Friday 6 May 2011

Marble Sun - Making of...

Last summer, I used the money I'd made from my previous album "Glow Worm" to fulfill a dream I'd had for a little while - to go to New York and write a record. I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 5 weeks and recorded the album on my return to England over the following 8 months with Steve Matthews and Joe Truscott. For those interested, here is some background behind each track on the album, 'Marble Sun'. The record is currently free to download from bandcamp.

1. Long Meadow

On my first Friday night in New York I witnessed Spiritualized play 'Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space' in it's entirety at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. It's my favourite album from one of my favourite bands and to see it performed live in perhaps the greatest venue I've ever been to was, as you'd expect, very special. To be honest, that evening will forever remain one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I think it really influenced the first half of ' Marble Sun' at least. It's very evident on 'Long Meadow' with the fuzzy drone, the steady build up, the 6/8 time signature, and the distorted-tremolo climax towards the end.

Two days after the Spiritualized show I went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn for the first time. It was a beautiful day, and I wrote 'Long Meadow' (named after - but not actually written in - an area of the park). The sample at the very end of the track is me recording the riff onto my mobile phone by the lake that day so I didn't forget it. I am very, very fond and proud of this song and the memory of the day and place that it was conceived. I even had the following photo made into a mousemat and a keyring. Get me.

(the spot where I wrote 'Long Meadow')

2. Slippers

I wanted to write a very fast rock song to represent the mania of 6th Avenue and midtown Manhattan as I'd experienced it in my first few days. The riff came to me in my apartment in Brooklyn. I wrote the words one warm, early evening on the High Line - a raised, disused railway track on the West Side of Manhattan that has recently been converted to public gardens and art space. The first two tracks on the record are supposed to symbolise the overwhelming sensory overload of my first week in New York.

(the High Line)

3. Call the Curator

This was one of the last songs I wrote. But it needed to come early in the album for the following reason. In New York, I spent
so much time walking the streets trying to think of a way to make my songs and music more "interesting" and "innovative". I've always believed the hardest thing to write is a good, simple song but I wanted to find a way to combine the two - simplicity and innovation. I felt the problem with the last Android Angel album was that although I was happy with the melodies, I think the orchestration and arrangements were too obvious and didn't cover any new ground - with the possible exception of "Music of the Android Angel".

I want to create music that is
consistently interesting and original yet still honest and affecting in its simplicity. To be honest, I think that desire has actually and unexpectedly manifested itself in my new project Free Swim, while 'Marble Sun' is perhaps, musically at least, the sound of the search for that inspiration. I think that is shown on 'Call the Curator'.

Halfway through writing the record I started experimenting with different tunings on the guitar. It changed the way I wrote songs as I had to work out new chords - it was a bit like learning the guitar again. This song was in DGDGAD I think.

The lyrics to this song are about the day I went to the Museum of Modern Art. I really wanted to see their three Gauguin paintings but couldn't find them anywhere even after asking three different attendants at the museum. I was told to call the curator the following morning to find out where they were. I found it really funny that tens of millions of dollars worth of impressionist masterpieces were unaccounted for and yet it seemed like it was down to me to call the curator the following morning to query their whereabouts. Turns out they were being prepared for the Gauguin exhibition which ran at Tate Modern in London earlier this year.

4. Lafayette Bloomed Violet

The room I was subletting was owned by an Israeli Saxophonist who had flown back to Europe for a month to perform some shows. In his room there was an electric keyboard on which I wrote this track. I knew fairly swiftly that it was going to be a contender for the lead single because I felt it had a really strong,
simple melody and yet was also quite interesting because the verses are in 7/8.

I also found myself singing it a lot as I walked around the city. That was one of the best things about the trip - working on the songs for a couple of hours every morning, then exploring the city for the rest of the day with the melodies buzzing round my head, working on the songs as I went about my days.

I'd always wanted to write a track with a prominent Fender Rhodes part. It's such a lovely instrument, and 'Lafayette...' was perfect for it. I'd also been listening to Whitest Boy Alive a lot in the months leading up to the trip and I think their influence is quite obvious here.

I'd been spending a lot of time in the Lower East Side around this time, mainly drinking and 'philosophising' with Arcs bass player Mike who was in town for a few days. I got out my trusty map and tried to incorporate some of the street names in the song (Broome, Lafayette, Grand). That issue of 'simplicity & innovation' is also present in the lyrics of the chorus.

(my bedroom in Williamsburg)

5. Photographers or Ball Players?

I love this song. Perhaps because for one moment I gave my head a rest from all the 'simplicity & innovation' meditation to just write a very short, very simple song with a very simple arrangement and very simple lyrics. Perhaps also because I wrote it in Central Park where I'd been playing guitar in different places that morning but had been unable to find a condusive place to sit and write. Just as I was about to give up and head home feeling a little disheartened, I had one last play at a picnic bench in the Pinetum and came up with the chord pattern for 'Photographers...'.

The lyrics are perhaps a bit dumb - they were only supposed to be provisional - but the more I listened to them the more they stuck and I rather liked, again, their simplicity. It's New York singing to me. I love the bass line when all the instrumentation drops in and there's Fender Rhodes on this too.

The title refers to an afternoon where I played Basketball on a court in Brooklyn with some locals. When one player eased passed me effortlessly and I kind of looked on in awe another player shouted "Hey! Are we photographers or ball players?"

(Cedar Hill, Central Park)

6. Brooklyn Bridge

This is the one track on the album that I didn't write in New York. I actually wrote in the months leading up to the trip and it's the sound of the excitement I felt about the trip and the countless months dreaming of New York and seeing the Brooklyn Bridge.

It wasn't going to be included on the album until Joe (album co-producer, AA bass player, toughest of guys) heard me play it and told me I had to do something with it.

I recorded the guitar and the vocal, and Joe added all the rest of the instrumentation. It's very much a collaborative effort as Joe's input
really elevated the track and the result is probably one of the top two or three "songs" I've ever been involved in.

The string-section outro made it onto the record by fluke. We were finishing mixing the track and Joe goes "Oh check this out, this is the string arrangement I did for the final chorus but I thought it was a bit too much." I loved it, it gave me insane goosepumps and I figured we should stick it on the end of the track to give it's own space and place on the album. I am forever indebted to Joe for making me include this track on the record as it has pretty much become the centrepiece of the album.

Over my 5 weeks in New York, I must have crossed the Brooklyn Bridge about 20 times. I found it so peaceful, particularly at sunset.

(Brooklyn Bridge at night)

7. Toodle Pip

From Toodle Pip onwards, the record becomes more reflective. This was one of the last tracks I wrote - obvious when you consider the title.

One of my favourite places to spend an evening was Bryant Park. It's a lovely spot amid the bustle of midtown Manhattan where "the air is full of sugar as the old trucks trundle by, people bumble all around, the buildings touch the sky." They had pianists playing on the east terrace every afternoon too. That's where I wrote this song over a couple of days in the last week of my trip. Bryant Park will be one of the first places I head to when I first return to New York.

(Bryant Park)

8. Oh My Love

"Marble Sun" is also a love letter to New York - to everyone I met, all the gigs I went to, galleries I visited, districts I explored, burgers I ate and bars I fell out of. For every reference on the album to a 'her' or 'love' read New York. "If I'm honest I'd given up on myself, my life and my love, but out of the darkness you harnessed the will to look up." My last record was so, so sad. In New York I made a long-overdue peace with a lot of things. 'Oh My Love' gives thanks.

9. Ia Orana Maria

'Ia Orana Maria' is a Gauguin paiting I loved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The song is a reflective collage of some of the most memorable sights I saw. I wanted to commit them all to record so I'd be reminded of them every time I hear the song - skylines by the boats, walking the city till my feet bled, the lighthouse around the corner from Andy Warhol's old house on the tip of the state.

New York really does have this magical quality that's very hard to describe unless you've been. It's kind of like a Neverland - you really feel like you could never get old there. I think this is borne of it's vibrant multi-culturalism and the unbelievably rich abundance of art, music, life and energy packed into such a concentrated area. It's an artist's paradise.

(view from Brooklyn Bridge towards Midtown)

10. Concealed Revealed

The album's closing lyric concludes that "all the negativity has washed itself away, miss it, I won't miss it, I won't think of it again." New York heals.

Android Angel has unexpectedly but delightfully evolved into a project where, for the forseeable future, I can travel to a different part of the world every summer for a month and immerse myself in it's art and culture, broaden my mind and cultivate my imagination. Then I can come home and make a record about everything I experienced. I'm so lucky that I can do this and it was my time in New York that made me realise that my life isn't as shit as I'd started to fear (and as I felt I had been led to believe by some others) - but that it's actually rather wonderful. The city will always have an extremely special place in my heart for making me realise that.

This summer I am going to work on a farm in the Carpathian Mountains in the north of Romania. I want to go somewhere very different to New York. It will be the first time I have visited my dad's homeland, and I will be harvesting hay for the winter in the days, and writing songs in the evenings. Next summer, California.

Here is a NY Spotify Playlist I made featuring some of the music I listened to and bands I saw while I was out there.

Here is an interview I did with Slowdive Music Blog in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Thanks again to everyone who helped in any way on the creation of this record, in particular to Steve for his drums and encouragement, and to Joe for all the time and effort he put in. I am so happy that I've finally made a happy record!

If you're enjoying it, please spread the word and thank you for your continued support.

All my love,

Paul x

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