Tag Archives: Watertown Carps

New Watertown Carps single Wait and See – out now!

I’m hoping to finish up a short post on the late Nanci Griffith in a day or two. In the meantime, here’s something.

When The Fisher King was released, I mentioned in a post that while most of the songs on forthcoming album Mermaids were written by Yo and subsequently sent to me as voice-and-guitar recordings to build arrangements upon, there were a couple of songs that began as demos I sent to Yo for him to write melodies and lyrics.

Our new single, Wait and See, is one of these Palmer/Zushi compositions.

Wait and See started off several years ago as a song called Spring Like November. As sometimes happens with me, during the process of tracking it, I began to have doubts about its fundamental worth as a song. I liked the recording I was building on a musical level, but the actual top-line melody and lyric weren’t really all that thrilling to me. So I let it go. But I kept a rough mix of the instrumentation and actually listened to it from time to time, hoping that the dam would break and I’d get the inspiration I needed to reshape the song into something better.

It never happened, so when Yo suggested last summer that if I had any music lying around that he could write to, I should send it over to him, what was then still called Spring Like November was the first piece that came to mind.

The difference between Wait and See and Spring Like November is that Yo took advantage of the slow tempo to write something lyrically dense. At times, particularly the second verse, the vocal feels like it’s in double time relative to guitars. I really like that effect – it makes the vocal feel a little like a stream of consciousness, and moves the song away from the sad-core kind of thing it was before Yo worked on it. It also gives the song an extra rhythmic push that it lacked before, which I tried to compensate for with a double-time shaker to partial success.

A guitar solo with a bit of a country rock feel was also part of Yo’s vision for the song – originally I’d gone for something more based around the vocal melody, slow and clean. The solo we went with in the end has more of an overdriven tone for a contrasting texture, and was a good call on Yo’s part.

One interesting note is that, at this point, i have no memory of how I played the main electric guitar riff. I’m thinking it had to have been a G-based tuning with a capo on the 4th fret, but whether it was straight open G, or had a C bass, or was my favoured acoustic tuning of CGDEAD, I honestly don’t know. It was several years ago now, and I kept no notes. That’ll learn me.

Listen to Wait and See below:

Mermaids, our debut album as Watertown Carps, is out on 9 September on Rose Parade Recording Co.

The Fisher King – Watertown Carps (out now!)

Last year, when I was furloughed (and therefore not working) and the UK was in lockdown (meaning I was at home at least 23 hours a day), I got quite a lot of music done.

First up, I finished mixing Borders (Cruel Expectations), the third James McKean and the Blueberry Moon album. Then I moved on to Away from the City, the first joint release by Melanie and me. After that, I began working with Yo Zushi on some of his songs. We had tentatively started recording the previous November, but lockdown was when things began in earnest, and only one song begun at the late-2019 session made it to completion.

Since we couldn’t work in the same space, Yo would send me guitar and vocal recordings he made at home, and I’d build arrangements for them. On a couple of occasions, I sent him a completed backing track I’d written and recorded, and he wrote a melody and lyrics. It became enough of a partnership that Yo felt it was appropriate to release it as a collaboration, not as a Yo Zushi solo record. So we became Watertown Carps, and soon had a whole album.

I’m delighted to say that the album, Mermaids, is due to be released on 9 September by Rose Parade Recording Co., a Cardiff-based independent label run as a community-interest company. That makes them unusually democratic and collaborative, and it’s really cool to be working with people who so transparently care about what they do, who they work with, and how they do it, and who have been putting out great music too (TJ Roberts’ Love, Loss and Other Useless Things from last year is an absolute indie pop/power-pop banger – my choice cut is Somebody’s Someone, because I’m a sucker for that kind of washy guitar sound and a vocal harmony, but there’s something there for everyone).

Our first single proper, The Fisher King, is out now: it’s a Willie-Nelson-meets-Pavement lo-fi indie-country song that’s actually on some level about fishing. You can listen to it on Spotify, or whatever your favoured streaming platform is: https://open.spotify.com/track/3yesAZYPKjRwZrG9HhwPc7?si=122502f563cd44f7

I’m really excited for September. We’re hoping (praying) that we’ll be able to do a launch gig.

Songs from the back of the cupboard

This was kind of fun, if a little self-indulgent. Maybe I’ll do it again.

The other night I was playing around with a slow minor-key chord sequence, and it reminded me of a song I wrote and recorded around eight years ago. It came out as the B-side of a single I did for a short-lived project called Board of Fun, run by my friend and Watertown Carps bandmate Yo Zushi.

Board of Fun was an old-school pen-and-ink zine, with specially commissioned articles and artwork, and it in turn spawned a website and the Board of Fun Singles Club. Every month, Yo released download-only single under the BoF banner. I was one of the people who put out a Board of Fun single before the project ran out of steam. It was a two-song release: a Fleetwood Mac-via-Jonathan Wilson kind of thing called Little Differences, and a slower, piano-led B-side called Can You Explain. The new piece I was working on the other night reminded me of the latter, so I dug the Cubase project out and had a listen.

It’s a weird thing to listen to your own work after enough time has passed that you can hear it more or less objectively, as if it were someone else’s doing. OK, while it was evidently a sincere piece of work, it wasn’t my finest melody in the verses; it starts high-ish but quickly drops down low in a way that’s tough to sing, and it has a few of my usual odd note choices. It was pretty clear, too, that I’d botched the tuning of the snare drum (all pingy and boxy – like a military snare. Not right for the song at all). But other than that, I was surprised by the production, in a good way.

The best decision I made in relation to the song was not to sing it. Instead, I asked my old schoolfriend Chris Martin to sing it. (This Chris Martin is not that Chris Martin; he can sing, for one thing.) Chris has a wider range than me, with more depth in the low end and more lung power; the slow tempo made hanging on to the end of some of the lines tricky for me, but it was no problem for Chris. I had enough sense to know when I was beaten and get a ringer in, and Chris sang it a hell of a lot better than I could have done, and he also added some lovely harmonies on the spot. Chris has lived in Qatar and now Texas for most of the years since; I really miss recording with him!

But there’s some other nice touches in there. Back in that period, I was recovering from a serious cardiac illness, living with my dad and working only part time. So I had a lot of time to write and record, and the space to leave gear set up in a spare bedroom that I didn’t have when I moved into a one-bed flat in London a few months later. Since I had two amps then, and the space to put them in, I developed a taste for stereo set-ups to record heavily tremolo rhythm parts: pan them hard left and right, and the effect is a little like a having a Leslie speaker that you’re in the middle of.

A stereo-tremolo guitar can fill out a recording on its own, but I used it more for density and texture. The song was mainly piano-led – unusual for me since my abilities are so limited, but it needed a piano as it was based on a chord that’s tough to capture on guitar. I think it’s kind of a G major (right hand) superimposed on D minor (left hand), but I don’t exactly recall at this point. I added guitar arpeggios in the choruses, harmonised left and right, using open strings to expand the chords a little: a trick I still love now, and thought I’d started doing later. The drums are quite interesting in their way, too – very slow half-time feel, but with an 8th/16th note hi-hat part that I played with two hands (snare was right hand).

All of which is to say, it’s far from a great song, but it’s got more going for it than I would have remembered at this remove. It’s easy to forget about a lot of what you do if you’ve been writing a while, as I have; you’re more excited by your recent material and while you hang on to your favourite older songs – the ones that you still play live – you forget about the rest, or assume they’re no good. And while I definitely don’t rate this among the best 20 or even 30 songs I’ve written, it’s not actually a bad one.

I polished up the mix slightly, using close-miked snare samples to improve the drum sound (it’s a recording of the same snare drum, but tuned better, and velocity matched as close as I could manage), and updated the file that’s on my Soundcloud. All being well, it’s embedded below for the curious.