Washington Irving on the highs and lows of recording an album
washington irving

Our new band of the week is Scottish folk-rock act Washington Irving.

After releasing two EPs in 2013 – Palomides Vol I and Palomides Vol II – the band recently returned from New York, where they recorded their first full length record and straight-talking new single ‘We Are All Going To Die’.

Drummer Chris McGarry tells us about the highs and lows of recording their new single and upcoming album with producer Kevin McMahon in upstate New York. 

We were in a foreign land.

Although, being America, it was somewhere that was at once quite unlike Scotland and the UK and also uniquely similar. It was like two things that were out of phase with each other, but you could trace the points where they matched up.

We all felt slightly out of phase with reality in our time in New York state, where we would record these songs.

Our only contact to begin with was Kevin McMahon, our new producer and eventually, good friend. We soon learned he had a way of doing things when it came to recording and we were all eager to learn and live his way of making a record.

Our first encounter with him did not start well: we were supremely jet-lagged, he showed up later and when he arrived he let us know Titus Andronicus, a band we greatly admire and a big reason we were sitting in this bar in New Paltz talking to their regular producer, were “gunning for us” because we had booked our time right bang in the middle of their recording process with Kevin. He then asked us ‘why did you come all this way?’.  It was not the conversation we had longed for on the flights and car journeys that took us to this point. But it was the one we got.

Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus

What we came to realise was that this was part of Kevin’s ‘way’. Making a record with a band is as much about the general psyche of the band as it is about their ability to pick up an instrument and play. He was emptying us out and filling us up again, so we were prepared for the work that was ahead of us. It was an intense few weeks, there was shouting, laughing, tears, occasionally squaring up, between all of us. It might sound a little strange but it absolutely worked.

The basic tracking was an arduous process, one that reaped great reward but felt like an incredible struggle. Our own anxieties about having made this trip, emptying our bank accounts to travel to a distant land, to record music with someone we had only admired from afar had a significant effect on our psyche.

Washington irving
Washington Irving

We played together in a room every day for a week straight, getting multiple takes of each song, changing bits, tweaking things, getting lectures on what we were doing wrong and inspirational speeches on how to make them right, or better. It was emotionally straining as almost every moment of our day was taken up, without respite, by this process.

It was finally over, with every song played 30 odd times. Then Kevin told us that tomorrow was the “lightning round” – the day we recorded one pass of everything and played like it was a live show.  As far as I am aware, the bass, drums and rhythm guitar (for the most part) were all recorded together on this day of the ‘lightning round’.

Until this point, we had only met a handful of people in our time in America. We needed to bring together a group to do vocals for ‘We Are All Going To Die’, among others on the album.  Our only other point of contact, was our lovely host, Bibi Farber. We were introduced to bandmates, former clients and friends of Kevin. We finally started to phase in.

We had spent a couple of weeks in America already, as a group isolated. Now we had a bunch of folk we could talk about life, death and the in-between (mainly music) with, and would go on to have long nights, enjoy their music at local shows, and compare our experiences of being a musician here and back home, and all the trouble and bullshit in the world.

The solidarity that we held as five Scottish people began to expand past us as we all repeatedly screamed “We Are All Going to Die!”. The meaning implicit on our faces, in our smiles and in the inflexion of our voices. We had entered this place feeling isolated, not sure if anyone understood what we were here to do, why we had decided to do it. In these moments, as the amount of takes we did and bottles of beer simultaneously grew in number, we had a moment of clarity, a true epiphany, one that had been there from the moment we wrote the song.

This was the greatest ice-breaker we could have hoped for. We were all going to die.