Last day. I’m still dicking about with last little vocal things. A very nice tall man called Bruce comes in to do some backing vocals with me. He’s a good natural singer and just the ticket. It’s just one simple part but having another voice helps a lot. He’s a songwriter but it’s difficult to track down his work on the web as he shares a name with Bruce Robinson, the British director of Withnail & I and the recent very underrated The Rum Diary. I get distracted by a highly entertaining interview with the director from a 2011 issue of the Independent. He tells a story about when he was drinking five bottles of wine a day and he ran out. He got in his car and as he was driving to the nearest off-licence noticed in his mirror some prick in a silver van hanging on his tail-lights.…—More Tales
Iain Harvie from Del Amitri once commented that to the uninitiated it must appear as if nothing actually happens in a recording studio. Ninety percent of the time they are sepulchrally quiet places with no discernible activity going on. There’s a lot of waiting, a fair bit of listening and very little performing. Outside of the control room, studios are desolate environments; pianos sit unplayed, microphones hang like dead flowers on their stands and the walls resound with nothing but the hush of the air conditioning with the occasional muted thump of a drum part drifting from beyond the double glass. There is the odd flurry of industry – when the whole band is laying down initial tracks or a string or brass section shuffle into their positions. But there is far more music going on in the external environment: radios in cars, MP3s squawking away in every bar, shop…—More Tales
Monday. Three days to go till I get on that plane that takes me to the plane that takes me home. I arrive but there’s no one at the bunker so after waiting I take a drive to find a bag somewhere to throw my laundry in and over my shoulder but the luggage emporium suggested by Apple’s new map application doesn’t exist. Unless its an underground luggage shop dug beneath somebody’s clapboard house. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to find.
I return to find David (Dah-veed; no Day-vid, he) with an electric guitar strapped around his neck plugged into a DI-ed Mesa Boogie via an Echoplex, a groovy little tape loop delay machine which has featured heavily so far on everything from upright bass to Moog. I make room by making coffee. I used to revel in my role of principal tea maker in the studio. I was…—More Tales
Sunday, and I have a breakfast engagement with my landlady and her son, Hugo. Hugo has been running and needs a shower so the landlady and I take her tandem downtown to the restaurant while he catches us up in his car. Yes, a tandem. It’s downhill most of the way and it’s a beautiful day for a bike ride. We pedal through a fragrant little grove, the path lined with wildflowers. I am inappropriately dressed and begin to perspire profusely. I am a Sweaty Sock – a Jock on a bike for two. I do the eggs Benedict thing, (the joke goes: what’s the connection between eggs Benedict and a blow job? They’re both really good but you never seem to be able to get them at home. Sexist in every conceivable way. Personally, I frequently make eggs Benedict at home) and then check out the bookshop opposite. I…—More Tales
After sleeping late and patronising one of my breakfast haunts I sit down and make a playlist to take to Zilker Park for a wander. I try to find a zone in which to sun myself but am frustrated by frisbee golfers, vehicular traffic and at one point, a nest of biting ants which I manage to sit on under a convenient tree. I come up in those white bumps you get with histamine reaction like that from nettle stings. The music in the headphones maintains that pleasant sense of travelling unnoticed through the world like a movie camera, insulated and separate. Cat Power’s Manhattan with its piano octaves, drum machine and snare fills is the hit of the day. I go down to Barton Springs to watch the swimmers. I see a man in a posing pouch and man-bra strutting by below me. I bet that cunt’s here every…—More Tales
It was a relatively late one last night, battering away at a vocal comp with Mr. McC. Remarkably, it sounded good in the morning so we had somehow managed not to lose the plot, which is encouraging. I drove downtown to a 24-hour diner afterwards and sat at the bar. Corned-beef hash and eggs, root beer. The joint was filled with twenty-somethings in their chunky spectacles and carefully distressed T-shirts all gabbing away with enthusiasm while a string of loners like myself sat reading free-sheets on our bar stools. The night had cooled significantly with the narrowest sliver of a crescent moon sailing over the city in a sideways smile.
The sun comes angling through the trees straight into my eyes in the morning. I tune into Radio 4 on my phone, six hours ahead and as prissy as always. The tribulations of Gideon Osborne and the Tory overlords seem petty and…—More Tales
I decide to investigate a new morning venue. These are the critical choices I have to fret over. In a funky vinyl slash coffee shop I am greeted by Craig, a man in his early fifties with long grey hair and a Texan drawl, who is charm personified. He is the epitome of southern ease. He volunteers the intimate details of his life with no hint of self-obsessiveness and enquires after mine without nosiness or suspicion. He has that Texan air of gentlemanliness which mixes grace with a wry mischief. You immediately like him and relax. He’s an ex state employee turned quality caterer. We gossip about Withered Hand which is a pleasant surprise and he talks about his son, who is late for his shift at the shop. The big seventies stereo in the corner belches mellifluous country music with a brew of irony and love. He pours me…—More Tales
Monday is just beautiful. If summer days in Glasgow were like this I’d start believing in God. So thank fuck they’re damp and freezing because that would be a chore. Not to say deeply embarrassing.
There are some large chestnut type objects falling from the trees around here, somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. They hit the tin roof of my bedroom with a wet thud and roll off sounding not unlike a squirrel beheading. I have yet to be hit by one. I calculate the odds as being fairly slim so will regard it as extraordinary good fortune should I be struck. Only then will I bother to find out what they are.
Monday and Tuesday are listening days, figuring out some edits and mutes and what remains to be overdubbed. Things sound good, things sound American and that is the desired outcome. I hear…—More Tales
I start off with a little saunter through the pleasant morning heat down to the no-nonsense taco place that’s becoming my breakfast local. The migas is my thing. Scrambled egg with two kinds of cheese, lots of coriander and salsa on top of a fried taco for two bucks and change. No doubt Mexican food is so inexpensive here due to cheap imported labour. In the west, when something is cheap you can be sure somebody’s getting fucked somewhere. Think of all the missing fingers and blighted lives resulting from those disposable clothes you buy in Primark. Don’t even mention smartphones. We’re living in a science-fiction dystopia which has, remarkably, become reality. Modern living. The repeated shafting of the billions-strong underclass by the wealthy few. It’s a gas.
More overdubs today. Some Moog, upright piano and double bass. Some of this stuff is starting to get weird in an excellent way.…—More Tales
I take a walk around the little golf course in the sultry tropical morning. I’d say run, but running’s for twats and George Bush. When White-Knucklehead was in power he used to complain when he couldn’t get enough fucking running in. Like it was more important than slaughter and race-war. He just couldn’t face a long day’s killing without a jog around a ranch with his goons. Stupid little man.
I drive to south Austin to find a boot store. The last pair of cowboy boots I had were bought in El Paso, Texas in 1990. I feel I ought to make it a 22 year tradition, like acts of altruism and anal sex.
As I am scoffing breakfast at a taco trailer I hear my name shouted. I don’t turn around but years ago I would have done and have been sure it was somebody I knew. There are too many…—More Tales
Back in the bunker after a gruelling session on Monday. Multiple takes and a lot of singing. It takes me back. I haven’t worked like this since I was a young man. I am no longer any kind of young and I’m wrecked by nine at night. It’s a beautiful cool night, the Milky Way is faintly visible and I drive around until I find a hippy co-operative where I buy some dried up sushi to drag home and club to death in my cave. My nightly treat is a bottle of root beer; that medicinal elixir that’s so redolent of old-time USA. I take my repast watching John Boorman’s mad Point Blank on the computer. Then I watch Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross on YouTube on my phone. Both films have brilliant, grim, pessimistic endings. I’m going to watch The Werkmeister Harmonies tonight on the microwave.
Me and the band wait…—More Tales
The cold front is sitting over Texas like despair in a geriatric ward. I take a wander round my new neighbourhood, crossing a public golf course and meandering through the plush university campus ending up on the fringes of downtown. It’s early and there’s hardly a soul about. It’s a relief to be walking. I buy a New York Times and dive into a local diner. Standard fare – eggs and burgers – but seemingly run by an academic lesbian co-op. They’re all very friendly and pretty in a geeky way and I feel as if I am on the set of one of those awful post-modern sitcoms. In the last two nights I have managed to watch – or rather, witness – two of the worst comedies I have ever seen; The Dictator and The Sitter. The latter is perhaps the less excruciating but it’s repulsive sentimentality is unforgivable.…—More Tales
No shirt, no shoes, no service. I take breakfast without my trousers with impunity amongst the Saturday hipsters in Julio’s Mexican again as I can’t be bothered driving around aimlessly searching for a café. The promised cold front has arrived but I’m still in shirtsleeves. You’d be pretty satisfied with this temperature at the height of summer in Scotland. I sit at a table on the patio affecting a sophisticated air with my Austin American-Statesman which is a useless rag really but preferable to the soul-draining inanity of USA Today. If I’m honest I kind of need a jacket. Americans call suit jackets coats and for some irrational reason this always irritates me. And waistcoats are vests. So here you’re pretty dapper in a vest and coat whereas in the UK you’d look like you’d stepped out of a Duran Duran video from 1982. A coat and a vest. Jesus…—More Tales
There is a mercifully cool breeze in the air today. I drop into a hipster coffee shop on the way to the studio where a fracas erupts between an ornery customer and an uptight barista. I notice the background music is some absurd industrial noise art-wank that sounds like a fucking bombing raid on a battery chicken farm. Not exactly conducive to civilised coffee consumption. No wonder the old guy with the wraparounds and handlebar moustache had “an attitude”. The fucking music has an attitude. Everyone looks a little sheepish. I notice the customers ahead of me tip the barista conspicuously in an effort to placate her. Buying cooperation and compliance, like western diplomacy.
I have the morning off while the piano is being tuned at Mr. McC’s. I nose around some vintage shops and buy a few old shirts to supplement my vanishing supply of clean stuff. It’s so hot…—More Tales
Again I surface suddenly from slumber at stupid o’clock. Too long flipping through the late night talk shows. What a strange thing they are. I watch Craig Ferguson, a fellow Glaswegian who kindly had me on his show on my last album more through regional loyalty than anything. His show stands out from the others but I can’t put my finger on why. There’s a genuine anarchy vibrating under the surface. You have the feeling he might just go utterly ape at any point. He’s a tightly coiled lunatic held in check by the sobriety of the slick showbiz format. It’s like watching Godzilla prune a bonsai.
I attend to electronic chores to kill off the early morning. Computers and phones swallow time like black holes. Later I take a drive around to find supplies and sustenance. Listerine and tacos – breakfast of champions.
We spend another day footering with the songs…—More Tales
In the morning my brain cracks into consciousness like a flicked switch. 7am. What to do? I peer out of the sealed tinted window and attempt to orientate myself by dabbing and swiping at my phone map. Downtown juts up to the south like a distant promise. The immediate environs are hideously nondescript. Parking lots, freeways and motels. It’s a typical American scene. I walk to an IHOP* and indulge in its dubious charms. My waitress, battle-hardened from years of service, divorce and disappointment, regurgitates pleasantries on auto-pilot. I am coffee and orange juice and I’m over easy. The place is full of working types, which is reassuring for some reason. You get the feeling somehow that the punters are for Obama but the staff are a bit more Romney. I could be wrong.
This afternoon I am to rendezvous with the producer. I am a little nervous about it having only…—More Tales
So I’m sitting in a rocking chair in Philadelphia airport staring out into the airfield. There’s a colony of them by the big window, all white, facing out to the horizon. Rocking chairs, that is. Travellers and staff on breaks sit and lap up the light like passengers on the rear deck of a liner. I have cleared immigration and have an ocean of hours to waste waiting for my connection, southbound and westward to Austin in the vast state of Texas. Behind us busybodies pass wittering on mobile phones. The polished floor reflects the motion of wheeled cases gliding across the concourse in a great waltz. Everybody has somewhere to get to with their cache of stuff, the same stuff in every bag. I am perfectly still for the while, apart from the occasional, comforting little rock.
Aboard I watch from my porthole the baggage handler tossing luggage from a…—More Tales