Last month, 26 artists wrote and recorded 13 songs in seven days at Pro7ect’s seventh annual songwriting retreat at the famous Rockfield Studio’s in Wales.
It was a hot week, in temperature and talent. Songwriters, producers, and musicians travelled from as far as New Zealand, LA, Amsterdam, Scotland, Brighton, Bradford and beyond to participate in Pro7ect’s first post-Covid residential songwriting retreat at Rockfield’s Quadrangle studio, where numerous epochal albums, that define the story of contemporary music as we know it, were recorded.
The task of writing and recording a song a day with a group of people you have only just met is a huge exercise in trust and courage. Managing personal expectations, feeling vulnerable and taking risks are crucial elements in all creative collaborations, and every session is a reminder to have faith in the process.
It’s difficult choosing the session to write about for this month’s blog; especially when every day produced countless inspiring and unexpected moments.
One of my most memorable writing sessions happened on day three when Nana Adjoa joined us from Amsterdam to be featured artist. Nana has been working with headline producer Stew Jackson (Massive Attack, Phantom Limb) and is looking for new material to record and release.
The team included Jamie Blake (topliner from LA), Lumia (songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Cumbria), me (songwriter, producer), and Joe Jones (Rockfield house engineer).
With Stew at the helm, fresh from working on his latest project with Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval and musical iconoclast Warren Ellis, there are few rules or limits. He masterfully leads the session with a kind of maverick authority that’s both unconventionally laid back and intrepidly dynamic, with a writing and production style more experimental than your routine co-write.
Nana is “a sonic explorer, armed with a deft poeticism and a fierce sense of musicianship. Behind the multi-instrumentalist’s bold approach to songwriting is an unflinching sense of curiosity and an openness to endless possibility”, according to the artist’s website.
The session started with a conversation about natural sounds, frequencies and hidden hums that exist in sacred spaces, lay-lines, and unusual landscapes. We threw words around the room like volts, waves, high, low, static, pulse, drone, shock, power. The words ‘hidden hum’ kept returning to us whilst Stew got on with building a chord progression around Nana’s rhythmic ideas. Nana wanted a sparse underlying groove with an off-beat snare making room for a rolling bass line that tipped the track into more of a sound scape than a pop song. Lumia added some arhythmic piano arpeggios on the beautiful grand piano in the studio (the very one that Freddie Mercury wrote and recorded Bohemian Rhapsody on) and the body of the track started coming together.
The team then split into two. The topliners sat outside in the courtyard with an acoustic guitar, piecing together lyrics to the varied melodies and words collected earlier in the studio, whilst Stew and Nana were wigging out on electric guitars and Joe was adding unearthly analogue reverse-tape thrums to the track.
Nana expertly moved between the teams, adding idea’s, locking in the things that worked and batting off the idea’s that didn’t. With tact, and humility, the words “I like that idea, but it’s not me” was a classic response to one particular lyric suggestion, and a wonderful moment for me personally, both as writer and P7 creative director. Working with artists who not only know who they are, but more importantly, what they are not, is an extraordinary collaborative opportunity.
The afternoon session was dedicated to honing the topline and recording the lead vocals and harmonies. We tracked some of the backing vocals remotely in the Rockfield reverb chamber (a once-in-a-life-time experience).
Several more guitar parts were added, and then re-recorded through the Leslie speaker and then Stew gave us all a mixing Masterclass, effortlessly wrapping and delivering the powerful and compelling musical-mural that is Hidden Hum.
Now in their eighth year, Pro7ect songwriting retreats at the world famous Rockfield Studios, are the only residential songwriting retreats in the UK offering music production in the room and an opportunity to collaborate with internationally acclaimed writer/producers.
Pro7ect headline producers include Stew Jackson (Massive Attack), Youth (Sir Paul McCartney, The Verve, The Orb), Greg Haver (Manic Street Preachers), Roni Size (Reprazent), John Fortis (Razorlight, Ellie Goulding), Iain Archer (Snow Patrol, James Bay), Andrew Levy (Brand New Heavies) and Mercury Prize Winner Talvin Singh.
Audio sample of Hidden Hum and Day 3 Pro7ect video link:
For more information and to apply for Pro7ect songwriting retreats & Masterclasses: www.pro7ect.com
For exclusive Headliner Reader discounts on Pro7ect songwriting events put ‘Headliner’ in the “How did you hear about Pro7ect” question on your application: www.pro7ect.com/apply