Laying It All Bare: Talking The Magic of the Live Album with Spike Vincent

Spike vincent

In a landscape defined by bedroom production, laptop recordings and infinite overdubs and Sydney’s Spike Vincent has done the unthinkable: recorded a live album. Captured in one take in front of a small audience at Damien Gerard Studios in Sydney, the album has a rawness that you expect from a live recording. But this doesn’t so much come from any production idiosyncrasies or imperfections in the performance. Rather, it spills forth from Spike’s chugging, warbly guitar, his impassioned vocal delivery, and his stark, honest lyrics.

He really lays everything bare on the record. There’s nothing to hide behind, and you feel that power and vulnerability from start to finish. We wanted to know more about the album so we caught up with Spike to chat about the inspiration behind recording live and how the sessions went down.

Spike Vincent

Photo: Jake Ollett

We caught up with Sydney’s Spike Vincent to find out a little more about his brilliant new album, and the inspiration and process behind recording it live.

Hey Spike. Really digging the new album. I absolutely love that you recorded it live. Why did you choose this approach? Was there anyone who you were particularly inspired by?

I’d been thinking about recording the album live for a while, I’d already expressed that to Cody from Dinosaur City Records while we were living together at the time and by coincidence it happened that Marsh from Damien Gerard Studios contacted him with the idea to put on a sort of live studio gig, so I jumped at the opportunity.

It was something I almost imagined being like a KEXP thing, but it turned out to be so much more. It was a very beautiful intimate night, shared with close friends. I’d always thought recording an album in one take would be a good way to capture the energy of the band. I’d heard of it being done before, even my Dad’s old band, The Kelpies, had recorded their first full-length release in one take just by just hanging a mic from the ceiling of their basement rehearsal room. You can hear the drum counts between songs, they just bashed through them.

Growing up I’d always been into live albums, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged for instance, but especially those ones that felt more important than just a throwaway rehash of already recorded songs from previously released albums. Records like Jane’s Addiction and the MC5’s first releases which were both recorded live but also offered a first glimpse at what those bands were or could be.

There’s always that classic story as well of how The Beatles recorded their first album live in a day and that’s why John’s vocals are all scratchy on Twist and Shout because he had a cold and it was the last take of the day, I love that. But when I think about it more it was also the fact that these songs that we recorded have been floating around for years in different forms, there might be three different versions of each song at least. I could never pick which one was the right one to lay down, and to be honest it changes every time we play live to an extent, lyrically, dynamically, rhythmically, the only way I could get past that block was to do it live.

How has this process differed from how you’ve recorded in the past?

I’ve recorded in all manner of settings over the last 15 years, but predominately it’s been me and a computer, hashing out songs, recording and re-recording, I’ve probably got about 100 song ideas in the pipeline, but even though I’ve been the sole writer of most of them and SV is my solo project, I’m still not sure how some of them would fit into SV in its current phase.

Some of the songs I’ve been working on for ten years and they’re only now starting to see the light of day in a band context. They’re all drastically mixed as well in terms of genre, timbre and instrumentation. I’ve got lots of weird stuff on my hard drives, like full orchestral arrangements I laid out when I used to be a stoner studying Music and Sound Design at UTS. As well as the oddities there’s probably enough material on there for an all-electronic dance/darkwave album. That’s another thing I’ve always wanted to do.

So you recorded it at Damien Gerard. What’s the space like?

It’s a great working space, straight to the point, nothing overly flashy, but it’s cosy. Russel Pilling, who is the resident engineer, is a workhorse. He doesn’t take breaks, he just eats a couple muesli bars throughout the day and gets it done! You don’t have to tell him what to do he just is instinctively spot on.

My father had recorded his own solo stuff with Russ at the old Damien Gerard studios, as well as with his 90’s band, The Panadolls. Those recordings still sound fucking amazing twenty years on. Marsh, who runs the space, even worked with some of the bands my mother used to manage back in the 80s like The Sundogs, so I guess working with these guys runs in the family to a certain extent!

Tell us a bit about the session. How did everything play out – was the entire album basically recorded in one take or were you tracking it song-by-song?

So the whole album was done in one take, song after song, we got a few close friends to come in and sit with us in the room to make it feel just a little bit more live and we ended up leaving their clapping on the end of each track, it just felt right, although it catches a lot of people off guard when they hear the clapping! A few mates I’ve shown it to turned around at the end and have said, “Was that live!?!?”, makes me giggle a little bit. It sounds so good for a live recording but that’s just the mastery of Russ and Marsh at Damien Gerard. They’re the real deal.

Were you personally involved in the technical aspects of the session?

So Russel manned the desk during recording and Marshall manned the live sound in the room with a PA and all, there weren’t any headphones on any of the band members, no one was really isolated except for Russ behind the main desk in the control room. There were about 20 people all together in the studio room with us and we were playing bloody loud! I had my Music Man/Telecaster combo going, which I find hard to beat for what I got for. Beside that everything else was a bit haphazard, we had to borrow a few amps, guitars and pedals. Luckily it all worked out!

How much post-production was involved? Tell us a bit about this process.

Hardly any at all! I went into the studio again and Russel mixed the album in a day and it was mastered in about two hours!

I’m a big fan of the chorus tones you pull. What are you using?

I used a Hofner ‘Analog Chorus’ that I found in a cupboard at my old house, recently though I’ve been using a Hall Of Fame reverb pedal a friend gave me on the Mod setting, it’s a little bit more subtle and lusher.

I like the way the synth is peppered throughout the album. Big 80s digital synth vibe. What was being used on the album?

Elmo used a Microkorg on a slightly tweaked no. 68 setting and a Minilogue with its big analogue bass sound, she played one with either hand because she’s a little mad genius like that!

Lastly, what’s next for you recording-wise? More live albums, or something different?

I want to start the next record in a similar vein, go into the studio for a day or two and record everything live again but maybe with the amps and kit more isolated this time. I might try out some overdubbing and make things sound a little more polished. I love vocal and guitar harmonies, bringing in certain synth sounds only for a bar and even a bit of sax I imagine.

Some of my favourite albums, like Band On The Run by Wings, or The Cars self-titled LP have that element to it, I’d love to get a bit more in-depth with overdubbing in that regard. Hopefully there’ll be a variety of different stuff to come in the future!

Spike Vincent is out now via Burger Records and Dinosaur City Records. Listen here.

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