TMF in the Studio with Grace Lindsay
Wandering around the dilapidated backstreets of Bermondsey, this forgotten corner of London’s industrial past is not the likeliest of homes for a small, yet cosy, recording studio filled with the vintage delights of Fender Jaguars and the penultimate EMS Synthi A ever built (a variation on the legendary VCS3, built into a suitcase, don't cha know). But past the traveller camp and beyond the shadow of the New Den, I finally find myself at Press Play Studios – and playtime this certainly is.
A quick tour from owner Andy of the studio’s instrument collection digs up a few gems, including a homemade bouzouki, a couple of Mustangs and a precious Martin acoustic - not to mention the Fender Rhodes hiding in the corner. But there will be enough time to play with all the toys later. Down to business. Earlier in the week we had been sent the rough demo of a new song put together by the producer Jack Guy, and today’s aim, beyond showing off the new HTC 8X Windows phone, is to finish the track.
So in walks our vocalist, the lovely Grace Lindsay, a gregarious, smiley London lass who saunters up to the microphone and reels off three near-perfect takes, just like that. Her powerful, soulful voice has jaws crashing to the floor, the beautiful Gefell microphone soaking up every last drop of emotion as if it was the lifeblood sustaining us here. This girl can sing!
And now it’s our turn! Six slightly worried journalists nervously step out of the control room and into the lion’s den, an intricate array of headphone cables connecting us to the monitors (a bit more industrial plugging here as we are provided with some Beats headphones for the pleasure). Our task is to add authentic handclaps to the chorus. With fits of giggling, some weird hand jives and pulled “in-to-it” faces, we manage to hold it together long enough to lay down a few takes with a run of beats not too badly out of time with the music. It's up to Jack now to work his magic.
But recording isn’t finished just yet: here is my time to shine! Or not… After struggling badly with the intonation and tuning of a Fender Mustang (a notoriously ill-tempered axe, even more so when I tried it in drop-D), the ’68 Jaguar is unearthed and I am ready to lay down some warm, ringing chords underneath the chorus. A few run-throughs later, with some cheeky embellishments to boot, and I’m done. I hand the sumptuous beast over to the next journalist (alas whose name I failed to catch) for him to wrench some exquisite bluesy lines out of it.
Thoughts then turn to the initial mixing of all our efforts, with Jack’s hands a blur across the keyboards as he bends Pro Tools to his will. Listening to the chorus over and over and over again, we build it up and break it down; ejecting the worst of the clapping for the few beats in time, looping and realigning the many tracks of background instruments as we drop in extra choruses and create the inevitable breakdown before the climatic conclusion.
Job done then! At least for this day – Jack still has to spend the weekend off at his own studio doing the final mix, getting right down into the nitty-gritty and polishing the masterpiece until it sparkles. But our fun is far from over; after loading the rough mix onto the shiny new HTC phones for us to listen to with the Beats headphones – the initial point of the whole exercise after all – we are let loose around the studio to play with all the little toys.
Fellow correspondent Kim and I are particularly taken with Synthi, a wonderfully old-school (read temperamental) analogue synthesizer using pins on a board to create the signal pathways whilst twiddling knobs seemingly at random. Andy gives a masterful demonstration on how it should be done, before the pair of us step up and create a whole lot of noise that was probably more fun to play than listen to – but to hell with what anyone else thinks, I’m in my element!
A quick bash on the harmonium in the entrance and the day is done. Walking briskly through one of the less salubrious areas of South London we disperse back to our various homes buzzing from a gloriously fun afternoon, awaiting the final mix of our (not-so-hard) work. And here is the final offering for you all to hear, the next big hit of the spring. Maybe…
All photos taken on the new Windows Phone 8X by HTC, with thanks to Fever PR. For more details and full specs, go to http://www.htc.com.
Grace Lindsay is a singer-songwriter from London, and one half of acoustic duo District Line. More info can be found over at http://www.facebook.com/districtline.
Jack Guy runs On The Up Music, a new label based in London working to sculpt and nurture artists that are at the beginning of their career with the help of their fan base to finance their first album. Check out more at http://www.ontheupmusic.com.
Press Play Studio is a professional recording and mixing facility in Bermondsey owned and managed by Andy Ramsay. To see what delights it beholds see http://www.pressplaystudio.co.uk.