Somehow, this month, my debut album, Wax & Seal, has turned twelve years old. It’s on the cusp of secondary (high) school. It’s slamming doors. It has an attitude, hormones, and doesn’t take any advice from its long suffering parents.
I’ve been digging through the archives here at The Cooke Report and I’ve found some of my studio diary entries from the recording sessions in Freiburg! I figured I would compile some of the entries here and share them. They’re erratic, and they’re numbered from the very first day I went into the studio so while the numbers make it look like I was there for an absolute age, that’s not the case. Frustratingly we spent more time out of the studio than in it, for various reasons, but it was all worth it in the end, and if you’re here, you’d probably agree!
I’ve really enjoyed putting these together. I hope you enjoy reading them!
NOTE : The night before flying to Germany to begin recording Wax & Seal at Ivy Court in Freiburg’s Altstadt.
Wax & Seal – Day 1 – 14 January 2004 – Home
So it’s the night before recording and none of the children can sleep. Just like Christmas. I’m listening to Buzzin Fly and trying to imagine what my album is going to sound like when It’s finished while trying to relax my mind in order to get back to sleep and I’m simultaneously making mental notes to remember socks, strings and this thingummy and that whatummy.
It’s clear to me now, before I do my first gig in Germany, that there is something perverse or at least ironic about spending your college life and a year abroad learning french and then going to record an album in Germany, a place where understandably they don’t speak too much french.
The stories of the Happy Monday’s producer who dismantled an entire drumkit because he was unhappy with the sound in the room, only to reassemble it again on the roof, keeps popping into my head.
Wax & Seal – Day 8 – 21 January 2004 – Freiburg
Note : After some heavy days and nights in the studio, we finally finished George’s Street Arcade, a song inspired by the doorstopper sandwiches and cosiness of Simon’s Café. Here’s the morning after we wrapped on the recording.
We finished up at midnight last night after some inspired mandola playing from Niels. He
picked it up and played it the whole way through after one trial run. He’d never played mandola before. It’d make you puke and feel inadequate in the way that the good musicians always do.
The guitars sound great. Really chugging along yet sitting nicely in the groove. The drums are fantastisch – those half beats have transformed everything. It’s a straight-forward song really, so I think we’ve succeeded in pulling it away from the standard approach, although it is quite traditional at the same time. So we have the basics down and I’m doing vocals tomorrow.
And now for something completely different. I had this really dramatic new tune that I wasn’t really sure if we’d do but it seems to have struck a chord (puntastic) with everyone. As we speak, or rather as I type and you read, Mitch is sitting in control room with a Korg machine on his lap about the size of a Milk Tray but much more offensive with loads of flashing lights and dials and buttons all over the shop. It looks like he’s playing a game. But It’s no game I assure you. Not sure where this will take us but I have this vision of an electronica backing an acoustic guitar track with haunting vocals and samples of people chatting on their way between stalls and coffee shops somewhere in the city. I’m half expecting Thom Yorke to come in for guest vocals.
I got some jumpers to keep me warm earlier today. Plain and functional. Very peaceful here right now. It’s amazing how many times a day you can use the phrase “Ich habe keine Deutsch”. My other most useful phrase is one I borrowed from a BBC language website. It’s for car owners. “Volltanken Bitte” means “fill ‘er up” basically. However I can use it at the pub, having tea with the musicians… so useful. I get strange looks but sure what the hell. I feel really bad about not knowing German.
Oh yeah, the song title is George’s St Arcade.
Wax & Seal – Day 14 – 27 January 2004 – Freiburg
It’s 02:02 local time in Freiburg. Late night again tonight. So I suppose technically this is the 28th but sure we won’t get all technical this late in the day.
I’ve been talking about the snow for days now… but the snow stuck today in the town. We stumbled around town a few hours ago when we went for a little break. Quite amusing. I expect much mirth and merriment will follow tomorrow. I have scheduled an afternoon snowball fight tomorrow with schnapps for everyone afterwards.
We finished the basic Ivory Heart stuff today. The guys seemed impressed by the level of madness in the basic tracks. I must say they are very patient fellas. My timekeeping is a little erratic at times. History is always kind to the writer. Bear this in mind when reading these diaries.
Florian, as usual, has been bouncing off the walls dying to play more stuff. So while the iron was hot we laid down a basic track for Like A Stone. It’s a lonely sort of song, yet not depressed… I don’t know… almost glad to be sad…. or something.. melancholic… but not in the bad way that many songs described as melancholic can be. Mitch got some beautiful deep snare sounds due to some nice miking and yet another of his fine crazy ideas that he is becoming known for. To protect his genius I cannot reveal his secrets. Niels has some beautiful playing on this too. Really sweet.
Anyways, It’s time to go home now, and I’ve got an aching head. So eh… yeah. Later kids.
Wax & Seal – Day 22 – 4 February 2004 – Freiburg
Today started with a few guitar bits. It was all running well as usual. Niels on top form.
The evening session was dedicated to Wax N Seal. We took a much more gentle
approach than last time. Due to some early jamming we decided to use twin acoustic guitars, live and with vocals. Bit mad. Took us a while but we got it. Bottled it. Mitch’s egg playing is fantastic. We played sans-click too so god only knows how he kept up with speedy gonzales (that’s me by the way). Bless the whole team’s patience! It’s cool. It’s all Ballerina and Independence Day Van Morrison… Who’s cooler than cool?
Ice Cold T
Wax & Seal – Day 127 – 19 May 2004 – Freiburg
I get the feeling we’re being watched. Call me paranoid, but…
My new thing is hats. I buy hats. I look like a cross between Franz Ferdinand (the band
not the dead guy from the 1910s), Robin Hood and one of Bertie Wooster’s more stylish friends.
I have my own personal translator and tour guide here in Freiburg who has also become my official make-up artist and language tutor. Although you should probably ignore the language bit because I severly doubt that she would like to be associated in any way with my piss-poor German. I got some shots of Freiburg from the top of the Schlossberg (the big hill that is basically an ant’s foot away from the centre of the town). The sun is out and everything looks great. I’m experimenting with photography. If anything at all comes out properly I’ll be extremely surprised and very happy with myself. I’ve decided to develop my inner-Luddite in order to balance my increasing nerdiness – what with all the writing, diaries, reading, learning languages, etc. So I’m using a completely manual camera. Completely manual. It has a slot for batteries that you can use for a light meter… but I’ve thrown them away. Who needs em? Well, we’ll see on thursday when I get the first batch of photos back. So now that I’ve got pictures of the outside of Freiburg I’m gonna take shots of the city and the city-zens.
Mitch bought a new car. He’s very happy with himself. As he should be. Niels is in the
wars. He had a little accident with his eye. So I’m hoping all will be okay in a week or two. Alexander came around with all his keyboard bits again. So we have every piece of the puzzle now. Florian is still terrorising the Med. I got an email from him recently. Didn’t understand one word. Shane translated it for me. I still didn’t understand a word.
Last night I learnt a new phrase for “goodbye and good luck”. It comes from just south of Hamburg, or at least that’s where Mitch heard it. It goes like this: “Hau die hühner” which means “Hit The Chicken”. I’m busily incorporating it into my daily speech.
Wax & Seal – Day 128 – 20 May 2004 – Freiburg
Note : There were a few tracks we recorded which didn’t make the final cut for Wax &
Seal. One of the tracks was an early incarnation of Elvis in us All, which eventually found its way on to Fingertips of the Silversmith. My reference to the Bell X1 diaries, I think, referred to their tour diaries from an Eastern European jaunt they were on with Turn. There was a hilarious video they made of the event on their website. Would love to see it now.
After our very slow start this time around We’re now flying through the material making great progress. The songs are sounding better every time I hear them. Maybe It’s because of the sun. I don’t know. Elvis & Foolish Part sound funking fantastic.
Mitch is due to arrive in about half an hour. We’ve had this old Korg beat on “George’s St Arcade” that sounds almost but not quite entirely unlike coconuts (to borrow a phrase from DA). It’s been niggling away at us ever since we used it. Breaking point arrived yesterday when we decided that it was time to get the biggest filthiest thonking thumping mother and father of all drums to replace the little Korg. So with Mitch being *just a little bit* more experienced than us at playing drums, we decided that it was only fair that he should play it!
I have since been informed that my hat is Dean Martin all over. So there.
Big up to DP and Phil keeping diaries alive and well over on the bellies site. Check out Phil’s science tip of the day. I think there’s a book in that somewhere. If in doubt, plug it out. Suddenly all those electricity black-outs in my area while I was growing up in the bad old eighties make sense to me now.
Thanks for reading this far!
We’ll post one more selection of the diary entries soon, with some photos. If you find yourself wanting to read the diary in full, and in order, you’ll find it here ( It’s as it was typed back in 2004 on the hand-coded php-driven website). I haven’t gotten around to making those pages prettier, replacing all the question marks with apostrophes (damn german keyboards), or slotting the entries into proper individual blog posts, but some day soon I will.
If you’re liking this trip down memory lane, I also thought it might be a nice to make a playlist of some of the songs we were listening to around that! It’s really all over the map, but I’ve tried to arrange the playlist so the transitions don’t jar too much. You can listen to it on spotify here.