Tag Archives: music

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 #3: Faith No More’s The Real Thing

31 May Faith No More's The Real Thing

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 3 must be Faith No More’s eclectic hard rock masterpiece ‘The Real Thing’.

 

1990, Year 10, and the final year of the acceptably ugly school uniform. Fashion inspirations: Stevie Nicks, Chrissy Amphlett, Wendy James, Permanent Vacation-era Steve Tyler checking out new band night at the Whisky a Go Go.

Faith No More’s The Real Thing quite literally changed my life. Before this album came out, my two big musical loves were INXS and Guns ‘n’ Roses, who, around that time, inspired me to fashion a primitive vapouriser from a coke can and fill it with Mum’s best Ceylon in order to experiment with the ‘smoking tea’ they spoke of in their cover of Aerosmith’s mighty Mama Kin. No buzz. But I digress.

I think I may have Shane N. to thank for my first tape of this album. At least, I associate it with going Trick or Treating with him around Highland Park, a newish housing estate, and coming home to my Dad telling me he kept a little black book of all my misdemeanours and had spies all over Nerang who would tell him if I got up to mischief. Mum assures me that was just Dad’s sense of humour.

The second single off this record, Epic, went round our school like a particularly explosive dose of salts. I have a vivid memory of discussing the video in awe with Brett N. one Monday morning outside the science block. We’d obviously all seen it on Rage over the weekend. They’d never play it on our local radio station. Until it spent 18 weeks on the charts, Australia giving them their first international #1.

But it wasn’t Epic that really blew my mind. Like pop kids who discovered The Smiths or The Cure, this took all my love of hard rock and added weirdness, eclecticism and intelligence. I desperately wanted to be in a band, and eventually my mate Craig Rickard invited me to create ‘Decadence’, our glam-rock covers band.

I loved the pop-triple-punch opening of From Out of Nowhere, Epic and Falling To Pieces, but the later three song run of The Real Thing, Underwater Love and The Morning After, and especially the title track itself, changed for me what was possible with music. It gave me the idea that songs could have power, texture, mystery and space.

The music is precise, brutal and, yes, spacious. There are repeating lyrical threads through the album that are philosophical, questioning and complex, not merely hedonistic. There’s also a huge whack of absurdist humour.

I had my first taste of cool as a school authority on this album. Two popular girls came around to ask if i could dub them copies. I had an old pink Sanyo deck that dubbed in real-time, and as we listened to the piano ending to Epic, they were visibly disturbed at the weirdly classical turn the album was taking. “What is this shit?” they asked. “It’s excellent. Do you want it or not?”

Patton’s vocals go from roaring and stentorian to seductive, almost pleading. I have never forgotten his harmony sixths, and the way he sings “you leave me writhing on the floor” definitely “makes me feeeeeeeeel this way”…

And they finished the album with the consumately creepy lounge-pervert swing ballad End of The World. It was my Enlightenment.

Check out my crucial album #1: Cocteau Twins ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’
Check out my crucial album #2: Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock

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.

 

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

March Wasp

20 Mar

With a head full of cottonwool, I send a million emails for myself and others whose music I adore to round up more work/money so we can continue on this picturesque clifftop gravel path of making music.

Since the last email, I have had a good long think about my direction as a a musician who needs to pay the rent. Thus, I am plowing my energy into three areas – rehearsing and writing for Wasp Summer, singing as often as I can in a variety of styles and booking shows in the A Headful of Bees Booking Agency.

As much fun as I’ve had touring since 2011, I really had the urge to stay closer to home this year, develop my ideas and get some sleep. You know, eight hours a night, every night. (It’s not always working. I binge-watched the new US TV series Nashville in five days). I play gigs, have after-singing drinks with my choir, go dancing to noise bands (Oneida! “You’ve got to step into the light light light light light light…”), try to experience the many joys and madnesses of Berlin. I figure if I ever have a baby, I’ll won’t resent the loss of sleep so much if I have some sleep now.

Really, I want to get to the end of 2013 knowing that I am in a kick-arse rock ‘n’ roll band. The guitar-work should sit nicely around the vocals. I’m doing tiny solos, getting lessons and learning how to play slide guitar. I will get a delay pedal. I might get a Big Muff fuzz pedal.

My songs want me to use the lower, sexier, more womanly voice I’m growing into as well as the showier parts of my range. I will eventually be as comfortable behind a guitar as I am with a microphone in my hand. I want people to think PJ Harvey and not Sheryl Crow when they see us play.

In fulfilling my aims, I have some shows coming up. I’m working with a lovely West Berliner called Tom Cunningham, a sweet and very interesting guy who’s been here since the early 70’s producing records and releasing albums. My dearest friend in Berlin, jazz singer Lena Tjäder invited me to work as a backing singer with Tom. We debut this Saturday night at Ufer Cafe (Nordufer 4, Wedding for the Berliners) with a mix of his, my and Lena’s originals and covers accompanied by guitarist Michel. 20:00.

Next month, I am working with Salonband, an amazing group of pro musicians who worked with my compadre Eric Eckhart on his DIT album. Once a month, they invite singers, learn their albums and back them at Kugelbahn, also in Berlin-Wedding. It’s my turn on April 11 and I’ll be doing some stuff off my record plus a couple of songs that influenced how I sing and write – Total Control, One Day I’ll Fly Away and Tobacco Road. This is going to be an amazing night.

Look out for some more Wasp Summer band gigs over the Summer. There’s big shows coming up for 48-Stunden Neukölln, Fete de la Musqiue and Berlin Music Week and smaller ones in great rock ‘n’ roll basements.

If you want to hear my album again, please check it out at
waspsummer.bandcamp.com, but I post new demos up at www.soundcloud.com/waspsummer.

Here’s hoping for the Spring to break. I need some suuuuuuuuuuuun.

Tour updates

2 Jun

Tour update #12: Spent a great Ghent night with new friends – singing in the car with Sam, dinner at Griet’s wonderful corner shop apartment, then a house concert at Dirk’s featuring Rianto Delrue and Bruno Deneckere. Today, sadly, no luck squirrel hunting at the Brussels flea market but I did find some nice scarves for my IndieGoGo CD sponsors. Tonight, my house show in Ixelles. Life is good, na?

Tour update #11: NO SQUIRRELS.

Tour update #10: I have NO luggage space, but apparently the famous flea market here in Brussels is absolutely loaded with taxidermied squirrels. Anyone who knows me knows how dangerous this is.

Tour update #9: *makes a note* Wait at the *front* of the station as the back of the station is the sex worker’s street and carrying a guitar and amp in public is no guarantee you won’t be asked if you’re offering sex.

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