Following both the Sams and Ruth sharing their reflections on the Molehills out of Mountains album, this week in part 4 of this series, Albert expatiates on the topic.

Before we set about recording, or even writing, my basslines for the album, I wanted to work on both my technique, and my sound.  I wanted my bass to have a 60s ‘thump’, and strove to emulate several bassists who continually inspire me.  My main bass-playing influences are:

  • Martyn P. Casey (Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds)
  • Carol Kaye (particularly her work with The Beach Boys)
  • Sean Cook (Spiritualized)
  • James Jamerson (he played on most 60s Motown hits)
  • Paul McCartney (need I elaborate?)

Buying a new pickup, changing from the more common round wound, to to flat wound strings, and taping a bit of felt to my bass as a mute, helped me get (close to) the sound I was after.  A felt mute was advice offered by Carol Kaye on her website.  I also invested in some of her tuition DVDs and books; the first time I’d ever actually had any sort of bass lessons. I know I’ve still got a lot to learn, and I’m still not totally happy with my sound, but I think I’m getting there.  And I think the album opener is has a bass sound that’s pretty close to to what I have in my head.

Cry For The City

One of the first times I heard this song was when Sam Kipling sang it solo at his dad’s 60th birthday party.  I thought it was brave of him to sing “I find it hard to be what my daddy wants” in such a setting, but he pulled it off. The difference between how this song sounded that day, and how it sounds now on the album is fairly representative of how our songs evolve, actually.  All the songs sound great when Sam sings them alone with an acoustic guitar, or a piano, but then we all spend a lot of time (some may say too much) arranging how the song will ultimately shape up.  I was a bit surprised that the rest of the band warmed to my “what if we….?” idea for the a cappella introduction, but I’m glad they did. More on my “what if we….?” ideas later.

Don’t Be Scared 48

There is a theme that runs through many of our songs, totally unintentional, but somewhat own-foot-shooting in terms of commercial potential.  We have a proclivity for developing songs that don’t have many repeating choruses.  I recall us spending quite a bit of time deliberating over whether the “Feast your eyes on the future” passage of ‘Don’t Be Scared 48′  should be a chorus or a middle 8, and if it was a chorus, where we could shoe-horn in a second occurrence.  As it turns out, it’s only in the song once, and I certainly don’t regret the lack of a repeated refrain.  It’s one of my favourite arrangements on the album, and I love the way every part evolves throughout the song’s passage.

Constitution Failed

While making this album, Ruth and I have become far more locked down as the rhythm section.  In the process I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of the relationship between the drums and the bass.  This was one of the first songs on the album on which we worked meticulously on tightening up the drum and bass parts.  The resulting parts are at times quite simple, and the rhythm section is a standout feature of the song, but I’m glad we paid so much attention to it.  I actually find this one quite hard to play and sing live.  As a result I much prefer listening to this one, rather than performing it.  And I do enjoy listening to it a great deal.  I think Sam Kipling is a highly intelligent songwriter, and that is evident here.

London Road

We’ve been friends with Neil McSweeney since 2006, when he came into BCB Radio in Bradford to do an acoustic session for me. I played the session to the rest of Wilful Missing, and quite rightly, they were really taken by what they heard. They were particularly taken by this song of his, ‘London Road‘. It soon became part of our live set, and we’re also backed Neil on it at one of our joint outings.  So, we were delighted when Neil agreed to us recording it for our album.

My bass part for London Road is probably the most collaborative on the album. That session, arranging my bassline, will always stick in my mind. Each member of the band had some great ideas about what I should be playing at different points, and I certainly don’t feel it was a case of too many cooks.

Unlike ‘Constitution Failed‘, I love playing ‘London Road‘ live.  I think we all do.

The Waltz

We wanted to emulate the sound of an upright bass for this one, but using my Fender Precision. The result, achieved by double-muting the strings, actually produced one of my favourite bass sounds on the album.  I’m glad Sam Lawrence got chance to get his pipes out on the album.  They sound really sweet in the solo. Rhys’s clarinet lines on this song are also really beautiful, and as a result ‘The Waltz‘ brings to mind some of the arrangements found on James Yorkston’s When The Hare Rolls In album, and that’s no bad thing.  I keep thinking I’m getting a text message off Ruth when I hear ‘The Waltz‘, because part of her glockenspiel line is currently in use as her ringtone on my phone.

Like Lovers Do

This is, so far, the only Wilful Missing song to feature a guest vocalist, and I think it works a treat. The relationship between Sam’s familiar voice and Laura Neale’s mellifluous tones in the chorus is oh so sweet. One of my favourite passages on the album occurs in ‘Like Lovers Do‘. As the second chorus melts into the quite beautiful, understated, instrumental passage featuring Sarah Smout’s cello, I too melt a little.  The bassline in the chorus of this song shouldn’t really work, as it doesn’t play in the “correct” places, but I’m glad we didn’t try and make it more conventional.

Powerful Pill

Bear with me on this, but what if we sacked off the two-beat, had some crunchy hip-hop drums, and reversed part of Sam Kipling’s vocal for a new introduction to ‘Powerful Pill’?”  I have to admit that I thought this idea would be met with a straight “Erm, no.” Instead though, we did try and recreate the sound of my demo mix.  However, we never quite got it to work, and as a result the introduction got left on the cutting room floor when it got to the final mix.  This is how the song ended up going straight into the first verse, and in fact, although it was a rather circuitous, bumpy journey getting to this point, I think the song has quite a lot of impact as a result of going straight into the groove of the verse.  I’m still hopeful of one day realising my heretical vision for ‘Powerful Pill‘, so I might set my sights on doing an Our Albert remix.

Whenever Sam Kipling presents a new song to the band, and we jam through it, I don’t like to know what the chords are.  I prefer to fumble around the neck of my bass, improvising without any thoughts of what I “should” be playing. Granted, my bandmates have to endure some dissonant clangers as a result. But I do occasionally find an interesting note or a riff that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of, if I had preconceptions about which notes I ought to gravitate towards.  I mention this because if my memory serves me correctly, the bass motif in the verse of ‘Powerful Pill‘ was one such discovery. I had been listening to Rain by The Beatles earlier that day, and was thinking about Paul McCartney’s playing on that while we worked on ‘Powerful Pill‘.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ‘Rain‘ is one of my all time favourite songs, and it is largely down to the drums and the bass.   I’m not suggesting for a moment that we’ve recorded a song anywhere near as good as that, but that’s where the bass idea started.

Caught Between Seasons

Neil McSweeny’s ‘London Road‘ excepted, this is the first of our own compositions on the album to feature a repeated chorus that you’ll hear more than twice.  A pop group we ain’t.  I also don’t think we’re a folk group, although many seem to categorise us as such.  If all our songs sounded like ‘The Waltz‘ and ‘Caught Between Seasons‘ I would agree, but they don’t. This song has actually evolved quite a lot.  It used to start with the whole of the first verse being a cappella, and then used to just end straight after the final chorus.  The jig we added towards the end is a great deal of fun to play live, and could easily go on for much much longer.  As a music fan, I always feel rather let down, and dirtied, if something I like goes on too long.

Wilful Missing

This was one of the first songs on the album to be written, but was the last one we decided to record.  In fact, if I recall correctly, the reason we started recording it at all is that we had a bit of time left at the recording session when we recorded drums for ‘Caught Between Seasons‘, ‘London Road‘ and ‘I Am Clay‘ at Stonegate Studios in Bentham. ‘Wilful Missing‘ is probably the least immediate song on the album, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this one. I think we allow the song breathing space, so that its lilting pace and subtle melodies have all the time they need.  It would be hard for me to say which is my favourite of Sam Kipling’s lyrics, but the words to ‘Wilful Missing‘ are right up there for me.

I Am Clay

We’re really indulging ourselves with choruses now; this is the third successive song with a refrain that keeps coming back for more. There’s a pop group in us somewhere tring to escape, I’m sure of it. This song is in the running to be a single, and I think it’s certainly one of our catchiest.  Sam Lawrence’s observation that this is “as close as we get to Electric Dylan” isn’t something that had previously occurred to me, but I can see what he means.

Sleeptalking Over

It seems strange now to think that there was a time when we didn’t know which song would end the album.  It now seems inconceivable that ‘Sleeptalking Over‘ could be anything other than the lullaby at the end if side 2. There is no song on ‘Molehills out of Mountains‘ that I’m prouder of being a part of than this one, and it’s the song on which I am heard the least.  The strings on ‘Sleeptalking Over‘ stemmed from another “what if we…?”  moment.  I had been listening to ‘Don’t Talk‘ by The Beach Boys, and this is what first germinated the idea of adding some strings.  When eventually we got John Farthing and Diane Martin in to record the string trio parts, when I finally got to find out how it would sound when played on real istruments, I almost welled up.  That was a incredibly proud moment.

There are many a proud moment on Molehills out of Mountains.  As a body of work, a representation of where Wilful Missing have been at over the past year or so, I’m really pleased with it, and feel lucky to have found myself in a band with these other four talented musicians.

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