Recently, in-demand jazz-bassist Joe Downard released his debut album Seven Japanese Tales to great acclaim. For most, the journey would end there. But for Joe, he's already taking things a step further, teaming up with his good friend Todd Speakman of Speakman Sound.
This long-term collaboration between both artists recreates two tracks from the album, "AGURI" and "APOS," which are morphed by Todd’s foothold in the realms of experimental underground electronics and combined with Downard’s routing in jazz and world music. The result is a balance of acoustic contemporary jazz with modern electronic stylings and sound design.
We explore how this came together in a new How It Was Made feature.
Words and photos by Joe Downard
The process of these tracks started with the recording of my debut album in 2019 (Seven Japanese Tales released on Ubunutu Music). I was lucky enough to take my ensemble to Master Chord Studio, that boasts incredible outboard and equipment, notably their SSL 4040 and the Steinway Model D Concert Grand Piano. Of course, the studio was integral to the sound but most importantly were the players; Alex Hitchcock (Tenor Sax), James Copus (Trumpet), Will Barry (Piano), Rupert Cox (Synthesisers) and Felix Ambach (Drums). Their stellar performances provided the stems that are now integral to these remixes.
After releasing the album, I wanted to take the stems and dive into the electronic world of music-making. This is when I reached out to a friend and long-term collaborator Todd Speakman. Todd is one half of production duo Speakman Sound who has paved a career in the electronic world with both their original music, collaborations, and remixes. Todd runs a studio (Studio 23) that is hidden away on a back street full of mechanics in NW London. This is a space where, as well as acting as a session bassist for many of Todd’s projects, I have spent a great deal of time exploring sounds, production techniques, and writing. The studio is Pandora’s box of interesting analog and digital gear, instruments, and software to explore and experiment with. The perfect environment to create these remixes.
There are a few crucial elements that we found ourselves returning to when forging the sounds for these remixes so here is a little dive into what went into the music.
1. ROLAND JX-8P
The bass sound on Aguri came from this classic Roland synth (made popular in the ’80s). It took a little time to program and record as the outputs are pretty dodgy and need a service…anyone out there?! but it really brings the whole tune together with its punchy, breathy, and unique sound. We also utilized this synth to create some of the chordal pad textures, it comes with a PG-800 controller which allows a lot of dynamic in being able to morph the factory patches and create your own sounds. A great synth!
2. TAPE RECORDER
Todd always likes to make every sound on a record as unique as possible, we began the remix process for Aguri when I took round a demo drum groove in 5/4 played on the logic drum machine. I fully expected to replace this but instead, we ragged the sounds through an old Denon Cassette recorder set up in the studio. This lo-fi sound became the centerpiece to base the whole sonic on. We ended up placing most percussive sounds through it and a few of the synth pads went through it creating distorted warped layers underneath the dry signal.
Todd is a percussion player and has an array of toys to play within this department, we often found ourselves recording strange percussive textures when we got lost in the writing process. Todd also helped with some additional production on my album Seven Japanese Tales, one thing he bought to the table was the idea of creating a unique ‘noise’ to place under each track, creating a familiar sonic through the album that can also create new sonic tension at different points. We made this noise out of field recordings I created whilst traveling Japan in 2019 along with tape hiss from this Very cassette recorder. We really amplified this in the remixes to push the lo-fi sonic we desired.
3. SPACE ECHO
This machine is an absolute staple in Studio 23. To be able to jump on the space echo and feel your way through a take, reacting to the way the delays work makes it almost feel like an instrument. Using analogue gear like this in the studio really allows for accidents which I find exciting when creating, they can spark new directions and sometimes just add those little bits of unexpected magic.
The tapes were particularly old when we worked on these remixes so there are some wild takes we ended up using to create organic risers and downers at points of tension in the remixes.
4. MOOG SUB 37
This really is a Swiss Army knife in terms of monophonic synthesis and we used it as a tool in the studio to both write and record with. The fact that you can program and save sounds meant that we could build a bank of sounds we liked and could come back to them as and when we heard the space for it. This particular model of Moog Synth is great in the studio, as you can synch up the clock to your DAW and also send midi back out to it to find new sounds for parts created in the writing process. In terms of workflow, this is a bad boy!
As a bass player, this synth has now become an essential part of my setup for many of the artists that I work with both live and in the studio.
5. FENDER JAZZ BASS/DOUBLE BASS
I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin from around 11 years old and all I ever dreamed of owning was a 1960’s Sunburst Fender Jazz because that’s what John Paul Jones played. Of course, I couldn’t afford the real thing, so I bought a reissue when I was about 14 having saved all of my pocket money for years and since then it has been my go-to bass for the majority of the music I play. It is such a versatile instrument and never fails to produce just the right sound for me every time! Having only played Double Bass on my debut album, it felt great to bring my electric into the studio and get it involved with the remix! It can be heard in Aguri as it enters drenched in chorus and gain!