One of the things that Andrew & I never had to worry about when we were writing our own material was the practicalities of performing the material on stage. Full string orchestra? Coming right up. Horn section on this song? Not a problem. Overdub more guitars? Rewind the tape and let’s go. The only limit on our creativity and arranging options was the number of [outputs on the] synths and ROMplers that we had at our disposal and the number of tracks on tape. Nowadays, even those limitations are gone, as with the advent of digital recording, VSTs, VSTis and DAWS, the ever-increasing power of the computer means you can keep piling it on.
But do I want to?
Harking back to the rules I set for myself, I want these songs to sound like they belong together, to reflect my musical roots and to be a credible reflection of me as a musician and a songwriter. Now, my roots are very much in music that was performed live and I still enjoy going to concerts, but the bands I go to see do what they do live, without backing tracks. So, although I never expect that the songs will be performed live, I want to record this album like it was a band album, one that could be taken out and gigged with the right musicians.
Thinking about the bands whose music I’ve enjoyed over the years, and thinking back to the line-ups I’ve performed in, this is going to be a two guitar band. Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Kansas, UFO – all featured 2 guitarists. Modern recordings do tend to feature more guitar parts in places and some bands now go on the road with three or four guitar players, (this seems to be particularly true of headlining country acts), and I don’t intend to restrict myself all the time to 2 guitar parts, but the important thing will be that the essence of what the guitars play could be done live by 2 players.
The rhythm section is going to be the traditional bass player and drummer, but augmented with a percussionist. A little percussion can go a long way in lifting a song and I want to give myself that opportunity. Plus that gives me a spare pair of hands…
Finally, the inevitable keyboard player. In this day and age, you’d probably expect that, but a lot of my youth was spent listening to people who had a Hammond organ and a MiniMoog and who created a world of sound with just those. Not that I’m anticipating using only vintage sounds – I want to make something that sounds modern, not 100% retro. But if it can’t be pared down to be played live by 10 fingers on 2 hands, then I’ll have overcooked the parts. However…
Over the years, many of the bands I’ve seen have had a multi-instrumentalist who’s played whatever was needed on a song so they could do live what was done on the record. In that fine tradition, my percussionist is going to be reshaped into that role, to give me a get-out-of-jail-free card when my heart overrules my head and says, “to hell with the rules, let it rock!”
Not that this means that each song has to feature all 6 of my virtual band – this is meant to be an upper limit, to stop me getting carried away, rather than a requirement that I must have that many parts on each song. And of course, they will all sing backing vocals when needed.
Setting out the “band” and their roles will give me a solid framework as I develop the arrangements for the songs and hopefully go a long way towards helping me get that coherent sound I’m aiming for.