Hundred Million Martians: Making of Marseille – Studio Diary pt. 1
At five o’clock PM on Friday we load our gear into the studio. We’ve brought our instruments, loads of leads, some effects, miscellaneous stuff that might come in handy and a big Marshall stack. Olly Kaarnisto walks in carrying a vintage Les Paul and a state-of-the-art Fender tube combo with loads of digital amp models in it… Those will definitely come in handy. While Jarkko sets up his drum kit and Danil Venho the engineer sets up the mikes, I check out the interior. Dark red walls, wood… Very nice. I could live here.
After the drum sound check we start playing some of the new songs just to see what it feels like to record them. I’m playing the guitar next to Jarkko. Pasi and Jyrki (vocals, no guitar) are in the control room. What it feels like? It feels like crap. Everything is too loud or not loud enough. We can’t play anymore. Nothing works. No rock. No roll. The guys say we should do it the way we’re used to. I’m not sure what they mean but I have to agree. Whatever that is, it has to be better than this. We go home. I don’t sleep too well.
Drum & bass
It’s Saturday, ten o’clock in the morning. I’m nervous. Jarkko says he’s nervous. Jyrki‘s quiet and seems tired. Maybe he’s nervous, too. A new studio, an engineer we’ve never worked with before, every mistake costs money. Everyone who plays in a band knows that sometimes you just don’t play well, and the harder you try the more you suck. And if we’re about to fuck up the songs today, the timing couldn’t be worse. “Ok, time to adjust the attitude”, says Jarkko to himself. We all try to.
Before we start tracking the drums we decide to do it “the way we’re used to”: Instead of me, Jyrki plays the base track with Jarkko. That’s how we did it on the previous album and it worked well for us. It still does. The guys make sure they have an eye contact through the window and go into Across the Street. Jarkko nails it in a couple of takes. The same goes with the rest of the tunes; two or three takes and the drums are in. Nervous? Who? We? Never. On fire? Yes!
Aku-Tuomas Mattila from Plastic Passion visits the studio. As Jarkko and Jyrki record two versions (slower and faster) of Uusi Biisi, we discuss important stuff like the release schedule. Actually, we discuss about the fact the we should discuss the release schedule soon. But the release date seems so distant when you’re just begun. We want the record to be out this year. That’s all.
Then we get to more recent matters: two of the songs don’t have names yet. We’ve been calling one of them Uusi Biisi (the new tune), because that’s what it is. I suggest we should name it Hideaway. Jyrki says there already is some classic blues song called Hideaway and suggests we’d call it UC/BC. But then again, Hideaway suits the mood of the song much better than UC/BC, which would be a good name for the other unnamed song of ours known as Oasis Boogie (we really, really need to get rid of that title). The working title of the album is Idiots Remain because of the band’s age and mentality. Then Olly tells us that our friends in Texas had said that Hundred Million Martians would do well in American college and university radios. That makes us consider changing the working title to Intelligenzia Remains. Laymen don’t know how hard it is to be in the band.
As Pasi joins us to play the bass, the drums are almost done. He had his instrument fine-tuned by some teenage virtuoso at a guitar store downtown. When changing the strings the guy had told Pasi about Jaco Pastorius and played some fast and funky slap bass lines at the same time. Then he had asked Pasi if the bass felt ok to play. Pasi had played open A string with a pick Dee Dee Ramone style, with his other hand in the pocket. “Yeah. It’s good.”
It takes ages to get the bass sound right and to record the bass lines. We’ve been having good time, everyone’s been in good spirits and the jokes have been bad as usual, but now I’m getting bored. I’ve been sitting on a couch the whole day drinking coffee and reading Alibi magazine’s gruesome crime stories (“Teppo (name changed) set his mother on fire: ‘That day I’ll never forget.’”) and doing nothing while the others play. I could have been home or anywhere for the whole day. But it’s good that we’re all here doing this together. When we recorded Solid Rock Planet I can’t remember a single session with the whole band in the studio working and laughing together. This is better.
As the bass is in we call it a day. And a good day it was.
It’s 11 o’clock Sunday morning and normally I wouldn’t be awake at this hour. At least I’m not hung over – I’ve decided to quit drinking for a month. Gotta say the timing couldn’t be any better. It’s time to start tracking the rhythm guitars. I’m too excited to be tired. Finally I get to do something!
I start off with my own Gibson but soon switch to Olly’s, because it sounds much better. Maybe it’s the wood material or the pick-ups or the guitar’s age or all of the above, but it clearly does sound better. I start playing and it feels very easy. I play the songs like I’ve always played them. Later, this will become a slight problem… but not for me.
The first round of rhythm guitar tracks are done quickly. We take some time to search for a suitable sound for each song – we don’t want New Year’s Eve to sound like I Still Love the Feeling or Across the Street to be similar with Passed or UC/BC or Hideaway or whatever they are called. Venho has a good ear for the smallest details and he makes sure every chord and riff are exactly where they’re supposed to be (Across the Street turns out to be trickier than I thought). He also has lots of good ideas for the arrangements. A couple of months earlier, when I gave him the demo of the songs, I said we want the record to sound big. It sounds like Venho definitely has not forgotten it. The guitars and the drums sound HUGE, and it’s not only about the loudness. Perfect.
Then it’s Jyrki’s turn and he’s in trouble. See, we never went through the rhythm guitar lines together. Instead we assumed that we play them similarily or didn’t care if we were in sync or not. Venho’s not having any of that. “Go home to rehearse”, he sneers and makes Jyrki do it again until the tracks are identical. If looks could kill I’d be in trouble. When we come back to record the rest of the songs later this year, I gotta remember either to play the first guitar track or to rehearse the lines with Jyrki. The former sounds like more fun. Considering the circumstances, Jyrki gets it done pretty quickly. (If you listen carefully, you hear me playing one D major chord on his track on New Year’s Eve. It’s the one that is played better than the other chords.) Jyrki gets to double some of the rhythm tracks. It makes him very happy, because we’ve always argued about whether we should try to make our sound bigger by adding more guitars. He wins this time, but whatever, because it seems to do the trick.
Then the solos and other tricks. I decide to use wah-wah pedal on I Still Love the Feeling – on a song like that it’s a cliché, but it’s a good cliché, and I’m gonna use it. Besides, I’m really nervous about playing the leads on that particular song and I hope the effect will inspire me or at least hide some of my fuck-ups. When we recorded the demo version in Olly’s Huitsin Nevada Studios, I was drunk and tired and accidentally ended up playing some James Williamson kinda punk blues stuff that was actually pretty cool. However, I have no idea whatsoever how to do it again. That’s why I don’t even try. I start wailing with the wah-wah and to my surprise it doesn’t sound too bad. The others seem to agree. “Man, you sound like Jimi”, Pasi says with admiration. “Really? Like Jimi?”, I ask. “Yep. Exactly like Jimi Pääkallo.” Gee. Thanks.
I get to play a double blues rock lead on I Still Love the Feeling which is fun because it’s basically the only scale I can handle. On the demos, the leads I played on Across the Street and New Year’s Eve were too monotonic and way too alike, so I do a stripped-down version of the latter and try to come up with something new on the former. Everyone thinks Across the Street needs some variation, so I play a little solo in it. I already have Passed figured out, but while playing the solo on the boogie song it sounds to me it might be better with a saxophone solo. That remains to be seen. The one probably called Hideaway doesn’t carry that much extra stuff. I only play some arpeggios on the choruses and a riff on the bridge. That’s it, I’m outta here!
The first vocals session isn’t too successful. Jyrki gets two songs done before he loses his voice.
I’ve always loved his voice, it makes HMM stand out.
Now that Tuomas isn’t with us anymore we need to find new ways to get backing vocals and harmonies done. Jyrki did a good job with them on the demos, so we decide to start with his back-up vocals. However, we’re not sure if it’s a good idea to have the band’s lead vocalist (especially with such a distinctive voice like his) singing backing vocals to himself.
Studio Diary, pt. II
Redhouse Studio had booked and busy for the spring and the early summer, which means we had to take a break from the recordings for a couple of months. In mid-June we went and continued the recordings – with a lot of help from our friends.
On backing vocals we had Jaakko Söderström and Harri “Huuki” Huuhtanen, good pals of ours and hands down the best pop singers in town. I knew they’re used to singing and working together in their band Ben’s Diapers, but it still amazed me how quickly and easily they sung the vocal tracks on all the six songs we had ready at this point. Later, when we listened to the final mixes, Venho commented that the backing vocals took the songs to the next level. He was right. I’m particularly in awe by the guys’ effort on Hideaway. Gotta love that level.
More guests: Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks dropped by to play some saxophone and harmonica. He hadn’t heard the songs before, but he mastered them in minutes. Very, very impressive. His blues harp worked wonders on the solo part of Passed, and the sax really lifted the last choruses of I Still Love the Feeling on their wings. He also spiced up the intro of UC/BC. I’ve gotten to know the guy lately a bit, but it still felt surreal to watch and listen to him play our songs and to make suggestions. You see, I was fourteen when I got my first Hanoi Rocks and Michael Monroe albums, and when it comes down to it, I’m still a fan… A great, strange day to remember. He seemed to have fun in the studio, too. I told him I’d like to call our album Use Your Illusion. He said someone already used that one. Too bad.
After all the recordings were done, Venho started mixing the songs. Again, we had to take a month off. Not that we wanted to, but the studio was booked for the rest of the summer. Every once in a while we got an e-mail from the studio with a large attachment to comment on: “Backing vocals louder”, “Get rid of that terrible guitar solo”, “Can’t hear the snare drum”, “Brilliant!” and so on, until all the attachments were labelled as “The Final Mix”. I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far.
Back – Four More
On August the 10th we went back in the studio to record four more songs we had written and/or rehearsed during the breaks in the spring and the summer. The new stuff’s pretty hot. We have a groovy rocker called Backseat of Your Soul and a posiesque power pop song Another Reason Why, which the guys had tried to play years ago but didn’t really work until now. Then we’ve got a song called Take Back the Time, which at first reminded us of The Cure and Joy Division and was even called “Cure” for a day or so. My personal fave is a new one called Life Ain’t That Bad, Girl – a heartfelt mix of rock, power pop and country.
It’s Saturday, august the 10th, Jarkko had arrived early to do the soundcheck. He starts to beat the skins around 1 PM. 5-6 hours later the drums are done. At some point his wrist starts to hurt a lot and we’re worried whether he’s able to play all the songs. He bites his lip and finishes his duties as we knew he would. Next day, Sunday, as Pasi is not able to come, we continue with rhythm guitars. It’s Jyrki’s turn to play first, but since he can’t make it early enough, I’ll start. I play Backseat of Your Soul and Another Reason Why. Venho has some good ideas for the latter. He makes the rhythm guitar tracks more simple and powerful.
Monday night Venho calls me and says that I need to bring a fresh set of strings for my Gibson. He and Jyrki are working on the rhythm guitar tracks and couldn’t get the guitar in tune anymore. Jyrki has already given up the Gibson and grabbed Venho’s Telecaster instead, which (playing a Fender instead of a Gibson) in principle is against all his principles. I visit the studio next day to change the strings. Pasi is there playing the bass parts. He gets all four songs done that night, and despite all the tuning problems and false labelled instruments, Jyrki had managed to finish his guitar parts the night before. Everything’s going really smoothly.
It’s Wednesday and I’m supposed to play the solos and the rest of my rhythm tracks & tricks. Jyrki mentions he’s still writing the lyrics. I’d love to bitch about it but I really can’t because I don’t have anything ready myself. All I’ve got is some vague ideas for the solos, but unfortunately they’re still in the head instead of the fingers. I know that I want to start the Backseat of Your Soul solo with some rough garage blues thing and finish it with a less bluesy pattern and use the Wah-Wah all the way through. I also know that the Life Ain’t That Bad Girl solo should sound soothing and that I want to use the often stolen melody of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World in it.
Luckily, our bald studio dude is a genius with an endless amount of good ideas. It won’t take us long to arrange the leads and record them. Take Back the Time and Another Reason Why have no solos, which is always nice. I have an intro lick for the former that I came up with in the rehearsals a couple days before. While playing it I find out that Jyrki, Pasi and Venho had re-arranged the rhythm guitar and bass tracks to make the song more dynamic and less like Dinosaur Jr. Sounds good to me. Then we make an intro lick and other nuance thingys for Another Reason Why. And then it becomes obvious that changing the strings hadn’t helped. My Gibson is permanently out of tune and should be set on fire and thrown out the window. That’s what I do and then on I use the Telecaster. Jarkko calls me that night and asks if we got the guitar tracks ready. I’m happy to say we did.
On Thursday I play the acoustic guitar on Another Reason Why and Life Ain’t That Bad, Girl. The original idea was to borrow Huuki’s Martin, but Venho’s Marlin works as well. I’m not used to play the acoustic and it takes me a few takes to find the right touch. Finally Master Venho is satisfied and it’s about the time, because Jyrki strolls in with a wad of new lyric sheets. He refuses to show them to me. He sings Life Ain’t That Bad Girl and Backseat of Your Soul that night and continues with Take Back the Time and Another Reason Why the next day.
Today I got the first mixes by e-mail. Next: backing vocals and mixing. Phew!