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Sunday, February 20, 2011

339. "Like the Swallow" by Saint Etienne

I guess I'm becoming a one-man clearing house for Foxbase Alpha tribute art. And I'm far from done.

This is the first big vocal piece from the album to be covered, and once again it started in one place and ended up in quite another. When we last left, um, me, I was determined to get the kids to play as a real live fake string section, and out of the songs on deck I felt that "Like the Swallow" could best use string accents. So I worked out the chords, transposed it down a half step and some change, and... well, neither "arranging" nor "orchestrating" are humble enough terms for it: I assigned individual notes to two cello parts and two viola parts, and then broke them down into a couple of different rhythms. I also worked out the spooky little synth/horn melody figure that floats through all that cool windchimey ambient stuff at the beginning and wrote that up for Eden to play on viola a couple different ways. None of it was especially artful, but at the same time I was sure that none of it was "wrong".

Then I got Eden to lay down the viola part; I took one of her lines and copied it pitched up an octave with a neat little plugin I just now discovered in GarageBand, to simulate a violin. While Miranda was recording the cello parts, she played part of a gypsy folk tune she had learned, and it happened to be in the same key, so I had her lay down some of that, too, and you can hear it during the breaks as and alternate melody on cello. I lined all of the parts up (it totals out to six tracks worth of strings most of the time) and had a listen to it against the beats I'd looped (which are actually lifted from another Saint Etienne song, "Speedwell") and it sounded pretty good to me. I decided to use it as bulk of the tune's sonic heft, and so I did. The way I spread them out in stereo causes some weird illusions, so I'll just let you know... there aren't any synths or samples or electronic washes on this track, it's all cello, viola and guitar.there aren't any phasers or flangers in use, either... the strings only have reverb and the barest touch of delay on them. The electric 13-string has some old fashioned Fender Twin vibrato on it, but that's about as processed as it gets.

Toward the very end of the recording process Gen volunteered to do the lead vocal, and I was happy to oblige. She'd been encouraged by her vocal on "Rain" and wanted to try something in a different range. It worked for me because I'd been planning on asking her to sing "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", but this one was if anything better for her and I'm no stranger to Neil Young covers. Gen was really happy with the results, saying she thinks it's one of the best covers I've done. I'm pleased, too.

Genevieve Broome ~ Lead vocal
Eden Hain ~ Violas
Miranda Broome ~ Cellos
Rex Broome ~ Guitar, bass, backing vocal, assembly etc.

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