Musical Rooms

November 29, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 94: Wounded Knees

Filed under: Interviews,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 6:32 pm
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“I have a room for music, for writing. It took me a while to get comfortable with the room I now use. It’s basically a spare room beside my daughter’s bedroom; it’s small but looks over the Grand Canal, which at night can be inspiring. Night time is the only time I open the shutters, if I’m in there during the day, I keep the shutters closed and light it with one little lamp. There’s always a point at which a new space becomes christened, when it starts to feel like the right place; it happens with a tune. Once that tune comes, you’re at home.

I keep things pretty simple; I have no real interest in the sampler or keyboards I have there (apart from the Casio which I share with the girls) that gets a hook down just fine. I record onto a Roland 880EX, through a dbx channel strip for mic pre-amp. I monitor through Genelec active monitors. I only use my Guild D35 acoustic these days. It’s the Wounded Knees sound. I use an SM57 to record vocals.

For me it’s important, at the end of a session, to leave things as they are. The litter of stuff is a physical recording of the things that have happened in the room since I was last there. It’s important to have nothing in the room that can break the spell, so everything in there is related in some way to the music I make. I leave books randomly open on the floor. I’ve got a smiling Neil Young on the wall; when I catch Neil’s smiling eye, it’s like he’s saying, “….ya got something there kid”. The Ramones are everywhere, passes from gigs, drum sticks that have delivered at a recording session, a few pictures of the beach boys, George Harrison (I’ve always related heavily to George). There’s no conscious plan to make the room a certain way, it just becomes what it becomes. It’s random. If it feels good it stays. I like having the hard evidence of good things that have happened. One treasure is Patti Smith’s own personal copy of The Coral Sea with her notes all over it. She gave it to me after a show.

Between my work with thirtythreetrees and the kids, it’s impossible to schedule time for music, so it happens when it happens. If I’m getting ready for something like ATP, then I know what I’m doing with all my free time. I’m in there, mainly putting down new tunes for the band to listen to before we get together to rehearse. For me isolation is really important. You have to believe that what you’re doing, at that moment, in that room, could potentially change your life. You have to dream when you’re writing. Songs are very delicate when they’re born, it would be easy for someone outside of you to crush them with apathy. For me I treat them all as potential saviors. It’s one of the ways I feel connected.

Typically I start things with a chord sequence or a riff that just seems to come from nowhere, it’s rare if I remember when I first started strumming a song, but the ones that stay present an urge in me to find a progression, to make it a song. Then I usually get a bit ripped and play the thing over and over until the melody is just there. I tend to listen to the harmonics of the chords really closely while I’m playing until I hear a melody. I’ve leant to stick with that melody; it’s always the best one. And as I play I always hear the whole band in my head, especially the drumming, I’m a drummer first forever. I always play guitar as if I’m playing with a drummer.

The recording usually happens with a sudden urge to listen back to what I’m playing and hearing in my head, that’s why I keep the set up very simple, I don’t want to have to think when I’m putting stuff down for the first time. For me it’s important to get it down sounding pretty good straight away, I need to hear the power of it and the harmonics to get the urge to finish a vocal for it. I like to do things quickly, first take.

I scan notebooks for lyrics that fit the track. I tend to write words separately; it’s the John Lennon way. I like the surprises you get in the phrasing when you do it that way. Like most musicians, once I have an idea down, I have “a loosener” and listen to it about 100 times. That’s always the best moment. Pure dreams.

I use a Roland 880ex, a dbx tube channel strip, Genelec monitors, a Guild d35 1970 acoustic (I bought it in Amherst Mass; J Mascis and Kevin helped me find it), SM57’s for mic-ing the acoustic and for vocals, a Fender Champ, an FMR compressor (really nice) and some distortion pedals (dDistortion and compression are really the only effects I’m into these days). That’s the basic set up. For me, it’s a sound I stick to cause I like it; from there the songs that change the sound. Rhythm and melody.

What I like most about the space is the fact that it’s mine. It’s my soul cell; there aren’t many “real life” distractions in there. I can leave it as I please. I like how it looks after a good session. The girls know which things they can touch and which things they can’t. You can touch the guitar but don’t touch the faders!”

Musical Rooms was in conversation with Jimi Shields of Wounded Knees
Wounded Knees is a band made up of Jimi Shields (ex-Rollerskate Skinny and Lotus Crown), ex-Mercury Rev flautist Suzanne Thorpe, and Phil Williams (ex-Hopewell). The Wounded Knees released an EP, All Rise on Specific Recordings in 2008. All Rise was mixed by Kevin Shields and the band played tour dates supporting the newly-reformed My Bloody Valentine. This month, Wounded Knees will also play at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival A Nightmare Before Christmas, curated by My Bloody Valentine. Their play Whelan’s (Upstairs) on Wednesday, December 2nd. Doors are 8pm and the show includes an installation by the creatives at South Studios. Wounded Knees will perform as part of this, from the floor as opposed to the stage. Tickets are €10 from Wav Box-Office (Lo-Call 1890 200 078). For more information, visit

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November 15, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 93: Mike Scott

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 9:44 pm
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“I used to write and play anywhere – bedroom, living room, kitchen, street – until I set up my first music room in 1988, when I was 29. It was in a house on a hill overlooking Galway Bay. The view was incredible but once I started singing and playing I’d forget all about it; the only landscape that mattered was the one in my head. I finished writing The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues album in that room and since then I’ve set up a music room in every place I’ve lived: twelve of them in all, including Baile an tSleibhe, Waterloo Rd, Hudson St., Kilmashogue Lane, Marine Cottage, Lansdowne Road, No. 69, No. 72, Primrose Hill, Broombank, Raglan Lane – of which the current one is the best.

It’s an extension of a mews house in south Dublin city. My wife and I have a home in Scotland but we’re in Dublin for a year while I develop my Appointment With Mr Yeats project, a show The Waterboys are doing at the Abbey Theatre in March 2010, for which I’ve turned around 20 of WB Yeats’ poems into songs. The music room is at the rear of the house, reached by a glass hallway, and feels quite separate from the rest of the building, giving it a removed atmosphere.

The command posts are my electric piano, which is plugged into to a Fender guitar amp and a large desk on which my computer sits. I do all my home recording here using Apple’s Garageband system, which I prefer to Pro-tools (less mental energy is involved running the system, freeing up my mind for music). I have guitars, a bouzouki, a mandolin, various drums, tambourines and sleighbells, two speaker systems (KRKs and Yamaha NS10s) and a couple of huge boxes of Venetian masks that got worn on the last Waterboys tour.

There are a couple of cupboards; one’s full of books, sound effects CDs and tapes; the other contains effects pedals. I love Electro Harmonix pedals: the Pog, the Hog, the Stain, the Wiggler. They sound as great as their names and I spend many psychedelic hours sticking keyboards and guitars through them.

The floor is wood but I’ve covered it with eastern carpets purchased in that famous and most exotic bazaar, Dunne’s Stores in the Stephens Green shopping centre. The room is well-lit, with about a dozen bright ceiling lights. The family who rented us the house used this space as their office, and the bright lights suit me – I’ve no patience with working in shadowy, dingy places where I can’t see what I’m doing. I like atmospheric lights on stage, not in my music room.

The Waterboys sometimes rehearse here if we’re preparing for an acoustic show, though we could squeeze a drummer in too, I guess. And Steve Wickham and I are doing the string arranging for the Yeats’ show here, the two of us sitting together at the desk sorting the manuscripts on our computers. He’s a trained reader who went to music college, and works beautifully fast. I taught myself to read and write music only a few years ago, and though I compose quickly, it takes me a day to write out a page of manuscript.

I don’t work specific times; I just get in here whenever I have a ‘go’ feeling, which is most days. I used to stay up working all night but now I prefer to work only when I’m fresh and at my peak. I make less mistakes, keep my perspective, and it’s easier to stay “on” all the time. In common with all my music rooms just the fact of the room itself enhances the creativity. I only have to walk in to feel stuff start happening. That’s the beauty of it: a dedicated space where alchemy happens.”

Mike Scott is the founder of The Waterboys, a band who have released hugely successful albums like A Pagan Place (1984), This Is the Sea (1985) and Room to Roam (1990). They are probably best known for their 1988 album, Fisherman’s Blues. Scott has also released two solo records to date and his next project is An Appointment with Mr Yeats, a show fusing the poetry of W.B. Yeats and the music of The Waterboys. The WB Yeats show runs for five nights from Monday March 15th, 2010 to Friday March 19th, 2010 on Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Scott also plays a solo gig on Saturday, November 28th at the Clyde Auditorium, (part of Scotland’s SECC complex) in Glasgow. For more information, visit

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