During two intense bursts, in late 2016 and mid 2017, I worked with the incredible Before Breakfast to produce/mix their first EP. As visceral as they are important, as beautiful as they are dark, these five tracks were recorded partly at my old project studio in Sheffield’s leafy Nether Edge, partly in 2Fly studios in one of Sheffield’s old industrial districts (engineered by the super-talented Dave Sanderson @sandersonicus), and partly at Yellow Arch (which was reclaiming disused industrial warehouse spaces before reclaiming disused industrial warehouse spaces was the done thing), and then mixed at my new studio in Brixton.
When we recorded, the band were just a three-piece - Gina (main writer, lead vocal), Lucy (cello, BVs) and Debbie (piano, BVs) - but they’ve recently become a four with the addition of the multi-talented Annie Rushworth (violin, bass, BVs). Here’s a few little bits about the production process which may be of interest.
Voices: One of the most magical moments in the whole process occurred during an early vocal session at Yellow Arch. The girl’s voices blend so beautifully together, and I wanted to capture that live feel rather than layer everything. I set up three mics in a semi circle and Gina, Debbie, and Lucy sang the opening bars of Fat Child. It was pretty special. There’s a video of it somewhere.
Beats: We wanted all of the percussion sounds on the record to be sampled and organic. The kicks are often a sampled thump on the back of Lucy’s Cello. There are taps on cello strings, seagull effects using harmonics, knocks on the body of my upright piano, scratched piano strings, and even a slammed piano lid. Part of the snare sound on body and Fat Child was made up of the sound of Gina, Debbie and Lucy standing round a mic and slapping their midriffs.
Lyrics: Alongside super strong harmonic progressions and melodies, one of the groups greatest strengths is Gina’s lyrics. She’s hit upon a rich seam of material. Things which haven’t really been addressed in mainstream songs, but which are at the heart of the human condition. Certain lyrical images led to particular production choices for me. For example, some of the drum sounds on caravan are made from the crunch of footsteps on sand. And the overall warmth and syrup-ness of Sticky Sweet came directly from the lyrics, I wanted the listener to really feel the "stomach lining, turned to syrup, sticky sweet".
Synths: The group were keen for there to be a good deal of darkness, grit, electronics, and heavy bass synth on the record. Once piano, cello and vocals were tracked, I set about putting the beats together and finding a bass synth sound that I felt would work with their general sound. I ended up with something super round and warm, punctuated by weird arpeggiated leaps at the ends of phrases. Hadn’t really heard anything like it, and it seemed to work well with the songs, so it stuck.
Guts (actual guts): On the EP’s titular track, Sticky Sweet, if you listen closely, you can hear the intestinal rumbles of Gina’s other half, Phillipe (ex of KOG and the Zongo Brigade, now of Oh Papa). It turns out that, once he’s full of milk, he is as good with the guts as he is with the bass.
I hope you enjoy listening to the Sticky Sweet EP, I think the band have created something super-special. Massive shout out to the girls for trusting me with the record, and to Dave Sanderson @ 2Fly for engineering/producing a couple of the sessions so beautifully, to Yellow Arch Studios, and to Martin Smith @ MU Studios for mastering the tracks.
The EP is available to buy at the band’s bandcamp.