Towards the end of 2019 I collaborated with 2 friends to arrange and tracked an entire album in 5 days. To that aim, we rigged a mobile recording studio in a farmhouse in the Ceres Karoo and isolated ourselves from the rest of the world as far as possible. Wonder how it went? You can read all about it here. In short, recording in the Karoo was such a profound and liberating experience that we decided to do it again.
Apart from using a different house (but still in the Karoo), we followed the same rules we applied during the first project. The rules:
- We apply a 15-second rule. When anyone has an idea or suggestion we will entertain it for 15 seconds to decide whether it will work or not. If it does not work it is out. Period.
- If an idea passes the 15-second rule it stays and is not debated again.
- Every track on the album must be completed with the first or second take. If we cannot cut it within 2 takes we either scrap it or we leave it with imperfections in place.
We did however add a few additional principles. The first was that we did not set a target upfront for the number of songs we wanted to record. We preferred to let our natural writing and recording rhythm produce songs in an organic way without the added pressure of reaching a specific number. We agreed that if we end up with only one good song we’d still be happy. The second was that we decided to record original songs only. We included a few covers on the first album and did not want to repeat that.
Our schedule for the week was easy – we had no schedule. But, our natural rhythms soon fell into a type of working schedule that worked for all of us. We would have breakfast at about 9 in the morning. Each one will then go off on their own to write, meditate, jog, walk, read or do anything that can inspire a new melody or lyric. We would reconvene at around 12:00 to share what we came up with.
We would then collectively choose an idea to work on for the rest of the day. Some days someone shared a melody or a profound lyric. The next day someone will drop a fully written song! For the rest of the day, we’ll write, arrange and record the song. We did break for dinner every day but never at the same time. Some days we recorded until 1 in the morning and on others we called it a night at 23:00. Recording in the Karoo is not for the faint-hearted.
As we had no idea ahead of time which songs we were going to record nor what style of arrangement we’ll go for, it was difficult to decide which guitars I wanted to bring along. So I decided to bring as many as I could fit in my car! A man has to be ready for anything when recording in the Karoo…
The ones that ended up being on the album were a Martin DCPA and an early ’90s Sigma dreadnaught. In those days the Sigma brand was still owned by Martin Guitars. It has a wonderful mellow sound born from many gigs on dodgy stages. It even landed in the sea at Mossel Bay once, but that is the topic for a different article…
On the electric side, my trusty old Strat and Les Paul Deluxe with P90s did the trick (as always) and I used a Les Paul Traditional with Gibson P94 pickups on one track. All electric guitar tracks were recorded through my Kemper. I have sung the praises of this device many times in the past and it proved its worth once again. Need an amp for an 80’s Mike & the Mechanics type solo? Check. A clean Roland Jazz Chorus for a jazzy tone on the next song? Check. Followed by a Teletype sound through a VOX AC30 on the bridge of another? Check. And all of them were created within minutes. Life is sweet when recording in the Karoo.
So how did it go the second time around recording in the Karoo?
We completed 7 original songs in 6 days (writing, arranging and tracking) and spent 2 more days mixing and mastering. We wrote about topics that were important to us and the songs reflect the issues we were dealing with at the time. Spoiler alert, we don’t write soppy love songs.
It is a privilege to listen to these songs after the fact and experience the camaraderie that we had during the recording. It is also a reminder of the thoughts, dreams and fears that we shared with one another and captured in the lyrics and arrangements. Nobody apart from the 3 of us will ever know what these songs are really about and that creates a very special bond.
I’ve learned a few new lessons this time around:
- It is amazing how creativity is enhanced when you detach yourself from the world for a while and allow time to think and feel again. It fuels creativity.
- There are many benefits to Grasta. This is our short for green pasta. No, it does not contain any illegal substances. On one of the days, we decided to make pasta and the combination of spices and souces we used turned out a very unappetising green colour, but it tasted amazing. We will probably try and perfect the colour next time.
- Whiskey tastes better after 11 in the evening than before. Not sure why…
Will we do it again? Absolutely! We are already planning the next one. And we have a name. The project is called Vanuitstof. Check it out.