a blog about the making of my 2nd album ‘REACHING FOR A STATE OF MIND’
The record began in a turbulent, twisted place sometime around Halloween 2012, but producer/ multi instrumentalist / collaborator Michael Clarke and an inspiring band of musicians helped me to find the hope within it and the album has come to represent a fresh, new beginning for me.
After a demo-ing 30+ songs, Michael and I made a short list of 16 of the most appealing/urgent ideas and began recording music at Hockley Street Studios in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. Michael Clarke is an extremely talented, patient and creative producer, we worked together on my debut album and I was thrilled that he answered my call to do the 2nd record. When I’m in the studio with Michael the Neil Young lyric comes to mind “in the field of opportunity it’s plowing time again!” he’s a multi-instrumentalist, fluid audio editor, and great with arrangements too…he has skills and craft a plenty, the only limit is your imagination – so exciting!
The first two weeks were intensive, we set up as a live band in the studio and worked long days, improvising on arrangements and parts. It was such a pleasure to play with Simon Smith (Carina Round, Carl Barat, Linda Perry) on bass and percussionist Chip Bailey (Duke Special). Chip brought a vast array of percussive instruments and objects into the studio – everything from goat’s toe nails to a cheese grater! And of course his signature instrument: the ‘stump fiddle’, mixed in with lots of hand drums and a few pots and pans…Chip brought a distinctive rhythmical sound to the album.
Once we had laid these foundations, Michael and I had a whole lotta fun with a variety of guest musicians and vocalists in sporadic, creative sessions over the next few months…Thomas Bounford (Saturday Night Gym Club) used his violin to create a twisted, tense atmosphere on Chasing Paper, a song set in the concrete jungle that is Paradise place/Birmingham City Centre. He also added a tension building, rhythmical line to the chorus of Come Back.
Katz Kiely travelled up from London to sing harmony vocals on ‘Chasing Paper’, ‘Climb’ and formed part of the ‘Hockley St Choir’ we assembled for the grand and proud moments of ‘Come To Me’ and ‘Maybe I Too Was Born To Run’.
I love group singing of any form, and this Saturday morning session with 7 singers was one of the most uplifting moments of the recording time. At the time, Michael was working on two other albums for Joe Summers and Oh! Stockholm and they were also interested in working with a choir….so we joined forces and had a great session singing on each other’s recordings.
The Hockley Street Choir Members are: Anna Louise Bennett, Charlie Callaghan, Harriet Harkman, Joseph Summers, Katz Kiely, Nyli Lewis, Mike Hutchinson
In December 2012 I supported ‘The Dylan Project’ at the Robin 2 in Wolverhampton for the second time, and yet again was blown away by the musician ship and craft on display in that line up. PJ Wright approached me and said he liked my acoustic guitar, we had a bit of a geeky guitar chat and then the next day I wrote to him and attached a rough recording of ‘Maybe I Too Was Born To Run’. I was thrilled to get a quick reply from him, though it simply said:
“Hello Dan – I have to run to Gateshead right now, back Monday, I’ll have a listen then!
I waited, scanning my new mail everytime I checked it for ‘PJ WRIGHT’ ….4 days later PJ got back to me with ideas for pedal steel guitar parts for the song. This marked the start of an entertaining email conversation and exchange of audio files over the next 3 months. PJ has a wonderful command over his instrument, beautiful technique and sound and it was a real pleasure to collaborate with him.
I first met Booga (Ezio) back in 1997 when I was playing guitar for Naomi. We supported them at Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham and I think at The Junction in Cambridge too. So I was pleased and excited in equal measure when I received the call to open up for them at ‘Ents Shed’ in Bedford. My songs seemed to go down OK with their audience, and Ezio kindly played ‘When We Were Sleeping’ on his radio show the following evening. This was enough of a green light for me to make the first approach, and I emailed Booga and asked if he’d kindly visit our studio Birmingham to play guitar on ‘Chasing Paper’.
I’d been struggling with the lead guitar on this song for a while, and it was really starting to annoy me. June Mori had composed the beautiful counter melody, and I was really happy with how the phrase flowed, it was just the sound and the performance on the guitar that I couldn’t get right. I decided it required the delicate touch and fingers of a real ‘steaming’ guitar player – not my own sort of kack handed punk influenced approach.
My instincts served me well on this occasion, Booga played it much, much better than me. He played it with flair and passion, and added some unison bends that I simply hadn’t thought of….I love working with creative folks!
Mix and Master
Michael Clarke mixed the album, and demonstrated the true extent of his attention to detail and patience with sound creation. Mixing is a truly beautiful art form and something I wish I was more skilled at. Watching someone mix your songs is sort of like watching an artist produce a sculpture in thin air. Carefully, delicately carving and highlighting sounds and elements of sounds you didn’t know were there. During this time we also had some fun playback session with Simon Smith and Chip Bailey, where in addition to drinking (a bit too much) wine and tea, we added bits of percussion and enjoyed lots of laughter.
Ryan Pinson worked with me on the 3 EPs and he mastered the record at his studio in Wolverhampton. It was really great to wrap a fresh pair of ears around it at this stage and Ryan worked tirelessly – to-ing and fro-ing the wav files and ironing out tiny creases until we were truly content.
I turned my attention to the artwork and packaging, and put out a call on facebook to see if any artist’s out there would be interested in working on the release.
I was overwhelmed (and overjoyed!) by the enthusiastic response I received. Colin Marsh produced several, striking, revealing portraits and I used one of them on the ltd. edition album sampler CDs I sold at gigs in May/June 2013. Colin is a an artist who works with real conviction, follows his instincts and his work speaks to me very clearly and directly.
Annemarie Wright makes pictures out of words. I was instantly inspired when reading this on her site: “Everyone has different opinions and feelings that can be expressed through words. The aim of my work is to challenge people’s perceptions and make them realise that first impressions can change. I produce my work using ink and paper, from a distance you will see a black and white image, when moving closer you will see the image is handwritten text. the text is always written by, or about the person or image in the piece itself”
My songwriting is lead by lyrics, it’s important to me that my songs have a message and a purpose. I think I’m often searching for answers and truths in in my writing. Annemarie’s lyrical style of portrait seemed to fuse/bond well with my work.
I was introduced to Alison Keys by a mutual friend in 2012 and it was real pleasure to work with such a creative and experienced professional on this element of the project. Alison did the graphic design work on the album sleeve, disc itself and lyric booklet. She lead the way to the simple, serene design of the CD packaging, I like this as it seems to allow room for the music to breathe.
Once it was all finished, where to get the record pressed?!? A quick google search reveals it’s a bit of a crowded marketplace out there in duplication world, with companies falling over each other to compete on price and delivery time. However, I had worked with John Garrad – at Akcent Media on both pressings of my debut album in 2011/12 and I was certain I wanted to invite him to work with me again. John is an early bird like me, and has sufficient patience to reply to all of my worried little mails! This personal approach really makes a difference to me, as I tend to get very nervous at this final stage of making an album. It brings to mind drawing/painting as a child and my mom’s words “that looks finished to me…don’t RUIN it now!” Safe to say, John didn’t ruin it, he made it blossom, and within 20 days too!
When the CDs arrived in the post, James Clarke visited my house and we spent a long night updating my website. James has helped me with all aspects of online music promotion since my days playing with ‘Sonara’ in the early 00s. I feel honoured to work with such a well informed professional, he’s totally on it and doesn’t mind answering all of my questions. Sessions with James are always enlightening and often an education!I was surprised to receive orders for the album within just a few hours of putting it up online – mainly due to the super-efficient services that bandcamp offer.
I’m self-releasing the record through my own label ‘Tiger Dan Records’, and have registered the songs and recordings with PRS and PPL respectively. For digital distribution across all on line stores i’m using AWAL, as with all my previous releases.
You’ve invested so much emotion and energy in the songs, they deserve some good representation, right?! but selling yourself, generating the right (or any!) sort of media interest in your songs can be a challenge, and a bit of pain, so I find it best to seek help and advice where possible!
Birmingham based music journalist Dave Freak kindly agreed to interview me and write my new bio and press release. Dave is a talented writer and a credit to his art form, i’ve read his gear for years and I was really pleased when he agreed to work with me on this.
I’m working with country/folk/roots specialist Will McCarthy on a national radio and press campaign.
I’ve arranged a 20+ date UK tour to promote the record, with full band headline shows in Birmingham Crescent on Sept 29th and London Slaughtered Lamb Oct 8th 2013, and many solo/duo shows around the UK throughout the Autumn months.
I’m playing lots of tiny theatres, arts centres, folk/roots acoustic night, and sharing stages with a lot of truly wonderful artists:
Anja McCloskey (Manchester, London, Kendal)
Rebecca De Winter (Bedford, Birmingham, Brighton, Norwich)
Richard Lobb (London)
Paul Liddell (Newcastle, Alnwick)
Fran Smith (Newcastle)
Stephen Fearing (Hepworth)
Shuana Mackin (Manchester)
Molly Warburton & the Shady Days (Kendal)
I’m really looking forward to heading out on the road to play the record live, and look forward to sharing the songs with everyone at the gigs.
DW July 31st 2013, Birmingham, UK.