Q & A The Making of Headswims

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What is your writing process Simon, and was it a different approach to Happyhells?

The writing process hasn’t changed at all. I will find a melody pop up in my head or an idea for a title or a chord progression whilst playing guitar. I find it easier (or Lazier) for an idea to come to me than go looking for it. Its more a feel than a thought.      

Why did it take so long (and how long were you actually working on the songs for?) Were all the songs written and decided on as ‘the album’ before presenting to Dave to record and produce?

All the songs will be ready lyrically and melodically before I go into the studio. It will usually be composed on acoustic guitar, but I will have arrangement ideas for instrumentation be it strings or guitar hooks  or even choral parts floating round which I will TRY and explain to Dave and Paul. We then put a basic vocal / guitar guide down and use it as a canvas so to speak. Then the fun begins.

Again I have the idea of the album itself is loosely formed. Not so much as a concept but as a feel I would like to explore and convey. The title HEADWSIMS was the seed for this album.

Time wise, if it was back to back it would have been a year to record the album. We never really worked to a release date we spent most of the time finding out what we wanted to hear and achieve something big and bold soundwise. Now we have a template of sorts to leap from the next album is already written and ready to record.

Did you have to lose/bin any material? If so why?

We dropped a couple of songs from HEADSWIMS. Both just didn’t fit with the albums mood and we found that the album flowed better without them.

Simon your lyrics are, again, poetic and complex and ethereal – how do you craft them and how (& why) important are lyrics to you, in any music?

I find writing lyrics to be both a kiss and a curse. I love playing with or on words. Twisting and weaving them into the melody of the song whilst trying to keep them relevant to its feel and intention or not!!. I also find that I can spend weeks on just one line which can be soul destroying for both me and the countless note pads ill go through.. There is no rule to writing. There is no right or wrong. That’s a freedom that gives me the most pleasure.

How did the production and arrangement process work? How long did that take?

Production is in the hands of Dave, I just make the tea or move the mics. He has a great understanding of the studio and a remarkable way of getting the best out of everyone or everything.  We would spend studio down time working together or with Paul on the instrument arrangements. I enjoy this process the most.  How instruments interact with each other to create something special sonically especially strings and choral parts which are abundant on this album.  The core of the song would be down to me on guitar, Dave on bass and keys, Paul on guitars and Paul Tonks on drums and piano. We would then work outwards incorporating other instruments and musicians depending on the songs requirements.

What were your musical references? Did you play each other albums/artists/songs you loved to convey your ideas?

A weak point of reference was the sound production from mid- 50s to mid-60s.

How collaborative (or dictatorly!) was the recording/arranging/production process?

At the start it was a case of me pointing out the route I wanted the songs to take. Im not a read musician by any standards, my communicational skills are primitive. But we have all worked together for a long time so they can interoperate my “grunts” and “Twangs” perfectly!

Its then a case of just playing with individual ideas from all involved and getting what is best for the song. Dave has a unique style in bass playing its very melodic which I love. Paul has a wonderful ear for chord inversions and hooks and the drums aren’t there purely to keep a tempo Paul Tonks plays a kit rather than just hit one.

The various guitar sounds seem like a key component – were they Paul’s doing?

I would say Paul’s guitar sound was first and foremost in our way forward. We wanted that drenched in reverb feel from the 50s / 60s. There are variations of the sound adding tremolo, slap back or delay FXs. Again we had the luxury of time to play with the soundscapes and how they interacted as a whole.

How did you get BJ Cole on board?

We wanted that swoon you can only get from Pedal Steel. I was aware of BJs work with The Walker Brothers, Elton John, and Jerry Rafferty the list goes on so through the magic of Facebook we made contact and got a yes!  We sent copies of the songs to him and he did a couple of takes. Dave and I then edited the best bits. 

How many other people contributed?

We have been lucky to have worked with a lot of home grown talent from The Isle Of Man Anna Goldsmith, Christy Dehaven, Simon Campbell, Stuart Watret, Dave Kilgallon all artists in their own right. Plus the Magpie Choir and two of the Islands best string quartets.

It seems to be a very ‘visual’ album – is this from a love of film?

Some of my favourite artists have dabbled in film composition Burt Bacharach, Scott Walker and John Barry to name but a few. Dave Armstrong is himself is a film maker so I can see there may be slight similarities. I think it’s more that we want to give an ambitious sound that has its own emotional gravitas if the vocal was taken away.

The artwork is extremely powerful, how did it come about and how important is it to you/the album?

I spent a very long time looking for something that would portray the album visually. Its very important that both mediums look seamless side by side. That you don’t know if the album was written for the artwork or visa versa. I met Bruno Cavellec through DAM studios and we spent a long time talking about everything from music, film, art and favourite cheeses and got on well.  After a while Bruno asked if he could have copy of the pre mixed album and have a go at something in the lines of our conversations. After a few months he invited me round for a look at the nearly finished piece and I was completely blown away. Its more than I could have ever tried to imagine. Id like to think that we helped finish each other’s work in some over romantic pants sort of way.  

You have plans to release a gatefold vinyl later in the year, why?

Vinyl is back but for me its never been away. We will be having a vinyl release later in the year. It’s a good excuse to get us back out live! And as a visual, tactile and inconvenient medium there is nothing better than vinyl!!     

How much does the finished article resemble the sounds and ideas you had in your head when you started?

Its more a case that the album is a sum of its individual parts brought together by likeminded ideas and ideals rather than one thought. I couldn’t imagine that big!!

The creative process is a tricky one at the best of times – Were there any tensions or squabbles during the very lengthy creation of this album?

Only whos turn it was for making a cuppa

Why Headswims?

It sounds better than Heartsanks