A SOUND IN THE MAKING - Introducing a new series by Bluesound dedicated to spreading sonic enthusiasm whilst sharing our obsession with audio engineering and high resolution sound reproduction. Designed to showcase inventive and creative sound makers through exclusive access to studio rehearsals, mixing sessions and on-site venue sound checks - we uncover unique insights into the processes, inspirations and vision that goes into making their unique sound - a parallel journey to our own quest for perfection in sound. Come along for the ride.
October 21, the morning after BADBADNOTGOOD’s sold-out homecoming performance at Toronto’s hallowed Massey Hall in front of thousands, we’re treated to a musical deconstruction and spontaneous live rendition of Cashmere inside their home studio.
We arrive early to find a converted suburban garage piled high with instruments and equipment dropped off during the night, in the hours that followed the band’s biggest headline gig yet. A quick scout of the location and we decide to grab coffees at what we’ve heard is one of the band’s regular haunts, returning a short time later to find that Chester Hansen (bass) has already arrived.
As we chat in the yard, one by one the others, Leland Whitty (sax) by bicycle, Alex Sowinski (drums) with dogs Elliot and Nigel following slowly and lastly, Matt Tavares (keys) completes the quartet. Beneath the sun of an unusually hot October day, we find ourselves recounting the previous night’s performance, from which the guys are still understandably buzzing… within minutes the conversation turns to Cashmere, their chosen track for our series.
Bluesound: You guys chose Cashmere for A Sound In The Making, why this song?
Chester: In terms of a song to analyze and deconstruct, it kind of has our entire recording process in one song. It’s like… it’s live.
Matt: Yeah, when we’re talking about audio fidelity and the story behind recording something, it was probably the hardest song to record on the record, just because of the nature of the instrumentation, doing it all live in the same room. Which is how we always cut our rhythm section tracks at least. It’s very difficult, but rewarding.
“It’s the hardest and most HiFi song we’ve ever recorded.” - Matt
Chester: It’s a fun song to play live… it’s definitely the most dynamic song that we play in the show. It starts from almost nothing, and gets really loud and then ends really quietly.
Alex: Last night we played it at the end of the Massey Hall show and it’s super epic, because we had a string section playing the arrangement and two of our friends playing horns - Tom Moffett as well. It was a really fitting end to the show,- cause we never played it with all those arrangements before.
Bluesound: How would you describe the song, its unique sound?
Alex: Cashmere is kind of a blend of some current rock - simplicity of just going back between two chords in a progression - very hypnotically and then expanding on different sections as it flows through and taking inspiration from like Brazilian music and progressive composition in terms of harmony and strings from the likes of Arthur Verakai and maybe Gary McFarlane as well, just taking the sound and really creating unique tension points and releases.
Leland: It’s got a long interactive piano solo section, where we’re all jamming. The original genesis of the song is actually just the first two chords, and we play them for like 20 minutes or something just on a complete loop, and uh just - Taking it out. We had a sax trill going on top and yeah, we tried to reverse the roles of each instrument and you have chords on bass…
Alex: Exactly, there was a quick little idea, all we had was just this super obvious chord progression that’s in a million songs – like a Chick Corea sounding chord or something, I don’t know how you’d describe it… it sounds Brazilian I guess. And yeah, we would just improvise on that for 20 minutes.
The audio engineers inside us get a little giddy at the band’s next suggestion, to head inside to the mixing board and pull up the original stems from when they first laid Cashmere down in the studio. After cracking open some ‘refreshments’ - a little hair of the dog, perhaps - the four huddle around the board, Matt with his hands on the faders.
Bluesound: How would you describe your creative process?
Matt: I think the creative process was kind of like a combination of the vision and improvisation, it started with Alex’s idea to have all the instruments switch roles. In the demo version of these which we’ll find and pull up, it’s like I was playing the roots on saxophone, Chester was playing the chords, I was playing more of the kind of like I guess sporadic rhythmic stuff that maybe like a drummer might do.
Leland: Normally we’ll like a track most when we start taking things away, I think. Every song on IV we overdubbed at least three to five more layers than we needed to. And then, when we were taking things away we’d be “OK, maybe we don’t need bass clarinets on this part or that part”. So we took all that off and then it was just “OK well the song sounds good without the clarinets on it, so I guess we’re done”.
Chester: Long story short is we have a tendency to write something and arrange it, because we like arranging music, and we can maybe over arrange it one or two instruments too much.
“When we notice we’ve over-arranged, we’ll scale it back, if that makes sense. It’s like editing a movie.” -Chester
Bluesound: Do you make music collaboratively or one person takes the lead?
Alex: It’s mostly sharing I would say, sometimes someone will bring in the genesis of an idea, but it’s probably a chord progression or something.
Leland: Yeah, I feel like whoever - in this case Matt’s on keys - is at the piano is taking more of a lead role on the harmony, because they can really like set it up. You know, show us what the sounds are very clearly. And then you know someone else plays the roots, maybe.
One section of playback inspires Nigel (the wolfhound) to add vocal accompaniment, his howling so in tune that it takes a second to notice the new ‘instrument’ in the arrangement. This impromptu musical intervention draws our attention back to the studio space and the instruments, and without being sure whether we asked them to play, or if they offered, we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of the studio surrounded by BADBADNOTGOOD and their instruments.
As soon as Matt’s fingers hit the keys and the opening bars of Cashmere surround us, we realize that we’re not only privileged to be witnessing a unique private performance… we’ve actually been invited inside it. Back and forth, from one side of the room to the other, the notes of each instrument and the passion of each performer, weave around us in true high fidelity.
“It’s a fun song to play live… definitely the most dynamic song in the show. It starts from almost nothing, gets really loud and then ends really quietly.” - Chester
As the last few notes trail off, we’re left standing in the middle of a silence that now somehow feels deeper and richer than before, feeling privileged to have heard Cashmere as we never have before…