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LISTEN: The Anchoress - Long Year
Laurie Tuffrey , September 25th, 2014 07:32

Plus, Catherine AD tells us how she came to work with Mansun's Paul Draper for her new project

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Catherine AD is currently readying the debut EP of her new recording guise, The Anchoress. Produced by Paul Draper, formerly of Mansun, One For Sorrow will be released on November 3 and has already been preceded by 'Long Year'. There's a hint of Catherine's multi-instrumentalism in the gentle patter of music box that opens the track, those this gets rapidly subsumed, a strutting howl of a vocal and some grit-edged slide guitar transforming into what they rightly describe as a sprawl of "dark southern gothic". Hiraeth/PIAS will be putting out the record - which follows on from debut single 'What Goes Around; listen below - on 12" vinyl and a CD, accompanied by a romantic novel no less, but before the release, Catherine's penned an essay about how the project came together, originally printed in the Mansun Convention programme and here exclusively republished - read it below.

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It all started with a single e-mail back in 2007. I was making music alongside studying for an English Lit. degree and out of the blue I received an e-mail from Paul Draper saying that he'd been listening to some of the tracks I'd posted on the internet and would love to work together. We demoed a couple of my songs later that year ('Unravel' and 'Closer' – they're out there somewhere on the internet…) but I was getting pressure from my manager and agent at the time to drop out of university - which I didn't want to do - and so music went on the back burner for a bit while I concentrated on my studies.

Fast-forward a few years… I ended up staying on at university and doing a PhD but Paul and I had kept in touch and he wanted to try out his new studio (The Kitchen in West London) and suggested he record some of my songs and see where it went from there. I sent him around 70 songs out of which he picked his ten favourites to record. He's really great at spotting gems that I've previously discarded or written off. He has the ears for the potential of a song where I'm much more self-critical. So we started out tracking these ten songs with Jon Barnett on drums and Stax on bass, and me on piano or guitar. We recorded everything live over a three-day session and then started the process of sifting through what we'd captured. These songs make up around half of the finished album, subject to me changing my mind about the track listing again…

How we came to co-write the other half of the album was more of a happy accident of the London rush hour, rather than by design. As well as working at Paul's studio, we also recorded a fair bit of piano on my old Challen baby grand in my flat in Lewisham. Paul brought round a preamp and we borrowed a pair of Coles mics and he just made me play for hours on end (my neighbours loved me…). One day we finished up earlier than expected and, so as to avoid the rush hour traffic driving back, Paul suggested we try writing something together. I played him something I'd had rattling around for a few months and an hour later we had the bare bones of 'What Goes Around'. We did another five of these over the next few months, as well as recording another batch from my 'back catalogue' so we had a healthy amount to pick and chose from for the final album track listing.

So, what's it really like to work with Paul? Well, Paul likes to work in a really hot studio with the heating on at all times of year. I call him the lizard man. We alternate between switching the air con on and the fan heater up when the other one leaves the room. This probably sums up our polarities in terms of our approach to songwriting and production too. Paul is very much someone who believes in working away at a song for weeks or months and "chipping away" (as he likes to say), like a sculptor to find the best version inside all the possibilities. Before I met Paul I tended to write fairly quickly in a single session, alone, and at night. Songs would come quickly and fairly fully-formed, with limited revisions after the initial inspiration. I'd record them straight onto multi-track and flesh out the production in 48-hour no-sleep marathons. In this respect we are very similar: Paul and I are definitely both workaholics. There was a distinct "Bobby Fischer" (the great chess prodigy) phase in the studio where we got quite obsessed with his work/life philosophy. This can sometimes backfire, as was the case with the second live session where I played piano for nearly seven hours straight and damaged my hand so badly that I wasn't allowed to play for six months. So I returned to writing again on guitar…

I've always been obsessed by production, so much so that I asked for a multi-track for my 17th birthday rather than driving lessons. So Paul was the perfect person to work with on the album - especially as he can drive -  and he's renowned for the experimental production work on Six. We are pretty well-suited in terms of studio temperament in that we are both obsessed with the tiny details of a track, although Paul is a night owl and I'm more of a morning person, which makes for hilariously out of sync schedules. I'm aware of how tedious this can be for other people (I hope I'm not boring you now…) but we really can argue over the sound of a snare drum for a good few hours. We are both obsessed with Kate Bush and Prince. The sound of a Motown drumkit. How far you de-ess (remove the sibilance from) a vocal without making me sound like Jonathan Ross. The EQs on hi-hats. You get the picture. And then we talk about Prince B-sides and Laura Nyro.

A lot of the production process will be Paul suggesting cutting out sections of the song and me battling to keep it in (as I think of them as my 'babies'...). There have also been some great happy accidents production wise – for instance, when we mis-pasted a section in a song and the phasing ended up becoming a feature of the arrangement. I love using found sounds (church bells, clocks ticking) and spoken voices, which Paul is very accommodating of even when I'm bringing in things I've recorded on my iPhone… There's a section at the end of 'One For Sorrow" where I was doing my best "asthmatic sex slave" impression before bursting out laughing which Paul ended up using as a little vocal feature for the outro.

What I've learnt from Paul over the years is an enormous respect for the craft of songwriting. I started studying the "greats" and starting to work and rework and unpack to get the best possible melodies and chord progressions. I can definitely hear this evolution in my songwriting on the album. He's made me a better songwriter. It's been a pleasure working with him.

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Ahsoka23
Dec 14, 2014 12:35pm

I heard about her from Paul's facebook page. Really good stuff.

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