3 scenes from the creation of an album, or: How we traded perfectionism for vitality

by Robert Sword

3 scenes from the creation of an album, or: How we traded perfectionism for vitality by Robert Sword (Sandtimer)An indie folk band might be considered an unlikely outfit for a classically trained pianist (me), and an Oceanography graduate (Simon Thomas), to end up in. However, these things can happen in unusual ways, like with Sandtimer.

Listen to the song while reading the text.

Scene 1

I am dog-sitting in a rural studio. I’ve walked the dogs, and they are not barking, for now. It is summer. It is raining. A cold tea, which I never got round to drinking, rests on a chair in front. My laptop is on another. I stretch and yawn, feel the tangle of the headphone lead and the guitar strap strain against my neck.

I think I got it. That octave harmonic that I kept missing seemed to ring out properly, without being muted by the next chord… I think.

I strum the chord again and hear something I didn’t before; a dull disappointment rises. The lower string has slid out of tune. Is it noticeable? Did this happen just now or have I recorded an out of tune guitar part?

My shoulders and neck are aching from looking down at the fretboard, and I’m hungry- I’ve been here, trying to record this section of the song, for an hour. I think about how many gigabytes of unusable audio I’ve amassed, and reflect on how I should have practiced more before I came here.

I’ll listen to the takes later- I’ve got to get something to eat. I extricate myself from the headphones and guitar and walk out of the studio, on pins and needles. The recording of this song is about 10% complete, and I’ve spent the whole day on it so far.

I don’t know it at the time, but we will go on to scrap this song from the record.

Scene 2

I am in a cottage in rural New Zealand. It is summer. It is raining. I’ve only been there a day and am feeling disorientated- the seasons have shifted 6 months and time has shifted 12 hours. I’m meant to be listening to and critiquing the tracks from the nearly complete album- and working out what improvements need to be made. Instead, I’ve got a weirdly tuned guitar in my hands and am messing around with a new harmonic progression that I’ve recently discovered. The melody begins to emerge from the fingerpicked pattern and, although a pretty bad cough prevents me from singing it quite how I’d like to, I realize that there is something here.

Improvised words and sounds form slowly into meanings. I try and fit a few existing lyrical fragments to the melody, but they don’t stick, so I start writing. The words take the shape of a story about someone whose situation I’m worried about.

I carry on playing the song, and a few others, that evening. The question of what these songs are for when there’s an entire album almost ready to go into mixing is ignored- for the first time in however long.

Scene 3

It’s spring and afternoon sunlight is warming the room. My laptop’s fan whirrs at full intensity to try and cool down as it processes audio.

We’re working fairly quickly and intensively on the album. The track list has changed dramatically, and we’re recording everything from scratch. New songs by both Simon and I appear sporadically, and they knock other previously treasured songs off their pedestals. Microphones are set up wherever they can be, and we’re playing our guitar parts with spirit, energy… and a lack of perfectionism that we’re unused to. In the rush of recording these songs spontaneously and imperfectly, something is being created that is resonating with us.

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Album
UK
Folk, Folk Rock, Indie Folk
acoustic guitar, dreamy folk, recordingukulele, upbeat, melancholy, uplifting

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