Josie Field was adding the finishing touches to her third album ‘1984’ at Darkstar Productions when we caught up with her and Kevin to find out more about the recording, the songwriting process and her their thoughts on the SA music industry.
This is the third album you are recording at Darkstar. At this point in your career you must have a wide choice of studios on offer to you, what makes you come back to Darkstar?
I think because Kev and I have a really good working relationship. Actually I’ve never recorded any albums with anyone else, I’ve done demos with other producers at other studios and I was never really happy with the end result. They always wanted to go some funny route that I didn’t like with their production. So having done the first one – Mercury – with Kev, where he totally was on the same page with me about what sounded cool and I was seriously happy with it, I thought lets not mess with a good thing.
Kevin, what is it like being an intricate part of the Josie Field band, wearing the musicians hat (contributing to the songwriting process), and then wearing the producer/engineers hat?
Its great, I love it. I actually really enjoy working on Josie’s material and playing it live. So it feels a lot closer to home than actually most projects I get to work on, cos I know that I’m going to be the guy playing this live, so I take a lot of time and I can really put a lot of effort into the guitar parts especially.
Josie: Ja and I think that’s what makes it work as well coming through to a live audience, is that they get to really experience the album as it was recorded.
Are the songs written by both of you, or is it you come in with the songs complete Josie, and then lay it down?
Well usually I just write a song with lyrics and the basic chord structure and then I’ll bring it in and we’ll look at what else is needed. Maybe sometimes it’s not complete – so Kevin will write mostly the arrangements and all the guitar parts, everything really. I just bring a raw version of the song, a really folk version and then Kev will do his magic. Its great to come here, cos Kev knows a lot about what sounds work well and what perhaps we should avoid….ja its like a team effort.
So a lot of producing is done in the studio on each song?
Ja totally, it’s actually all done here. I just bring in the raw thing, with perhaps something that I have in mind, an idea for something that we’ll put on. But often its all discussed as we go along and Kev’s actually a huge part of the writing – the sound of the songs at the end of the day.
the name is 1984 and that’s the year I was born. I tend to name albums to something that has a relevance to my life
And that’s quite a different process from a dedicated band that rehearse and rehearse and write their songs, book studio and come in and lay it down and exactly how they’ve written it. You’re writing a lot in the studio to finish the material.
Kevin: Yes, come up with all the parts and the layers. But as far as lyrics go thats entirely Josie… and some harmonies here and there I might chip in.
Josie: We do a lot of bounce ideas off each other with regards to the full sound.
Kevin: But its not like we sit down and discuss it, its actually something that you just play and say yes that’s cool, you know it just happens.
Josie what’s the best advice you’ve ever received regarding handling yourself in the music industry?
Don’t get drunk before you play the show.
Have you stuck to that advice?
Yes I have, I have stuck to that. Also I’ve seen a couple people who didn’t stick to that and it just doesn’t work well. The audience deserves quality and the fact that they’ve even arrived at your show, that’s like serious cap off to them and it’s great so ja, I wouldn’t want to ruin that.
This is your third release. Is it as challenging to get your music out there as it was for your first album? Or has Josie opened up her own channels within the music industry – to make it a smoother ride now in getting the music to the masses?
Its more so I think, I realize in hindsight that with the first album it worked extremely well with regard to radio play and that especially being an unknown female English artist, the songs got a hell of a lot of radio play and only now do I see, in these difficult times that it is different and that we have to work extremely hard to try and get the music out there.
So its still a challenge?
Kevin: Its still a challenge and I think what’s happened in the industry there’s been a lot of shuffling, a lot of jobs lost in the last 5 years. So even with record companies you might have dealt with one person for eight months and then go in the next day and they’re not even there, their office is not even there, there’s boxes everywhere and there’s a whole new team, or one guy doing five people’s jobs.
Josie: Absolutely, so that becomes difficult because especially with the record companies it’s hard to rely on things that are chopping and changing so that’s a bit difficult
And the industry is changing?
Kevin: Drastically, massively. Record companies used to be these huge empires, now digital downloads seem to have changed the way it works. Record companies have lost the edge, they’ve lost the stranglehold.
there’s songs about loss, about love, about things that tick me off, songs about sticking it to the man, you know that kind of thing
Kevin how do feel Josie has grown as an artist and songwriter from her first full album release to her third?
Josie: Shame Kev…(laughs)
Kevin: No it’s actually an easy one, she’s grown a hell of a lot. In songwriting ability and vocal ability, massive leaps forward. I think on this last album we’ve really pushed limits that we didn’t go near on the last two albums and people are responding to it live. You know there are pieces where she’s really belting out vocals now, and you get a lot of soul and a lot more diverse sounds on this last record. So we’ve kind of stepped out of the comfort zone and its been a great thing.
When you say ‘pushing limits’ is that more on vocal ability, or the complexity of the song, the way its written?
Josie: A bit of everything. I find that this album is quite experimental because its got so many genres within it and therefore we can really stretch ourselves with the way that things sound, like lots of layers and lots of harmonies that we worked out together. We actually spent a lot of time doing different harmonies on some of the songs – and especially the soul songs.
The beauty of this album sounds like you guys haven’t really limited the creativity of it, you’ve done exactly what you want and more
Ja and I think also being a songwriter its nice because I just write a song and then we take that song and give it what it needs from a production point of view, as opposed to saying okay what kind of album are we going to write. So with this every song was completely different. We did what was good for the song and then at the end we could see the result and it’s very diverse.
Kevin what kind of equipment was used on this album?
I’ve got three vocal mics Rode, SE and Sputnik…we ended up using the Sputnik for the voice, it’s a tube mic, so the signal goes through a valve and gets warmed up. It’s quite an old-school mike in that regard. The drums are mostly live on the album. There are some bits where we’ve programmed or added in, so we did a bit of a hybrid with the drums – but it’s mostly live. Wazz was using a Mark Base Amp that he got sponsored from Music Connection, and then as far as guitars go, I got an Amp – a Vox – from Music Connection, also tube and for the slide guitar I actually got a really nice battered old resonator guitar. It’s an acoustic with those steel circular things that gives a very metallic sound.
Josie: And it worked really well on that particular track.
Kevin: We actually got more variation out of the instruments with this one than before.
Josie what do you write about?
All the normal things I guess. Mostly about my own experiences – there’s songs about loss, about love, about things that tick me off, songs about sticking it to the man, you know that kind of thing.
Could you choose one song from the album and tell us more about the story behind it
Man Is A Fire – is literally as it is lyrically, there no hidden agenda there what I’m saying in the song is what I mean. Its about me and ‘the man’ – the system, or whoever governs us here – and how we differ. We’re very similar but there’s certain things we don’t agree on.
Where there any challenges in recording and in writing material for this album?
The challenge I think with this album is that we hit a deadline and it would have been great if we’d had more time to spend on it. But then again – Kev and I don’t agree on this – but like if you have a lot more time then when is it going to end ? That’s the way I see it. But I understand we could have done with at least another two weeks.
Kevin: We did end up rushing at the end, which would have been nice to avoid.
Why was the deadline set?
I wanted to release in March 2011, and this was all discussed in June 2010. So I think I just didn’t work it out very well with what the process entailed, at the end we could have done with another two weeks or so. It would have also worked out fine because you know by the time they printed up everything….
Kevin: Ja that’s the sad part, we did rush to meet the deadline which we made, but it actually didn’t make a difference if we hadn’t made it – if we had taken an extra month I think it would have been fine.
I think on this last album we’ve really pushed limits that we didn’t go near on the last two albums and people are responding to it live
How long did the process take?
Josie: We started in November with recording demos and things and then we ended in February. But December was a write-off, so it was Nov, Jan, half of Feb – it was actually quite short.
Have there been any recent innovations in sound engineering that you used in this project?
Kevin: I think what’s happening in terms of sound software, is all the companies are slowly evolving into the same thing, so 10 years ago there was big a difference between Protools and Cubase and logic. And if you look at them today they all look the same, and have the same buttons in the same place. So they’re basically streamlining into one logical thing. But what you can do with the software nowadays is actually ridiculous. I could theoretically take anyone and tune their voice and quantize and fix up and make sound great. But the beauty with Josie is that I don’t have to, so we didn’t sit and tune every word. That’s the point of having a good artist.
The name of the album, it is quite personal isn’t it?
Yes the name is 1984 and that’s the year I was born. I tend to name albums to something that has a relevance to my life. With this one also with the actual packaging. I conceptualised the idea, the front cover is a TV test pattern screen that meets and starts to become a quilt. So its like digital becomes handmade, kind of the crossover. And I think in the 80s is really where that did crossover, where technology took off.
And the connection of the previous albums names?
‘Mercury’ is the name my parents were going to give me as my first name, it would have been quite weird. So they used to tell me that so I’ve always had a connection to that, so the first album came along and I thought that was the perfect name. If they weren’t going to name their baby that then I’d name my first baby that. ‘Leyland’ is my 2nd name. It’s also a family name, everyone on my mom’s side of the family has that as a 2nd name, so it’s kind of a traditional thing. I thought it was quite nice, it sums up where I come from and my history.
Any songs that didn’t make it onto the album?And if so any plans for them?
Kevin: Ja we always demo more than enough songs, but we don’t produce them all. So we’ve got them as maybe acoustic and maybe a little drumbeat, just rough ideas. I think I’ve got about four or five per album sitting on the side (except for Mercury actually). And it’s not cos they’re not good songs, its just they didn’t fit in. We’re also looking at this whole digital download thing. It might actually be an idea to finish those songs and just release them as B-Sides.
Josie: I have a bit of a problem with that. When we started doing the demos for this one we looked at some of the older songs that were left off the previous album and they aren’t bad, but I didn’t have a connection with them, they weren’t fresh enough for me – like that time had come and gone. So perhaps there would be a time where we release them like roughly or something. But the idea for me is that I always keep writing songs. Personally what I would love to see because I’m a very big fan of this style is a stripped down B-side. Josie Field, and acoustic guitar and thats it Ja or like a live intimate setting, that would be cool. I definitely do want to do that at some point. Very unplugged, with just a few instruments like maybe bongos or something. And even the heavier songs that are very produced – to strip them down to something completely different so that they’re almost fresh.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists just starting out?
Don’t get drunk before gigs….(laughs). Well I think the live aspect is very important. As much as making an album and releasing singles, I think you need to have a presence or at least something in the live circuit where people can actually come see you. That for me is the real test. If I go watch a band, from that experience I’ll know whether that’s for me or not. If you’ve got recording and you’re not playing live, for me there’s one element that’s lost. And I think playing live – or at least doing unplugged folk nights or open mic nights, or wherever you can get an opportunity to start performing live – is a great experience and it’s really where people connect with your music. There is something beautiful about playing live. No matter how advanced the digital age gets and what you can do in the studio, I still think a live gig is a true test of a band and you can’t get a computer to get you up and play live.
For me – live recordings, watching live DVD’s. I much prefer to watching a music video
Josie: Yes its more real.
Kevin: I don’t know. There’s so much behind the scenes stuff that goes on for live DVD’s, you’d shit yourself hey. It would be… come back into the studio….replay, re-record.
Josie: But there’s something that you can’t do in post, that you capture in live – the actual energy, the vibe of it, the performance of it.
So I guess to REALLY experience it…grab a beer and sit in the crowd?
Kevin: Even then, the auto-tuner is now in real time. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Chili Pepper’s DVD’s. In the last few years Anthony Kiedis suddenly sings a lot better. Remember how he always used to be a bit off? So auto-tuning’s real time, docking in samples real time – so there’s still smoke and mirrors around a live gig? Massive. The bigger the band, the more it is.