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Tracking The Feeling from stage to studio

The Feeling provide Paul Watson with an insight into their Little World

The Feeling’s first commercial single, Sewn, reached a highly respectable number seven in the UK singles chart in February 2006 and their debut album Twelve Stops And Home, which was released later that year, made it to number two. The band went on to pick up a prestigious Ivor Novello award in 2007 for songwriters of the year and, in 2008, they topped the UK album chart with their second album, Join With Us.

Over the past 15 months they have been writing new material and working on pre-production for their third studio album, due for release later this year. On top of that, they still found time to organise their own unique and self-funded week-long music festival Little World in the popular ski resort of Meribel, in the heart of the French Alps.

Despite being bang in the middle of their pre-production schedule, drummer Paul Stewart says that Little World actually came along at just the right time because they were determined from the outset to nail the new songs as a live band before recording the album. On both previous studio offerings, all the songs were recorded before they’d been played live, which in hindsight The Feeling believe was to their detriment; with this record, they hope to generate more raw energy.

“What was cool was that we were able to use Little World as a sounding board for some of the new material that we’d been working on in the studio; at the time of the festival (March 2010) we were still learning and discovering how to play the songs,” says Stewart. “The studio approach is generally much more considered and thought out; when it comes to the recording of each part, we try to capture as natural and solid a performance as we can and there’s no room for experimentation.”

Pre-production for the album has taken place in the band’s own studio facility in Buspace Studios close to Ladbroke Grove in London. Their approach to recording has changed a lot since Twelve Stops And Home, most of which was recorded in a shed and engineered by the band. When they were asked by their label to re-record the songs in a high-spec studio, they failed to recreate the magic captured in some of their original performances and so had to make do with what they had – some of which had been recorded with sub-standard gear. This led to the mix engineer having to tweak the sounds to bring them up to scratch.

To ensure any creative magic isn’t lost this time around, everything recorded at Buspace has been done as cleanly and as well as possible with high-end equipment, in case it ends up being used on the album; Stewart adds that any B-sides for future single releases are more than likely to come solely from the Buspace sessions.

The master will be recorded in just two weeks at RAK Studios in St John’s Wood, London at the end of May with legendary Canadian producer Bob Ezrin, who co-produced Pink Floyd’s seminal album The Wall and has worked with various other high-profile artists including Peter Gabriel, Alice Cooper, Kiss and Lou Reed. Ezrin was involved from the very beginning of the project; The Feeling worked with him at his home in Nashville and he made a trip across the pond to work with them at Buspace.

“We’ve learnt that preparing to record an album requires a totally different approach,” says Stewart. “Little World was entirely about live performance and was fairly rough and ready, whereas in the studio we’re looking at fine details a lot more. Bob’s a fresh set of ears; he’s taken whole sections out of our songs – things we’d previously considered to be focal points – and made them better for it; he’s going to be key in RAK.”

The studio, which was once home to Damon Albarn and Gorillaz, runs Logic (using Apogee converters) and includes a 48-channel Mackie analogue console with Onyx preamps (which guitarist Kevin Jeremiah likes because they are clean and provide a lot of headroom). Genelec 8050as are used for monitoring; all five band members have a pair at home to make sure they all have a consistent reference when playing tracks back. A Neumann M149 valve microphone and an Avalon VT-737-SP tube preamplifier are used for recording all the vocals.

Although his main instrument of choice on stage is a Les Paul, for recording work Jeremiah has an array of guitars; Les Pauls, Stratocasters, a range of acoustics (six- and 12-string) and a baritone guitar to name a few. Amplification consists of VOX AC30s and AC10s, plus a recent addition to his inventory – brought in especially for recording – a 5W Cornford valve combo, which he rates very highly. He uses the same footboard in the studio as he does onstage – mainly overdrive pedals.

Stewart has a very different set-up in the studio environment compared with live. He uses two drum kits for recording, both by Tama; a Starclassic and a Vintage Imperial Star, which he likes because of its unusually large kick drum (26″ x 14″). Also in his kit bag is a beaten up looking Ludwig 402 snare drum, which is similar to the one Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham used back in the day. He picked it up in a junk shop in the US for $150, which he says is next to nothing for a drum of that quality. When in the studio, his choice of cymbals is constantly changing, though he opts mainly for Ks as he likes the darker sounds. Keyboard world includes a Rhodes, a Clavinova, a Nord and a range of quirky synthesisers.

As final preparation for the RAK sessions, The Feeling recently played (and multi-tracked) two secret gigs at the intimate Water Rats Theatre in Kings Cross, performing their new songs to 200 of their most dedicated fans each night. Jeremiah emphasised that the band’s live performances can often support their studio work, not just in terms of practice, but for potential material as well.

“We recorded the Water Rats shows so that we can not only listen back to them to see what’s going on, but with the adrenalin of a live gig there is often a lot of spontaneity within the performance that can sometimes really work, so if there’s a particularly good guitar solo for example, we can lift it and put it on the album.”

The album is expected later in the year and a tour will follow. It will be fascinating to compare the two after Ezrin and the band have established this complementary link between live performance and studio recording.