Tag Archives: album

Why Mitropa has taken so long

18 Jun

I was talking to a woman at a concert about the extraordinary American singer-songwriter, Neko Case. I said, her voice on record is my benchmark, the definition of bell-like precision with passion. The woman laughed and said, to her, Neko represents the ultimate raw, one-take beauty-in-imperfection voice. We laughed. Our visions of this artist, and her great gift to music, were so different.

This difference cuts to the very heart of why my second Wasp Summer record has taken 3 ½ years and counting. I’ve sat on the bass and drum tracks we recorded in February 2015, sporadically adding guitars, organs, sounds and harmonies, revising the production notes. Not including recovering from depression, breakups, financial issues and the dissolution of the band itself, the thing I have been stalling on was recording the vocals.

Wasp Summer Recording - 3 (1)

I have lived with this set of songs for so long. The oldest song, Lights On Eyes Open, dates to 2005, and the rest between 2010 and 2015. Perhaps surprisingly, they still thrill me. I feel I captured what I wanted to say on each track and that it’s a cohesive album.

It’s the responsibility of transmitting the soul of each song in the most direct, most emotionally available manner that has been the mental block for me. Unlike the ephemerality of live performance, the permanence of the album vocals became terrifying.

As I recorded at home, in my safest space, I loved the takes I got, but as I listened back, my fear kicked in. An unstoppable internal critic picked apart every phrase for pitching errors, inauthenticity, hollowness, inadequacy. The reference songs I used to guide the mood of each take (mainly Cocteau Twins, Pretenders, Motels, Fleetwood Mac, Mirah, Kate Bush, Linda Ronstadt, PJ Harvey, Triffids and Divinyls) became towering and inaccessible.

I tried editing together ‘perfect’ vocals from the various takes I recorded. Something I have tried twice before. The result is always the same, a dead-sounding vocal line. I rerecorded them over and over. I tried different microphones. I reminded myself to be kind. I left the songs alone for a year. Nothing made me comfortable with leaving these vocals to posterity. I stopped talking about the record. Despaired.

I feel ashamed of this fear and delay. I’m strong psychologically. I finish what I start. Don’t I? This is my novel, my movie, my creative heart. I’m a trained singer. I’ve been doing this for 27 years. They’re my damn songs. I don’t know if this is common. I’ve hear about a million different approaches, including the singer of a famous German band who happily plays to 20,000 people a night but needs everyone to leave the studio when he records vocals.

My heart says be one-take Neko. My head says be bell-like, perfect Neko, and a relentless perfectionist, and when will you ever get there?

Earlier this year, a friend, and the engineer who recorded the original bass and drum tracks, asked me what was happening with the record. I told him I was stalled on the vocals, and couldn’t get perspective on them. I said I needed to save some money, hire a nice mic or find a producer to help me get good takes and finish the record. I told him I wanted someone to tell me if it was good and honest, or if they thought I could dig a bit deeper. I just wanted some support. It’s hard work finishing a record alone.

He offered a lifeline. I help him with vocals and backing vocals on his record in exchange for him recording mine and acting as producer, talking me through the rest of the recording. So far, we’ve done two songs, and I’ve revised the entire album, replacing or adding guitars, sounds and keys.

I’m still excited by the songs, and although the urge to pick apart my vocals is still there, I like the energy of the takes we’ve done. We’ve found the microphone combination I’ll use for the whole record – a Neumann condenser and an AKG pencil mic. Check out those beauties!
Two vocal recording microphones - an AKG pencil mic and a Neumann condenser.We’re going for no more than three takes of each track, and I’m hoping the relaxed and supportive atmosphere will still my devilish urge to rip my own singing to shreds.

I feel confident that I’ll both actually finish this record this year and have the money to mix, master and release it. Finally. I’d really, really like to have my albums available on vinyl.

Would you buy vinyl through a pre-order campaign on bandcamp? Would you prefer a CD or download?

I’d really appreciate if readers who can support me could let me know which format they’re likely to choose. It takes some logistical planning and timing to put an album release together and deliver by the due date.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you.

– Samantha, Berlin.

Crucial albums #2: Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock

12 May Crucial album #2: Talk Talk's Laughing Stock

Inspired by that facebook game where you list 10 important albums, I realised that many of my favourite albums are not the ones that shaped my music or songwriting directly.

I want to explore the albums that changed how I thought about my practice as a singer and songwriter, and that are direct influences on Mitropa, the Wasp Summer album I’m currently making.

Number 2 must be Talk Talk’s avant-jazz-rock masterpiece ‘Laughing Stock’.

Talk Talk’s final album Laughing Stock is an entirely appropriate album to come after the Cocteau Twins. Another record that nails the balance between melodic beauty and noise, sung in glossolalia and with the most amazing sense of space.

The track Ascension Day is actually super important to the writing that went towards the next Wasp Summer album, and I have Chris Chapple to thank for the introduction. I can still see the scene, bathed in beeswax-yellow light, in his old St. Kilda living room as The Mime Set gathered for a rehearsal/writing session for our second album.

It may have been the same night I cried behind the door as we ran an early version of Honey O, and Andrew gently asked if I wanted my lyrics to be that nakedly honest. Yes, I do. Always.

That’s the thing about this album. It’s achingly truthful. I can make out words here an there, but even through abstractly-sung text, the emotional through-line of this album is pure and true.

Even though the album was painstakingly assembled collage-style from over 7 months of improvised recordings, this album is honest and brutal and true.

Released on the Verve jazz label, it’s more akin to jazz than the glossy, clever pop they made before, but also lays the foundation for post rock, a territory, along with dream pop, that I spent a good part of my 20s travelling.

To make music where “The record was “only complete” when the band’s Mark Hollis felt each guest musician had “expressed their character and refined their contribution to the purest, most truthful essence,” is the dream, isn’t it?

Check out my crucial album #1: Cocteau Twins ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’

Mitropa, Mitropa

26 May

The new Wasp Summer album cometh

In February, Simon and I started recording the second Wasp Summer album. In previous letters, you read about Wasp Summer’s history, so you know that this is our first album as a band. The name Mitropa comes from a railway company that ran sleeping and dining cars across Central Europe from 1916-1994.

The new songs are muscular and outward-looking. Living and touring in Mitteleuropa has definitely influenced the themes and the tempo of the songs. Imagine long journeys through the night between one mysterious metropolis and another. That’s what this album will sound like.

We recorded over three days at Pebble Music’s studio in the old DDR Rundfunk Buildings in Köpenick, working with drummer Romain who plays with Elyas Khan and the 17 Hippies.

Go here to Soundcloud if you want an idea of what the new songs sound like.

See you at a show. If you want to chat, Wasp Summer is on Twitter or Facebook.
Cheers,
Samantha

Close as a Close-Up – making Shoebox Theatre music videos

4 Jul

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If you’re reading this you’re no doubt aware I’ve just released my debut solo album, Close as a Slow Dance. I’ve decided to make videos for three songs from the album: Dancehall at Louse Point, Our Old Oblivion and On the River Road. It’s also possible I may do one for No Time For Compliments Now but the visual ideas toward that song aren’t as advanced as the others.

To keep myself occupied on long car and train journeys to gigs in Hamburg and Kiel, and a trip on a very interrupted U6 train service in Berlin, I wrote scene-by-scene treatments for Oblivion and Dancehall that should now be typed up. These include a long list of things I need, but as I have pretty much no budget, I wrote these treatments planning to use a very old technology – Shoebox Theatre.

When I was a kid, Dad obtained these two amazing books where you cut out and glued together an old-school theatre and a Victorian-era London townhouse for rich people. I couldn’t bear to cut into them but spent many hours with each building’s history and pictures. The idea has stayed with me.

The set for Oblivion is a cheap motel room. I built that first by lining a shoebox with black paper. I realise now I should just have spraypainted the inside because when I actually use an HD camera, you’ll probably see the gaffa tape holding everything together. I cut in a door and window and lined them with baking paper. It’s by no means a realistic scene with the view through the doorway being as hazy as the window but the character in the story is a virtual prisoner in there so a dream-like haze is fine.

Today, I made some characters. I did a little visual research and photocopying at the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek in Berlin and wondered if I should use a doll of some sort for the female character. I ended up tracing images I got from fashion magazines, modifying the lines and attitudes a little and gluing them onto black card. Considering I’m such a shit drawer, I’m pretty pleased with my characters.

For the male ‘lead’ and his two friends, I used a photocopy of a wonderful posed picture (below) from a book on the history of the Irish Republican conflict. It’s a photo of the incredibly well-dressed “Cairo Gang”, an infamous bunch of British detectives seconded to Dublin in 1920, where the IRA, presumably, had numbered each man for identification. Number 1 is the leading man of my video and Number 3 (who’s somehow incredibly charismatic) and Number 8 are his ‘friends’, from a lyric in the song, “There is no place, in this state, that I could go/He’s got a lot of friends who’d tell me so”.

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I did spend a lot of time today attempting to figure out scale and ratios for my model, trying to work back up to an actual room and down again so I could try and make the bed and the people to something approaching scale. In the end, I just used my eyes. It may make for some slightly weird looking scenes. We’ll see.

After making all the characters I set up the laptop in front of the shoebox theatre and took some experimental footage using the little low-res cam which I will edit together just to have a look at my handiwork. It will definitely be easier to frame with an HD cam.

I definitely need to do something about the lighting but I did experiment with a chain of Thai ball lights, a bicycle light and candles. Eventually, I got a nice back lighting effect with five candles behind the shoebox reflecting off a piece of tin foil taped to my wall, while I used the ball lights and bike light for front lighting.

When I’m finished with the test video, I’ll post it here.

You and I, we’re as close as a slow dance

3 May

Dearhearts,

I am finally here. At this moment. It feels a little like taking acid because I’ve wanted it so long that it’s become quietly surreal. It’s unimportant why it took so long, just that it’s done. I’m really happy about it.

After a year of dreaming about sounds and visual inspiration, mixing, discussing the artwork on Skype, researching online sales options and various phonecalls to the pressing plant; after failing to find out why GEMA (Germany’s APRA) wants to charge me to make my own record; after all the fun bits – recording in Italy, the photoshoot, the production notes and songwriting, my lovely rootsy songs, products of my work since 2002, are finally in shareable form. I would describe it as Alt.Country Folk and will say that it was inspired by Martha Wainwright, Neko Case, Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson amongst others.

Tomorrow, my first solo album ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ (through A Headful of Bees) goes live into the world on CD Baby and Bandcamp with pretty digipack CDs to follow next week.

 

Please, have a listen to the album on Soundcloud, share with friends, buy it if you haven’t already pre-ordered (IndieGoGo funders, rejoice – they come, and with it, further gifts!). Curiously, ‘gift’ auf Deutsch means ‘poison’, but no poison here.

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THANK YOUS
There are many, many people to thank for inspiring, working on or funding ‘Close as a Slow Dance’. Some to start, Mark Steiner for the connections and confidence, Henry Hugo for his production, thoughtful arrangements, contacts and generosity, Marcelo and Toto in Buenos Aires for the final sound, Mum for her good wishes, support and rent assistance, Damian Stephens (design), Jan Bechberger (photos) and Elizabeth Delfs (styling) for the lovely artwork you’re seeing, Susanne at Interdisc who shows such care for her clients’ CDs, Sascha, Dam, Justin and Darren for inspiring the songs, Michelle, Nicho, Chez, Naz and Lena – my Council of Ladies who always counsel courage, and those who, knowingly or not, gave a well-timed wise word to inspire this album – David Creese, Julitha Ryan, Sean Simmons and Bron Henderson, Andreas Lautwein, Cameron Wilson, Eric Eckhart, Matthew Barker, Ola Karlsson, Ben Revi, Jen Hval, Sean M. Whelan, Emilie Zoey Baker and Guy Dale. And the musicians who were so kind and surprised me with what the songs could be: Fabio Gallarati, Stefano Caldonazzo, Paolo Zangara, Vicki Brown, Henry Hugo, Leigh Ivin and Julitha Ryan.

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SHOWS
I’m doing two album launches, a club show at Heroes in Neukölln on International Star Wars Day – Friday May the Fourth – and a special Sofa Salon house concert/birthday fest at my place on Friday 11 May. Email berlinsofasalon [aet] gmail.com for reservations.

Plus I’m doing house concerts and club gigs across Germany and France through late May and June and a whole heap of Summer gigs. If you would like to host me for a house concert, email waspsummer [aet] gmail.com. Those folk who bought Skype or House Concerts, I will be in touch in the next week or so.

Links:
Soundcloud (listen)
Bandcamp (buy)
waspsummer.com (info)

Album Launch

13 Apr

Album News

cover art for Close as a Slow Dance

first look at full cover art for Close as a Slow Dance

I just got the artwork for the album back from my wonderful graphic designer, so I’m all set for getting the album pressed into shiny digipacks. There’s a preview. What do you think?

I’ve decided on two Berlin album launches – an intimate club show at Heroes Neukölln (Friedelstraße 49  12047) on International Star Wars Day, May the Fourth (be with you) and a Sofa Salon house concert for my birthday on May the Eleventh. Then I’m out on tour. Check the current dates below.

Please have this free Bandcamp download of debut rockabilly-flavoured single ‘Dancehall at Louse Point’ to help me celebrate the record’s release or just listen to the song.

Tour Dates

Apr 24, 2012 – Berlin, Ber (DE) @ Club der polnischen Versager – ANZAC Eve: Berlinerin Aussies & Kiwis w/ Sandra Serala & Lavender Drake & Kate Camp

Apr 26, 2012 – Berlin, Ber (DE) @ Ufer Cafe – Wasp Summer & Lena Tjäder w/ Lena Tjäder

May 4, 2012 – Berlin, Ber (DE) @ Heroes – Wasp Summer at Heroes

May 11, 2012 – Berlin, Ber (DE) @ Sofa Salon – Wasp Summer Sofa Salon Album Launch and Sam’s Birthday

May 26, 2012 – Thionville, LOR (FR) @ le Nimby – Wasp Summer’s ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ Tour

Jun 6, 2012 – Paris, IDF (FR) @ Pop In – Wasp Summer ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ Tour

Jun 9, 2012 – Blaison-Gohier, PDL (FR) @ Eric’s House – House Concert for Eric’s Birthday

Jun 22, 2012 – Berlin, Ber (DE) @ PANDA Theatre – Berlin COMPASS: Summer Edition

Jun 29, 2012 – Hamburg, Ham (DE) @ Makrele – Wasp Summer ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ Tour

Jun 30, 2012 – Kiel, S-H (DE) @ Gaby’s House – Wasp Summer in Kiel

Pre-Order Thank Yous

20 Jan

Thank You from Wasp SummerThe Campaign

Wow! That was a heartening 55 days. In retrospect, it was probably madness to hold a fundraising campaign across Christmas and New Year, but I’m delighted to say you have helped me reach 62% funding for my project which covers the mixing and mastering costs. I thank you. I admit to being nervous about asking friends, fans, acquaintances and some complete strangers for money, but I was a train station busker for a year. I have no shame. I also figured I was offering a valuable and heartfelt exchange, Wasp Summer’s debut album ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ and the story of its strange and wonderful journey to you.

*Sam has a moment*

My god, I’m 36. I’ve been in bands for a million years. I am just about to send my first solo record into the world! Some of these songs are 10 years old and I’ve discovered I’m an Alt.Country writer, ably abetted by producer Henry Hugo and his vast array of stringed instruments. The album has a loose story-arc and is fairly writhing with dobro, banjo, mandolin, warm 60’s electric pianos and organs, 50’s Gretsch sounds and some lovely reverbs. Also, the comments people made on the funding website were so lovely and supportive, and probably my favourite part of the process. Yes, Willem, I do know where you live, and Aaron, it is new flesh but not in a Videodrome sense. As a kid, I did really want to be Debbie Harry, though.

The Stats

67% of funders came from Australia’s strong economy. 15% came from Germany. The rest of you come from Britain, America, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand. The average donation was $37. As a group, you still love the artifact-in-hand experience of music and you’re not so into digital downloads. Maybe this is because I appeal to a more mature audience? #firstworldproblems

The Story of Los Savonarolas!

This is a story of saying yes. I told Mark Steiner my goal for 2011 was to make a record. He came to Berlin and asked me to play a show. There, I met his friend Henry who liked my music and offered to produce my record. I sent production notes and demos. He organised the band and the location. We set a date. Lots of yes. Gleefully, this entailed two long drives over the Gotthard Pass in the Swiss Alps – brown goats, brown cows with actual cowbells, improbable mountain hut placement. Amazing!

The band tracked via mobile studio over midsummer in a hilarious 5-day session at a house in Castiglione Olona, Italy, which we could use in exchange for feeding the owners’ 15 cats. Fifteen. Cats. I had the pleasure of playing, cooking, drinking and laughing with Fabio (guitars) and Stefano (drums) from Milanese band Guignol, plus Henry, and Paolo (bass) whose house we borrowed. Trying to play bluegrass at 5am is treasured memory. Also, learning to make pasta by hand and Henry’s Van Damme impressions. We dubbed the band Los Savonarolas after a scene in the 1985 Roberto Benigni/Massimo Troisi film Non ci resta che piangere!

 

The vocals and much of the arrangement were completed over two sessions in Zürich, Switzerland in August and September, because I messed up my voice in the first session after all the fun in Italy. Friends such as Vicki Brown in Tuscon, Leigh Ivin in Tamworth, Julitha Ryan in Melbourne and Mark Steiner in Oslo added violin, vocals, pedal steel, cello, organ and guitar parts via email.

The Fulfilment Stage

It’s now at the final mix stage in Buenos Aires and will soon go to the masterer, also in Buenos Aires. Sadly, I don’t get to go to Buenos Aires. In the next week, people who pre-ordered CD packs will get their digital EP download code via email. When I have the final master, people who pre-ordered pre-release digital downloads will get their download codes via email. Hopefully late February.

The CDs will then be made and popped into pretty digipacks in a secret factory somewhere in Europe. Then I’ll send out the signed CDs, scarves, chapbooks and start on the postcards, Skype concerts and one special London house concert. That should be the start of March. I’ll let you know if the production schedule slips behind.

Again, thank you for helping me realise this album. I am blessed to be at this point with an album of good music to share and a Summer of touring to look forward to. I just have to set some bigger goals. I hope to see you in your city in 2012.

Love,

Sam Wareing/Wasp Summer

The Stylist Speaks

28 Nov

In the mud and the dirt

Blog about the photoshoot for the forthcoming Wasp Summer debut album by designer/stylist Elizabeth Delfs: http://bit.ly/w4snNo