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The Anatomy of Recording an Album

In response to frequent queries on Lucy's Friday Questions page over on Facebook regarding the progress of Marillion's new album, we are sharing the following. It was written by Steve Hogarth during the recording of F E A R an gives a little insight into the band's recording process.

The writing and recording process for us is well documented but for those of you who are new or have indeed forgotten - here is an outline of how we work:

We start by jamming together in the studio. At this point we have a blank canvas (as it were) and anything goes. We try to be as free-thinking as we can and the music that we play can quickly turn from experimental noises into… well anything really. Anyone can start a jam and it can lead to someone else taking up the baton and running with it.

All this music is recorded by Mike, who makes notes if-and-when he hears things that are interesting. We jam for a couple of hours each day and this new album will be a distillation of two years working this way (in between live dates and Conventions etc). It’s a very, very long job!

A whole day may have a single two hour jam session or five shorter jams with definite breaks and silent stops. Much of what we do is, of course, discarded. We have discovered over the years that the most fruitful time of day is the first twenty minutes. We have also discovered that many of the best ideas happen some weeks into the process. We tend to hit a groove after a while. (Back in the day when we recorded on 90 minute dat tapes, we used to find from tape number seven onwards we were consistently having good ideas.)

We all sense when something good is going on and a buzz will go round the room.

To change things around for this album (and believe it or not speed things up a bit), we also jammed during rehearsals for the conventions and last couple of tours. Jumping into a jam can be cool as you have a different mindset and we have had great ideas come out of these recordings.

It has fallen upon Mike H to sift through all of the ideas and put them into lists of favourite things that seem relevant to each other - either lyrically or musically. We literally have weeks of music to work with and choose from.

For this album each of the six of us made top ten lists (fifty in my case) then top five. Then we put ideas together in song-lists and started to get a feel for what we all liked/wanted to work on and what would feel right for this project.

At this stage we begin arranging songs from our choice moments. Mike will edit a version together from the jams and we will revisit sections - one at a time - and replay them and jam more purposefully while h provides a lyrical structure. The lyrics will sometimes be leading the musical direction and other times it will be the music that makes sense of the thing. It's all very fluid in terms of how a song is going to end up and things can change at any time. However, finally, we have a piece of music from start to finish we are all happy with and this will be the template for what you eventually hear. We then look at every part under the microscope keeping what works and replacing or re-playing anything that needs it, and overdubbing as we go.

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