Recording his latest album, ‘Roll With the Punches’
Martin Harley is one of the UK’s most authentic blues and slide guitarists, and regularly tours the globe singing songs about his life on the road and the stories he gathers along the way. I met Martin many years ago in Cornwall, when a band I was in supported him on a few dates of his UK tour. Here we delve into the process of making his new album, Roll with the Punches.
Martin approached me in 2018 after hearing Albert Jones’ album Come Alive. He was interested in working with a drummer at the early demo/writing stage, so we periodically got together to work on forming the material for his next album. During the demoing process we would record electric guitar and drums at the same time, which resulted in crosstalk or spill between the mics. That spill gave the demos such an exciting edge, we knew that was going to be an important element when it came to recording proper. As the ideas developed, we decided we wanted a bigger space in which to capture the instruments. I would then bring it back to HCH for the final tweaks and mix.
Martin happened to meet recording engineer Owain Fleetwood Jenkins at a show in West Wales. Owain had just finished converting an old Chapel in Clarbeston into a beautiful recording studio, fully equipped with a Cadac analogue desk and an array of vintage mics and instruments. Martin and I visited the space in the winter, and were sold. Roll on a few months and we were packed up and headed to StudiOwz.
The project would be spearheaded by Martin and myself covering electric and slide guitars, drums, and extra guitars respectively, with the help of Rex Horan on bass. The album would be based around those 3 core elements, with occasional support from other instruments and vocals.
As the album developed in the demoing phase it was clear that a strong gospel element would be present. To reinforce this idea we decided to enlist the talents of Jonny Henderson. We threw him in at the deep end, having just one day to record everything. He absolutely smashed it, nailing his parts in one or two takes. His playing really helped bring a soulful spirit to the tracks, moving effortlessly between 3 different keyed instruments and exploiting their tones superbly.
Owain recommended Jodie Marie to us for backing vocals. An artist in her own right, she was signed to Decca records in 2010. Her voice has a smoky texture to it, which is perfect for harmony blending and supporting the main vocal. She was a lightning quick learner, and translated our ideas easily. Also she could contribute her own ideas without obscuring the vision of the track.
During the demoing sessions Martin and I would record our parts simultaneously which created a great reactionary synergy. For example, many of the songs we just jammed without any preparation and recorded the results. This became the blueprint when it came to recording Roll with the Punches, capturing those performances and building upon them. We’d start with guitar and drums, and begin layering the other parts after. Being a small team we worked quickly and efficiently, getting most of the album down in 6 days.
When it came to mixing, the job was to maintain the sonic clarity of the humble instrumentation. At the same time I wanted to exploit the quality of the sound sources. Owain’s knowledge of his space and mic collection had done a great job of capturing the instruments at room. Keeping this in mind, I was keen to keep the processing light and rely on the energy of the performances. I wanted to be driven by the music into making the mixing decisions.
There were a few opportunities to add some post production to take the song somewhere else. I love hearing music that sounds like it’s safely in one place sonically, then is transported to somewhere entirely different. It becomes an artistic decision to take the listener on a journey and elevate the song’s trajectory further.
An example of this is in the instrumental track “Clarbeston Resonation’. The track is a poignant moment on the album, reflecting on the time spent at the studio and the effect of our surroundings on the creation of the music. As I mixed, I kept noticing certain phrases Martin played that felt like statements; they hung in the air of the chapel. I wanted to elevate those brief moments, using some subtle processing. The resulting effect is a substantiation of those phrases, which gives the listener little points of reflection throughout the piece.
Roll With The Punches is a great, organic feeling album. We covered a lot of ground in terms of genre and influence, but at the core remains the simple trio lineup and some solid songwriting from Martin. It has been well received in initial reviews, which always helps to re-affirm the decisions you made throughout the process.
You can make your own mind up by taking a listen below!
We’ve been on tour supporting Roll with the Punches throughout September/October, and Martin is continuing to do so throughout Europe for another couple of months. Head over to his website for more info.
For more information on recording with HCH Studios, drop us a line here.