Studio time with Ferocious Dog..
Back when Ferocious Dog were recording From Without I remember Ken telling me I ought to have popped in to see them, and I always wished I had – so I definitely wasn’t going to miss my chance now The Red Album is underway. I hotfooted it to Electric Bear studios last week and rang the doorbell. The flaw in that plan was it wasn’t audible with not too many people in attendance – luckily Dan was nipping out and found me loitering!
Inside I found Phil behind an imposing mixing desk, a screen full of soundwaves infront of him, and Ken through the window above laying down some vocals. Whilst I have a basic grasp of what recording music entails, I’ve never really sat and witnessed it – it was pretty fascinating. Ken would sing a verse or a chorus, Phil would give immediate feedback whilst simultaneously chopping up and reordering the recordings he’d already captured (one take Ken, my arse!).
Passages that sounded great to me had tiny flaws quickly identified – and soon enough were being re-recorded. Occasionally lyrical adjustments were needed, these songs are ridiculously hot of the press (the last one I saw Ken recording had only been written lyrically the night before, and was one hell of a wordy one). Tweaks and adjustments were needed – it’s quite hard work on Ken’s voice, so he needed a quick break and some hot water with squash and honey.
He was in good spirits though and we got to listen through a number of the songs already laid down (possibly not in their final form – but much richer than the rough cuts I’ve had my grubby mits on for a while). When they hit the studio for From Without we’d got used to a fair few of the songs that would be on there – so far songs from The Red Album have only had a couple of live airings – so whilst that offers comfort, there’s also the worry.
We all have the worry. When they embarked on From Without I worried they’d struggle to follow up Ferocious Dog. Sure, the gap in time wasn’t that big – but we’d got to know the songs on there over literally years – but well, I needn’t have worried. Not only did the songs hold up to the first album, the production values absolutely smashed it out the water without straying into being over-produced. Ferocious Dog should, after all, have some attitude.
So my worry for The Red Album was lessened but there still – until now. Having probably heard nearly all of it now in varied states of completion this is going to be another massive album – there’s pace aplenty and some characteristically challenging lyrics for Ken to deliver live, there’s luscious layers of strings on some songs – there’s hopefully going to be a bootleg release of roadie Alex’s additions to Class War because it’s bloody hilarious!
What really strikes me though is that there’s an unmistakable Ferocious Dog feel to the album – all bands are derivative of their influences, of course, but in Dan’s fiddle playing or arrangement of a wider string section that fusion of folky fiddle and classical music scores is something he’s really starting to make his own. There’s some sublime examples of this I’ve heard already. The Ferocious Dog certainly has not lost its bite.
As time was ticking away Ken was up to 27 takes on one section of Spin, Phil is a patient but firm task-master. I’d always assumed a producer would simply be seeking to get decent quality recordings, which of course they do, but so engrained in the band ethos Phil was able to suggest lyrical tweaks and adjustments to make the syllables fit better, or better get the message across in the songs. Watching how quickly he was chopping out sections and replacing them was really impressive.
Given his experience of sorting out the sound at gigs he knows the band inside out and more crucially he knows what they should sound like. That sounds like a trite thing to say, but it’s really important – an over-zealous producer could kill the attitude and venom that needs to be part of the recording, but of course they also want it to sound polished and professional. No pressure, then, Phil! This album is in very good hands. He makes a mean cup of tea, too!
I never really had any great doubts – but I’m now supremely confident that The Red Album is going to be another step on for the band, always comfortable enough in their own skins but also always developing their own expertise and sound – with John Leonard’s extra instrumental input, and getting everyone in on the songwriting there’ll be some new influences too. John L and Les were due in the following day to put down some vocals too.
I really can’t wait. Without setting a deadline there’s every chance you’ll all get to get your lug ‘oles around it in September. And by god it will have been completely worth the wait. Big thanks to Ken, Dan and Phil for welcoming me into a behind the scenes fly on the wall experience – it’s been a while since I’ve done that!