“The room we record and practise in is an upstairs room in a community centre in Sunderland, which we’ve been in since 2001. I wouldn’t exactly call it a favourite space – we can’t really afford anything else. But it is incredibly practical, especially as we record ourselves and tend to spend quite a lot of time making our records – the School of Language record was recorded over about five months. We share rent on the room between the three members of Field Music (myself, my brother Peter, and our schoolmate Andy Moore), The Futureheads and a guy called Peter Stebbing who occasionally features in a band called the Amateur Dramatics. There are eight of us in total, hence calling the studio 8 Music. Ingenius, eh? Me and the other Field Music-ers are the only people who really use it as a studio – for everyone else it’s primarily a practise room, though everyone’s recorded bits and pieces there.
The building is a an old 1930s school building. At some point, probably in the ’70s, this became a sixth form college and now it’s a community enterprise building – there’s a creche, people training to be gas fitters and a few rooms to do computing courses in the building. Our room is about 25′ x 12′, so it’s quite big. The walls are covered by charity shop curtains, which don’t keep provide any sound insulation at all, but do stop high frequencies bouncing around the room too much. In fact, it’s not sound-proofed at all, though the walls are quite thick and my dad, who works for a building company and is very handy, helped us fit an extra door and a second-layer of double glazing over the windows.
Unlike most studios we do get some daylight in, which can really improve the atmosphere of the room. And of course we can open them mid-practise if it starts to get a little sweaty. Very little in the room is specifically geared towards it being a studio – again, because we simply can’t afford that kind of thing – so the fluorescent lights buzz and rattle, and the walls are square to each other (which is acoustically bad because it generates ‘standing waves’), and it’s quite difficult to control the bass
frequencies bouncing around.
The room contains an assorted jumble of amps, guitars, keyboards and studio bits – it changes depending on who’s on tour or who’s busy rehearsing/recording at any particular time. Keeping the room organised has become really important as we’ve all become busier – you don’t don’t want to get home from a long tour and find there’s no space to put your drum kit. We’ve had the same mixing desk for over ten years – an Allen & Heath GS3, which we bought from Peter’s student-loan money to do a six-month community recording project in 1997 – it’s seems slightly crazy that I set up my own studio when I was only 17; writing out funding applications and sorting out insurance and paying rent. Over the last two years the desk has seen a lot less action as both me and my brother have been recording and mixing on computer.
It’s been quite important for us to have a real piano in the studio (in fact we have two – one mini-upright and one ‘portable’ electric grand – a late ’70s relic despised by roadies everywhere but with a really unique sound) – there’s no way to replicate that sound. As much as our equipment isn’t far beyond what you might have in a bedroom studio, having the space to record acoustic instruments live in a room (or in the corridor outside the room, or the toilets underneath etc.), capturing the air bouncing around is really important to us. Those Field Music records might sound quite pristine, but you couldn’t describe them as being highly-produced – just us in our little funny-sounding room with three cheap microphones on the drums.
How much time we spend in the studio depends on what’s going on. While we were recording Tones of Town, the three of us would be in the studio for four or five plus hours on an afternoon, maybe three days a week. When we were rehearsing for the ToT tours we’d do four afternoons a week and leave ourselves the rest of the time to do admin. I always tend to gravitate to working on mornings, for a whole host of reasons but partly because no-one else really wants to be in the studio then – the School of Language album was mostly recorded in sessions between 9am and 1pam, going in every day and then also doing a couple of evenings every week. I’d also work on editing or mixing on the laptop at home or wherever I happened to be; in a cafe, on the train, in a hospital waiting room. Luckily though, I live really close to the studio – just a ten minute walk – there’s a little bit of room for more spontaneity. And I can always just record at home if I need to capture an idea quickly.
Peter and I both write with a pretty clear idea in our heads of how we want the finished recording to sound – for us, a song isn’t just a set of chords and some lyrics – there are always lots of arrangement and production ideas in there from the very beginning. Maybe because of that, it is often easier for us to work on our own and, for School of Language recording, I think I’ll keep it fairly solitary. It’s quite nice at the moment though, having spent most of last year playing and recording on my own, to get in the practise room with some other musicians and rock out and jump in a van and head out on tour.
For writing, it’s easiest if I’m a little bit bored, have a few journeys to make on the metro (ideal thinking time) and maybe a few cups of strong coffee. It tends to be a back and forth process between sitting with a guitar or at the piano and having time to let my thoughts wander. I find it difficult, if not impossible to write on tour and I rarely write in the studio, other than just coming up with fragments on the piano. With the School of Language albums, any demo-ing of ideas was done straight into the computer – that way the demo can actually provide the basis of the finished recording even if there are loads of mistakes or the structure isn’t in place – ‘Rockist Pt 1′, ‘Disappointment ’99′ and ‘Extended Holiday’ all came from very early demos, and most of the others are just a generation or two removed.
We don’t have a great deal of equipment – I have two electric guitars (an old SG and a jazzy Ibanez semi-acoustic), two regular basses (a Precision and a funny short-scale Squier Musicmaster which only cost £99 brand new) and an Epiphone acoustic. We only really use one guitar amp – a reissue of a 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb, though occasionally I’ll dig out something else – like one of those tiny toy Marshall stacks or this six watt Fender Champion I’ve been using for gigging. For bass, we use whatever’s around – maybe Jaff’s Ampeg or ours or the Deluxe again – and take care how we mic it up. We’ve had the same Pearl drumkit for about 16 years, but now with a Gretsch Snare Drum, and reluctantly-replaced cymbals. We don’t have a huge stock of microphones either – two Rode NT1 condensors, three AKG C1000s, a Rode Valve mic with switchable polar patterns and a cheap Nady ribbon mic – it would be great to have a couple of really expensive, great-sounding microphones but I also quite like the limitations of working with so little equipment – it’s encouraged us to be a little bit more creative with where we put the instruments (in the hall, at the top of the stairs, in the ladies’ toilets?) and how we mic them.”
Field Music’s most recent album, Tones of Town, was released in early 2007. In 2008, the band have been working in their Sunderland studio on various offshoot projects. Peter Brewis’ album The Week That Was will be released on August 18th. David Brewis released an album as School of Language in February this year through Memphis Industries/Thrill Jockey. The touring band features David, Peter and Neil Bassett (Golden Virgins, Former Cell Mates). Andrew Moore is currently working on an album under the pseudonym, John Monroe. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/fieldmusic.