I just wanted to spend a few minutes talking about Portraits. It's been such an incredible journey and I can't resist boring you with some words. Early last year we started writing songs for the album. The basis of most of the songs came from John who wrote huge drum scores and sent them to me in a demo format. I would then spend quite a substantial amount of time working those drum parts into full songs. It's not a standard way of working but it absolutely is the only way that we will be able to write songs as 'Portraits'.
It forced me to start writing with the limitation of already having something pre-existing. I try my hardest in my career as a musician to be as selfish as possible when it comes to writing music. For instance I've recently been drafted in to creating a soundtrack for a documentary under the precursor that absolutely no changes will be made to the music I provide. It's something that is important to me; I guess they call it integrity in the real world. It is of course different when you are writing as a part of a 'band' but luckily with Portraits I create the majority of the musical components (leaving John to the rhythmic and percussive side) It was so exciting having to mould my own musical concepts to a pre-existing architecture, it's not something I think i've ever been able to do before.
We then took all of those demos and at the end of last year we went to Chapel Studios to track all of the guitars, drums and strings. It was a really good trip and although John was knackered and I was really quite ill - we reached the finish line for the tracking and we were both so happy with the outcome. That wasn't quite the end though... infact in many ways that was the beginning...
After we left Chapel I started becoming more and more ill. It's not something I talked about until now but it made things very difficult for me. I would constantly have serious bouts of influenza and all sorts of horrible symptoms. I ended up going to the hospital for the doctors to diagnose me with pneumonia. It was a shock for me because I'm relatively fit and relatively young and so that word wasn't something that was in my immediate vocabulary. It wasn't until April that I started feeling better. In the time that I was ill I had been working through a lot of the orchestral elements that we recorded at Chapel and so by the time that I was better the only thing to complete... were the vocals...
I'll say it... before Portraits I wasn't really a singer. I never really considered it. I've been singing for years but it was always an upshot of being a pianist or a guitarist. I never thought of myself as a 'singer'. Until this album... When I started listening back to the monitor mixes (really rough mixes) from Chapel I started thinking about the 'vocal plan'. Those two words alone aren't really words I've put together in the past. I felt like the bed of music we created was too unique to have standard vocals over. This started a really unique journey for both John and I.
You may have noticed that with Portraits we cover some quite eccentric subject matter. It's something that John and I are both heavily interested and invested in (obviously). It was always clear to me that it couldn't be me who wrote the lyrics to Portraits. It just deserved someone far more connected to the subjects and so John kindly wrote the lyrics to the scat vocals I'd originally laid down. The results were perfect. Not only did John work empathetically to my dodgy accent but he also wrote using such interesting poetic devices. It's something that I think he should be extremely proud of. I just feel lucky that I am the one who gets to sing it all!
With the lyrics set, it was once again in my hands to work the vocals into something that would connect sonically to the music in Portraits. That's when I started researching harmony and so I started reading about the origin of harmony and looking into interval cycles and symmetrical harmonies. It's a really interesting world of reading that (i'm hoping) improved the way I was able to think about harmonies. I'm not sure there are any 'standard' fifths on the album. There are even harmonies (like the harmony of the chorus of From 4.28) that sound more like beatles/stones harmonies than that of a modern rock band. The problem was that all of these trials took a lot of time and I've only recently finished putting it all together. I think it sounds interesting though and I think it brings the listener closer to the music which is good.
Portraits is currently being mixing in London by our good friend Tim Morris and so far it's sounding absolutely perfect! I think that's the first time I've used the word 'perfect' when talking about one of my music projects... I think that Portraits is going to be interesting, confusing, engrossing, repelling and compelling all at the same time. It's a juxtaposition that you need to hear if you get a chance. Sorry for rambling.