From Goodbye to Brighton

How we made the video for Molly

One day in Vienna, my girlfriend Alissa described a video idea for Molly. We weren’t intending on releasing it as a single, but she likes the song and often imagines videos in her head for tunes she likes.

As we walked to the supermarket, she described Molly’s day slowly unfurling on screen. Waking up mid-afternoon, drinking coffee, wiping off last night’s makeup and making herself special for another night’s work.

The idea struck me. It was just the right mix of narrative and simplicity to make a memorable music video. It also sounded achievable on a limited budget.

Immediately, I pictured my friend Corrinne as Molly. I’d seen some modelling she’d done, and knew she would fit the part. I also knew she had a fashion photographer friend – Carl – who had recently branched into film. His eye would be perfect for the shots Alissa was describing.

When the video we were intending to release wasn’t going to be ready in time, I made the calls. Corrinne was in, Carl was in, my Dad – a filmmaker for most of his life – was willing to edit.

Alissa and I sat down in Café Jelinek – a shabby, bohemian, traditional Kaffeehaus seemingly unchanged since it opened its doors in the late 19th century – and talked through the video; establishing the narrative, defining shots and pacing.

I wrote a brief, Alissa painstakingly storyboarded, we sent everything to Carl and Corrinne in Brighton. I arranged equipment hire, Corrinne went underwear shopping – sending me Whatsapp pictures to choose between sets of gaudy lingerie. She sent me the receipt and her bank details.

I have never bought another woman underwear. I didn’t imagine my first time like this.

The day of the shoot arrived. An odd sensation, knowing your video is shooting in another country and you just have to get on with your day.

A hard drive containing the files was shipped to my parents’ house in Herefordshire. We received the first edit a couple of days later.

The video has now had over 6,000 views between YouTube and Facebook.

I’m immensely proud, and immensely impressed by the video for Molly. I’m allowed to be impressed because I had very little to do with it.

I love the video for Molly because I think it’s a wonderful piece of work, the kind of video that stands on its own, worthwhile in itself; more than merely a promotional tool.

But I also love it because of what went into it. A testament to what modern technology can achieve – conjured into being across countries and counties – and to the generosity of others.

The longer we keep going as a band, and the more people we enlist to work with us, the more humbled I am by the willingness of others to put time and effort into what we’re doing, simply because they believe in it.

Watch the video below:

Who is Molly

‘Molly’ is released on April 21st. See the video on YouTube. Download on iTunes. Stream on Spotify.

It was late. Drunk. With people from the office. Agency people. Haircuts and new media. 3am, even the late bars were closing. It was someone’s birthday. These guys like to go to strip clubs. I’d never been. Always thought them sad, disrespectful. The thought: a club full of women paid to make men feel good. Didn’t sit right.

[does affection paid for feel like real affection]

Still. I did like to drink and I wasn’t done yet. They said let’s go to the strip club. They said we have a membership, won’t cost to get in. I figured OK. I figured won’t hurt to see it the once. Shouldn’t judge until you’ve seen it yourself.

Big black man told the rules. No touching. No walking around. We’ll sit you down, get you a drink. Only get up to buy booze and piss. Any trouble you’re out.

[you are animals. you are bipedal penises]

Whisky was overpriced. £8 for a Maker’s. Strippers work like charity muggers. What’s your name. What do you do. Oh that’s interesting. Would you like a dance? Scripted questions and casual touches to get you half way aroused before they pump you for cash.

Didn’t want a dance. Still didn’t like the set up. Told them no. It’s OK. I’m good. Just want to drink. One stripper came. Turned her away. Another. Asked the same questions. The third came I said hey I don’t want a dance but feel free to talk. Expected her to leave but she didn’t.

Molly she said her name was. She asked what I did I said I write for cash I don’t really like it music’s what I do but it doesn’t pay the rent. She told me she loved to read. Loved, past tense. She told me she’s heavily dyslexic so although she adored Harry Potter she just doesn’t have the time to struggle now she’s grown and got to cover the bills. But she misses it.

She told me she was new at the club. Been working three weeks. Lives in Camden, gets the train to Brighton to work on weekends. Glamour models during the week in London. I asked did she like it.

What do you think.

Upset. She was drunk. She remembered herself. Remembered she was working. Recovered. Said I just want to feel special. I do it because I just want to feel special you know. Hey look at the girl up there on the pole she makes me wet. Makes me wet. She making you hard. Do you want a dance. No, I don’t, I just came here to drink. Buy me a drink then you want a shot let’s do a shot together. No. It’s OK. Thanks for the chat.

I sunk my whisky and left. I woke with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Goodbye to Brighton production diary – part 3 – the album is done

The album is done. Goodbye to Brighton by Nicolas and the Saints, is complete. The audio mastered. The files rendered. Copies distributed to the band and the producer.
     On 20th May 2016, we sat in the Ithaca Audio studio – where I mastered it – and listened to it beginning to end. Toasting with glasses of straight-from-the-cask-scotch, we declared it done.

Preceding this date had been additional tracking and weeks of mixing. I was summoned to Brighton in early May to lay down a handful of vocal layers we hadn’t time for in Livingston. Standing outside the chapel in an ex-retirement home, a microphone placed three metres in front and two metres up, I shouted at Jesus – a kind figurine observing me mutely from up in the rafters.
     What followed was weeks of mixing. Weeks of work I did not see, save for the files that appeared in my inbox every other day. I responded with notes, most of them minimal. The recording – so beautifully captured at Livingston – had so much character, so much detail that we had the space to tease and finesse in ways not usually afforded to musicians unattached to a label.
     Chris Myatt, the producer, has done a remarkable job. The mixes breathe. They have space, air, warmth, all the adjectives attached to good mixes but rarely so well deserved. The songs sound natural and unproduced – a quality that takes a vastness of delicate work and expertise to achieve. I love only a handful of recordings for the sake of the recording itself, and this album is added to that list. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Alice by Tom Waits. Grace by Jeff Buckley. Goodbye to Brighton by Nicolas and the Saints.

Finishing the album marks the end of a number of concurrent chapters for me, the most recent starting nearly a year ago. Sunk into a deep depression I decided to leave Brighton after ten years by the sea. I decided to find an upright bassist and a drummer, write three more songs and make an album to say goodbye. Since then I have been on and off medication, moved out of Brighton, been through two drummers and two bassists and left for Europe. All through this period of colossal upheaval, I had this record; in part a document of my depression.
     As musicians we have a lot invested in this album. It contains incredible personal achievements for all of us. For my part, it is the best thing I have ever done. Not merely in music, but in life. It is certainly my greatest achievement. In my eyes, it is my only significant achievement.
     Listening to it is disconcerting. I do not relate to it as my own work. The vocal and guitar performances are far better than I am capable of delivering. The songs are written too well to have been written by me. The lyrics too imaginative, too heartfelt, in places too pretty. The mastering too careful, too precise and yet warm, characterful. It could not be something I have done.

For me, this album goes back to Alton College, where I studied Music Technology under Martin Read. Martin was a uniquely inspirational man. Over two decades of teaching, he very quietly became one of the most influential people in British music, training and inspiring generations of musicians.
     He would rail at us for not having heard Howlin Wolf. Wax lyrical about the perfect plastic pop of the Pet Shop Boys. Force us to endure the further reaches of Coltrane, Coleman and Stockhausen until we learnt to appreciate them. Rhapsodise about Never Mind the Bollocks and what made it the most important album in popular music history.
     When submitting early electronic compositions – cut from the cloth of Warp Records avantelectronica – he would admonish me for not pushing them far enough: “It wants to drive me insane but hasn’t broken my brain yet.” He taught us to be uncompromising. To always push things further. To only ever produce interesting, important work in whatever form that took. Martin Read was an excitable man, but he was a difficult man to please.
     In common with untold others, my primary motivation has always been to make something Martin would be proud of. I think I have finally done it. I wish he were still alive to hear it.

I don’t yet know how this album will be released. Too much work has gone into it, too much craft, time and attention, to let it disappear down a self-published hole in some dank corner of iTunes. But it is still too soon to think seriously on these matters. We are still recovering, slowly realising the enormity of what we have done.
     It may be some time before anyone hears it. But when you do, I hope you enjoy it.

WE WENT TO THE STUDIO. AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL

On 2nd April, the six of us – I, Nick, Nicolas, Chris (the saxophonist), Roxy, Scott, Ryan and Chris (the producer) – arrived at Livingston Studios 1 in Wood Green, London, N22. On 3rd April, we left.
     The space is beautiful. A pastiche Mediterranean church turned into a gorgeously homely network of booths filled with a menagerie of vintage instruments and equipment. A playground of the highest order for musicians like us. A candy shop of wurlitzers, organs, Rhodes, the most delicate baby grand, guitar pedals… Needless to say, we had no time to play. All of this was ignored.
     But the control room. An SSL 4000 series desk stretching the length of the room. Various configurations of tubes and transistors sitting quietly in racks, radiating heat, ready to share their warmth with sound… Neves, APIs, 1176s, a Tubetech CL1B… A £10,000 Neumann microphone from the 1960s…
     It’s hard to describe what happened. It’s hard to describe the feeling of playing in such a beautiful space, surrounded by such beautiful equipment. I’m still trying to process the experience – itself an overwhelming, transcendent 48 hours; but also the culmination of months of work, sweat and heartache.
     I will try to keep it brief.

We successfully recorded all 10 songs for the album. On the first day we set up and played three sets all together, all live. The second we did re-takes and overdubs. I estimate 70% remains from the original live takes.
     The album already sounds twice as good as I thought it would. Chris (the producer) and Will (the assistant) did stunning work on the engineering. I love the recording as much as its contents.
     Everyone played beyond the capabilities I thought them to have. Here is a video of me losing my shit as Chris (the saxophonist) goes full Coltrane on what will be track two on the album. Until that moment I didn’t know he could do that.

Ryan nailed his drum takes on the first day. Same with Scott’s bass. They spent the second day playing Xbox, wandering in every now and then to tell us they had the zombie problem under control. Roxy’s voice is the silver to my dirt as always, but captured in such delicate silken detail…
     I don’t want to comment on my own performance, but the 45 minutes I was given just to make noise was the most fun I think I’ve ever had. They laughed at me from the control room as I twisted and jerked around the live room, punching my guitar so hard it broke the skin on my hand.

What remains to be said is thank you. Thank you to all of you for contributing to this. I remain deeply humbled by your generosity and support. I still struggle to comprehend it. I only hope you enjoy the album as much as we did making it.
     It might be a while. It still needs mixing and mastering. Then there’s artwork and promotion… But I can honestly say it will be worth the wait. I had my own doubts, but hearing it back in that North London studio did more than put them to rest. It made me so excited to share with you what you had contributed to, to show you what we have all achieved together.
     As for what’s next, it’s hard to say. I have retreated to Europe to write – I type this on a gloomy Viennese morning, Monk playing softly on the stereo – Chris is back tinkering with LEDs in his basement studio in Brighton. Roxy designing lighting, settling in to her new house in Hackney, Scott and Ryan gigging every night giving seaside drunks their singalong memories. This record was what we all came together for.
     But a few weeks ago. On the train to Brighton for pre-production. I sent Chris a text. It said “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I’ve already starting writing the next album. It will explore the intersection between Busta Rhymes and The Fall.”

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Goodbye to Brighton production diary, part 1 – we abandoned fuzz

Weary, I woke. Anodyne BBC reportage emanated from my phone. 6:30AM. I made coffee. I ate muesli. I showered. I dressed. I packed my guitar and pedalboard. I left later than I should have. Weighed down by instrument I walked as fast as I could to the station. I arrived and bought my ticket in time to leap onto the train, seconds before the doors closed. I was sweating profusely.
     I read David Foster Wallace. I listened to Kelela’s new album. I trudged between stations to connect to Gatwick. I arrived in Brighton at 10:30AM. I bought coffee at the cycle-shop-cum-café behind the train station – owned by Small Batch Coffee. Exiled in the sticks of Surrey, it was the first good cup of coffee I had tasted in two weeks. I drank it in the rain.
     Arriving at Brighton Electric at 11AM, hands sore from carrying equipment, I was confronted by a Marshall stack and a door that wouldn’t close. After much pleading for a Fender amplifier, I was given a Roland Chorus. Not ideal, but better than a Marshall. They gave us a stool to prop the door closed.

This was our first pre-production session with Chris Myatt, our producer. I met Chris initially through our friends in now-defunct indie-popsters 900 Spaces – members now featuring in For The Love Of Pipes and Poly-Math – but have since mastered some of his work. I love his aesthetic. His work on Elin Ivarsson’s album – launching on February 27th – persuaded me we had to hire him. As a sound engineer myself, I’ve always struggled to hand the reins to someone else, but Chris shares the same aesthetic as me. He likes imperfection. He likes allowing things to edge into distortion. He likes hiss. His work is not glossy. It’s more natural than that Warmer. More organic.
     Not many people really understand what a producer does. It can be hard to pin down. In the old days the roles of producer and engineer were clearly delineated. Nowadays they are the same person, more often than not.
     Chris is an invaluable objective perspective on what we’re doing. He tells us what we could be doing better. Everything from what plectrum I’m using to what rhythm Ryan plays in the chorus. With other clients he’s been known to dive into the song itself. Refining song structure. Adjusting chord progressions. Mercifully, our songs and arrangements were judged to be sound. This is the pre-production process.
     When we record, Chris will engineer the session. Everything from mic choice and placement to twiddling the knobs and hitting record. As producer, he’s also in charge of telling us when we need to do it again, and what we’re doing wrong. He’s the guy who says “once more, with feeling”. He’ll tell us what needs doubletracking and whether I need to change amplifier for a particular song. He’s the boss. The Big Picture man. We just play.
     Once everything’s on tape (saved on a hard drive) he will mix it. Then he’s done. Then he hands me the files to master.

Pre-production is an interesting experience, as a musician. You have to open yourself up to changing deeply ingrained habits and ideas. Essentially, you just rehearse as normal, but there’s this guy there… sitting on the sofa… watching your every move… literally taking notes. And when you finish the song, you turn to him, seeking approval. Hoping he didn’t hate it. Hoping he’s not going to tell you to change everything you worked so hard on. Hours of hangover slaving over syllables, delaying food because you know it will send you to sleep and disrupt the alchemical chemistry that triggered the tumble of words and chords cascading from your lips and fingertips.
     In our case, Chris’ notes were minimal. But these small changes make a world of difference. He asked Ryan to play the syncopated hi-hat in the chorus of Got Thrown a little louder. He asked me to sustain the first chord in the progression of Call My Own a little longer to gel with Scott’s bass part better. We experimented with fuzz on Heroes. We abandoned fuzz on Heroes. We discussed a brass section for Afraid of Silence.

The session over, pre-production notes noted, changes rehearsed and the set gone over for Tuesday’s show at the Slaughtered Lamb in London, we left the studio. Trudged into town. I met a friend for lunch. We migrated to the pub. I got the train. I began building my collection of weary train selfies that I continued on the way to the Slaughtered Lamb.

Visiting Brighton so soon after leaving felt strange. It already doesn’t feel like home. But neither does Surrey. As a man of no fixed abode the train feels oddly like home.

Help us take our pseudo-jazz to the studio, contribute to our Indiegogo: igg.me/at/nicolasandthesaints

Goodbye to Brighton – Behind the Music

I’ve never been one for knowing about the ‘artist behind the work’. I prefer the work to speak for itself. It has the fortunate byproduct of allowing me to ignore Lou Reed’s misogyny and still count The Velvet Underground & Nico and Transformer as two of my favourite albums.
     I’ve also never particularly been one for explanations. How you, as audience, experience the piece is as much a part of it as the intention behind it. I’d go so far as to say the intention is almost irrelevant.
     But as I’ve been politely asking, cajoling and strong-arming my friends and family to contribute to the crowdfund for our new album, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I should expect (or at least, hope) other people to support my work. And honestly I don’t really know. But then I’ve never understood why anyone would support anyone else’s work. I’ve always been a self-starter. I don’t understand what the rest of the band get from playing my songs. But they assure me they get something.
     So I thought perhaps I should explain myself. What the new album is about. And what it means to me personally. So at least you may understand why I’ve been so shamefacedly begging you for money these past few days.

The new album. Let’s call it Goodbye to Brighton, as that’s what it will probably be called, is essentially a collection of ten songs I wrote in my last 18 months in Brighton. But in retrospect, it’s about loss. It’s about the loss of love. The loss of idealism. And the loss of home.
     I wrote these songs while still getting over the end of the seven year relationship I thought was forever. I wrote these songs as I turned 30 (a process that I’m sure every 30+ year old will agree takes at least a year). I wrote these songs as I eventually succumbed to a deep depression that finally pushed me on to medication, and out of Brighton.
     Beneath the ‘whisky-soaked vocals’, the quasi-free-jazz fireworks and rapid-fire whiteboy rapping, it’s about loss. The weary Waitsian barfly persona I often adopt on stage was never a conscious act, but has become less and less artificial as time has gone by. I joke about my song about a dyslexic stripper named Molly, but meeting her, and having the conversation that became the lyric, was horrifyingly sad. I have trouble sleeping. I take antidepressants. I drink too much.
     The song Red Wine in the Morning started as nostalgia for adolescence, triggered by hearing Jeff Buckley on the radio, and ends by lamenting the teenage years spent drinking wine, snorting cocaine and passionately, naively railing against the machine – culminating in attending the damp squib that was the 2003 anti-Iraq war march, the end of a generation’s political engagement. An idealistic passion replaced by empty chat of The Wire, Breaking Bad. I do not judge. I am a part.
     And for me, at least, that loss of idealism mutated into a potent nihilism. I have always been philosophically nihilistic, but over the last year or so that nihilism turned bad on me. Got Thrown is an existential holler into the void, with no expectation of reply. Afraid of Silence mocks the hand on heart softly spoken trustafarian positivity of slam poetry and Brian Coxian wonder at our status as stardust to say that yes, I am made of stars, and yes, I am part of a rich lineage of human history, living in the most prosperous, technologically advanced age of our species so far. But I am still lonely.
     Goodbye to Brighton, the song that will close the record, just as writing it closed the Brighton chapter of my life, is about losing a home. Not just leaving it, but feeling the need to leave despite loving it. Despite the wonderful friends, some of whom I consider family, the sea, the hills, the bars… For whatever reason, it just stopped feeling like home.

I’ve never known what the purpose of art is. If language is the method by which we reach out to each other, each trapped in our own internal model, our own subjective experience that no one else can share, it is a crude one. I suspect art is meant to achieve the same thing, but hopefully with more finesse. If that is the case, I hope that perhaps there is something in these songs that you can relate to. That makes you feel a little less alone in the confines of your own mind.

And for me personally? This is the record I’ve wanted to make since I first turned up at the University of Sussex in 2004. I feel I’ve finally shaken my influences and found my voice. I feel, I hope, my songs communicate something worthwhile. I’ve found the greatest musicians I have ever worked with, all of them better than me, all with an intuitive understanding of the songs. I’ve found a producer whose aesthetic I adore, and who I trust implicitly. It’s the record I’ve unconsciously been trying to make every single day I lived in Brighton.
     This, right now, is the only thing I care about. If I cared more about business, I would have the money to make it myself. But if I cared more about business, I wouldn’t have written these songs, nor developed the skills required to do so, to the same level. That is why we need your help.

If you’ve read this far, please consider contributing to our Indiegogo: http://igg.me/at/nicolasandthesaints

Thank you.

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