XTC man Andy Partridge discusses new album, Gonwards

Gonwards is a new collaboration between Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge and is available to download to Society of Sound members. We asked Andy about the recording:

“Acting as ersatz producer of, as well as a musical contributor to, the Gonwards sessions meant that I had my beady hands all over the tech side of things. Let me see. What can I tell you?

We recorded mostly at my pal Stuart Rowe’s studio in Swindon, (he is a musician/engineer and producer in his own right), with some programming done at my home in ‘The Shed’ (also in Swindon of course) and one of the vocals from Peter recorded in his attic studio in London.

Right from the start we knew that it must sound as high quality as possible – the best we could get out of our limited gear – so we decided on working at a 24 bit/96khz rate. This was to cause a few problems later as this high rate, coupled with computer exhausting plug-ins and the occasional high track count, crashed the poor computer quite a few times.

We circumvented this by making real audio events of as many programmed sources as possible, freeing valuable resources for further recording and mixing.

This, combined with bouncing/committing any multiples of ‘same’ sounds, such as backing vocals, brass parts etc. helped smooth the flow. The need for bouncing theoretically ended sometime in the 1970s but I can assure you that it is just as valid today if faced with a reluctant computer, especially as the smoother running machine that results, offers none of the detectable sound degradation that inevitably accompanied the tape bouncing of yesteryear.

The whole album was recorded into a Power Mac running the Logic studio 9 recording programme, routed via an Apogee Ensemble interface. The microphone of choice for virtually everything live was Stu’s Shure KSM 44, which felt good for vocals, acoustic guitars, flute – you name it. Stu and I decided that we needed to use only the best EQ we could get our hands on and after several phone calls to studio wizards I’m lucky enough to know – John Leckie, Haydn Bendall and Nick Davis amongst others, they universally recommended the Sony Oxford plug in EQ, which proved to be a great move.

The Oxford handled everything with the clarity of crystal – allowing us to mould each sound for its allotted space in the mix. Our reverb of choice was Altiverb. This is a wonderful convolution reverb that gives the user access to many real spaces, from a cupboard to a concert hall. This played an important role in the mix stage.

The sonic landscape of the record was a mixture of old and new sounds – some of the older ones made with Mellotron rhythm loops. These were made for Mellotron though probably recorded in the US in the 1950′s by the Chamberlin folks, (the forerunner of the Mellotron), and were used as ‘band accompaniment’ for the keyboard player to play their melody over the top. Basically, they were recordings of session players vamping on one chord in a set tempo. You can hear them on the songs SACRED OBJECTS (where they are heavily diced up) and WORSE ON THE WAY, where longer stretches were used. They have a great ‘dusty’ and dreamlike quality.

Some of the newer noises were courtesy of many layered Ebow guitars; that’s the droning heat you can hear on CRYONIC TROMBONE, or us screwing with Logic’s inbuilt sampler to bend and warp sounds to fit. Throw this in with ukeleles, distorted vocals that sound like lead guitars (GERM TO GEM), saxophones, fiery harmonica, female voices, finger clicks, Hammond organ, mandolins, brass and, of course, Peter’s beautiful words and you have quite a sonic stew.

When all of the contributions from Peter and our other players were recorded, Stu and I got ourselves up to our elbows in mixing. Although we shaped sounds on quite large Mackie HR824 monitors, we would always switch to tiny JBL self-powered speakers to hear instrument levels. The aim was to make the stereo space as 3D, as cinematic, as possible without getting into 5.1, (though now that I’ve thought of 5.1… hmm, I suppose that’s a whole other possibility at some point?) We wanted people to be literally ‘inside’ the tracks when they hear them. I think we achieved this pretty well. Some wide panning and reverbs that place sounds seemingly behind the listener’s head help this feel. On the predominantly spoken pieces this tactile stage setting was even more essential.

The final piece in the puzzle was the album’s mastering, courtesy of legend John Dent at his facility Loud Mastering in Taunton. We passed all of the mixes through his modified Studer tape machine for extra analogue warmth and glue. We hope you like the results.”

http://www.ape.uk.net/

 

3 Comments

  • Mark Bignell says:

    Thanks so much for the detailed account on the recording of this wonderfully unique and distinctive album. Even though I’m a live sound, analog dinosaur myself, I was intrigued by the reverb unit you mentioned. l love my Allen & Heath Mix Wizard 16-2 when I have live acts in to play on my radio show. hahaha Can you imagine performing this material live on my show in lonely ole Vancouver? Well, I can dream, can’t I? I’m enjoying “Gonwards” immensely. Keep up the hugely satisfying and imaginative work Peter, Andy, Stu and all.

  • Trevor Williams says:

    Outstanding article. This album is unique, its arrangement and balance invites you to actually think while you listen. It will undoubtedly be a commercial footnote as well as an artistic triumph. A complete success in other words. Thank you Andy, Peter and Stu.

  • William says:

    I am a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE fan of Andy Partridge and XTC! Andy Partridge is my all time favorite musician. Andy’s music here is his usual, totally awesome, pure genius! When I hear this Peter Blegvad’s froggy, hoarse, abrasive, annoying, zombie voice, over Andy’s incredibly beautiful music, it makes me sick in the stomach, and makes me want to literally throw up! And, Andy’s lyrics and poetry are SO much better than this Peter guys!!

    Andy Partridge is on the level of Mozart, Gershwin, Lennon, McCartney, Stevie Wonder! Why is is lowering himself and defacing his incredible music and talent with this Peter Blegvad??? I am going to find out how to take Peter Blegvad’s vocals off of Gonwards, so I can hear Andys awesome music. I wish Andy would have sung all the songs on Gonwards!!!

    Andy Partridge should be collaborating and co-writing songs with people on his level, people like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, etc…. NOT this inferior Peter dude!….. Peter Blegvad may be a very nice person, and I wish him all the best, but he is not good enough to be recording with Andy Partridge. I am not trying to be mean here at all, it’s just that I literally get sick in the stomach when I hear this guy’s inferior voice over Andy Partridge’s totally superior music! What a mismatch!!!

    What was Andy thinking when he did this?????… He sure turned me off, one of his biggest fans!
    But I still LOVE Andy Partridge and he’s still my all time favorite musician.

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