With a reputation for writing brilliantly honest and moving folk/ punk music with her band Like…Alaska, singer / songwriter Jen Buxton is about to reveal her stash of heart-warming solo material to the world. Produced by Geoff Mullard (Like…Alaska, Conation) at RTN Studios and mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Studios in New York, ‘Don’t Change Your Plans‘ reveals Jen’s wonderful ability to tell tales of love, loss and broken friendships through 9 beautifully crafted songs. If you caught Jen performing alongside Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, Ben Nichols and Frank Turner on last years Revival Tour, then you already know what a unique and captivating performer she is. You can pre-order the album on CD or LP via Poison City Records [Here]. It will be released this coming Friday April 8th. Catch Jen Buxton supporting Tim Barry at the Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle tonight from 6pm. She is also supporting Frank Turner in Sydney and Brisbane this month. Click below to expand this post and read her responses to our ‘On The Record‘ questions.
Tell us about the title..
I settled on Don’t Change Your Plans as a title for the record, and actually wrote the song around it. It’s kind of a long running sad personal joke between me and somebody I should see more of.
Tell us about the artwork..
I am not an exceptionally visual person, and this was the first time I had any experience holding the reins in artwork design, so in speaking with Andy from Poison City I gave him a brief idea of what I wanted and sort of passed the buck, in typical lazy fashion. I wanted something that seemed kind of sketched and sparse to reflect the record, and Aaron from PCR came through with these amazing detailed little birthday party creatures which I totally adored. He is also handwriting all the text for the lyric sheet. It’s very idiosyncratic and definitely the kind of artwork that would attract me to a record in a store, so I am really happy with it. It’s fantastic to work with people who are so talented and on your wavelength!
Tell us about the studio and why you chose to record there…
I recorded at Newcastle’s Rock the Nation studios in Mayfield. RTN is owned and run by Geoff and Dale, who are two pillars of Newcastle’s local music scene, and both guys have been going out of their way to support bands for years. I’ve been practising and recording in bands at RTN for five years, and loitering around the joint for even longer, so I have a lot of really good memories tied up with that place. They do it for the love of the game, and for me there was never any other choice.
Tell us about the producer / engineer and why you chose to record with them…
Geoff Mullard from RTN was also the engineer on the project. Geoff has recorded all three releases from my band Like…Alaska, and has a pretty good handle on what I’m like as a guitarist and a vocalist. Working with a friend also has the benefit of them being able to really read you and know if you are having a shitty day; when to maybe push you for a better take or have a break and leave it. Geoff never hurries you along and always seems to be enthusiastic about what you’re doing, which can really help when you are sick of hearing the sound of your own voice. He also has two beautiful kids who visit the studio often, so he could sympathise when I had to bring mine along to mixing!
How long did it take to record?
Cumulatively it was probably only two weeks of sessions when you put them all together, but I started in June 2010 and was finished mixing in January 2011, which anybody will tell you is an unheard of amount of time to do an acoustic record. I have a tendency to procrastinate and I also had my son halfway through, so there were a few delays. I found recording by yourself to be much more confronting than with a band; with nobody to hide behind I was constantly telling Geoff to mix things with “less me,” which was not exactly a helpful instruction. In the end I had to sort of bite the bullet, realise people would probably not be expecting something massively orchestrated, and just keep it simple. In reality I could probably have kept picking at it forever, but it was time.
Tell us a little about the recording process the band used..
Is this the part where I have to pretend to have a huge knowledge of sound engineering? Haha. Actually it was good to be more closely involved with all the stages of recording and mixing for this record; with six of us in L…A sometimes there’s just not enough space in the control room for everybody and there are parts you miss out on. I had just gotten a new guitar before recording and Geoff was really keen to try some different mic and room combinations; we did most of the guitar tracking in a really big room with some “sonic bookcases” and stuff cluttered around for ambience. Having the guitar amplified but also miked up in various places means you can hear a lot of the slips, fingernails hitting the pickguard, all sorts of little things that make it feel a bit more intimate. Geoff also knows I like to hide when I do vocals, so I got to hole up in a little room and wander around and get it done. Harmonising with yourself was kind of a new thing to wrap my head around, but I think it turned out okay. Having a bit of space between the sessions and the mixing also gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted from the tracks and obsessively hunt for mistakes, so I am pretty happy with it overall.
Any guests involved? if so, who.. and what did they do?
One of the other amazing things about working with Geoff as an engineer is you can cajole him into appearing on your record. I would come in to do some more tracks or we would be mixing and Geoff would casually say, “Oh, I came in last night with a bottle of red and fiddled around a bit, tell me what you think?” And he would play the mix and it was just some expertly placed lead bit that he had pulled out, totally subtle and perfect. He would always say “I should redo it, we won’t use that take” and I would be physically pushing the track up in the mix and arguing with him about it. There are bits of his electric guitar in the record that I hear and it just makes it. I mean, these are songs that he had heard three or four times, the guy is crazy good. My brother and bandmate Thomas Gill from L…A and Run Squirrel also put a few slide guitar tracks down which unfortunately didn’t end up being used, mostly because of my poor instruction and time constraints. Honestly I must be a nightmare to collaborate with, I just sort of say, “Do whatever you think would sound good.” Thankfully I’m surrounded by a lot of people who think the same way I do.
Anything particular stuff outside your usual live gear used in the process?
There is one song with three vocal tracks on it? I was kind of conscious of not putting too much stuff on the record that I wouldn’t be able to reproduce live. I also didn’t want it to come off sounding like shitty Like…Alaska B-sides, haha. There is some doubletracked guitar to fill out the texture a little and Geoff plays some sparse electric on three or four songs, but other than that it is pretty much true to life. I can’t even use pedals or anything, so there is nothing too fancy. People can expect it to be pretty similar to a live show, I just fuck up less.
Any memorable studio moments (good, bad, funny etc)
They are all good moments, haha! The first song on the record has one of a whole bunch of mistakes that we kept in because it was too funny to axe. I get really nervous when I know I’m being recorded and I tend to talk constantly in between takes, so listening back to things was always a laugh. I think I drove Geoff insane with how close I was cutting it sometimes between a note ringing out and me running my damn mouth off about how I hate tambourines or I should become a plumber or some other bullshit.
Any additional tracks recorded that didn’t make the cut but may see the light of day sometime?
I did have to leave one song off the final mix, because it just wasn’t working out acoustic. It’s a song I usually play with the band, and I think there is something in the energy that wasn’t translating to the recording. It’s kind of a mean song. You sort of have to do it live. I realise that sounds wanky. I would like to record it at some stage, but even though I still play it acoustic sometimes it will probably need a full band when that happens.
Now that it’s ready for release, what can fans expect of the album?
I never really know how to talk about my music. I guess you can expect pretty much what you would see at a live show, if I had a few clones with microphones and managed to get everything right first time off the bat. There are a few songs I haven’t played live much in the mix as well, so there is some new material. It’s basically your regular sad bastard record. I am really happy with it, and as a cripplingly self-critical person, that’s gotta mean something, right? How would you compare the album to previous releases?
The only other previous releases I have are some poor quality home recorded tracks and a demo I did in 2006 before I smoked Marlboro Reds religiously, I sound like I’m about nine, so this is definitely a step up from both of those!
Any stand out track/s to you personally?
I really like the last song on the record. It was a chord progression I had been messing around with for ages and I really liked, but just wasn’t getting lyrics for. I recorded it sort of “just in case,” was having a shit day, went home, scribbled some stuff down, and did the vocals the next day in one take. It’s a bit rough and unplanned, which is different for me, and I like how it came out. Maybe I Am is also another favourite, but I actually mostly listen to it for Geoff’s guitar part.
Anything else of note you want to say about the album?
Just a big thank you to Andy and Poison City Records again, I am really excited about the opportunity to get these songs out there, and thank you to anybody who has already pre-ordered a copy. Hope to see you at a show sometime!