I met Neneh Cherry back in December 2012 around a campfire on a rooftop in East London. The meeting came about at the suggestion of our shared record label. By the end of the meeting it was fairly evident that there was potential in us working together. Shortly after we were sent the vocal stems of the album tracks to start working on the music for the album, Blank Project. It was an unconventional way to work and at times a challenge but it meant we could work uninfluenced by the music on the original demos. After a few weeks of prepping these tracks we got together with Neneh in the studio to start bringing it all together and rehearsing for the recording of the album.
The recording and mixing took place over five days at Dreamland Studios, a converted church in Woodstock, with Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet) in the production seat. This was my setup for the recording of Blank Project.
Unable to bring my own Slingerland kit from home didn’t matter too much, since Dreamland was managed by Jerry, an accomplished session drummer with a liking for vintage Gretsch kits. I set up with a 20/13/16 1960s Gretsch with an aqua satin flame finish. There was a vast collection of snares available, but I opted for two over the week, an old Ludwig Supraphonic 5.5×14 and a Yamaha Roy Haynes Signature copper snare, also a 5.5×14. Because we were traveling light, I was also unable to bring my cymbals but was lucky enough to find a nice selection of Zildjians, old and new, including a K Custom Dark ride like my own. In addition to the kit, I was using a Roland SPD-SX drum pad sampler with triggers on the kick and snare. This was used on some tracks to double the kick and snare with a variety of 808 and 909 samples and also for a number of percussive samples, bass hits, tuned percussion, and FX. Other than some percussion such as shells, shakers, and agogos, that was everything. Oh, and I did attempt to add some timpani to one track, which to my dismay was left on the cutting room floor!
The kit was miked with two overheads at the front and one behind, kick, snare top and bottom, although the top snare was out to the side about 30 cm away, and I think there was a room mic too. The kit was baffled and topped off with a big canvas umbrella to control the sound in the big church hall.
We only had five days to record and mix the entire album, so it was important to get the drum sound right from the start. As much as possible we recorded the tracks live as a three-piece—some in one take but most in two or three. We averaged two tracks a day. It was pretty intense working against the clock, but with Kieran running the sessions we were in good hands. He was able to get the best out of us and maintain the flow, which meant by day five we were done. We even had enough time to add one more track, which became the opening track on the album.
All in all it was a great experience shared with some great people.
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