With 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 third instalment the singer wonders if he's got things the right way round...
When we sent our producer, Chris Coady, the dozen-odd demos that we were most seriously considering as contenders for our next album, his response was fairly eyebrow raising. Not because of his song choices - or, at least, not just because of his song choices - but because he'd immediately gone ahead and generated an actual tracklisting for the album. He'd whittled down the options to the mandated ten-count (don't even get me started on the precariously-founded but now-firmly-entrenched bit of band ideology that has us convinced, despite the generous number of compelling examples of records that debunk the theory, that no album should ever be longer than ten songs), and had generated an actual running order. All of this before we'd even recorded note one.
His intention, I guess, was to provide us with some focus, help us imagine the emotional flow of the album and to generate something of a mental road map to which we could refer during the actual recording. All of which made sense in theory, I suppose, but, in practice, it sort of blew my mind. First of all, that it had occurred to him to consider the tracklisting a full month prior to the day recording had even begun suggested a level of administrative forethought that we'd never before brought to a recording.
In the past, we'd simply noted our dozen or so favourite nascent tunes, recorded them in whichever order caprice dictated while in the studio, and then, usually within hours of the final master's due date, sweated, fought and generally just about had nervous breakdowns over the ultimate order of the songs. Largely, I think, our historical lack of conviction on the tracklisting front has had its roots in the general chaos of the recording process - songs are recorded interchangeably, concurrently, and as inspiration strikes; they're always changing, and, for better or (far less often, thankfully) worse, they never quite come out sounding precisely the way you'd predicted.
Even now, just writing about the theoretical prospect of considering something like whether an accidental idea for a new intro on one song might clash with the ending of the tune that's been pre-determined as its predecessor is giving me a headache. I suppose that it probably goes without saying that we didn't actually end up using Chris' exact, pre-determined tracklisting, but we got pretty darn close.
The second (and more philosophically convoluted) aspect that interests me about this "pre-determination of the running order" thing is this: does an album's running order even really matter any more? Is any statistically significant portion of the listening public ever even going to listen to the entire album in the order we'd intended? Apart from the few noble, gentle souls who snatch it up on vinyl, will most listeners even be presented with our notional tracklisting, or will the songs just appear willy-nilly in their iTunes list, to be randomised amongst and juxtaposed against and collated with the thousands of other songs they've (hopefully) purchased online?
Is our interest in manufacturing a coherent running order just a vestigial, romantic pursuit these days? Would the time and emotional energy we'd invested be better spent obsessing only over crafting wholly stand-alone songs designed largely to weather isolated listens between tracks by, say, Rihanna and Zombie-Zombie? Hell, I don't know. I just know that it's nice to be led by a guy like Chris Coady, who's still willing to imagine a holistic final product and presciently read it like a novel.
I'm still not convinced that this doesn't signify troubling things about his psychological welfare, but, to be honest, that concern seems apply to almost every personality trait that lends itself to rendering someone a damned handy producer, and so, with fingers crossed, I embrace it. 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.