SEPTEMBER 1 7, 2010 | Author: Greg Phillips
A Casiotone keyboard and Roland loop pedal inspires beats and riffs for her new album “Modern Day Addiction’, Clare Bowditch tells AM mag’s Greg Phillips
ARIA award-winning singer-songwriter Clare Bowditch has released a new album entitled Modern Day Addiction. It features Clare’s trademark quirky, clever observations of life, wrapped in lusciously hummable melodies, played by a collection of creative and skillful musicians. No surprises there. But to quote Darryl Kerrigan’s line to his wife in the classic Australian film The Castle, “It’s what you’ve done with it!” The collaborative production team of Clare, her partner Marty Brown, former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, Mocky (Feist), Cornel Wilcek (Qua) and the mixing genius of Victor Van Vugt, has produced a finely crafted piece of audio technology, one that should lift Clare’s already respected music career up another notch.
It’s an album which began in humble fashion, with Clare playing around with song ideas inspired by the retro tones of an old MT225 Casiotone keyboard she dusted down from the family shed. Also coming in handy was the Roland RC50 loop system (which Australian Musician gave to Clare as a gift in appreciation of the fabulous job she did guest editing our magazine a few years ago) which she used to form her riff repetition concepts. Clare explains the process.
“I went on a solo tour and the practicality is that Marty is my drummer, and he needed to be home for this tour. So me and Tim (Harvey) went on the road and I was using my loop pedal (RC50) which you guys organised for me and that was doing a great trick. Then I wanted some drum sounds on top. So I pulled out the old Casio from the back shed. The ﾔpoo brown modelﾕ I call it. So that came out of the shed and onto the road and it just started to inspire me to write songs. ‘Start of War’ and ‘Running’ were partly written on that tour. It just feeded into how I was writing the album this time, which was mainly on keys and Mocky’s piano when I was in Berlin. So it was using the Casio to simulate vocals, the RC50 loop pedal and the piano and that’s how I wrote this album.”
With song ideas packed, Clare and family then relocated to Berlin where by osmosis she soaked up the inspirational nature of the city famous for giving us classic albums by David Bowie, Lou Reed and Nick Cave. In fact, much of the recording of Modern Day Addiction was done in Hansa, the very studio responsible for Bowie’s Heroes, Iggy’s The Idiot and U2’s Achtung Baby. It was Hansa and other exotic recording locations such as a 12th century cathedral in Ireland, an early 20th Century Fox picture palace and even an airport, which combined to bring a little sonic magic to Clare’s disc. Despite the album being a collection of sessions from many different countries and recording sources, it has been pulled together seamlessly in New York by mixer Victor Van Vugt, who has given it all a cohesive deep, warm, tonal personality. There’s a horn section, but not in the brash sense of Cat Empire or Chicago. There are guitars, but they’re not obvious in their presence. The sweet backing vocals are multi-layered resulting in a reassuring glow, yet at the same time containing a kind of surreality. The ‘whole vibe’, to borrow from ‘The Castle’ again, is a creamy blend of all those rich ingredients.
The goal for most artists, or at least those with any artistic integrity, is to grow with each recording, leaving their comfort zones behind and exploring the myriad of musical possibilities available. Does Clare feel that she is developing as an artist with each new recording?
“I do,” she says. “It’s really interesting that we are talking about this because when I think of the genesis of the album, it was around the time that I guest edited your magazine. It was around the time I got the RC 50 loop pedal and began to feel experimental urges in my bones. I finally had room, in a time sense. I didn’t have any children between the last album and this, so I got to sit down and play around again. That’s been really satisfying for me and it’s been a risk too, because the last thing I want to do as a storyteller is alienate the people who carry our stories for us and that’s our audience. Right through the making of this album, I did a lot of shows where I asked them to be involved. I asked for their comments and asked them to play on stage with me during that Winter Secrets tour in 26 different locations. It’s very important to me that they come along for the journey and know I’m not deserting their trust and it’s just me trying to reflect on our world in a different way.”
As you’d expect, an opulent European studio such as Hansa contains a fine collection of weird and wonderful instruments including a celesta, a struck idiophone operated by a keyboard. Bowditch’s partner Marty couldn’t resist incorporating the relic into the project. But it was a Steinway grand which stole Clare’s heart and was used on the track ﾔA Lucky Lifeﾕ.
“I mean. I am not the most talented piano player at any stretch, so for me, it’s such a generous piano,” said Bowditch of the experience. “It allowed me to be imperfect and it seemed to absorb the slack. It was a pleasure to play.” However, with ‘Modern Day Addiction’, the less extravagant instruments were equally as important to the final result. “Also on this album we played some beautiful guitars, but there’s something inspiring in playing really shit instruments too. You know there is nothing you can do to make them sound perfect, so it kind of switches off the perfectionist in your head and it just allows you to create. So it goes both ways,” said Clare.
Apart from showcasing Bowditch’s ever developing artistic range, Modern Day Addiction also highlights Marty Brown’s significant contribution. Not just in co-producer mode, but as a talented multi-instrumentalist. Whereas many instruments are integrated into the overall soundscape, others are occasionally brought to the forefront as a feature, such as Marty’s percussion. I wondered if that may have been husband Marty wrestling for his moment in the spotlight?
“No it was me saying, ‘come on dude, show us your chops’,” laughs Clare. “He’s always been known as this constrained, very quiet kind of fellow but I have known since I first lived with him, that he has all of these tricks up his sleeve and I wanted to give him a chance to show off. It ended up that the album is pretty much based around the layers of vocals and Marty’s beats. So yes, finally he gets to be a bit aggro on the kit.”
With such a carefully constructed album, I was also interested to know how fussy Clare was with her vocal takes.
“Personally, I like to get them early and fresh but I am often overruled and forced to continue until I get them right (laughs). Because they are being recorded to tape and we shy away from autotune and other magic tricks of nature. You know, that stuff has its place but it’s not me and it’s more fun to be able to get it myself. Some songs I might sing 150 times over, 3 different months, mornings and afternoons to see which take I can get. ‘Prinz Willy’ was a song, for example where I really struggled to get the correct take. Marty had written it around my Casio keyboard, whose keys are falling off. So it was in a key which was quite difficult and challenging for me to sing in, but we wanted to keep it as it was because it felt right. Then a song like ‘Modern Day Addiction’ was a one or two taker.”
It’s been a few years since the release of Clare’s last album The Moon Looked On, a record which gathered many accolades and really put her star on the map. Three years on, with Modern Day Addiction, Clare and her team have much more to be proud of.
“We have walked out of this saying that we know we have put everything we had into it,” said Clare in summary. “We’re thrilled how everyone came together and pretty much excelled themselves on this album. I am happy. It’s the best I could do.”