Episode 8: Travel as Equals or Not at All by Joseph Arthur

Episode 8: Travel as Equals or Not at All by Joseph Arthur

Our takes on the track:

Read about Frosty1973’s take and The Parsnip’s take.

The Inspiration

by Frosty1973

I first discovered Joseph Arthur in the Mike Lloyds Megastore sale in 1997. I’d seen something on TV about him signing to Peter Gabriel’s Realworld label and enlisting Brian Eno on backing vocals.  So when I saw his debut album,  Big City Secrets, in the sale I bought it as one of those experimental purchases which could go horribly wrong but rarely does.  The album didn’t really grab me at first but by then I’d learnt that it’s often worth leaving albums like that on the shelf to return to at a later date. He was based in New York and was the kind of artist I imagined would never venture over to the UK and so the prospect of seeing him live was pretty remote.

Some years later I moved to Stuttgart.  I was browsing through a listings magazine, in Ratzer Records, for La Laiterie in nearby Strasbourg and saw an advert for his upcoming performance.  It caught me off guard and something drew me into making the 3 hour train journey. In the meantime I’d bought his second album Come to Where I Am From and the Gypsy Tea Rooms promo.  A message printed on the back of the promo had me really intrigued.  It said, “Everything you hear is untreated, unedited and completely live.” The music on that recording had a really full sound with different parts and percussion. At that point I couldn’t work out what was going on but it added to the mystique of the artist. I’d already fallen in love with the track In The Sun so I bought a ticket there and then.

Advert for Joseph Arthur at La Laiterie, Strasbourg - April 2nd 2002
Listing for Joseph Arthur at La Laiterie, Strasbourg – April 2nd 2002

The gig was spectacular.  Joseph appeared solo in front of probably about a thousand people.  His rich sound was built up using a loop machine but these songs weren’t drones they were built up with distinct sections.  At times he was crouched on the floor banging a microphone against the stage to create percussion loops. At other times he built up beautiful improvised vocal and guitar loops. I remember him doing a simple stripped down acoustic version of the beautiful, yet to be released, track Honey and The Moon. The crowd was in thrall and a stand out moment was an ethereal performance of History in which the whole audience joined in with the vocals. It sounded more like a well-trained choir performance than the usual football crowd singalong I was used to hearing at gigs.

The scenes after the gig reminded me of Don’t Look Back, a documentary about Bob Dylan that I’d recently watched. The buzz of the crowd during the gig spilled over into a post-gig signing session. There was a clamour to get him to sign and draw artwork on copies of the newly available Junkyard Hearts EPs. I remember seeing a girl who had taken some poetry she’d written for him and another girl who’d taken a sketchpad for him to draw on. He patiently obliged and drew sometimes quite elaborate artwork for fans. I’ve seen many after-show signings over the years but nothing like this one.

Since then Joseph’s been through many line-ups of bands, played with musicians as diverse as Dhani Harrison (son of George), Ben Harper, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam) and many others. He’s released a huge amount of material and opened MOMAR, a gallery of his own artwork.  He regularly paints on huge canvases live on stage during his gigs – see video below:

I believe the track I’ve chosen for this episode started life as a poem.  I first saw him perform it at The Band on The Wall in Manchester which is probably when he recorded the following video of him performing it in Manchester’s northern quarter:

I’ve heard him perform numerous versions of the song it developed into since then and one of my favourites is the version he performed on the Letterman show with a full band. It has so much energy:

Frosty 1973’s take:

As with most veg episodes it took a couple of attempts to come up with something I was satisfied with. Part of the reason for choosing the song was that I wanted to to something a bit more upbeat. I tried. I failed. I came up with something up beat but it didn’t really fit the style of the song. Also, attempting to write some lyrics with the pace and meaning of the original poetry was probably going to be too much for me within any kind of reasonable time frame so my original idea, which may well be reused at some point, was abandoned.

I was struggling to come up with something.  I just wasn’t in the right creative mindset so I decided to try something completely different and unrelated as a palate cleanser. I was reasonably satisfied with the music I’d done for the Vaughan Williams episode so I thought I’d have a go at doing something with a bit of a classical feel. This was developing nicely but quite early early on I tried fitting Joseph’s lyrics to the music. Strangely it kind of worked and I was away. I didn’t follow the classical sound through. I stripped it back to the piano part and built up from there. What survived from the early version was the subtle variation of chords that lead the verse from minor to major and the more upbeat chorus.

Propellerheads Reason Synchronous Rack Extension
Propellerheads Reason Synchronous Rack Extension

For the, very basic, guitar parts I used the new Synchronous Rack Extension to add a bit of character.  In places I think it gives a bit of Beth Orton/Chemical Brothers feel. I also used the Scream 4 distortion’s twin with reverb setting and the Vermillion amp’s twin with reverb setting.  In a bid to beef up my voice I’ve used two identical tracks panned slightly to the left and right, one with Neptune AutoTune applied and one without.  I’ve mapped a third identical vocal to a vocoder playing some harmonies on a synth preset.  I like the way the three combine to give quite a full sound on the finished track. I did try using the AutoTune track on it’s own but it sounded too gimmicky. Francis Dunnery used the effect extensively on his Made in Space album which I now like but it took me ages to get used to it.

The track could have gone in a slightly different, more proggy direction.  An alternative early version has more mellotron and hammond and takes on more of a Procol Harum feel. All in all I’m reasonably satisfied with the final track.  It doesn’t have the insistance, pace and energy of the original and I couldn’t pull together a chorus of experienced soul singers but I’m getting a bit more comfortable with exposing my voice and I like the subtle changes the way the melodies interact with the changing chord foundation on the verses, particularly the gull flying section.  The song lasts nearly seven minutes but to me it seems to fly by in no time.

The Parsnip’s take:

This is a great track which I’d not heard before Frosty 1973 chose it. Once I’d listened to it for a bit it was stuck in my head so I was struggling to do anything new inspired by it. My thoughts kept coming back to the original so I decided to try a remix. This is decidedly tricky without any stems so please forgive any flaws in the final result. The first job was to try to extract the vocals. I took out the bottom end of the original track and fair amount of top end too. This left the majority of the vocals but as you might expect a load of guitar, snare and other shenanigans came along with it. You can hear how much other stuff was mixed with the vocals in this extract.

The remainder of the job was creating the dancy backdrop and adding elements that would camouflage all the non-vocal elements in the extracted vocal. This was a case of identifying what needed to be made invisible and then doing something else at the same frequency and timing to hide it. I think the end result is reasonably good but there’s no substitute for having the proper vocals. Apologies to Joseph Arthur for messing with a classic.

3 responses to “Episode 8: Travel as Equals or Not at All by Joseph Arthur”

  1. Sir Chris Frost, is a phenomenal creative talent. Listening to “Bermused Armadillo” this morning, has injected a strong dose of inspiration within my being. I strongly urge everyone to check out, “Chris’s” motivational creations, @ every opportunity. Best regards,

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