One Woman Band

Elaine X is a singer/songwriter based in Aberdeen.  Elaine X has been writing and playing since her teenage years however she put it all aside for a long time, one of the main reasons being unable to find musicians dedicated and reliable enough. She writes the songs, now plays all instruments, sings the vocals and records everything herself (in the absence of a band).  The last couple of years have seen Elaine X return to her love of writing music and it’s prolific.  Her latest song is “Low”. Still Burning was intrigued enough to ask Elaine X what goes on in the making of a track, and here it is…

Click the player below to listen to “Low”.

“Here’s the story of how I wrote and recorded Low.

…I was practicing for a live set using a dodgy guitar amp, you know the kind that you can’t hear anything when the volume’s at 2 and it blows your head off when it’s at 3!!  So I’ve got my left hand on the guitar hitting the open A string with a B note hammer on and my right hand is on the volume knob trying to find a happy medium.

That A hammer on B thing is sounding a bit repetitive but I quite liked it, anyway, after a while I find the right volume on my tempramental amp and get to practicing my set.

Few days later I get back to that idea ‘A hammer on B’ thing and develop a bass line from it pretty much adding just a G sharp and a G to the riff.  Then from the bass line I worked out a series of open chords which are basically B minor, G sharp minor and G major (although I don’t play the root note and leave them all open, not used that before but it sounds fine).  That’s the verses.

Pretty much all my writing is done on an electric guitar but not plugged in, so I effectively write acoustically.  Always thought that songs should be able to stand up just with a guitar and a vocal.

I don’t have any lyrics yet, but I like to get the feel of the music then I usually get the jist of what it’s actually about.  I once heard an interview from Bob Dylan who said that songs already exist and musicians are just lucky enough to discover them.  Who knows but you never know?  So the lyrics start coming to me as I’m playing the chords and seem to fit.

“Hold your breath underwater, how long before you drown,
keep your wits about you and hold on to the ones you love”.

Not sure if it means much of anything really, but you can make of it what you will.

Chorus.  The bass note is a D but the guitar chord?? I don’t know what it is.  I play the shape of an E chord but on the first 3 strings with the root note on the E string at A.  God that’s even confused me, it’s a lot easier to play than describe.  Probably would help if I understood music theory but I don’t.  Anyway, it’s that chord then an E minor with an A note added on the G string.

Again the lyrics suit the music so here goes…

“This low can’t last, it takes your breath away some days.
You know it’ll pass and life will come rushing back.”

Second verse..

“Waters still, what lies beneath? Excuse to loose it all you needed.
Blindness makes it seem so bright, when all you really need is time and time and time and time.”

Bridge:  The song just felt like it needed a big release in the middle, like the whole thing was quite suppressed and a vocal was just bursting to get out, so that’s what happened.  This soaring high pitched notes borderline on screaming came out.  With this chant in the background “You are not alone I tell you.”

That’s it written in a rough form but I then record a rough acoustic version and listen to it over and over for a few days to work out the structure of the song, a few tweeks, like which verse was going where, where to put the bridge etc.  I also spend a lot of time working out the drum patterns.

I record everything in my home studio.  Play all the instruments and sing and I work out the drums on a real kit but I’m not good enough at drums to record so after working out the drum patterns I program every beat individually into an Alesis drum machine, a really old thing, but sounds like real drums.  Takes days and I’m sure there’s a quicker, easier way of doing it, but I want each beat just the way it sounds in my head.  Call me a control freak, you won’t be the first!!

Once the drums are programmed I record the drum track first.  Second track I put down a rough rhythm guitar, third track main vocal.  I think the vocal is the most important part of any song and that the music should fit round it, so after laying down the vocal I record a fourth track which is the ‘real’ rhythm guitar part.  5th track bass line, 6th track backing vocal chant thing, 7th track lead guitar, scrub the 2nd rough guitar track.  Bob’s your Uncle.  Burn the tracks as WAV files onto a CD and take it to Paul at Captain Toms who can work his magic and mix the track in less than an hour.  That would take me 6 weeks if I had and understood Logic Studio and it still wouldn’t come close!”

So that’s pretty much how I write and record all my songs.  I’m still working on playing drums but in the meantime …..”

Elaine Xs MySpace.

Elaine X - Low

Many thanks to Elaine X for taking the time to do this for fns, I’m sure there will be a Part Two in the pipeline when time allows.  😉

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