Tag Archives: Mitropa

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’

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

Mitropa Mini-Tour EP Giveaway

21 Oct

To celebrate the two shows Wasp Summer is playing in Bratislava and Budapest, we are giving away our four new demos for free download as the Mitropa EP. You can download them from Soundcloud.

We are looking forward to the food, the hat shopping, the overnight trains, the new friends, the new cities, the new clubs and bars, the old towns, the spas and saunas and the beer. For both shows, Wasp Summer is playing as a duo. Here are the details.

October 23 – British Rock Stars, Nám. 1. mája 14, Bratislava Slovakia w/ Silverspoon and Hell’s Gang 20:00. 3€.
Facebook Event. Couchsurfing Event.

October 24 – Gólya, Bókay János utca 34., Budapest, Hungary. 20:00. Entry by donation.
Facebook Event. Couchsurfing Event.