Studiovisit @ Spooky Action Sessions by Frank Hiis (Blog)
Studiovisit @ Spooky Action sessions: recording of Paul Drapers long-awaited solo album, London, August 9th, 2015.
'Text & photos by Frank Hiis.'
It was still early and a hot sommers day. My friend Jules had parked the car and soon Paul Draper came walking towards us down the street where he lives. He moved slowly across the road, looking calm and a bit sleepy. After exchanging hellos he inspected the boot of the car and said: «Oh yeah, we could fit 5 bass amps in there».
This was the third time I met Paul, after our first meeting at the Mansun Convention in Chester a year ago, where we had a nice chat, Paul was very friendly and seemed flattered by all the attention his band was getting that day, after being gone for more than 10 years. In the last year I have been helping Paul out with a few things, like social media, promotion and fan relations. As a thanks for the help I was invited along to a session and went with Suzi (who works with Paul) and Jules (who is the owner/administrator of the facebook group “Mansuns Only Love Song” with over 3000 members) to witness a day in the studio for the recording of Spooky Action. After being a huge fan since the release of Mansuns first album back in 1997, this was a big deal for me and never anything I thought I could hope for. If this album will mean half as much to me as the work of Mansun, then this would actually be like watching something magical take shape.
At the studio it was quite hot, as the sun was coming in through the large windows over the seating area next to the kitchen corner and the piano. The studio is two rooms, but the biggest was divided into two areas while recording was going on. The smallest room was the main studio with the mixing desk. When we arrived Paul and his band/crew were already there, except for drummer Jon Barnett who showed up later to hang out, as the drum parts were finished the day before.
The studio engineer was Scott Knapper, who seemed very concentrated on the work the whole time we were there. He never took a break, while the others took turns working. The bassist Stax seemed like a friendly guy who really impressed us with his bass playing. When he played along to some of Jons drum parts we were quite in awe of his performance, and equally of what we heard of Jon. It seems like Paul will have a brilliant rhythm section for when he goes out on tour. Another band member was Ben Sink, who has been Pauls studio assistent for a long time, and was introduced by Paul as the lead guitarist in his band. Ben was really quiet and introverted, so we did not get to know him much, but I really enjoyed watching him record his guitar parts. Like Jon, keyboardist and co-songwriter Catherine Anne Davies did not have any work to do in the studio that day, and spent her time on her computer and chatting with us. She just got back from a trip to Switzerland touring with Simple Minds and soon after she would travel to France for another show. She said she had not got much sleep lately as touring was quite demanding. She is a very nice person who made us feel welcome in the studio. I had met her briefly before, at the Simple Minds concert in Oslo, Norway (where I am from) in March, and she gave a brilliant performance then. This time we had time to chat and it was very interesting to hear about her touring and The Anchoress project, which is very much her own solo album.
Paul made a point to tell us how skilled his band members are, he seemed really pleased with what they had to bring to the studio and to the band. And they seemed to look up to him a lot, Paul is clearly the boss from what I could tell and I saw a lot of respect in their eyes. All except Catherine that surely has a different relationship with him altogether, she and Paul are more like old friends joking around without the same seriousness. At one point she was parading her laptop around the studio, showing us a video of Paul doing a fantastically silly dance with a Phil Collins LP in front of his face. (I laughed so much, really hope this video becomes public!) I am sure when they are both deep into work they are less laidback though. Like Catherine, Jon is also a friendly and social person, easy to talk to. I think the best thing about our visit was the nice vibe in the group, everybody seems to like and respect each other and I think Paul now has what he needs to take a band on tour when the time is right.
After a trip out to get some food (where Paul and I had a chat in a small restaurant which was too hot inside for any of the others to stand going in) they started to record Stax’ bass parts. Later it was guitar recordings, Ben and Paul recorded electric guitar in turns, then acoustic. One of the songs they were working on was titled «Don’t You Wait». Paul had not recorded lyrics yet, as he usually finishes the lyrics shortly before recording them, he said. So while they did their guitar parts we could hear Pauls voice humming or singing the melody from the speakers in between outbursts like «and from the top» and «back to the verse». It was really fascinating to see how their process worked, but even if we got to hear a lot it was very hard to get an idea of what the finished songs will sound like, it was all bits, pieces and layers. So it’s impossible for me to describe Spooky Action, the anticipation is bigger than ever though.
Two other fans came to visit, Stuart and Carrie. Stuart owns Pauls old guitar, the red and black one that was used a lot in the «Attack Of The Grey Lantern» era. Paul wanted to use it on a song on the album and it was great to see him play it.
Recording was delayed a bit when a well known music journalist turned up at the studio and Paul sat down with him for a while.
While I took photos of the session, Catherine found it a bit difficult to do any posing so she suggested she played some piano for me while I took some shots. That was really nice, she is a really talented piano player and it’s certainly better to get photos of the artists while performing.
These days Paul is really busy putting the album together, as this weekend was the last full band recording session he is now taking everything back to his home studio, where he is finishing the album mostly on his own, I think. There is obviously lyrics to finish and vocals to record and from what Catherine has shared in interviews, Paul is somewhat of a perfectionist so I am sure he will do anything to make sure it sounds just right.
The main conclusion I arrive at, is that this is looking really promising, although with a cloud of mystery still surrounding the album Spooky Action. And that the fans are still here waiting, all ears, and more excited than they have been since the release of Mansuns swansong «Kleptomania» (2004). To quote one of Pauls lines from that album: «The future is something precious».
Paul at the mixing console
Paul reunited with his dual-tone Gibson Les Paul
Jon Barnett posing for the camera
Ben Stax recording the Bass
Ben Sink on the Fender