Suris – Leap – Recording Notes
Riverman started out as a track we recorded in 1994 called ‘Bubbles and Sunlight’. It was a very light pop song recorded on a Fostex 8-track machine with obvious drum machine and light synth sounds.
We always liked the way the verse vocal sat ‘behind the beat’, and the chorus ‘question and answer ‘ vocal sat well too. The structure was good – but at nearly 5 minutes it was too long.
So we bounced the 7 monophonic tracks (The 8th was a SMPTE time code) into our computer and set about replacing all the parts with a more ‘today’ take and a tighter, shorter structure. Lindsey re-wrote the lyrics too.
We started with piano – Lindsey played in a more spacious, staccato riff against a standard 4/4 guide beat, and we quickly developed a ‘jazzy’ beat, stripping back the number of snare beats. I emulated the piano with a natural-sounding guitar pick on my acoustic (double-tracked of course!) – and we had the basis of the track.
It was not hard to find the other sounds. The drums are Logic samples (Studio Brush Kit), which we paired with Logic’s Hofner Violin Bass Guitar in a nice ‘walking’ pattern – leaving plenty of space for the vocals.
Legato strings and Cellos are added to bring body and a counterpoint melody to the chorus, replaced by organ in the 9th and 10th bars. The guitar moves to a ‘pushed’ stroke behind the beat so that the instrumentation ‘moves around’ the 4/4 beat in a nice fluid way.
After the chorus we start to layer in some ambient pads (Native Instruments Absynth 5 ‘Inner Hemisphere’) and flute, and the second chorus features some African Kalimba – percussion with notes!
In the Middle 8 we build with strum guitars, and a pad called ‘Bellsphere’, backed by a deep Cello Riff – bringing us to the Guitar Solo. Less of a solo than an exploitation of the unique sound and sustain of a (new to me) Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Vintage Organ slides take us towards the outro. We love outro’s – even if fades are unfashionable! Lindsey is great at ‘riffing’ intersecting vocals – so this is the focus, backed by the jazzy piano riff and slow descending, alternating guitar notes which fill out as we progress to the fade…
We always add percussion – hand played to ‘loosen up’ the track. Riverman includes various ‘shakers’, a little bell, some tambourine in the Middle 8 and outro. A few handclaps with echo in the right places and we were done.
We had already decided that the title of the album would be ‘Leap’ – so by definition this was the title track. It was something of a challenge to orchestrate even though Lindsey had the song and structure pretty much nailed before we started. We got the energy we were looking for in the end– but not the single we imagined it might be.
It starts with a riff. Sounds like guitar but the truth is I couldn’t quite get the sound right. So I asked Lindsey to lay it down on piano. Then I put heavy distortion on the piano, mixed it with the guitar and hey presto – instant Peter Hammill!
Into verse 1 leaving space for the vocals to establish – Lindsey singing and playing just as she wrote it - then layering in double-tracked acoustic guitar for a ‘lift’ in verse 2.
The first Chorus adds some vintage organ mixed with a weird synth pad from Native Instruments – and then in come some nice backing vocals reminiscent of those in Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.
To the second chorus we added more guitars including a rich echo-y riff, bringing us to the surprisingly heavy Middle 8 (my favourite bit), complete with distorted guitars and punchy layered vocals. (17 separate layers!)
If we followed our natural path this would have evolved into a big outro but we wanted to finish at around 3 minutes, so we moved straight into a refrain with all instruments playing the same phrase, and a ‘full stop’ at 2 minutes 56 seconds – a record for us!
Armour of Love
This is our first truly Christian song and it means a lot to us. Lindsey sings locally in the St. James Gospel Choir, so we wanted this track to have a natural 3/4 ‘swing’ and a punchy chorus that would be suitable for the choir to add to its repertoire. It’s not supposed to be full of shocks and tricks – it’s a nod to classic arrangements designed to let the words shine through.
Lindsey had the Piano (Native Instrument’s Kontact New York Concert Grand) phrasing sorted before we laid anything down, so initially it was just a case of setting the tempo and building the instrumentation against a guide rhythm track. We laid down percussion early to get a strong ‘swing’ into it.
The guitar just came – built around Lindsey’s piano and deliberately ‘open’ – it had a lovely recorded tone through our Neumann TLM193 Microphone.
The drums (Native Instrument’s Kontact Studio Drummer)are really held back – the occasional kick and floor tom roll is all you hear until the bridge, when Snare joins the organ (a ‘must-have’ Gospel instrument!). Even then the Snare is pushed back and avoids the cliché of being on every second bar, keeping a loose feel throughout the song.
As we build through the bridge, strings alternate with the organ to add colour and then for the Chorus we introduce a soft ‘Churchy’ organ with swinging strummed Acoustic Guitar and a Celtic Hammered Dulcimer riff – really laid back.
The next verses add guitars played in the same style as the intro, and this technique of layering-in additional (mostly electric) guitar phrases carries on through the next bridge and chorus, so almost unperceptively the arrangement is getting more dense. The vocals too grow in strength with more layered backing vocals and phrases that ‘break out’ more frequently.
We are building to a Middle 8, which is almost a release from the tension and an opportunity to use some non-traditional instrumentation in the form of big synth pads – Native Instruments ……
Over this at the beginning sits a ‘waterfall’ of acoustic guitar notes – my little ‘pieced-together’ tribute to Jim Cregan’s solo in Cockney Rebel’s ‘1975 Make me Smile’. (OK I know it can never be as good!)
We ‘pull it back’ at the end of the Middle 8, to arrive at the biggest Chorus yet – with everything thrown at it including distorted slide guitar and a forward Mandolin riff. Lindsey did a great job of emulating the London Community Gospel Choir with multi-layered vocals!
Do What you Gotta Do
Written by Jimmy Webb and recoded by Nina Simone, The Four Tops and Glenn Campbell among others, this ‘Torch Song’ deserved a light touch when it came to adding instrumentation.
Lindsey’s version is true to the original, but to my mind improves the distinction between verse and chorus. As usual, Lindsey had the Piano phrasing nailed – and the Piano and Vocal were always going to be the focus of this song.
Initially just vocals, then accompanied by piano. Bass guitar joins only towards the end of Verse 2. Light touches of percussion and strings enter with Chorus 1. From here a subtle ‘heartbeat’ kick drum stays in the mix, but snare holds off until verse 4, and even then is held at a low level. There are no guitars, and none needed!
It’s a lovely heartfelt vocal performance by Lindsey – with a cover you seek to bring out some quality of the piece that hasn’t been done before – and I have yet to hear a more emotional and honest rendition of Jimmy Webb’s great lyrics.
This is the City
We used to perform this in the 80’s as a live band with guitarist, co-writer and pal Simon Welander. It was always popular live and sounded alternately menacing and ‘big’. The problem was it never really had a chorus so it was more of a ‘performance experience’ than a song. It never ceases to amaze me that Lindsey is able to ‘disconnect’ from what has gone before and come up with something new and fresh. She wrote, and we recorded, all the parts for two other choruses before we settled on the current version.
Key components were the ‘off-bar’ pumping bass guitar and the slightly strange chorused guitar riff; paired with an ‘on bar’ kick drum they create a nice tension. For this version we added a synth bass line for ‘Euro-disco’ flavour. Topped off with another guitar riff and harmonic ‘ring’, City has a sound that is its own, but somehow captures those 80’s reference points.
And we decided to really go for that, so the drums are undisguised ‘Drum Machine’ with a really compressed snare sound – we even added some big ‘Adam Ant’ toms!
Unlike the accepted songwriting ‘formulas’, the chorus is not the focus of this track; it’s there to provide release from the driving verse. So we added some nice understated ‘wide’ pads for a bit of space – you can really hear them at high volume, but they are more subtle at normal levels.
After Chorus 1 the drums are joined by Cajun (a beat box you sit on and play with your hands) – with a bit of echo to add darkness. Then a double chorus with two-part ascending guitar notes in the second half bring us to a more ‘rock and roll’ outro, where the drums pick up the beat (same tempo) and are joined by plenty of vocal and guitar riffing.
We were quite pleased with ourselves that we avoided the obvious long fade, finding a way to stop the track at 3:30!
This is a place from Lindsey’s childhood that has meaning, and is the ideal setting for her dark, ghostly love story. I love it when we have the chance to really ‘dig in’ to the tone and mood of the lyrics, making the musical arrangements a perfect reflection.
So this was always going to be a bit of an indulgence; definitely not a single; but without doubt one of my favourite tracks on this album.
As usual we started with Lindsey’s piano and I had to try and find an appropriate approach to the rhythm and bass line. I was a bit lucky to find the sound (Kore Player ‘Sticky Heat’) that echoes around the bass line – it echoed something I’d been playing with on guitar - a ‘123456,1234’ downstroke.
So the verse was atmospheric and dark, with plenty of space for the vocals. Enough space in fact to add some more whispering pads (Kore Player ‘Abyss Flowers’ and ‘Afex’) alternating left and right pan – adding more tension.
But this is a love song too and we wanted the chorus to be ‘transformed’ into something beautiful. We both love Cello – and guest Cellist Samantha Rowe, who gradually built up a legato orchestral treatment around Lindsey’s arpeggiated piano chords, which we just loved.
I’m afraid I just couldn’t help adding some counterpoint rhythm acoustic guitar AND an arpeggiated guitar – its busy, but the chorus has a sound of summer meadows about it, which is exactly what we wanted.
Cello continues to play a part in the next verses, along with some ethereal, and some really heavy-sounding guitars. We also added a new Tony Levin-esque low-down bass lines to add a sense of increasing tension and drama towards the next chorus.
The Middle 8 features a pair of disco guitars (I like to think Nile Rodgers would approve!) allowing space for the vocals to tell their story before a bonkers outro…Layer upon layer of Cellos and other strings (arranged by Lindsey) combine for a big orchestra effect, overlaid by vocal, cello and guitar phrases, underpinned by a cascading piano riff and understated funk guitars. The drums are just as big as headroom and programming will allow. You have a sense of the river flowing wild. No hurry to get to the end, but again pleased to avoid a fade.
We wanted this track to sound as different as possible from the other tracks – yet whatever you do, you always somehow end up sounding like yourself!
I had found a particular drum pattern that sounded rather good using the Alesis DM5 drum machine, ‘Old Skool’ setting. So we set this as the guide track and set about arranging the verse using a repeating guitar phrase and some pads (Native Instrument’s ‘Celestial’ and something in Logic called ‘Trance Oct Dark ModW’) that would be at home in deep space – where of course the temperature approaches absolute zero.
The bass guitar is held back to match the kick drums, and there is no piano, leaving plenty of space for the unhurried verse vocal.
The bridge has to break out that groove, so in comes another Native pad - ‘Artic Ghost’ - with some strummy acoustics, delivering us to a chorus based on a driving guitar that ‘slides’ between chords, backed with a new Logic pad – ‘Icedecpad’ – and a string section reminiscent of The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’. (Though ours is not plagiarised from Andrew Loog Oldham’s version of the Stone’s ‘The Last Time’!)
I should say at this point that we spend hours and hours auditioning, selecting, and modifying sounds so they are ‘just right’. It can be a very long-winded and frustrating process because of the sheer number of choices available; often you come back to a session after finding just the right thing and say ‘what were we thinking?’
Those chorus strings are a good example. The first Chorus uses Ultimate String’s ‘Violins Pizzicato’ (plucked), with the frequency boosted at 3350 Hz by 10dB, then fed through ‘Pedal Board – SpringBox’ for a slightly OTT spring reverb sound. The second chorus is ‘built up’ mixing this with ‘Violins Arco up and down Bow’ – again from Ultimate Strings.
Roll back to Verse 2 – to which we added some more ‘Cajun/beat-box’ hand-played in with massive amounts of reverb, and another harmonic guitar riff layer.
The Middle 8 is based on a guitar sound I found in my Boss GT-Pro rack – sounds really ‘late night laid back’ and Lindsey adds a ‘lounge piano’ line with lovely reverb. There’s a little echo on the backing vocal ‘I’m free’ which occurs because I had mistakenly dragged a vocal region into a guitar track; sometimes a ‘happy accident’ just works. You could loop these four chords and play them all night…. but we had less than 4 minutes so we came to an ‘Absolute Stop’!
It was a good way to get back to an outro, with the final act being a spoken vocal ‘chant’. )No it’s not supposed to be a Rap!) The sound of spoken word is cool, detached, and completely in keeping with the story and lyric.
Another track we had first recorded on our Fostex 8 track reel-to-reel machine around 1992. We were going to make it a hidden ‘bonus track’ on the first run of CD’s, but in the end we felt it deserved a place in the body of material.
It has an elusive quality based on whispering pads/organs that we didn’t want to lose. We bounced the seven mono tracks into Logic and started to work on the individual sounds to give them a stereo image with more breadth and depth – using Logic’s built-in EQ, Spreaders, Stereo Imagers, and where necessary noise gates.
The vocal too was worthy of keeping, although it was recorded using a standard dynamic cardoid microphone and the cheapest imaginable ‘Accessit’ compressor!
We used parts of the original Bass Guitar track, and changed others to tie in with a completely new rhythm track. We needed ‘just enough’ to give the song some sort of groove, so we experimented with various sounds and natural percussion; featuring a kitchen whisk!
We’re actually really pleased that this track holds up in audio quality, given how long ago it originated and the limitations of our gear at the time. Credit also to Tim Debney at Fluid Mastering, who managed to remove the worst sibilance from the vocal track.
Another track by Lindsey that tells a story but at the same time evokes brilliant memories of our cruise down the coast of Alaska. It’s hard to describe the colours and sounds of a Glacier in sunshine ‘calving’ into the still waters of Glacier Bay – just magical!
So everything about this track would evoke not only the stillness but the bigness and beauty of this amazing North American State.
Lindsey had (as usual) worked out most of the structure and piano phrasing. We got that down with some guide rhythm tracks and a bit of guitar in the choruses, but it felt a bit ‘flat’. We had connected with David Ord during our search for a live Bass player and asked him if we could come and lay down some live fluid Bass Guitar. It was a lovely session – we just plugged his Fender straight into the TLA Compressor and it sounded brilliant. David did what he felt was right - It was a very unforced session – just a few takes of each section and I put the best bits together later. There’s a lovely bass line that rolls into chorus 3 – just great.
Incidentally, David worked on another track with us called ‘Wanted’. The whole Middle 8 of that track revolves around his solo. But there is always a track that for one reason or another doesn’t make it to the album, and ‘Wanted’ just wasn’t ‘right’ for this album. Hopefully we’ll sort it out and bring it back for the next album.
So Glacier Blue starts with just vocal/piano/bass, with a few guitar notes. The Chorus gets bigger, with the addition of guitar chords (it was a real struggle to find the right guitar ‘voice’ for some reason) and some Cellos.
After the chorus the drums kick in with a steady pattern, and a guitar stroke sitting under the regular snare. We build Chorus 2 by adding distorted guitar layers and an ‘answering’ Cello riff by Samantha Rowe.
There isn’t really a middle 8; more of a chance to pause for breath before David Ord’s Bass run into the final big chorus – with loads of backing vocals and additional guitars and strings.
If this track was a single it would stop there, but we wanted at least one song to break into a different style/tempo. (Its too easy to slip into perfectly quantised fixed tempos when using computers). So the outro tempo gradually increases over the first 8 bars from 84 to 94 BPM and there is an opportunity for Samantha to loosen up with some ‘bendy’ Cello phrases! This approach is reminiscent of episodic 70’s tracks like Eric Clapton’s (and Jim Gordon’s) ‘Layla’.
Lindsey adds a great descending chromatic piano and of course more textured vocals; no apologies for the fade….
Last Fish in the Sea
We both love this track; it really captures the loneliness and isolation of our future dying oceans, when a new creature has evolved only to experience the end of time for this polluted world. Our ‘last fish’ is the creature featured on the album cover and elsewhere; never seen before….
A typically lovely Lindsey piano riff starts us off, and immediately the accompaniment is ‘different’ – with Lindsey voicing sighs as part of the delicate percussion track. As the verse vocal starts, a dark pad (actually two NI pads from Absynth 5 including ‘Sulk on the Water’ – it had to be used!) - evokes the dark depths of the ocean, and for my part I try equally hard to place watery guitars tastefully!
We really worked hard on the percussion; the bridge features a knife-sharpener where you would normally expect a snare. There are lots of high-frequency percussive elements floating around the offbeats too….
Inevitably the chorus is a bit more ‘straight-ahead’ and a more solid beat with snare is added. The second chorus introduces a rhythm guitar that reminds us of the ultra-smooth Jose Feliciano – and then into a ‘dubstep’ Middle 8 with slide guitar that somehow fits and allows Lindsey to experiment with ‘big deep sea creature’ sounds!
The final Chorus provides an excuse to add a Guitar Line with a classic ‘Gibson LP Standard’ sound, and we revert to the intro theme for the outro. As Lindsey repeats the track title, you can here clearly her unique vibrato which works brilliantly here.
But we soon start building again to create a mad, chaotic, thrashing world of raging storms and marooned creatures, with vocals and guitars sharing duties in illustrating this strange and dangerous place. The drums (programmed beat by beat) are as big as we can make them too. We avoided a fade by introducing the distressed cries of a dying creature backed by a serious feedback loop – not pretty at all.
This song, surprisingly to us, divides opinion. It was very quick to put down because it ‘flowed’ naturally – with a bit of a ‘laid back soul’ feel; we thought this was the natural ‘Radio 2’ track. We didn’t want to force anything so the instrumentation is pretty standard – - programmed drums, piano, bass, mostly acoustic guitar, strings in the choruses.
There are a few surprises though – they arrive about two minutes in with the Middle 8 where Lindsey bursts into Crowsong. She hadn’t told me what she was going to do in the vocal takes and I had one of those laughter fits where you can’t do anything but try to breathe…
The outro follows, and with an ‘in for a penny…’ mentality we add the sort of strings and bongo that would normally reside on a Marvin Gaye song…
A Whine and a Whistle
A delicate start for a delicate subject – how much does a soul weigh? How does it depart? How would it feel? We wanted sounds that would evoke this mysterious time, not overpower it. So the Piano begins with single notes, followed by the lightest of bass and drums. The verse vocal is joined by a ‘pad’ that is in fact a slow-attack guitar that sounded suitably ‘otherly’.
The Chorus though is more upbeat, singalong , almost joyous - ‘feel me dancing….’ It needed a swing which is created by a counterpoint of bass and guitar working together on one line, with a rhythm guitar closely matching the drums – and of course the piano line running through on 16ths.
After the second chorus a Middle 8 utilises guitar and vocal working together before a syncopated orchestral string arrangement brings us to the point of departure. Lindsey sings with regret ‘all that I am…want…need…is here’ – which we treat with ‘Microphaser’ and ‘Tap Delay’ for the ethereal sound of a departing soul….
Then… the end. Of this song. Of this album.
A perfect end; just Lindsey’s vocal: ‘You won’t believe who I see’
It’s hard to write down how you create music. Some songs are driven by riffs, sounds and happy accidents, others just flow. But for us, the most gratifying are those that somehow ‘sound’ like the words and stories of their lyrics. And if those lyrics say something important or reflect a deep spiritual belief so the satisfaction grows.
Lindsey and I are passionate about our music, our faith, our family and our life together. It’s a blessing that we can do this wonderful thing, and an even greater blessing if you like it.
Best wishes, and thanks for your interest. Dave