by Jacqueline Rosokoff
This week on COREnered, Glass Pear, the musical incarnation of singer-songwriter Yestyn Griffiths welcomes us into the studio. Born in Wales, Yestyn creates music with soaring melodies behind reflective lyrics, and as the younger brother of recording artist Jem, he proves that musical talent runs in the family. Read on to learn more about Glass Pear's recording process, and the inspiration behind music that you may have heard on shows like Grey's Anatomy, Bones, and 90210.
- Without using the words "alternative," "pop,” or "rock," describe your sound.
Some of my slower songs like "My Ghost" and "Wild Place" are soft feather pillows for tired heads. Others, like "Where is my home?" are more dramatic, building in intensity like an approaching orgasm, with rich orchestrations and honeyed harmonies. The new record I'm working on sounds like an exotic lovechild of Radiohead and The Beach Boys. Pretty rainbow melodies over a jungle of beats–music to lift you up like a helium balloon so you can be closer to the sun so that your life feels a little warmer.
- What or whom do you go to for musical inspiration?
Animals. Especially cats. They really know how to relax and meditate – my cat Charlie would sleep in my bed for thirteen hour stretches underneath the duvet without moving. He taught me that vibrant creativity comes from deep relaxation and contemplativeness. So before I start writing music I always do a session of meditation and purring.
- Describe your ideal studio environment.
I have a long-term dream. Many would call it a fantasy. And it's not to be woken up by a naked Penelope Cruz marooned on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (although that would be nice). My wet dream is to have a home studio in a circular wood-floored space perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. There is a glass roof that opens up when the sun is happy. The views of the sea are breathtaking. And the cherry on the cake is a black grand piano, a vocal booth and a lock on the door. Until then, I've got my little bedroom studio in North London with a tiny midi keyboard.
- How do you approach recording a song?
There are two stages, kind of comparable to pregnancy and labour. Once the Muse and I have conceived, the song gets incubated in my bedroom studio. I develop a demo in which I flesh the rhythm, string, guitar and bass ideas. I also write new parts and scrap old parts (a bit of genetic engineering). Then I record in a guide vocal and develop harmonies. In the later stages I take the demo to the nursing staff Tash and Tom (my co-producers). Tom is an all-round musical and production genius. Tash is a drummer born of heaven. They add their musical ideas to the demo and that's when the difficulty of labour really begins. Together we pick the best parts of all our ideas, throw away the worst or the merely mediocre, instigate arguments, justify tantrums and get stroppy. Once the baby has moved into position, we proceed to record all the chosen parts to master quality, usually one track at a time. In the final mix, somehow the little song cherub always gets delivered perfectly formed, despite my screaming!
- How often do you try to put in studio time?
When I'm in the middle of writing and recording a record, every day. I used to work all day and sometimes into the night. Now I like to relax in the evenings so I try to work in the mornings until the early afternoon.
- What kind of studio equipment do you use to record?
I record my demos on an old Mac G4 using Logic 6, an acoustic guitar, an AKG C3000 Mic and lots of sampler instruments. In Tom's studio, which is a converted garage, we use Pro Tools LE, a Mac G5 twin processor, Genelec monitors, Digi 002 interface, Waves platinum & Line 6 plug-ins, Pod x3 for guitars, Vienna Instruments for strings, Native and Reason for synths, Rhode NT2 Mic, Fender Deluxe Telecaster, Fender Deluxe Precision Bass, Gibson 335, Martin Acoustic Guitar, DW drums and a Roland digital piano. How's that for product placements!
- What do you do if you're trying to record and it's just not working for you?
Well, we ask some obvious questions first of all to ascertain whether it's really to do with the music. When did Tom last eat? When did Tash last have sex? When did I last meditate? If we're satisfied that there are no personal frustrations inhibiting the process, then the best thing I find is to either take a break or refresh by looking at another song. There's no doubt that producing music can sometimes be akin to Chinese water torture, there is only a certain number of times you can hear a chorus before it starts to drive you loopy. One other very handy studio trick is farting. As the mood drops and everyone's irritability is on the up, a bit of loud farting never fails to bring the smiles and laughter back. That's why Tom is so indispensable.
- How do you know when it's right?
I put some big, furry headphones on to listen to the final mix. I close my eyes. If the song thoughtlessly carries me away to a far off land of beauty and doesn't cause me to reflect on its parts, then it's a big green light. We tuck the song into bed, turn out the lights and go get some good sleep ourselves.