Red River Dialect is a British folk-rock band. Their new album, Abundance Welcoming Ghosts, is out now via Paradise of Bachelors.
(Photo Credit: Jimmy Robertson)
With Red River Dialect I always prefer recording live as a full band, not that overdubbing feels like cheating, it just seems more fluid to bounce off the energy in the room. It reminds me of stealing from a sweetshop or hiding a secret from a friend, if I can get my part down in that first take it feels like making off like a bandit. In that first take I can throw out all the suppressed typhoons of ideas that have no justification for being there apart from that they came out. The process of overdubbing makes me question decisions and analyze my parts and RRD has never been that for me, it’s a live band.
For my part, “Blue Sparks” is a deeply organic and guttural song. The sombre piano and the earthy chugging of guitar play beautifully with Kiran’s slight shuffle. It’s this slovenly energy that I play with, mimicking the drums ever-so slight off beat rhythm. In my ear the violin feels lazy, pulling back from the beat, dragging itself up the melody of the chorus, and then as David sings, “Outrageously,” it throws itself into the air.
—Ed Sanders (violin)
“Two White Carp”
I had purchased a copy of the I Ching (the ancient Chinese text used as an oracle and for divination) before we began travelling west to Wales for the recording session. I had the idea that we could consult it each morning to find out which song to try recording. However, on the weekend before we played at the Sea Change festival in Totnes, Devon (run by the lovely folks at Drift record shop). In an act of charity we agreed to alleviate their embattled hospitality staff of the burden of a few crates of Doom Bar, and the I Ching ended up the less consulted of the two. We woke up on day one, and the Doom Bar guided us to “Two White Carp.” We had it down within a few takes, all playing live, and once you have a track under your belt it really loosens you up. The song has a lot of tension and not much release, it’s a bit of a whirlpool dream song, but somehow it paved the way for us to move on.
PS Doom Bar is a well-known Cornish Ale, but it takes its name from a large sandbar found at the estuary of the river Camel; the river I grew up on and which featured on our last record Broken Stay Open Sky. It just struck me that this song’s lyrics are a dream I had about a place where a strip of land stood between the sea and a river valley and beach. Maybe the Doom Bar had more of a symbolic role than I had previously thought!
—David Morris (guitar and vocals)
Some writers have been spelling it Snowden, but this is more Wiki-peaks than Wikileaks. This is the third to last song in a set that stem down from the time I wrote Tender Gold and Gentle Blue. There are two more, both of which we recorded during the session for this album; they are yet-to-come but coming. On the lp insert and inside the cd packaging there are two quotes from the Ch’an/Zen tradition.
‘Once when Pao Fu and Ch’ang Ch’ing were wandering in the mountains, Pao Fu pointed with his hand and said, “Right here is the summit of the mystic peak.” Ch’ang Ch’ing said, “Indeed it is. What a pity.”’
‘Zen Master Joshu was asked, “How do I get to the summit of the mystic peak?” and his response was, “I won’t say.” When the monk pressed him, asking, “Why won’t you say?” Joshu said, “If I told you, you would go right on thinking that you are now on level ground.”’
For me they hold a mixture of humor and sincerity, addressing this urge to reach the summit of experience, to transcend the lumpy earthen world. It’s my experience that this urge or obsession can blind me to the fact that each moment is a summit, a pinnacle and convergence of sensation and awareness, where the view can be magnificent if we don’t veil it with our projections of where we truly should or could be. At the same time, this song has a definite sense of straining to touch the sky, but that when we do, we touch our own hearts, and that they were there all along. But I’ve started to wonder whether I need to make such a big deal out of that.
I love Kiran’s drumming on this track, the anchoring of the chorus and the swing of it. It took a while for us to find that soft spot for the song, when we first started playing the song together I would play the chorus kind of choppily, trying to make it big, and it took a while of playing it with the group to let it soften and start to sway. It’s been the RRD way so far that I would write song structures and then bring them to the group setting. Sometimes I have ideas, but in truth I am not that musically creative. I don’t have visions, perhaps because I have the luxury of being in a band with a bunch of very idiosyncratic musicians who bring distinct flavors.
Whilst we were practicing ahead of a tour in early 2018 with The Weather Station (a really remarkable songwriter and band there – I could watch Will Kidman play guitar forever) Kiran encouraged us to focus our attention on one of the others whilst we practiced a song, rather than ourselves or the whole situation. This was helpful for us, and I think the fruition of this technique came out in the way we worked with some of the difficulties we had with some of these songs, because it’s so often the case that tuning in to what someone else is doing helps you work out how to collaborate for the benefit of song rather than push your own agenda.
I sort of want to do a “for the record” statement about the mushroom reference in this song. It’s not about psilocybin, but it is about magic mushrooms. Because all mushrooms have magic and some of it is deeper than psychedelic experience; it is even more other. But really the song is the closest to dumb fun I have ever managed, and now I listen and it sounds incredibly serious! The first demo we made of this song was 12 minutes long and 9 of those minutes were the jam at the end. We reined it in for the recording… but I’m personally keen to let it fly when we play it live.
Simon’s guitar and Ed’s fiddle on this one really drive it. I was talking with Simon the other day and he was reflecting on the fact that when he listens back to his guitar parts he realizes that not having a fixed idea of what he will play loosened him up, but that he often can’t remember how he ended up playing what he did. I think he likes the highwire, and he does some subtly outrageous little moves when he’s on the line. It’s a thrill to watch him. He usually likes to be put in cupboards and confined spaces when we record. Sometimes he stands on small teetering stools. He always shows up 100%.
We were packing up our bags and cleaning our accommodation at Mwnci studios, but as we were doing this, we were still recording. With so little time to spare, Simon was asked to add the ghostly vocals that follow David’s on Red River. It was the last main part that we recorded and it only took a few takes. Simon’s voice was so perfect, his melody so accurate to what was needed on the song; it really showed his depth of knowledge in music. I feel that vocal adds a space and texture to the landscape of the song, but most importantly, a feeling of loss. Simon and David have been in the band the longest out of us all, and I felt a significance in their collaboration being the last piece of the puzzle.
—Robin Stratton (keys)
Time came to record the “Piano” song and the pressure was on. We were using a beautiful Yamaha upright but it was in the same room as David and his guitar. We decided the only way to work it was to record piano, vocals, and guitar all at once. It is such a delicate track and is like dancing on a thin sheet of ice, every muscle movement counts. I know that David is particular about his vocal recording and if I messed up he messed up! With a steady breath and super ear focus we all did it like magic. Lesson was that live recording is the best, as it makes you really listen and you can’t be lazy!
It seems that on every album there is a track that we all feel has something special or new for us, but is always the hardest to record and, at the end of the studio session, feels somehow incomplete. On Broken Stay Open Sky it was “Kukkuripa” – I ended up re-doing the acoustic guitar on that track, and adding another layer of electric guitar, and suddenly it was there. On “My Friend,” it was Tara Jane O’Neil recording multi-layered slide guitars over the outro – wow – what a thing to have one of your heroes bring their character to a song, and for it to work like this. One of my favorite moments on David Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name is when Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel comes in on the song “Laughing” and this gives a similar feeling of soaring elevation to me.
But the song still wasn’t complete. Coral then recorded these beautiful harmony vocals at home. They bring the tenderness out of the song in a way that maybe I find hard due to the vulnerability I feel in the lyrics. But her bass is so nimble on this track, and so she brings out the joy too! So she is a big part of stretching those dimensions, with Kiran driving it forward. The repeating organ part over the end of the song was Robin messing around. He often does stuff like that and I often say “that’s great!” but he usually thinks I’m joking. Luckily this one was recorded. Here’s a drawing he did during the sessions.
I wrote all of the songs on this record before I had the idea of going to Gampo Abbey for a nine-month retreat, bar this one, which I wrote in the weeks before the recording session. I only played it to the band at the last practice we had before the studio session and I wasn’t sure if it was a track we would be able to include. We were playing in a studio Coral had in Wirksworth, Derbyshire, on the top floor of an old mill. I began to run through the chords, and then, very early on, Ed played this keening violin line out of nowhere. It so made the song that I immediately felt a kind of fear that he might not remember it, or it would never feel the same as it did in that moment. But he retained both the melody and the feel, which is for me a very direct portal to the feeling of being on Dartmoor in the evening gloom, which is the landscape of the song for me.
Each of these reflections give the impression that we were flying by the seat of our pants. This is totally true. Since the band left Cornwall to different corners of the UK, we’ve rarely had extended time together. The band does play a lot with spontaneity and chance and something about the chemistry means something comes together most of the time. Generally, we finish recording albums in three or four days, having gone in to the studio not entirely sure what we were going to do. At the end, we usually share our genuine surprise that some kind of coherency has been achieved.
(Photo Credit: left, Jimmy Robertson)