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James Yorkston & Alexis Taylor discuss the making of The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society

James Yorkston & Alexis Taylor discuss the making of The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society
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James Yorkston releases his new album, The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society, on 18 August which was produced by Hot Chip‘s Alexis Taylor. Featuring guest appearances from KT Tunstall, The Pitish Trail, Rob Smoughton and Fimber Bravo, along with the singer-songwriter’s long term collaborators Jon Thorne and Emma Smith, we got Yorkston and Taylor back together via email to discuss their collaboration, the recording sessions and how a cover of Chris Bell’s You And Your Sister ended-up on the finished album – and we have an exclusive stream of that track you can listen to below right now.

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James Yorkston: Hey. So, thanks for doing the rekkid. When I asked you, what were your initial thoughts?

Alexis Taylor: I was delighted to be asked. I thought, “I wonder what James will want his record to sound like, and if he knows what I might bring to the equation.” I’m not sure I knew… What prompted you to ask someone new to be involved in this record, and what did you want to achieve, if you had thought in that way?

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JY: I’m not sure I knew what I wanted you to bring to the pot either, other than something a little different. I’ve always been shy of producers in the past – I’ve always felt that I knew what I wanted to achieve – so even when I was working alongside someone, I was always very aware of what was going on and quick to steer things away from alto-sax waters. This rekkid was probably the first time I said “Do whatever you fancy” and actually meant it. I think that worked pretty well, too. We spoke about using old drum machines and the like, name checked The Congos, Can and such, and it my head the album was probably going to sound a little more Casio. In the end there’s barely a drum beat on it. I love that! As ever, there’s enough rhythm going on with all the interaction between the other instruments. But was that frustrating for you?

AT: Not frustrating no. I wanted to “serve the songs” first and foremost but also try out different palettes of sound and be imaginative with them. The only one I felt worked with a drum machine that we decided not to go with was Broken Wave. I listened recently to the version of that and it sounded pretty good with the old The Kit drum machine ticking away. But it didn’t necessarily improve the song – maybe distracted a little? I remember some of the band liking it whilst we were making it – and you and Jon Thorne thinking it sucked the life out of the song. I think that is a good thing to be aware of. In a way, if the record had ended up a bit more Casio that might have been a little predictable and maybe a bit Indie/twee – things I like to avoid. These songs were in need of good performances, well documented, really nicely recorded. Mics positioned in the right way and people really listening in order to pick the best performances. And you singing and playing some pretty devastating songs without anyone crying, or being verbally abused by Jon Thorne. A tricky balance. The group singing brought something special to it, as did Emma’s violin and vibraphone, and the Rhodes, and hopefully my textural synth parts and the “moogerfooger”-ed guitar stuff brought something quite subtle but new to the songs. Nothing was shoe-horned in. Jon worked really well with you, knowing the songs well enough to underpin them beautifully, I thought he was the MVP – most definitely. I would think of Big Star Third at times. The atmosphere of that record became something of an inspiration, but kept it to myself mostly in case you hated it… Then of course there was Slash’s autobiography, and Nikki Sixx’s diaries to keep us constantly inspired in the studio. Could you talk a little about those?

JY: Yep, fuck indie twee, we couldn’t have had that! The tears though, we got those out of the way in the rehearsals, I seem to recall. Almost comical, Emma and I crying our eyes out at these wee songs about Doogie – but then, if they don’t get to us, who played with him for years, who would they get to? Those rock’n’roll books were an interesting counterpoint to what was going on with us. I think that helped, really, kept the mood light, not dwelling too much on any seriousness, giving us something to laugh about. I really loved what you were adding, musically. It’s so much easier when making a record when everyone’s creating good noises to surround my songs. Your porn soundtrack stuff – the wah-wah guitar and Fender Rhodes – really fitted in. Maybe the Nikki Sixx biography was turning my mind in that direction though. I’ve never heard the Big Star records, so no worries there. Hey you know, I like most things musically, except for the crud. But one man’s crud… Is You And Your Sister a Big Star song? I’m pleased we got one song on the album which was recorded on my phone. Keeping things DIY…

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AT: I don’t love Big Star but I love Alex Chilton. You And Your Sister was his ex-bandmate Chris Bell’s solo tune.

JY: Ah. What’s an MVP? Is that a LOL thing?

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AT: MVP is a sports phrase for Most Valuable Player.

JY: One of the things about the record were the guest voices, who I pretty much chose: KT, Pictish and yourself. Who would you have asked for this project if KT or Pictish had said no?

AT: That answer is easy: Robbie Williams, Slash and Nikki Sixx! No, no. If I wasn’t pandering to your whims, I would have asked Alasdair Roberts and Sinead O’Connor. Maybe a bit much? Robert Wyatt. King Creosote. Lizzi Bougatsos.

JY: I’d have loved Ali and Sinead, although I’ve never met her, so asking would have been tricky. I was very happy with Pictish and KT, they were my initial choices. Tell you who’d be great, Adele, I love her voice.

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AT: Who would produce your next record and what would be the studio of choice, bearing in mind [Lee “Scratch” Perry’s studio] Black Ark is no more?

JY: I don’t go for crazy name studios really; I think that comfort is just as important as which famous musician has been sick on the mixing desk. I’d like to record somewhere warm though, south of Spain maybe, or on an island? I haven’t given it a thought as to who I could ask to produce. I do like recording sessions to be quite cut off from the world though, quite insular. Bryn Derwen is a great studio for that, although it’s not so warm up in North Wales. So… Can I produce the next Hot Chip record then?

AT: It’s almost finished. And we have yet to have an outside producer! But the next one…

For more head to Jamesyorkston.co.uk.


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