“When you’re a producer working with someone of such highly-charged creativity as Nick Hudson you’ve just got to be ready. There’s no such thing as a guide vocal or a guide anything. They’re all such incredibly inventive musicians it’s a real pleasure to be there capturing as much of the magic as you can. It’s exciting to be producing music in this very free collaborative process. On a personal note I think it’s important to acknowledge this as a key part of what we do in a professional recording environment these days. It’s not just about the mics, the room, the equipment and the technology at your disposal, it’s about those creative relationships that spur everyone on to do their best work. You can’t get that in your bedroom studio. That’s how you make a record.”
(Paul Pascoe, our producer at Church Road Studios - February 2019)
On November 9th, 2017 we released Codex Novena, which we'd been working on for a year. Having heaved from major project to major project unremittingly for over ten years at this point, I'd grown fully cognizant that there can often be a sense of bathos or comedown once a project is completed, signed-off and thrown out into the world, so to offset the anticipated malaise on this occasion, I booked a recording day for 10th November, as an exploratory session, building up a piece I'd written earlier that month, called The House. The making of Codex had been a convoluted process across its conception, its recording, its mixing, and courtesy of the personal situations of various band members at the time – we'd also recorded it predominantly live in the studio, with minimal overdubs, and while none of us feel Codex is an under-serviced record, it's generally acknowledged that one of TAOS' pre-eminent qualities is its richness of sonic texture and nuance, and so when it came to recording The Quiet Earth, I elected to take full advantage of studio multi-tracking potential, and worry – or not worry – about live arrangements further down the line.
I'd attempted to mix Codex myself, which was a fool's errand. Paul Pascoe had been recommended very highly by various people so we appointed him mixing engineer, he and I sitting in Church Road over five days, getting to know each other creatively as we mixed. Sensing a kinship and recognising Paul's flair as a brilliantly inventive all-round sonic technologist, I asked him immediately if he'd produce the next record with us. Fourteen months later, with twenty-one out of twenty-two songs tracked and a good half of those at least pre-mixed, we find ourselves with a colossal, dystopian, richly-textured and gleefully eclectic record on our hands.
Codex Novena was very much drawn from extreme personal circumstances – an intense and loving relationship with a beautiful human being, who tragically, had undergone a shocking litany of the most unimaginably traumatising life circumstances, all before he was even twenty-five – processing the three years I spent intimately wrapped up in this narrative, which have engraved themselves so deeply on my ways of thinking around and engaging with the world. I expanded this consideration of trauma and survivalism from the singularly personal into the collective, ecological and geopolitical with The Quiet Earth – which from ignition was conceived to consider how human consciousness might process knowledge of its impending eschaton – or if you will, a jukebox for the party the night the world ends. It takes in irradiated Russian archipelagos, murderess countesses, nature's very own insistence on survival, psychogeography, a corporate lackey so inured to sensation that he's seduced into kidnapping a heiress, the grim resilience of a populace destined to see out their days in a traumatised landscape, orgies in a temple, reflections on the notion of an artist's ethical responsibilities (if any), the entropically nosediving 'glamour' of organised crime, the circumstances of one's upbringing forming a straitjacket around personal aspirations, nature itself as the ultimate and only spiritual guidance.
This vast and turbulent array of subject matter had to be reflected in the sonic DNA of the record. As such at various instances we've deployed unusual recording techniques – often ones connoting corrosion and irradiation. On Don't Touch The Animals, a Herzog-ian ecological waltz-time ballad, for instance, there is a 'fake' mellotron choir constructed through recording synth choir into an eighties cassette recorder onto already corroded tape, and re-mic-ing this. The same cassette recorder was used to transmit a pre-recorded vocal ad-lib directly into insanely-versatile guitarist Guy Brice's guitar pick-up, through lapping weaves of delay, on the intro to the title track. On Charboy In The Cinders one will find field recordings of a mereorite hitting a lake in Chelyabinsk in the Southern Urals of Russia, alongside sonification of visual data from CERN. There is also birdsong recorded at the grave site of murdered Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, which I recorded before sitting in on a human rights summit in The House Of Commons where Litvinenko's widow were a key speaker. We have a field recording of TQE lyrics being recited within the historic fortress of Alamut in Iran, formerly Persia, which was the seat of Hassan-I-Sabbah and his Garden Of Earthly Delights. There will also feature a recording of literal nuclear fallout - chunks of trinitite from the first ever nuclear detonation at the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico. On Couch Surfer, we had drummer Ash Babb record the tribal drum part three times to create an expansive unison mix whereby we printed two takes to mono, shoving them hard-left and hard-right and had the third, stereo take in the middle. Testament to Ash's astonishingly metronomic precision as a drummer, these takes required minimal if any editing to sound out in unison.
With all of my previous records aside from Codex, the recording and mixing processes were distinctly blurred, as I would tend to do a pre-mix as I tracked. This, I suspect, evolved through a combination of autodidactism, obsessive perfectionism, monomania and a belief that composition and production break bread at the same table. As my friend Toby Driver, compositional force behind NYC's Kayo Dot has said – 'production is timbre'. Plus I'd tended to record as much as I feasibly could, at home. With Codex the recording and mixing were two distinct and modular processes but the whole endeavour occurred in pro studios. With The Quiet Earth I've resumed the mixing-as-you-go approach while affording us the luxury of multi-tracking everything, save for a handful of key exceptions, in the live room of Church Road. I wanted to pursue this one at its own self-defined pace, encouraging collective and individual experimentation, with absolutely no compromises in terms of process. Hence it's taken fourteen months thus far to get the leviathan fed and watered.
The externally recorded components include vocal and synth contributions from part-time TAOS member Ian Breen, who self-recorded his part at his home studio in Manchester. Likewise we are anticipating a lead guitar part from Greg Massi of Kayo Dot, who has thus far contributed mesmerising cameos to two of my solo records. Another recurring voice, and increasingly a part-time TAOS member, is LA vocalist Carisa Bianca Mellado, who this time rather rather than pipe her parts in via email, actually happened to be in the UK in November 2018 - we booked a studio day and had her record live in the studio with us, on Charboy and Polestar, alongside her musical and otherwise partner Andrew Dalziel, who layered-up some truly crushing Blixa-esque guitar on Charboy.
Whilst some tracks have been built up line-by-line to a click, there are those whose tempo changes and sense of groove-energy necessitated tracking in units of two or three in the live room, with overdubs to follow. So What Caravaggio and Everything At Once Forever, being the more brazenly post-punk of TQE's opulent spread, were recorded this way.
Don't Touch The Animals and The Last To Turn Out The Lights feature violinist Lizzy Carey, who teased out incredible, sinuous string lines on my last solo record Ganymede In A State Of War. She recorded her parts in the Church Road live room with me conducting, detuning her viola to simulate cello registers.
Once we conclude tracking at Church Road, we have a session booked inside St Mary's Church, Brighton, where we presented a fourteen-piece chamber ensemble scratch performance of TQE in November 2018, and which boasts utterly transcendental acoustics. Here we shall set up a mobile rig and record choral parts and indeed church organ for the track Rose Devoid Of Form (a warped, irradiated, synth-led liturgy for which Kianna Blue hatched a propulsive, lurching bass line that upon first hearing, made our brains explode in the most ecstatic manner.) The last time I recorded the St Mary's church organ was for my 2011 solo album My Antique Son. We'll also be sampling the acoustic ambience via Space Designer so as we can deploy that specific, cavernous reverb on demand in future. We're going to record long single notes on the church organ bass pedals, which can then be MIDI-assigned and played in a way no organist but the most inhumanly athletic ever could.
Then we'll take a week off to dissolve any psycho-acoustical snowblind-ness before returning to Church Road to tweak and palpate these twenty-two chunks of well-rendered coal into imperfectible diamonds, again with Paul Pascoe at the desk. What to do with it once its mastered remains an intangible 'who knows' but at least through pursuing this act of lunatic daring with absolutely no compromise at any stage of the process, we know we're going to hold in our hands something truly progressive, adventurous, dedicated, and passionate, in whose merits we can trust, long after the glow of closure has passed. At this point, I may not even insist that we immediately commence the next one...
NB. I've already started writing the next one.