:

People have reported their sunflower seedlings disappearing overnight! The main culprits turned out to be hungry rabbits, pigeons and vegetarians.  Please don’t feel the need to stand precariously on your garden fence above your child like this nut->

How To Grow Sunflowers From Seed

Let us know how you get on, good luck and happy growing!

x

PS Check this for plant related coolness: Guerilla Pothole Gardens!

April, Track 7, Ripples Rock My Boat

This is a song with a long history and it comes from a demo I (Si here!) did back at the start of 2008. I had a period of about a year where I did a load of recording just using GarageBand and the inbuilt mic on the MacBook – I’ve got about 10 songs or so from then which I always intended to do more with, maybe even release as a little EP or something, but never got round to. One of them was this – which we started playing as a band in the original writing sessions in June last year. I’ve put the demo up for a listen on Soundcloud:

I think, as is occasionally the case, we had different views on how this should sound. I always had this version in my head but the band had added a sort of melancholic country vibe to it which didn’t seem to suit. The idea of the lyric was that the “I still believe” should be a mixture of the profound and throw-away…”I still believe in the appeal on TV”…”I still believe in a magic trick” etc etc…but the weight of the fist recording we did (with an exquisite but dense Eno-esque soundscape from Ed and that end drum loop ALL the way through) seemed to give everything an earnestness which seemed out of place. So, having done one ‘proper’ version we just ripped it up and started again. And thank goodness we did – this final version outstrips the others by a mile. I love Gary’s little piano line and the (relatively) huge organ part half way through is one of the best moments on the album.

One thing we all agreed on was the end – the drum loop and the wedge-shaped build. Ed and Hux have to take the credit for all of that – a lot of studio tom foolery. Chaps anything to add on this for the tech minded out there?

If I remember rightly the origins of this song came from listening to Into My Arms by Nick Cave and, obviously, the opening line “I don’t believe…”. I’m not very good at list-based lyrics but they just suit the aim of the song. Heads up, chin up, shoulders back…I still believe in magic, I still believe in magic. We used that as a slogan for a while and it just rings true, rings clear…I do still believe in magic.

Also should note a lovely day recording guitar and vocal with Ed – really natural – and with the words only half formed it felt really fresh. That’s the good stuff, right there.

[Ed’s Bit]

I love this song… And I love how it feels really natural even though it is very much constructed.  As Si said we practically fully recorded it all big with the drum loop all the way through and just LOTS of stuff and it just didn’t hang right… Me and Si came in one day when no-one else could make it and just started again. Recorded the whole ‘song’ part of the song with just acoustic and vocal and it was just lovely. Used one of my favourite mics, an EV 635A which I picked up an ebay for $25 for the acoustic and vocal and got my favourite sounds on the whole record. The EV635 is a really natural sounding mic,managed to place it really nicely and there’s almost no eq or reverb or compression on either the voice or acoustic. Just what came down the microphone…. Fair play to Si as well… the vocal is sung really really well. We did the loud distant chorus vocal the same day (same mic in the same place once we’d done guitar I don’t think we moved it, we just moved around it) and I think we did the harmonies and then started adding in bits of all the other stuff that we’d recorded already on the other version… The piano melody from Gary, bits of my eno stuff, a low celloe-esque keyboard part in the choruses, the crazy fairground organ stuff (which was Rich and Gary doing a hand each)… All that was all there in some from in the previous recording. There was a little bit of the piano recording where the piano mics picked up a load of the drum loop from the headphone spill and we stole a 2 bar section of that and that’s the little loopy thing that comes in and out on the left hand side. Si did some backing vocals, we did the tape stoppy thing on the organ (which took ages to make sound right) and that was kind of it. It pretty much all came together in a day…

A couple of days later me and Rich were in for a bit and he put his guitar on which was again was really unstructured… I only had him for a couple of hours and so basically we just ran it a few times… got him to play through the drum loop for most of them with no real plan and then I just built it all up  from the best bits after he had to dive off and do day job kinda work… Once I’d done that the rough mix I did is pretty much how the song sounds except the end section which was just like an ongoing project between me and Rich. We’d take turns to arrange the madness so it made more sense and then add more madness and it just got wilder and wilder. Used some utterly crazy free plugins and loads of the wonderful DBglitch (on the organ in the middle and then ALL over the end section). It got to the point where there was so much going on and so much automation and crazy routing that the project just became really unstable. It’d take ages to load and crash for no reason and when you reloaded it would be ‘different’. It was like we were creating a monster! At the same time we were really keen that it wasn’t just noise, that it had melody and ‘sense’. I’m so glad we persevered though. I think it’s my favourite song on the album. It just melts my heart everytime… If you ever chance to listen to it really loud on some stunning speakers then go for it. First 30 seconds just sound like you’re there and you’re actually inside Si’s voice. I love the fact that all the recording was really easy and almost off the cuff,with nearly no thought about what it was all going to be and then we turned it into this wonderfully complex and beautiful thing. There were so many enjoyable bits to making this song. Love it love it.

April, Track 6, James

Right. Well I think all we need to do to explain the origins of this track is to say that the working title was FunmasterJazz. Yes. Indeed. This track came entirely from a jam whilst we were in the writing phase and, until a week before the final mix only consisted of the riff. It was loads of fun to play and although it sounded great on the demo it was lacking any substance really – James (trumpet player, NOT the James of the title) was convinced it was shit, kept asking “really?” every time we mentioned reworking it. It was only the riff though and was way lighter – had a sort of pseudo-80s-Bowie feel without any of the good bits. Hux’s arpeggio guitar chord at the start may have been the inspiration for James’ studio poster as well:

We had the track lurking in the shadows waiting to be finished and we also felt we had a gap in the album for something pretty forceful, straight ahead and with a notch of aggression. With only one day of writing/recording left in the somewhat tight schedule we just all got in the room together and bashed through it – Ed setting the tone for the session by saying we had to imagine we were Nick-Cave-meets-The-Fine-Young-Cannibals. Probably turned out to be the most chorusy-chorus we’ve ever written – literally in a couple of hours – and I think the riff is killer. I do wish we’d had time to maybe add a bit more “dust” to it – little sonic things and extra harmonies etc but what you hear on the record is essentially a live take (for all instruments) with a vocal over the top. And the vocals were recorded (as with Caught in the Wake) with a handheld mic, monitor speakers on, standing on top of the sofa. 3 takes. Bosh. We’ve vowed never to record “loud” vocals in any other way again.

James. I think he’ll know who he is if he ever hears it. He let us down. Sad.

April, Track 5, Follow You Into

This song happened just about as naturally as any song can. We’d been writing all day and feeling pretty beaten, I sat down on the sofa in the studio and just started playing the arpeggio guitar part and singing some random lines over the top. Ed joined in on piano, Rich on gloc and then guitar and we hit record. I’ve posted that original on Soundcloud which I hope will show up here:

It meanders and we’re not sure of the exact chord changes but this is literally the first or second time we played it.

Really easy and joyful to record – Gary and James worked out a great gloc/piano melody and Hux recorded his big guitar part with me standing on top of Jase’s old bass cab punching the air (Ed, you got a photo?). Brilliant stuff. For the record, James’ left-hand bass piano bit in the 2nd verse (sounds a bit like Sufjan Stevens) is my favourite bit of music on the whole album.

The refrain? “I’ll Follow You Into…”. I’ll follow you into hell if you need me.

Short but sweet. Simon.