- filed under Music
On Friday I was lucky enough to interview Rich Costey, who produced the band’s self-titled debut. Rich was very generous with his time and thoughtful in his responses to my questions. His love for the band is obvious and infectious. He has done an amazing job producing one of the very best albums of the year.
The Internet has helped make the recording process more transparent than ever — bands like Glasvegas and the Arctic Monkeys distribute initial demos on the web to fans in order to create buzz and sell tickets. The result is that we can compare early renditions of songs with their album versions as soon as that first album is released. In the past we has to wait years — even decades — to make this comparison. I asked Rich about the differences between the demos and album versions of a couple of songs and have thrown a few into this post so you can see the evolution for yourself. What do you think?
Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that the band will be on the East Coast for a brief tour at the end of this month.
HW: Thanks for taking the time. The album came out in the UK last week and had from all accounts what was a phenomenal first week. Were you expecting that?
RC: To be honest I kind of wasn’t, and I suppose it’s partly based on the fact that I had fallen for this band back when they were still fairly unknown, and I think maybe you did as well actually.
HW: I did, yeah.
RC: I just feel like there is such a high quality there, and to me it’s not that often when I see that kind of top shelf quality resonate with a vast cross-section of people. That certainly does happen, don’t get me wrong, but I find that to be more unusual than usual. The fact that I still feel that way even after making the album, I was just happy that anyone’s out there listening to it. I think that his, James’ lyrics are at once intensely personal but also completely empathetic. I find that they provided a fair amount of sustenance as lyrics go.
HW: When did you first become aware of them? How did you take notice of them?
RC: I had a friend in England who sent me a link to their web page, I think it was last October, and I was in the middle of mixing a record for someone, I don’t recall who it was for at the time, but I t was one of these things where I was sitting around, waiting around all day for some notes on some mix that I was doing. I got the link and I just sat there and listened to Daddy’s, Cheating and an early version of Go Square Go, which were the three songs they had on their website over and over again all day long and I just kept thinking my god I couldn’t imagine a whole album of this material- that would just be heaven.
HW: When was the first time you- was the first time you saw them when they actually came stateside to the studio or where you over there? Did you see them live at some point?
RC: I went over and I saw them play in February in Nottingham. It was good; it was a small bar, it was completely packed, sweaty, people spilling beer on you, that type of thing, and it was deafening, but they sounded great. His vocals are incredibly powerful. When we were recording the full band, James is in the room singing full blast with every single take without even a microphone on him and every mic in the room is picking him up. I mean he’s loud.
HW: Loud but in tune.
RC: Exactly, yeah. He’s loud but he has all of his capabilities and this is a guy who doesn’t even think that he’s a singer at all. He just thinks that he’s kind of a songwriter.
HW: Well, he’s clearly both. My sense is that there isn’t really a way for an American band to do what they did. I wrote on my blog on this, has there ever been an American band who, a new band in their debut album, the first week that the album is released gave a run at the top spot at the album charts? Is such a thing even possible in the US?
RC: I’m sure that it is but I can’t think of an example off the top of my head. It’s a totally different musical economy over there. They have basically a national system for exposure for acts. Obviously the BBC is useful in this way as everyone in the country gets it, and as a result the country is much more tuned in musically as to what’s happening. You can get in a cab with some guy driving your cab who is in his mid-fifties. In America that guy probably wouldn’t have that much of a clue as to whom, for example, the Arctic Monkeys are, or the American equivalent of that. But in the UK he’s more than likely to have seen them a few times. It’s just a different culture, you go onto cable television and there are 10 or so music video channels. And of course they also have the NME, which comes out every week as opposed to monthly. What happens is that a band can build up a great deal of excitement on a national level in the UK in a very short period of time because they have in such deep penetration of the entire country. In the US it’s such a big country; it’s so fractured in many different ways. I think MTV used to basically provide what I would consider a national radio station and one that most people who had cable could watch. But now MTV doesn’t really play any music at all, and as radio has driven listeners to the highly diversified world of the internet, there is no national dialogue of music. Everything is completely splintered up. As a result of that I think it’s very difficult for an act on their first or maybe even their second record, certainly at the beginning of their album cycle to reach enough people to get that far in the charts that early on. It takes longer for them to get that momentum.
HW: It’s an amazing phenomenon that seems very unlikely to duplicate here in the states.
RC: That’s true but there are people who say that’s good. The downside of the way the UK operates is the meteoric rise into favor and then frequently the meteoric fall out of favor. As a result a lot of artists might have a tougher time on the second album and that that’s actually a phenomenon that a lot of people think –
HW: Like the aforementioned Arctic Monkeys?
RC: I think their second album is quite good but yeah, it’s going to be tough for them to duplicate that success that they had on their first album. Certainly.
HW: How are you able to convert the fact that you had heard of them and liked them into actually producing their albums?
RC: I just had my manager just call them up.
HW: If only it was that easy I might have done it.
RC: That happens once in a while if you hear something that’s great . I also did something which may have helped things along, which is that I sent a few songs to Rick Rubin who I’m good friends with and whom I work with once in a while. He loved it, and now that he’s the cochairman of Columbia he was in a position to hasten Columbia’s interest in the band. Ollie Hodge, who signed Glasvegas, was at that point already quite keen on them but I believe Rick’s interest may have helped drive up the overall interest in the band probably around Christmastime last year.
HW: Was Allan McGee a part of all this process o r what he just there at sort of the moment of maximum hype and creation?
RC: Allan was actually before everyone. Part of the reason why I had heard of it was because my friend in the UK knows Allan McGee and had read some of his writings in the Guardian. That might be when you found out about it as well, and he’s just- sometimes he finds things just really early on. He’s friends with the band, he doesn’t work with them in any fashion but he does keep in touch with them. When I was working on the album, he would once in a while send them berserk messages from wherever he was at that moment.
HW: The band had made a series of demos right? Before you worked with them.
RC: Yes, they had done some demos and they were highly stylized, very unique productions that they did on their own with a guy named Kevin Burleigh in Glasgow. Fantastic sounding and quite accomplished, just awash in reverb and breaking every rule you can imagine. It struck me that obviously there’s something nostalgic about their sound but to me they never sounded like a retro act, which is why I found it appealing. Going into making the album one of the things I was careful to do was to not fuck up what they were already good at. Sometimes that’s a bit of a fine line but in this case you just really want to allow them to step it up a level without trying to leave your fingerprints all over it.
HW: Yeah, it does. A couple of the songs in the earlier demos sound a bit more doo-wopish, if that’s a word I can, use than the songs on the album. Was that something that you and band were conscious of moving the sound a little bit?
RC: One of the songs you might be thinking about is Go Square Go I’m guessing.
RC: Go Square Go, that demo was before James had really honed in on the sound of band. So I think that was him trying stuff out. And bear in mind when he was doing any of these demos, even the stuff that became a little more widely spread, I don’t think he thought anyone was going to hear them.
Daddy’s Gone demo
Daddy’s Gone album
Go Square Go demo
Go Square Go album
RC: He was just a football player in Glasgow working on a less than shoestring budget, fishing line budget in his house and I don’t think he thought anyone would hear them. I think the early version of Go Square Go was exploring some of his musical passions and seeing where they might take him.
HW: Yeah, Daddy’s Gone and Flowers and Football Tops and Go Square Go I thought were the three that had the retro sound that you’re talking about and a little less of that in the final album versions.
RC: I think that – certainly with Daddy’s Gone I thought it had pretty much everything you’d want all right there. So when I was stepping that up I was trying to make it sound a bit more contemporary but keeping all the mechanics that were functioning internally in the song still present in the final.
HW: What was it like having them over in New York recording the album?
RC: It was great, they loved it. They had never been over here before and I think it’s fair to say we all had a really good time. We were recording in Brooklyn and they would go into the city occasionally. One of the last days we were working, I took Rab and James into the city to see the Dakota Building. They’re big John Lennon fans and they had never seen it, so I rented a 1949 Cadillac right out of the Godfather and took them over there one afternoon. Lovely time. The band will be back in town fairly soon, in fact.
HW: They’ve got this little mini-tour of the east coast.
RC: That’s correct, and we may do some recording of Christmas material as well while they’re in town. We’ve been sort of going back and forth about getting some songs together for that. That’s one thing the band has been wanting to do for a very long time is to have a really powerful, really meaningful collection of songs for Christmas. They’re big fans of the kind of sad nostalgia that the season can bring, so I’m hoping that everything will work out and we’ll spend a few days in the studio recording a few tracks.
HW: How long did the recording end up taking?
RC: I think the actual recording took around five or six weeks. Mixing took place in several locations, some in London so that the band could attend and the rest in New York.
HW: I think it’s the best album of the year so I think-
RC: Thank you, that’s really terrific to hear.
HW: Certainly it doesn’t sound particularly complicated to make the record, doesn’t sound torturous in any way or difficult.
RC: The recording sessions were blissfully easy and they are all quite capable. I also quite like textual recordings and recordings that have an inherent, almost visual component to them- this is something they are also very interested in and we would frequently reference films to each other, such as Edward Scissorhands or The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.
HW: I googled you so I saw that you had work with Franz Ferdinand, did that help you with the accents?
RC: I think it actually did although the folks in Glasvegas have accents that are a fair bit more intense than the folks in Franz Ferdinand.
HW: Yes that is true.
RC: There was a little bit of a break in period I suppose where I would just be nodding my head without much of an idea as to what they were actually saying. But that passed.
HW: Is it hard sort of relating some of the lyrical topics not being from Glasgow or not spending a lot of time there?
RC: Not at all really. There were only a few songs that I think really referenced topics that are uniquely Glaswegian. The aforementioned Go Square Go – the topic of that song is something that he saw happening in his neighborhood growing up, and although it is apparently more common in Scotland, it certain isn’t unheard of in America. Flowers and Football Tops, that could have happened anywhere. When would begin working on a song I would usually ask someone in the band to tell me what the lyrical background and context is about, and as they were telling me it would sometimes feel fairly intense as I would realize t much meaning behind every word that the music becomes really infused an energized with this meaning and I think, I’m going off topic, but I think that’s-
HW: No absolutely on topic. I ended up going to the UK a couple of times this summer after the campaign ended. I was struck by how many stories there were in the press about stabbings which is not really something you read about here in the states and I would never really have understood their song had I not been in the UK for a couple of weeks and seen how intensely focused the media is on that rather unfortunate phenomenon.
RC: Yes that’s a good point. Although having lived in New York off and on for a number of years, it’s something that isn’t exclusively local to the UK but indeed the increased wave of stabbings is pretty shocking. To that degree and it is something that’s probably a bit more regional.
HW: When is the album going to be released in the states, do you know?
RC: To be honest I don’t have the exact date of it. I’ve heard different reports but I’m not aware of the final outcome of those discussions. I think will be very interesting is to see how they develop over the long-term. James’ writing is very strong, to me this is a serious artist emerging. I’m also curious to see what happens to them in the US as a lot of very talented acts from the UK come here to find themselves pigeon holed by the media and market place as something that can only work in the margins of the America.
HW: Or is over-hyped. There’s also this sense that British music press does too much to hype these bands which in this case in my opinion that they and Arctic Moneys are two great contrary examples to that.
RC: Exactly and both acts are underpinned by incredible songwriting. Because of that I think that I think they have a fair shot at reaching an audience over here. I think it may take them a little bit longer because they don’t fit into any slot that already exists for artists, or any of the typical ways that people get marketed or promoted in the US but they do- I think things will work out just fine.
HW: Quality wins out usually.
RC: I’d like to think so. It takes longer but eventually people come around.