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2004-06-17 The long way to a new album

Interview with Matthew Gilsenan

 

Can you please tell us a little bit about how you are selecting/searching/choosing the songs for the new album? Are you choosing all songs of your own or do you get some songs from EMI or from your management or from someone else?

Making a commercial album is a bit like making and baking a cake. You must choose the ingredients well, they must all be fresh and have a good taste and like any good baker the ability to make final adjustments to recipe, mixing method and oven type and temperature is vital.

The recipe is primarily made up of the songs and is a particularly crucial part of the process.

The first stage in song selection for this album has been to agree on a common theme to hold the songs together.

We feel that " Inspirational songs of the heart and soul" is a good place to start.
We all have ideas as to what we would like to be on the album. The three of us have completely different tastes but we all gather together our separate song choices; we also put out a webwide alert to songwriters and publishing houses to say that the celtic tenors are indeed making another record and are searching for new material, this has proved more interesting than fruitful, although we may have one or two new ideas from here.
Our manager Pat always has a big say in the songs at this stage and even more input at a slightly later stage. Pat has a great ear (even though he's a wee bit deaf!) for a good song. The Record company has had only a minimal input into song choice so far, this often changes the closer we get to a final set of pieces.
We have a series of meetings in which we all bring songs to the table. These are eliminated one by one until we have a core working set which we can begin to work on.

At this point the three of us meet in a studio and give the songs "The Celtic Tenor Treatment" James often has a sketch of harmonies done and this creates the canvas on which we all work. The end product of this stage is a working set of songs that have a coherent form and a full set of vocal harmonies. It is often as early as this that we designate who is singing the tune and harmony. The next stage we work the songs through with David our musical director and further refine the music. This time also gives glimpses of how the finished track might be treated musically, whether orchestra, band or whatever...
At this stage we have found a producer who's vision and skill as a master baker of records should add just the right amount of salt, sugar, yeast and magic to make the whole thing... His name is Calum Malcolm. We're very excited about this man, he is the father of Blue Nile and has engineered and produced some of my favorite records.
More meetings with the producer follow. This will also shape the tracklist as of course the album must have one musical vision as well as theme.
Ideally we must try out songs through the year in front of an audience. This, sadly, is an Ideal which rarely gets put into practice for all of the new tracks though we have managed to to give a good few of the new songs a public airing. 

 

What's the next step to the new album when you have found the songs you want to record?

 

When we finally know the track list the album is at a fairly advanced stage, the map for each song is complete and the vocal harmonies are finalized. The next big thing is that once the producer knows his direction, the arrangement of orchestral and band parts begins.
Both the record company and Pat can now have a more accurate idea of what each finished track will sound like. This is where disappointment can occur as sometimes a song can be dropped or replaced, we sometimes resist these changes but more often than not we end up trusting Pat's judgement.

By this time the executive producer will have carefully scheduled the recording at studio and booked all the musicians. This is a delicate task that requires excellent time management and critical path skills so that the mixing, molding, proving and baking all take place in the right order so that a perfectly domed golden bread emerges, perfectly risen, not too doughy and not too light and tasting just right.