Tag Archives: Berlin

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 #1: Cocteau Twins ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’

21 Apr The Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas

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 1 must be the Cocteau Twins masterpiece ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’.

Oh, this album, beginning to end, blows my mind. In 1994, I escaped an increasingly dangerous relationship and was relieved to move into a sharehouse in Lismore with 4 other women, located above a veterinary surgery. Collectively and consciously, we explored ritual paganism, argued theology with the Mormons that came each week to save us, and smoked more weed than was strictly necessary. I saw some weird shit.

I started off living behind a makeshift curtain in the kitchen until a room became available. Then I moved into the least psychedelically-wallpapered of the rooms, affectionately known as the Triffid Room.

A lot of music that is important to me (Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, the Clouds) came out of this room and this year, as did my first attempts at songwriting. Rachel the Cone Queen stole this record from her sister, but it lived for the entire year in my room where I attempted to rationalise its immense harmony while drifting off into its etheric spheres.

This album remains an act of divinity to me. The Cocteaus’ perfect pop moment. The post-punk textures they had been developing all the way along, Liz Fraser’s astonishing vocal style, the pulsing bass and drum machines, liquified into a weird, dreamy and pleasurable set of songs that blew open my expectations of what I could do, what the human voice could do, what guitars could sound like.

It was the precursor chemical to so much of the music that made my music sound the way it does. At least, most of what I did with The Mime Set and Wasp Summer was me aiming for this kind of freedom.

Upon reflection, Annie Lennox and Liz Fraser are largely responsible for the beautiful oddness of my sense of harmony.

 

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

Busking Stories

14 Apr

I’ve been paid in insults, drugs and sometimes even money.

Busking Stories
Concerts

Busking Stories
He passed Lena to stand directly in front of me. He leaned down into my face, hissed “Schhhhlamppppe!’, then firmly poked his tongue out at me and stomped away.

Lena, my jazz singer friend, and I were busking at Hallesches Tor. I slowly turned to Lena, “He just called me a smurf and stuck his tongue out!”
“Oh no, honey,” she said, “He didn’t call you a smurf. That’s ‘Schlumpf’. He called you a slut.” Our howling laughter ricocheted around the tunnel.

Lena Tjäder and Sam WareingHallesches Tor, a Berlin U-Bahn station, has a long tunnel connecting the U1 and U6. Buskers with station permits prefer stations where lines cross because the long tunnels have great acoustics. People hear you long before they see you which makes you money.

It’s fascinating people-watching: old Berliners, hipsters, immigrant families, punks, street people, kids, yuppies and tourists. A cheerful psychedelic man squatted next to us. “Mädels! Sounds great! I got no money, but I want you to have these…,” and dropped two tabs of acid next to the coins in our guitar case. I’ve also been “paid” with hash, booze, joints, promises of work and business cards with private numbers.

At Stadtmitte, an old man wanted our spot. His busking tactic was to jig next to us, blowing on a harmonica and holding out his dirty hat to reveal a seeping head wound under old bandages. He won.

We busked for a year in the U-Bahn, 4-6 hours at a time. That’s how I learned guitar in public. We found friends, gigs and fans, and sold CDs. We featured in the children’s magazine Geolino Extra, and played live on Radio Eins promoting a photography exhibition on street musicians. It always paid for coffee and hot meals and showed us a lot of Berlin life.

Concerts
You can find any upcoming concerts on our Facebook page here. If you don’t have facebook, you can check the Concerts page here on our website here or go to our feed on Twitter.

Cheers,
Samantha Wasp Summer

Last Berlin shows for 2014

1 Oct

Wasp Summer by Kate Seabrook

Wasp Summer has three gigs Berlin gigs coming up in October and November, the last before the Wasp Summer Australian shows.

Sunday 19 October at 14:00, Sam is doing a solo show at Donau 115‘s Donaufrühstück, If you’re Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down, this concert series presented by Cow Hearts and curated by the amazing Emperor X is for you.

Friday 31 October at 21:00, Sam and Simon are playing a Wasp Summer duo Halloween special at Moabit’s best Musik Lokal, Kallasch &.

Thursday 6 November at 21:00, Wasp Summer present their first full-band show with new drummer Ben Johnson (that’s him on the right above ^^) in a live recording at Culture Container.

This excellent band photo, in Ben’s rehearsal space, was taken by Kate Seabrook Photographer.

Running Up That Hill

7 Feb

How is your Winter/Summer progressing? All is well in the Wasp Summer camp. We are working towards recording our second album, tentatively entitled Mitropa. I have to write a couple more songs but the ten we have are sounding really strong. You can hear four demos here.

Running Up That Hill compilation

Running Up That Hill; Kate Bush Covers for Reproductive Rights

compilation to fund reproductive rights organisations in the USA

Wasp Summer covered a Kate Bush B-side called Under The Ivy for a wonderful compilation called Running Up That Hill: Kate Bush Covers for Reproductive Rights that was launched on Bandcamp on February 4, 2014.

It is as it says on the box and sales support US-based pro-choice organisations, most located in politically conservative US states where women’s rights have been threatened. If you buy songs or the whole compilation from Bandcamp, you support the printing of download cards that are given free to the selected organisations who can then sell them to directly raise funds.

Artists including Nona Invie from Dark Dark Dark and Karl Blau have contributed tracks. Kate Bush (via her manager) has given her blessing.

Upcoming Gigs

We have a bunch of Berlin shows coming up over starting on February 20. Come along and hear the new songs. More news about European Summer tours, the single/album launch dates and other shows soon.

Wasp Summer
w/ Ryan O’Reilly (UK) + Redvers (UK)
Donnerstag 20. Februar
Marie Antoinette
Bogen 47, Holzmarktstr.15-18
10179 Berlin-Kreuzberg
20:00. 5€
Fb Event

Wasp Summer
w/ The Fever (US)
Freitag 21. März
Madam Claude
Lübbener Straße 19
10997 Berlin-Kreuzberg
21:00. 3-7€

Wasp Summer
Freitag 11. April
w/ guests
Tiefgrund
Laskerstraße 5
10245 Berlin-Friedrichshain
(nr. About.Blank/Ostbhf)
21:00. 3-7€

Wasp Summer (duo)
w/ Remarkable Shipwrecks + Eamon McGrath
Freitag 2. Mai
Ex-LG Security
Donaustr. 115
12043 Berlin-Neukölln
20:30. By donation.

Cheers,
Sam Wasp Summer

Lists: 2013 in Musical Review (Revue?)

30 Dec

Musically, 2013 has been about writing towards a new Wasp Summer album (which we’re thinking of calling Mitropa – listen to some demo tracks)  and booking shows for amazing acts through Sofa Salon and A Headful of Bees. 2014 will definitely be about recording and touring and much, much less about booking for other people.

In regards to concerts, it was a good year. I’ve seen great, moving small-scale shows this year. Look these artists up: Lindsay Phillips, Gillian Grassie, Roland Satterwhite, Elyas Khan, Ben Salter, Liz Stringer, Pinto, Kini Mod, PHIA, Bernhard Eder and Vincent Long, amongst others.

I saw great club, arena or festival shows from Oneida, The Re-Mains, The Knife, Brandt Brauer Frick, Hans Unstern, Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, Mudhoney and Everything Everything.

So to my list of my favourite songs of 2013, in no particular order, plus five songs that found their home in my head in 2013:
Dancing Suns – Tarnished
Ben Salter – The Prophetess
Dead Sentries – Nowhere is Home
Elyas Khan – Bells
Everything Everything – Cough Cough
FKA Twigs – Papi Pacify
Jimmy Tait – All My Friends
Lindsay Phillips – The Crossing
Neko Case – Where Did I Leave That Fire?
PHIA – Do You Ever?

Ainslie Wills – Fighting Kind
Brandt Brauer Frick – Skiffle It Up
HAIM  – Forever
Kat Frankie – Please Don’t Give Me What I Want
Jens Friebe – Neues Gesicht

Happy listening and a Guten Rutsch.

Cheers,
Samantha

Inspiration from The Wasp Woman

18 May

On this, Eurovison Final Day, my vegetables and flowers are healthy on the balcony, someone is playing Debussy figures downstairs in the music school and my head is a-whirl with plans.

My friend (and soon to be collaborator in an Alt.Country musical) Jason, found this fantastic movie poster for my birthday. The Wasp Woman is a Roger Corman B-Movie from 1959 about a cosmetics mogul and badass who takes wasp royal jelly serum to become fabulously youthful.
Let’s overlook the gaping scientific flaws in the film’s premise and the thematic rip from The Fly, but when I saw this, I felt fabulously badass too.

It’s good timing because I’m working on the production notes for some new full-band recordings. Next month, we get to test out some cool DDR microphones in a new studio set-up. If the collaboration works, we’ll be making the new WS album as my annual Winter Project.

I often use visual inspiration to help me set the stylistic tone for a new project. The Wasp Woman‘s noir-ish colour scheme, melodrama, feminine force and, of course, the overt wasp theme, is a helpful focus point while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums.

Storyboard for 'Close as a Slow Dance'My first record, Close as a Slow Dance, was deep pomegranate, black and dusky earthen colours. Perfectly appropriate for the alt.country folk on the disk.

I’ll take down the old album’s collage storyboards on my wall and start making new ones while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums – more fuzz, more muscle, more groove. You can hear my home demo for new song Burning here to give you an idea.

While the Summer looks incredibly busy, Autumn and Winter are going to be digging-in time writing the rest of the songs that will make up the album, playing more with the band and finally learning more German.
Enjoy the melodrama of Eurovision and hopefully we’ll meet in a smoky basement somewhere and share some new songs.

Cheers,
Sam Wasp Summer

April Wasp: strange little girls

9 Apr

I’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up with Wasp Summer! They’re all listed on the Concerts page. Have a look!

But this Thursday, I’m playing at Kugelbahn in Wedding with Salon Band, great Berlin musical guns-for-hire. Salon Band host a monthly event where they invite and accompany guest singers. They picked three songs from my album – Dancehall at Louse Point, I Hope You’ll Mend and No Time For Compliments Now and asked me to pick three more cover songs. I chose Randy Crawford’s jazz-pop classic One Day I’ll Fly Away (you’ll be hypnotised by Ms. Crawford’s teeth), The Motels’ simmering Total Control (a hit only in France and Australia) and 60’s stomper Tobacco Road (which I’m approaching in a Tina Turner/Small Faces kind of way).

I’ve worked on “owning” these three songs – interpreting them, rather than just singing the melody and phrasings I know so well. In singing them carefully alone and with the band, I realised they’re actually weirdly structured. I had an epiphany about my songwriting – since I was a kid, I’ve always been drawn to songs where the form is dictated by the lyrics and melody, rather than creating a perfect chord progression and constructing/cramming the story into it. Perhaps, other people’s favourites amongst the songs I have written are the classically formed ones – even rhyming patterns, even line lengths, symmetrical structure. But my favourites are the bent and winding songs, the one-eyed songs, the crooked and eccentric songs with two verses at the top, one refrain and a long outro for a tail – my strange little girls.

The three songs I chose sound straight on the surface, but have a kooky, emotional view of their subject (getting over lost love, desire, and what the Germans might call Heimathassleibe), and structures – the length of verses, where and what the bridge sections do, etc. – designed (consciously or unconsciously) to emphasise the emotion/story the writer wants to tell.

I’ve often had bandmembers and arrangers ask, “Did you know there’s half a bar of 3/4 there?” or “What a weird keychange. Did you mean to do that?” or “Did you want 10 beats in that section?” or “Can we straighten this bit out?”. To which the answers are really?, yes, yes and no.  It just sounds normal to me because I “count” the song by lyrics and phrasing, not chord structure or bar numbers. Writing my charts isn’t straightforward. And the songs go how they go because that’s how they go. I don’t try to be dumb about it and I do edit my work, but if a song has an intrinsically strong melody or lyric, or keychange or structure, the only criteria are “Does it feel authentic to me?” and “Does it sound good to me?” If I play it in public, the answer is yes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me back at waspsummer@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Sam

New Song: Burning

23 Mar Wasp Summer at Schokoladen, Berlin

I think this is probably the best demo I’ve ever made. I am really digging the harmonies – they’re so tense, tight and quietly dramatic. This song points to the new direction I’m taking Wasp Summer in, especially now I have the three-piece band with bassplayer Simon Morrison (Remarkable Shipwrecks, Dead Sentries, ex-Assassination Collective) and journalist/drummer Stuart Braun (ex-Dust) – sexier, looser, less folk and more rock, noisier. I’m fronting a band on guitar for the first time. It’s exhilarating.

Here’s Burning: