When I left the house the other morning, walking to Gare de Lyon, let’s not fuss about calling it an early morning. At 5.45, in October, it’s the middle of the night. It was dark, streets were deserted. I boarded my train and mostly snoozed on the way to Avignon’s futuristic TGV station, not to be confused with the main station in the centre of town, which, oddly, also can receive TGV and even Eurostar trains.
Ron, Bløf’s right hand man for some 20 years now, was there with a sleek Mercedes van to take me to Vega Studio in nearby Carpentras. Vega is where I worked with French singer Cali on an album produced by Seattle’s own Scott Colburn. Vega houses an extraordinary mixing desk, the EMI TG12345 that used to live at Pathé Marconi studios in Paris; it’s likely the Rolling Stones cut much of “Some Girls”, “Emotional Rescue” and “Tattoo You” on this very desk. The studio has an attached house and one more adjacent cabin making it fully residential. Secluded amongst oak trees and with surrounding vineyards, it’s wonderfully remote and peaceful.
This week I was there to work on the album with one of Holland’s most well-known bands, Bløf, with my oft-partner-in-crime JB Meijers at the helm. The band makes high energy, musically sophisticated yet populist and singable (in Dutch) rock. The members — Paskal, vocals and guitar; Peter, bass; Bas, keyboards & guitar; and Norman, drums — are a highly democratic group, writing together, working very freely and with a very high level of dedication. Everyone seemed motivated and eager to contribute, which I think is rare for a band who have been together for more than 20 years; at this stage in their very successful career, they could afford, perhaps, to be a little lazy. But, I can testify that they were deeply committed to the creation, delivery, and sculpting of these songs and were quite open minded about my contributions, which are themselves designed to be challenging; it was my job to bring the unexpected, with all due respect to the song, of course. I did a lot of programming and some more atmospheric sounds…sometimes I would use sounds from the sessions to generate effected, altered versions of what was on ‘tape’ (uh, we don’t really use tape much any more but you know what I mean) — very much what Mikael Jorgensen was doing with Wilco when they were on tour with REM a decade ago.
We had a brilliant time, enjoying communal meals (cooked by the ever-helpful Ron). For the first few days, it was warm enough that I could set up my laptop on a picnic table outside and work in the warm rays of Indian summer. The morning Ron drove me to the train station, tho, it was 37F (3C). Inside or out, I usually had the studio’s tiny black cat, ShaSha, next to me, sometimes sleeping on my stuff.
We took a break on Friday to visit Chateau de Beaucastel, the legendary producer of wines including a Chateauneuf-de-Pape of reknown. We all bought a few, even I took back a bottle of CDP rouge and blanc each. The winery was abuzz with the harvest, tractors bringing in the precious fruit the main building. An authority-laden “BONJOUR” was delivered to us by a man in a bright green shirt who passed thru the area where our booty was being boxed up, pausing to taste a bit from a selection that was laid out on a table for his approval; I’m quite certain this was Francois Perrin, one of the two owners of the estate.
Back in Paris this weekend, everything had changed…a cold blast of wind greeted me as I exited the station. I turned the heaters (more or less electric baseboard style) on in my studio for the first time. I’m back to mixing Eva Auad’s album, which is starting to come together, bit by bit (considering this all made in my laptop, that’s not an idle phrase).