The making of ‘All Becompassed By Stars’



The most notable difference between the making of All Becompassed By Stars and previous Dandelion Wine albums is that it is the first (and only thusfar) album to be recorded outside of Australia. Why the change? Well, it wasn’t entirely intentional. We had finished the 2009 European Tour but had been offered slots on some particularly good festivals (Summer Darkness in NL and MJR in LT) that August so in the end the decision was made to set up base in Berlin and stay for a year or so. We chose Berlin for four main reasons:
1) It’s basically slap bang in the middle of Europe so it’s ideal for touring - a day’s drive gets you to Poland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium or Czech Republic
2) We had lots of friends there already
3) It’s relatively cheap to live there compared to a lot of cities in Europe or even Australia
4) It’s probably our favourite big city anywhere - it’s a lot of fun and when you go outside your apartment stuff happens.


After the tour finished in June we headed to Berlin and did a bit of short term renting and flat sitting around Kreuzberg and Neukölln while we looked for something longer term. During this time we began playing with some song ideas - some that had first appeared back in Australia, one that we mostly wrote in Paris and some new things that we began playing around with. We had a definite idea of where we wanted to go: bigger beats, big analogue synth bass, lots of Indian and Middle Eastern percussion and more of an emphasis on acoustic instruments over those beats and synths. We mostly stuck to that, although realistically we never let the plan dictate what we do too much - we tend to just follow songs to where they want to go and think about it later. So to that end we also ended up with some of the most mellow things we have done along with some of the heaviest and beaty-est as well.

We eventually settled into a superb apartment in Kreuzberg overlooking the Landswehr Kanal which was ideal in so many ways - big old rooms (very old in Berlin terms) and a perfect view of the seasons changing from summer to beautiful golden autumn to snow caked frozen winter. In addition, the apartment was owned by the amazing artist
Katarzyna Pollok who was studying sculpture in India and we set up our recording studio in her painting studio, surrounded by her amazing and inspiring paintings while she was away.


SETTING UP THE STUDIO

First thing’s first: setting up the studio...

Setting up the studio in Berlin


Acoustically, the room sounded great for acoustic instruments but was a little unfocussed for mixing. So we had to hang things from the ceiling to try and tame some of the reverberant sound of the room, which worked surprisingly well. Vocals, however, required a little more so we had to sort that out, so...

Next comes making a dodgy makeshift vocal booth without any room reverb:

Naomi building her makeshift vocal booth


At one stage we were after a really dry sound for some vocal harmonies so we ended up making a tent/cubby house in the middle of the studio and Naomi crawled inside it to sing:

Naomi recording vocals in the cubbyhouseOutside the cubby house



GLORIOUS LIMITATIONS

When we record in Australia we have a lot of instruments, amps, effects, microphones etc to work with but for this album we were limited to our live touring rig plus a couple of key bits of gear we brought with us from Australia. Because we had hoped to record something while on tour we had a laptop, a MOTU interface, one Rode mic, a compressor and a couple of extra pedals... but no guitar amp, so all guitars had to be recorded direct through various pedals and a trusty Sansamp. The instruments on hand were:

- electric guitar (the same ol’ Strat that Nicholas always plays)
- classical guitar (purchased in Paris at the start of the 2009 tour)
- Appalachian dulcimer
- Hammered dulcimer (the smaller one that we use for touring and keep in Europe)
- bell cittern
- Sansula (purchased after Trolls Et Legéndes 2009)
- Handsonic
- borrowed flute (because Naomi’s died on tour - thanks Torben!)
- recorder
- DSI Mopho analogue synth (which we bought in Berlin)

We ended up buying an AKG C414 mic and Summit Audio tube mic preamp that we recorded pretty much everything through. That one Rode mic made it on to the title track for Nicholas’ vocals and Naomi’s backing vocals but everything else was the AKG.

stratflutecittern

The limited array of instruments (by Dandelion Wine standards at least!) was fantastic in that it forced us to really focus and be creative with what we had rather than have a million options at our finger tips. Of course, any decent instrument has a million options built in anyway but this method gave us a chance to really explore that. (Having said that, we’re pretty sure the next album will have everything at our disposal once again!)


OVER TO FRANCE TO FINISH OFF

In January when the album was finished we flew over to Paris, put down one last bass track (thanks for the bass and preamp Steve!) and then headed off to Clisson to have it mastered. No, we didn’t just head to a beautiful medieval town in the Loire-Atlantique region just for fun - Clisson is home to Frederic Chaplain of Magic Mastering who did a superb job mastering what was a very sonically eclectic album. The next day we headed back to Paris utterly wrecked and quite late due to a bum steer from the GPS! Exhaustion notwithstanding, Nicholas played a concert with French postpunk band Object in Paris that night and it’s unlikely anyone in the audience could tell he had barely slept! The evidence is on
youtube.


INFLUENCE AND RESULTS

So how much influence did the location have on the recording? It’s hard to say really. Certainly there was a lyrical impact - it’s highly unlucky Naomi would have come up with the lyrics for “Shards” if it weren’t for the fact there actually was a frozen canal out the window... Katarzyna’s artwork has a lot of Indian and Islamic influences - whether that had an influence or not is hard to say but we definitely loved being in that atmosphere; the same goes for living in a very Turkish area of Berlin. Probably the biggest influence came from the period leading up to the recording. During this time we were on tour a lot and had been playing all over Europe and doing some really good festivals. There’s something about being on stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people that really makes you want to rock it out and
make people dance and that feeling carried over into the writing and recording.

Banner image by Andreas Rehkopp, digital tomfoolery by Glenn Silver