A Northern Light On Home Recording
Blog by Louise Dodgson under Recording & Production
This is Belfast, tiny in comparison to its larger cousins of Glasgow, London and Manchester - but none the less intense. I'm sitting in the bedroom of Omar Ben Hassine with two thirds of A Northern Light (Darren Doherty at hand beside me, recording guitar, and Colm Laverty absent but in the next room, watching a film no doubt). Gearbox, guitars, Macbook and a multitude ofwires leading off in every direction makes me feel like I'm sitting in some musical womb. It is a womb of sorts, here they are nurturing their ideas; growing them. It's their baby.
You guys have been on the ladder for a while now and have done basically all three of the major options: studio recording, low-fi with a young producer (Clark Phillips) and now you are taking up the charge personally...
OBH: "Well...it's been going good. We've been through a couple of different things, trying it one way, then another. This works for us far more so because we're a band that doesn't have a lot of backing. When you go to a studio you can find that you're extremely under pressure, sometimes you're coming in to put out your first record, your first EP and you don't want to be under pressure."
It sort of messes with the creative process? You think, 'I have to do this right away', rushing things a bit.
OBH: "It does. You also want to come up with the best result and you also have to find your feet as a recording artist at the same time, and as an artist you have to find what works best for you. So, the fact that you can sit and find this out in your room without too much pressure to begin with helps.
So you think it's preferable to find your own feet first before going out to record in a studio and importantly, to spend money - rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end?
OBH: "Just for us really. I can't speak for everyone, everybody's different, you know. It's something to be thought about."
Obviously, experimenting and spending time with the processes is important. Finding your sound so to speak. Is there anything else you've brought into it?
OBH: "Of course, my background is in electronic music, layering, learning the equipment, playing around and being reactive -it may work well for me because of that."
DD: "In the long journey of us, we've always tried to record our ideas along the way and we normally found that often we didn't have the right equipment or that what we did have wasn't up to scratch. So we had to make use of studio spaces and their bigger scale. Through time, and through hard work we've acquired what is needed to make a good final product ourselves that's really worthy. One that we can put out, that can hopefully sell. It's nice to have these tools. We always felt that we were compromising at the time when we were in the studio at this level. We'd get carried away getting on with someone, carried away listening to their ideas - and it can be great to have outside influences but we've just felt for a long time that we know what we want our music to sound like. So it's great to be able to spend day in, day out working on it by ourselves at our own pace."
You mentioned about having the tools. Do you feel now as a songwriter that you can have a quicker turn around on songs?
DD: "Yeah, that's the big thing. From the genesis of this band we've recorded all of our practices, all our little jams, all of the songwriting, because along the way it's easy for something to get lost due to the way in which our songs come together. We can break all that down now. It's easy to work this way from the beginning, to lay down the initial idea, some guitar, layer stuff on top of that. To experiment and see what sounds better and, as you say, the turnaround on songs is what we're really going for. Every time one of us gets an idea, it's literally a day or two later that we can have a finished piece which we can analyse and build on into a live sound."
As a drummer, what would you find has been the experience of a quicker turn around time on songs?
OBH: "It's good for me because I love electronic music, and I can put my ideas into the computer like mapping the drums. It's a different way of listening back to ideas."
Technology has improved the speed of your creative process then too...
OBH: "Yeah, it's a lot easier now, such as when you're sitting over in the practice room with a drum kit and you find an electronic idea, we can't do it there - in here we can do both. I can mix an idea on drums with the electronic idea, and vice versa so that we can hear how it sounds as it happens."
Obviously all of this is working towards your next release, which is coming out when?
DD: "We're hoping...well, the beauty of all this is that we're working to our own time frame. We‘re definitely looking to push for late-February/early-March; a double single. Our main intention for this year is to work towards an album. That's the definite aim."
OBH: "With this, come the album if we can facilitate going back into a studio to scale it up - we've built towards it, done all the groundwork. There's a lot to be said for being prepared."
...and what about using this experience with other people's music? Recording, producing...
DD: "We'll just take that as it comes, there's a big network of musicians out there in Belfast that we're friendly and work with but at present we're going to focus directly on our own production. We're bursting at the seams with ideas and want to get them out there. Once it's perfected, who knows."
From my own experiences with watching the different scales of the recording process I'm definitely in agreement with their sentiments, preparation going into record is key, especially when solid sums of money are involved. Often times getting a record made is a young band's main expense, and the pressure of going into record for the first time can negate the final result. Learning the ropes before making that jump up into the studio could be the vital element in comfortably seeing your music at its best.
Image credit: Matthew Alexander Patton
Belfast, Recording Studios, A Northern Light, Producing