Recording his Unplugged EP
My relationship with Alex Jones and his Moniker Albert spans over a decade. We met in the doorway of a Chinese takeaway and have been good friends and musically linked ever since. We have been involved in so much musical creation and as a result developed a strong synergy when it comes to recording.
I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on a large portion of his musical output; either as a hired gun or in a more prominent production role. Needless to say, whenever he tells me there’s more recording to be done, I jump at the chance!
This particular project was a 5 track unplugged EP, re-imagining selected songs from his debut album Come Alive. I was heavily involved in recording and mixing Come Alive, so it was nice to revisit the songs again.
Al’s brief was simple; he wanted to navigate back to the song itself. He wanted to strip away the production that had been developed for the album. The aim was to be as unplugged as possible, and just use acoustic instruments to supplement his guitar and vocal.
We worked remotely on this project. Al recorded his parts using his home studio setup, and sent the files over to me to build on. We decided to enlist the help of a few of our friends to lend their skills to the songs. I arranged each song for a different set of instruments, starting with double bass.
Chris Jones came to lay down the double bass. We tried positioning him in a few different places to see how the room reacted. It’s important to know your room and where things will work best. We ended up with a happy medium; a good amount of room sound without obscuring the sound of the instrument.
It’s such an interesting instrument to try and capture; there are so many tonal qualities depending on where you position your mic. You get the broad, resonant body of the bass itself if you mic close to the body. The clicky definition of the finger board also characterises the double bass timbre, adding texture to the overall sound. I decided on double micing the neck and the body to get a nice overall sonic picture. I used a ribbon on the body and a SM57 on the neck. I’m consistently impressed with how well the ’57 can capture whatever you put in front of it!
Chris’ playing style is very expressive. He punctuates the vocal and plays off any rhythmical syncopation he hears which really binds everything together. This is perfect when you don’t have drums on the track and can allow more space. Check him out on the song ‘Sweet Love‘.
Next up was vocals. Both Al and I are big fans of harmonies, so it seemed fitting to add some to these tracks. We had lots of space to play with in the mix. I enlisted the help of Louise Victoria, a Bristol based singer. She has a natural ability to conjure up harmonies that compliment and elevate the music. She sang on 4 of the 5 tracks but the standout for me was the song ‘Dreamers‘.
There was one song that I had a clear vision for from the start. Al wrote a track called Have we Lost Another; a tribute to the late greats JJ. Cale and Spike Milligan. For the album recording he and I captured the song very simply. We performed it live each with an acoustic infront of a mic. Because we had this version already, I wanted to try something different. I wanted more of a honkey tonk bar piano feel, pushing it more towards a Tom Waits vibe.
For this I approached Dale Hambridge; a classically trained pianist who has turned his hand to jazz. I wanted plenty of expression in the performance, and he was perfect for the job. I went for a mono capture so used a single condenser in the middle of the soundboard. You can hear the effect here.
The Recording Process
The rest of the instrumentation was either played by myself or Albert. I decided Come Alive needed a percussive element, so I added banjo which we mirrored with a nylon string guitar. They both flanked the main acoustic part which resulted in adding depth and helped push the song along.
In terms of mixing and processing, I kept things simple. The beauty of an acoustic record is the sound of the instruments themselves. All I had to do was make sure that was translated in the mix, and everything was balanced. I did decide to sprinkle in a little post effect to elevate certain parts but only subtley.
I’m really happy with how this EP turned out. Working remotely enabled us to simultaneously contribute, meaning from start to finish we completed in less than a week! Despite this there was no sacrifice on quality or consideration.
Have a listen to the EP below and check out Albert’s other work here.
*Louise, Dale and Chris all appear courtesy of We Are Leif*