Our Experiment with Randomness

Life has a funny way of getting away from you sometimes. When you feel like you’ve got everything figured out, sometimes the floor drops out from under you and you discover how much you still need to learn. To quote one of John’s songs from his band Future Ghosts: ‘An adult is just a bigger child.’

In 2013, Epicentre, the place where Croydon Tourist Office was born, closed down and Bryce had one of those moments. Figuring out his next move was more important than the next Croydon Tourist Office session. Things quickly came together over the next few months, but everyone started getting busy in different ways: Robert was touring his poetry more, Max was focusing on recording some of his solo projects, and John’s workplace was in a state of uncertainty. It seemed like for all of us, the time to bring Croydon Tourist Office back together was a little way off.

In early 2014, we were invited to open for Manchester poet Tony Walsh in Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre. We got together, we chose which of our songs we were to perform, we rehearsed (unusual for us) and we did a 15 minute set, which Tony described as ‘What it must have been like to witness the early days of Velvet Underground.’ Of course, we took that as a compliment!

We played four songs that night: The Other Song, Croydon Tourist Office, Book Johnson, and Post Office Mice. Two songs from Epicentre Nights, and two songs we hadn’t even recorded yet, but which we had written live at a previous gig. We talked about how we needed to fix that.

Bryce moved to Exeter and life became a little bit more stable, but getting together was not as regular as it once was. And so, we sent each other demos of what we had been working on. Max and John had recorded some ambient things, Robert had written the vocal melody for a dance track and Bryce picked up his bass and started writing things that were only bass and drums, with the hopes of the others adding in the rest of the instruments.

Little did we know that this file-sharing approach would be so important during the days of lockdown.

On 18 March 2014, John sent Bryce a demo of a song called Punch it in Our Hearts. A pretty odd title with even stranger words in the lyrics. His email was accompanied by the warning ‘Sorry about my vocal. I think I’m coming down with a cold.’

It turned out that the words had largely come together from Max playing around with an artificial intelligence-like auto-word-generator. He sent the words to John, John added the music and made a quick demo.

A couple of years went by. Bryce got a new job and quickly worked his way into the learning department, designing and delivering training material, Robert continued to tour, John’s job seemed to be more stable, and Max was still working on various things and playing with noise generating toys.

Sometimes busy people take on more stuff when they are busy, and that’s exactly what happened. In the spring of 2016, Bryce was heading out to a business trip to London and he brought with him a load of recordings that were being considered for potential CTO tracks.

Thinking about how Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch had come together from a rebuilding of a rough demo, we thought we would do the same with Punch it in Our Hearts. Only, there was something in John’s vocal, especially the scream at the end, that couldn’t be recreated. So Bryce went about correcting some of the timings in the original demo and working out a tempo map for the song.

Late one night in a dingy hotel in Bloomsbury, Bryce took a cajon track from a song that was recorded at Epicentre, cut it up, and made it be the drums to the song. The following morning, the bass line came to him, but rather than play it on a bass, he plays it on the lower keys on a piano, to give it extra punch.

John and Max then took the track and added some electric guitars. After some EQ treatments to the original vocal and guitar demo, things seemed to be sitting well together.

With the training that Bryce was doing mostly being in the evenings, he spent the days before going into work adding bits to the song, including some vocal parts. It really seemed like the chorus needed to be a sing-along, so Max and Bryce added some layers there. The middle-8 seemed too empty, so an organ was added. A mellotron was added to the end where things build, which went along with Bryce’s little three-part choir and Max’s random phrases.

We all agreed that it needed something bigger for the ending, so in October 2016, we called upon our friend Richard Nicholson for a couple of intertwining guitar solos for the end of the track, nicely engineered by Felix, Bryce’s son, who set up the microphone placement and set the levels.

After a lot of mixing and the death of two computers in the process, we finally got a mix that we liked, but something was still missing.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that what we were putting together was an EP which would come out before the second album, since we had a number of tracks for that on the go as well. All we needed to do to finish it off was have one more session where we were all together.

So, we arranged a morning to meet up at Max’s flat. We would bring along our usual recording equipment and anything else that we felt might come in handy. John showed off his new guitar that was made from an old Cricket bat. Max showed us some of his new noise making toys.

We had Robert record vocals to the new version of the song Croydon Tourist Office, which had as much of an improv-feel as we could make it with Bryce’s bass and drums recorded in one session and Max and John’s guitars recorded in another session. Max and John added guitars to The Shoes while Robert just said ‘shoes’ every time Bryce said the word. John sat on one side of the floor, and Robert on the other, each with a microphone, as they had a conversation about the nutritional values on some food wrappers they had found, which was recorded over the song Kerchunk. which had started life as a demo of Bryce’s distorted sampler in the late 90s with Max’s guitar added in much later.

Max would record distorted vocals though one of his toys over the track Rock!!! which itself was a short drum recording that was processed through a distorted synth. Post Office Mice was recorded entirely live, to try to capture the feel of when it was first made up on stage.

The only thing left was to figure out what Robert’s part on Punch it in Our Hearts might be. He turned out to be what was missing. His falsetto vocals added to the big chorus sound and the fact that he tried to sing another round of the chorus after the song had ended just made for a perfect little ending.

All of this would make up the EP Physical Trauma to Wash Your Waffles, which was the line in the middle-8 that John refused to sing on Punch it in Our Hearts.

If anything, what the recording of all these tracks told us is that its best to not force things. The right inspiration for a track will come around at the right time, even if it means that the recording process for a single song takes place over the course of two or three years.

So that’s our message for today: Let inspiration come when it wants to, but don’t throw anything away. One day, that little burst of an idea that you had might finally turn into something much bigger!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s