The San Francisco Sessions - Day 5 February 18th 3rd Studio Day
This was the last day of tracking. James, Kevin and V would not be coming back after this.
When I got to the studio, Chuck had already put some backing vocals onto Rosalie. A quick listen through then those words that fill me with equal parts excitement and trepidation, ‘next song!’ What Would I Do. Starting from scratch, everyone thinking of the energy of the previous day and wondering if it would come back again, this song was much more of a struggle. The fire had gone out overnight (I’d been buzzing too much to sleep well) and this song, it turned out, was not the song to reignite it. As the jamming progressed, the tempo dropped to a languid swing. The first run through was dull – but for a delicious military beat from V. Chuck and James agreed some changes to the structure (with instructions from Chuck to the band to keep an eye on me and help me through) and we tried again. I said it felt like trudging through knee-deep water. Matt asked how we fix it. Chuck knew. We had to ditch the military beat – the best part – tough but we needed to try something. We kept nudging up the tempo and eventually came up with something that had some life in it. I still had some doubts but a few bits were added, including some sitar-guitar from Chuck (the Danelectro guitar is his but it lives in the studio – this, somehow, encapsulates the man) and it started sounding nice. The first song that’s needed bells and whistles. We broke for lunch, I think, all still missing the buzz. Then it was time for the last song. The Day The Aliens Saved The World. I tried to warn Chuck that this one was a strange, almost novelty song. He brushed my protest aside with his ringmaster flair saying this was his new favourite. He started to ponder the options. The obvious ones were a talking blues, like Woody Guthrie (I remembered later I was wearing an Oklahoma T shirt, so it would have been fitting) or Americana sound. But he had an urge to do something really out of the ordinary. He dragged us all into the booth and played a bunch of John Cooper Clark poems set to various futuristic and challenging soundtracks. He set Matt to explore a whole load of weird electronic beats and squeals. I turned to James and said I was a bit frightened. You should be, he said, but you write a song about an alien, this is what you’ve got to expect. I look up and Chuck has gone. The freaky old Manc genius has fired him up. He drags V behind his kit and picks up the Danelectro and finds a tone that, he said, made him feel like a God. And we’re off again. Terry hands me a ‘Neil Diamond’ mic and I’m told I have to eat it, shove right in my mouth. The grins are back. We record and go back to the booth for a listen. Kevin says ‘Dr Feelgood’ and he’s right. Listening back, Chuck declares, this song makes me happy! And he looks it. Kevin makes his customary request for a safety. Chuck lets him because it means we get to listen to it again. Everyone’s having fun again. The band are heading of to play the SXSW festival soon and James says if he walked by a band playing this, he think ‘this is interesting’. Chuck said, “I’m envious”, “Huh?” I replied dumbly, “it’s a great track” he explained. My daughter’s going to kill me, I said, she told me before I left, ‘Don’t let Chuck ruin that song’. Chuck says we can do an acoustic version too and Matt sets up, ‘Aliens – daughter version’. V takes an Al Kooper line from an earlier story, joking, ‘we’re making music, not friends’. This is a fiddly song to play and I try to bail out of playing duties. But Matt, in one of the most glorious and surreal moments of the whole glorious and surreal adventure, explains that I was doing some interesting things that none of the others could do! He watched what I was doing, asked where I’d learnt it and was impressed. James said he couldn’t do it either. We did the take and I promptly messed the whole thing up completely! But it didn’t matter. Chuck’s acoustic was masterly and James played gorgeous dobro. I’ll be comfortably low in the mix! Chuck doesn’t care for the acoustic version so much. He explains that there’s so much of that sound around and he’s reached a point where, if he has to choose, he’d go for exciting over good. So, the acoustic version is white fish and capers. The Dr Feelgood version is a Danson sandwich.
I ask V and James to sign one of their charts before they go. I also get a James Deprato plectrum, ‘you ain’t no guitarist ‘less you got a James Deprato pick!” I won’t see them now until they play London in May. I look down to see what James has written, “Hey Man, you’re in this game now!”