So I am still writing and rewriting the as-yet-untitled Parlotones book. Whenever I go back to the stuff I wrote a year ago it seems so amateur, and I have to try fix it. Quite frustrating. Anyways, to inject a little content into my poor starving blog, here is a small bit of a rough draft of an early chapter talking about the recording of our first album, Episoda.
If you haven’t heard that album before, you can hear it on our website: The Parlotones website
And here’s a photo of the band way back then, red eye and all…
John Boyd was now in the band, and we rehearsed all the way out in Edenvale where he was staying. After Neil moved out of his parent’s house we had a few practises in his townhouse. That wasn’t the greatest practice room in the world. Firstly we had to carry our gear up three flights of stairs (good training for the tours to come!), and then cram evereything inside a tiny townhouse. Amps were turned down low and the drums were covered with blankets to muffle the noise. It was kinda frustrating, so it was nice to be able to set up in John’s larger room and make a bit of a noise again. It made the long drives every Saturday morning worth it. Almost every morning without fail we would all arrive for practice and John would either be asleep, or in the bath. John was a real prankster and often got up all kinds of mischief during band practice, and once we got to touring with him, he was a real terror. Once, during band practice, John smeared Kahn’s microphone with fish paste and tabasco sauce. Kahn retaliated by tossing peanuts into the fan and spraying tiny bits of peanuts all over John’s room. It became a nonstop back and forth between John and various other band members through the years, much good-natured pranking. We were writing a lot of songs at this time. One of the most promising was a ballad called “long way home” but we also getting very creative with crazy songs like “loud and clear” and “where do we go from here.” John’s Roland 303 was adding a very interesting layer to the songs, filling out the sound and adding some creative elements. John liked a lot of the same bands we did, but because he was a few years older than us he also introduced us to bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, and The House of Love.
We had been playing live quite often by this point and had built up a small fan base. Jaxon Rice was the singer of a band called Diesel Whores, we had played a few shows with them and he was interested in getting us recorded. He was willing to put in the money and was in touch with Theo Crous of the Springbok Nude Girls who would be doing the actual recording and producing. Unfortunately those plans fell through.
A band called 57 was doing fairly well on radio with a song called “projection man” until they were suddenly dropped from their record label. We weren’t sure exactly what had happened, but John got in touch with the singer. His name was Andrew Lester and he had just built a studio at his home. 57 had recorded their EP and their full-length album themselves, and we thought it sounded great. We had a meeting with him and agreed to record a full-length album for us for R12000. Quite a good deal, looking at what we spend on recording albums these days!
Our label couldn’t pay for the recording, so we put the money together on our own and couldn’t wait to get into studio. We were excited about the songs we had written and were full of creativity.
Sometime in 2003 we went into studio with Andrew Lester. He was very open to the band’s ideas and let us do almost anything we wanted. He was there as a producer and recording engineer, but the band were also producing the album. A producer is basically the person who guides the band in studio; overseeing the studio sessions, discussing and helping to choose which songs should be recorded, managing the entire recording process. So Andrew Lester as the producer was there to help us shape the songs into their best form, picking which ones should go onto the album and helping us to refine and perfect the various musical parts. We were also producing though, so we could also put in our own ideas and suggest any changes he had made. A producer basically becomes an extra member of the band for the recording process, working on the arrangement and recording of the songs, as well as the final steps of mixing and mastering the album.
We had a great time in Andrew’s studio and I think you can hear it if you listen to the album. It was quite a rough recording and definitely doesn’t sound as polished as the later albums we recorded. We experimented with a lot of things that were new concepts to us. Like running John’s keyboard through fuzz pedals, distorting the bass guitar and sliding the neck against a microphone stand (listen to the opening of “where do we go from here” to hear this effect), and leaving in mistakes and studio chatter. All the guitar parts were recorded through a Line 6 amp and using mostly our own pedals for effects. I had quite a decent selection of pedals by then. I was using the Line 6 Distortion Modeller (which had cost me a whopping R2500 back then, I got a credit card just to pay for it), a Boss Digital Delay (DD 3 I think it was) and also the purple Boss Analogue Delay (DM 2), and a Carl Martin Trem-o-Vibe. I had bought the tremolo purely because someone told me that’s how Radiohead got some of their weird sounds. It quickly became my favourite effect, I tried to use it in every song. You’ll hear it all over Episoda and Radio Controlled Robot. Kahn had traded in his few Boss pedals for a Line 6 Pod, the original bean-shaped one. He also got the floor board which you needed to control it live. It was a fairly complicated system to try get working properly and we struggled with it for ages before figuring out how to use it effectively. It seems so rudimentary now, compared to complicated systems available to guitarists these days. We got some mad sounds out of it, listen to the guitar solo and the ending from “inside” to hear an example.
I can’t remember how long it took us to record, but I’d guess about a month. We worked fairly fast but to be honest I really can’t remember anything much from the actual recording sessions. We did have loads of fun with my delay pedal in songs like “loud and clear” where it’s just this crazy noise. We didn’t really have much to prove or live up to at this point, and I think that’s why we were so creative and had an “anything goes” approach to the recording. There was no real pressure from anyone to write “hits” or to conform to any specific sound. We had always been the outsiders up to this point, not really fitting into any of the scenes or sounds of the day.
Our fans, the few that we had back then, liked everything we were doing and we were certain there was going to be an interest in the album. We were playing with lots of interesting bands then; from the all-girl punk band The Phoebes to the alt-country sounds of the Diesel Whores.
When the album came out the fans loved it, and we got a lot of praise from our fellow bands and of course our friends and families. Unfortunately not many radio stations were interested. TUKS FM, which is a student radio station in Pretoria, was quite supportive of the band. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure they played some songs off Episoda and we did a few interviews with them.
Our manager took the album to the program manager of 5FM, and tried to convince him to support the album. Unfortunately the album had little commercial potential, and mainstream radio wasn’t interested in it at all. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get anything off Episoda playlisted. Going back and listening to it today I see about half the album is definitely too weird for mainstream radio, and maybe it lacks a quality recording, but there’s some great songs on there that could have been hits.