• Across The Sea

Creating The Triptych


CHAPTER IV

"To the sound of the music..."



Click, click, click, click…


It was one of the hottest summers on record as people headed outside to enjoy the relaxing of many of the lockdown restrictions in the UK. But not Across The Sea…for the soundtrack to our summer was a click track.


We must admit it was a spot of bad timing on our part to reach the recording phase of The Wayfarer Triptych at the height of summer. When we began working on Wayfarer… the previous October, we’d intended to have finished all production on the album in time for a busy summer of gigging. But alas, here we were, furthering our misery at a cancelled festival season by locking ourselves inside all day to the sound of click, click, click, click…


And, as with all Across The Sea recordings, we began with the guitars…


The way Pete plays guitar in Across The Sea is rather unusual and so requires a similarly unorthodox recording set up to achieve the desired results, one that has been adjusted and refined on each recording from Infinite Worlds onwards (I, Wanderer was a single take of a guitar with the pedalboard running straight into an interface, which is why it sounds horrible and digitised…).


The main guitar set-up for The Wayfarer Triptych involved running the guitar signal out of the pedalboard, through a DI (which also ran directly into the interface, recording the signal straight from the pedalboard), into a mixing desk, and finally out of a single Mackie PA speaker. Two microphones were set up in front of the speaker (a Sontronics STC-2 and a Shure SM57, placed directly in front and off-centre to the speaker cone respectively), with another (a Shure PG57) in front of the guitar itself pointing between the bridge and the soundhole. We’ll go into more detail on how these 4 separate signals were blended into a single mono guitar take in the coming weeks, when this blog focuses on the mixing stage.


A second, simpler, totally acoustic set-up was also used, where the guitar was recorded with two microphones: an STC-2 (pointing between the bridge and the soundhole) and an SM57 (aimed at the fretboard). This approach was used for a second set of takes on all main guitar parts, along with any other sections or layering that didn't require any pedalboard effects (mainly softer, fingerpicking sections and lead work.)


As with our previous releases, all guitar parts were recorded at 'The Mothership', Pete's Mum's converted garage, a conversion which, we might add, was not from a garage to a recording studio…



To combat the issues (which he’d ignored on all previous releases…) of recording in what is essentially a bedroom, Pete put his GCSE in Woodwork to good use at last and built three acoustic panels, using old decking, loft insulation and sheets of burlap. A temporary studio space was then created by wedging the largest of the three panels between a desk and a bookshelf (thus closing off the end of the room Pete would be sat in while recording), placing the speaker the other side and then enclosing it from the sides with the two other panels, and from above with a bed sheet. This make-shift approach looked ridiculous but worked wonders from a recording perspective, the only downside being that the room was now so full of speakers and panels that the only way to access the recording space was by step-ladder…


We wanted the guitars on this album to sound huge, which could mean only one thing: double-tracking, and lots of it. The main guitar sound (which you’ve heard on Nightfall in the Labyrinth and will hear on the other 8 songs in a few weeks time) is actually 5 separate takes of the same part layered on top of each other (again, we’ll go into more detail on this when discussing mixing). When stacking several takes of the same thing on top of one another, it’s of course very important that the timing of each take is bang on, particularly on intricate and high-tempo tracks such as Nightfall.. Suffice to say, Pete’s teenage obsession with playing along to Metallica songs and attempting to replicate James Hetfield’s legendary picking precision was truly put to the test on this album…



The Wayfarer Triptych featured not one, not two, but three different guitars (that pesky number 3 again…): though the vast majority of parts were recorded using Pete’s trusty ESP LTD A300 Electro-Acoustic guitar, a 1976 Tama 3560 12-string and a Cordoba Iberia C5 nylon string were also used. The Tama, which was also used for parts of Masquerade on Infinite Worlds, is a bit of a Ferguson family heirloom and, after a long overdue restringing, provided the backbone to Swansong, the final track of the album. The nylon string appears here and there throughout various tracks, but has its real showcase on the central portion of Serenity and Chaos as the sole accompaniment to Hannah’s vocal. Pete is not a classical guitarist, and so this 4.5 minute section was by far the most challenging thing he has ever had to record (made trickier still by The Mothership’s proximity to a noisy main road…), but after two full day sessions didn’t yield a take hitting the standards we were aiming for, it was a case of third time lucky (it had to be the third attempt didn’t it?) before the track finally met both our approval.


In early September, after 4 weeks involving near daily 14 hour recording sessions, bleeding fingers, about 25 sets of guitar strings, 1 broken pedal, almost zero exposure to daylight, and the aforementioned never-ending click, click, click, click, the guitar parts were completed, and one very tired guitarist packed his bags, abandoned The Mothership and headed back to the seaside.


Vocals were next, and this time Hannah’s one-take wonder reputation was really going to be put to the test…