“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 http://www.myspace.com/wknees.