I play bass for odd rock/metal projects every now and then. I’m not a prolific session player as such, I don’t get asked to play for pop bands or make trendy albums. People know what they’re going to get when they call me to play on a record.
They’re going to get some metal.
So one day I got a call from a real session player. He’s a guitarist friend of mine called Matt Backer. He’s a full-time professional. You call him, he’s plays it. Funk, pop, blues… anything. If you can whistle it, he can play it and do it pretty darn well with full orchestral arrangement, backing vocals and a tasty solo too.
He’s played for hundreds of stars from all styles of music, Julian Lennon, ABC, Alice Cooper. You’ve probably seen him on the telly with half a dozen bands and never known it.
My all time favourite is that he was in Glen Ponder’s Chalet. Heard of them? They were Alan Partridge’s backing band in the first series, Knowing Me Knowing You. They changed the band name each week each time getting a bit worse, Chalet, Ferrari, Lazarus… that was Matt!
He played the infamous Partridge Abba medley. You can sometimes see his smiley face popping over the top of the rampart on the set. Sorry, I love Alan Partridge and the fact that this guy was a part of it all I find amazing.
Anyway Matt called me up, he needed a metal band. One of the many things Matt does is ‘library’ music. You know in the background of TV shows there’s a random funk riff, or a little drum groove. This is library music. People record tons of it, little bits of music to chuck in the background of a program. It makes money for the songwriter through royalty fees.
Matt had been asked to do some ‘Death Metal’ library music. As I said Matt can play any type of music you want, but he was a bit stumped at this. He’s cultured, he speaks French with a mid-Atlantic accent and drinks wine. He’s a child of the seventies. He has no clue what ‘Death Metal’ is.
So he asked if I could put together a Death Metal band. I said “yes, of course”, but in all honesty I’m a child of the eighties, I grew up playing skateboards and dungeons and dragons with Dokken, Kiss and Maiden in the background… I don’t really know what Death Metal is either.
But I know a man who does.
So I called drummer Jay Graham. Jay does know what Death Metal is. He’s like a specialist metal session drummer if there is such a thing. He’s played for Orange Goblin, Tony Iommi, Return to the Sabbat, Twin Zero. He’s currently in Ravenscreed. He knows his metal, he lives in Nottingham for Cliff’s sake.
Then we needed a singer. Well not a singer, what Matt actually asked me to find was a “dog-barker”. I thought I’d go for the best of both worlds and call Mikey Goodman from Sikth. I’d seen Sikth a bunch of times, been out on tour with them. I knew Mikey could deliver the goods live but could he do sessions on the spot? Worth finding out, I thought, let’s give him a try…
Matt had booked a studio and engineer he said he’d used before. We trusted him. But we forgot, he knows nothing about Death Metal…
The studio was in a little complex of small studios with flimsy walls between. They were used mostly for TV voice over-dubs. There was a guy mixing a recording of an orchestra quietly, like a whisper, in studio 3. We set up Jay’s kit in studio two, next door.
The engineer was what can only be described as a lovely avuncular chap, a true gentleman. He was fascinated with what we were doing in a genuine and curious manner. He had tea and biscuits.
He kept saying things like “so this is Heavy Metal?” and “is that what they do these days?” In fact that became his catchphrase.
When he saw Jay’s double kick pedal his asked “what’s that for?”, “is that so they can play faster?” and then “is that what they do these days?”
When I tuned my bass down to C#, to get a nice fat chunky sound, he asked “is that what they do these days..?”
The sound from Jay’s drums broke straight through into the control room. The studio’s lightwieght attempts at soundproofing were not expected to project against the heavy artillery bombardment Jay was laying down. Jay doesn’t play quietly. Metal isn’t played quietly. Nothing else could be heard in the building.
“Is that what they do these days?” shouted the engineer over the top.
The guy mixing an orchestra next door gave up and went home…
Matt had written some sort of Megadeth/Sabbathy riffs and our job was to bolster them up a bit. Jay added more kick drums, I tuned even lower again. We lifted and lowered the tempos. After throwing the riffs around a bit, it was all starting to sound a bit like a band.
Mikee Goodman, Sikth
Then Mikey turned up. I don’t know if you’ve met Mikey or seen Sikth, but he’s a little guy, dreadlocks, the quietest, most humble dude around. He came in, mumbled “Hello” and sat in the corner with a glass of water. You could see the engineer eyeing up Mikey’s dreads and wanting to ask, “is that what they do these days?” but he was too much of a gentleman.
Matt gave Mikey some lyrics he’d written, and asked Mikey if he wanted to hear the tracks we’d done so far and maybe they could sing along some ideas together.
Mikey’s response was perfect. “Nah, don’t worry I’ll just go for it” he mumbled. And with that, he dropped the lyrics on the floor and shuffled out into the recording booth. He’s not got the lyrics and he’s never heard the songs. But he’ll sing them anyway.
Remember I said earlier if you whistle a tune to Matt he’ll play a full arrangement of it back, Mikey’s going to do this without any whistling or clues at all.
What Mikey unleashed in that room, could never have been dreamt up in the mind of Stephen King. He summoned up the demons from hell through his little voice box and spat them into the microphone. We got to the end of the first track, the four of us in the control room were white as sheets.
“Errrr… do you want to come and listen to that, Mike”, Matt asked through Mikey’s headphones.
“Nah, can I get a glass of water, please, and I’ll do the next track” he asked back in his normal un-possessed voice. Phew, no need for an exorcism then! It had been touch and go a minute before.
He repeated that process through four tracks, one take each, never hearing the track before doing it. Satan provided him with his infernal melodies and his diabolical lyrics on the spot. As it happens, Mikey has a direct link.
Then, as quick as he’d arrived he was gone. “Is that it then guys?” he asked at the end of track four “thanks… bye…” and he shuffled off, un-possessed as when he’d arrived.
The engineer turned to us and asked “is that what they do these days?”