Track Marks - Recording an album with We Are Scientists: Episode II reality vs album trailers

Track Marks - Recording an album with We Are Scientists: Episode II reality vs album trailers

wearescientistsWith New York-based band We Are Scientists currently in the middle of making their latest album, frontman Keith Murray has vowed to give Q readers an insight into recording process by writing us a series of missives straight from the studio. In his second message from the studio, the singer asks where did all the album trailers come from (and more importantly, are they accurate?)...

In late July, while we were hunkered in a New York studio recording our next record, a clutch of other bands simultaneously unleashed a veritable blizzard of "album trailers". These are part of a phenomenon with which I was wholly unfamiliar and to which my overwhelming reaction was: "What the hell?" I mean, look, I'm not a (total) idiot - I know that the whole point of these marketing campaigns is to glamorize, to romanticise, to lionize. I've seen enough commercials that conflate, say, high fibre breakfast cereal with orgiastic beach parties, or whatever, and there's no doubt that 99 per-cent of all music videos, themselves just long-form self-aggrandizing commercials for bands, are usually ludicrously scattershot, thematically, and hilariously hyperbolic.

I get it, and I love it. It's just funny to watch bands glorify the recording process while you're smack in the middle of it, because, to be perfectly frank, the recording of an album generally pretty mundane. While, in their trailer, The Killers (a band I love dearly, mind you) appear to suggest that they spent the bulk of their recording sessions staring shamanically into a blazing desert bonfire, I myself passed a good chunk of mine staring narcotically into the middle distance of a room in lower Manhattan while a drum tech loudly tuned a snare drum over and over and over.

This isn't to suggest that the recording process isn't peppered with moments of exultation, of total emotional investment, of the closest thing to actual magic I've experienced outside of a Las Vegas theatre. It's just that, frankly, those moments of full, unimpeded engagement constitute a tragically small percentage of what actually goes on in a recording studio. There are the hours spent placing microphones, then swapping out new microphones, then replacing the original microphones a couple of inches to the left, then maybe seeing what that second microphone sounds like if we nudge it a couple of inches to the right.

There's the half-hour of trying to figure out which direction the bass guitar should be facing to minimize the buzzing from its pickups. There's the discovery that maybe the 75 Stratocaster sounds best through the 66 Selmer Zodiac, and so maybe we should go back and re-record the guitar part on that other song we thought was completed five days ago, just to make sure we've exhausted every tonal option. There's the hour-long philosophical argument over whether the boutique, made-in-Brooklyn fuzz pedal sounds better than the fake digital version that comes standard with our recording software (answer: yeah, obviously, it sounds way better).

There are the 15-minute lunch breaks that turn into three-hour searches for the best dosa place in SoHo (it turns out that, just as we'd originally suspected, it's Hampton Chutney, a four-minute walk from our studio). There was the one time on our last album that our producer halted recording so that we could all watch the video for Dave Matthews Band's Crash on YouTube, and then we all argued whether or not fretless bass had any place on our album (it didn't). We've recorded in some of the finest studios in the world (as well as some of the crummiest hell holes, admittedly), but I'm fairly sure we've never been part of a recording session that didn't come to a grinding day long halt at some point because the house computer simply died.

I guess, on the other hand, an album trailer in which the guys from Muse slumped laconically on the studio sofa, screwing around online or reading a year-old issue of Heat or whatever while a studio tech tried to align the I/O settings with the producer's copy of Logic, while perhaps historically accurate, might undercut the glamour of introducing some brand new white-hot rock and roll into the world.

We could certainly stand to learn a lesson from these bands, our forbears in the world of album trailers. I hope in our promo we're going to fly some harrier jump-jets through the grand canyon and then French-kiss some tiger cubs while Chris punches a digital crocodile/crab hybrid through a brick wall, saving a gang of machine-gun-toting bikini models. That should just about capture the majesty, the vigor, the lustiness of our latest studio project, I think. Thank you for teaching me, Killers. Keith Murray @Scientistbros

Look out for the next exciting instalment of Track Marks next month, but get your fix in the meantime at Wearescientists.com.