Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Making of "Wilderness" - an album by The Housekeeping Society.

Avant Garde popsters "The Housekeeping Society" have a new album out. There's a link to it, right below this introduction. Rob Reed writes about the making of the album.

Ric Neale is sitting across the kitchen table, his hands around a cup of tea. I mentally scan him for signs of ageing. Receding hairline, maybe. Expanded stomach, crows feet, anything.

Nothing. What is he, some kind of bloody android? Why won't he age? Does he have a fountain of youth? A Dorian Grey-style portrait? Is that why no-one is allowed up into his attic? I bet it is.

I'm prevaricating because he's asked me how the 'Wilderness' blog is going and I'm wondering what to say. "I pretty much forgot all about it and haven't done anything," sounds kind of... lazy and unprofessional. Best lie.

"It is brilliant," I say. "Probably the best account of the making of an album anyone has ever written."

His perfect eyes widen in surprise. Damn it. I've gone too far. If anyone else has ever written about the making of an album - and I suspect this is a strong possibility - then my claim might unreasonably raise his expectations.

"That's very exciting." He says. "Could you put the blog up on the day the album is released?"

I can easily knock something up in a couple of weeks, I think. When is the album coming out?

October 6th. Monday. Two days time.

Oh dear.

I have two days to write twelve months worth of notes on the making of an album.

It can be done. As long as no-one else involved in making the album can remember what happened, I can pretty much just say what I like. Right?


Ric Neale is sitting across the kitchen table. Perfect hair, flat stomach, eyes like the ocean etc. He has a proposition for me.

Would I like to collaborate on the new Housekeeping Society album?

This comes as something of a surprise. Although Ric and I have done lots of musical bits together over the years, there has always been a palpable difference between our levels of musicality. You know how sometimes there'll be a news reporter trying to do a live broadcast from a murder scene, and some random guy decides to enliven it by doing a dance in the background? Well, that's basically the relationship. My guitar playing is the dancing guy, in this instance. The look of pained tolerance on the reporter's face... well, you get the idea.

I made my own album, ten years ago. It's called Intoxicated and I have literally hundreds of copies in the cellar if anyone wants one. At the time Ric listened to the finished product carefully, and said it was 'good', but pronounced with a silent 'for you'.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight at being asked to be involved. The plan, Ric says, is to develop the more experimental sound they'd worked on with their Orange Dog album.

Really? The one that utterly bewildered me and - on some tracks - made me physically shake with fear? That's the direction? Why? Why would anyone make more of that?

"That is my favourite of your albums," I say.


I sit in my study, surrounded by leads and guitar pedals. Ric has lent me these accessories with the strict instructions to create a totally new sound that no-one has ever made before.

I plug everything together. I succeed in making a sound that no-one has ever made before. It is a horrible sound, and this is why no-one has ever made it. If I play it any longer, the Cenobites from Hellraiser will arrive and pull me into hell.

I abandon art and just spend the rest of the day playing along to Marillion songs as loudly as I can. Maybe I can just persuade the others that the new sound they want is basically Marillion? That would be good.


Ric and I drive to Bradford to literally the coldest building in the world. There we meet Ivan Mack - the other member of the Housekeepers who looks like either a romantic hero from a French New Wave film, or the villain from a 90s video game. He is in charge of percussion and loops and things. I think.

We set up our stuff. Ric had a variety of keyboards, one of which looks like something David Cronenberg would reject as 'too weird'. Ivan has some drums and a computer thing and ten thousand wires. I have my guitar and some pedals that I don't know how to use.

We noodle about with some ideas. I make a weird warping sound, by accident, that delights them. I stare at the pedals. What did I do? Why was it good?

Ivan and Ric talk to each other in a kind of musical shorthand that I pretend to understand. I occasionally try to contribute, in the same way that a dog might try to contribute to an episode of Question Time by barking at the television.

By the end of the session, we have got the rough shape of a few songs. One of them will resolve quite easily into "Is This a Place", the opening track on 'Wilderness'. We also create embryonic versions of 'Gone Too Far' and 'Rainclocks'. I try to sneak some Marillion-esque moments into 'Gone Too Far'. Ric and Ivan look at me with pity in their eyes. I pretend I was being ironic.

They know I wasn't being ironic.


Another couple of sessions in the terrifyingly cold theatre in Bradford. Outside, people lark about doing live action roleplaying. Inside we create a surprising amount of music.

Some of these things will never make it to the album. For Ric and Ivan, with their brains that constantly generate amazing melodies and rhythms, this is par for the course. For me, any musical idea that gets past my fumbling fingers and into the world is a surprising creature of beauty and should be shown to everyone. In this respect I am like those annoying parents who clutter social media with thousands of pictures of their child, no matter how ugly the thing is.

A lot of stuff is, however, taking shape. Weightlessness is developing into something pleasingly loud, though it is not yet the all-out freak show that will charge excitedly onto the album. The song that will become Ticket - still called Belearic at this point - is developing in a way that is utterly incomprehensible to me. I have, however, found an exciting shimmery sound to play over it, which pleases me.

We also come up with the initial idea for Way back to the Sun. This is special for me because at least the first three chords are my idea. That's right. My idea.

I'd better get my bloody photo on the sleeve now.


There is not going to be a photo of me on the album sleeve.

The disappointment of this is mitigated by me coming up with a couple of pieces of music on my own, in my house, where it is warm so I can concentrate rather than just wondering if I am going to die of hypothermia. I have finally started to sort of understand how to use the guitar pedals and I come up with a couple of musical sketches which Ric and Ivan are very excited about.

The first one is a kind of rising, throbbing pulse. I call this 'Romero' - after George Romero, director of many zombie films - because I am a bit scared of it. Ric and Ivan love this and talk about all the exciting things they are going to do with it, before binning it to spite me because they hate me.

The other piece fares better. It is a spiky, brittle melody that I call 'Happy Nowhere'. Ivan disappears with this for quite some time. When he comes back with the finished result, it is... very different. It is the track that currently sits in the middle of the album called 'Frost'. It is mental.

I'm not sure what Ivan does when he takes tracks away to play with, but I can only imagine it is something like this:

A darkened room. Ivan sits in the exact centre, in ceremonial robes, eyes closed. He raises his hands. A deep, pulsing beat rises up out of the darkness. Gently, so gently, he waves his fingers, playing with the air. Fragments of sound collide, snatched from the ether by his fingertips. They swirl around the room, building, breaking and mutating.

His eyes snap open. Mad, staring eyes, lit with golden fire. The darkness shivers. Ghostly forms materialise, music made manifest in corporeal form. The very fabric of the universe is torn apart as noise itself is redefined as matter.

He stands. Spider webs shoot out of his fingers, each strand an impossible sliver of sound. The ghosts scream, supernatural howls that entwine in harmonies both beautiful and monstrous.

Ivan smiles. This is good. He raises his hands before him and claps them together. Everything falls away into silence. Satisfied, he turns and walks out of the room. Time for a sandwich.



At some point along the way a man called Simon has been asked to play bass on the album. This instantly irritates me. I thought I was special. Apparently they've even been rehearsing the songs with this bastard, behind my back, like whores. To make matters worse, he's tall, good looking and really nice. Like it wasn't enough having one Ric in the band, now we have two. Great.

We rehearse together as a four piece. Simon plays double bass, because apparently being tall and sexy and interesting wasn't quite cool enough for him. I resolve to a) learn bass and b) kill him.

The album is more or less ready. There is a lovely new song called 'Yours Sincerely' which just seems to kind of fall out of space fully formed. Ric plays it, I accidentally improvise a really good little motif over it and there it is - pretty much done.

A studio is booked. I practise loads - especially a very complicated one that Ric calls 'Romp' but I keep calling 'Goldfrapp'. He very pointedly tells me that it is not called Goldfrapp. I acquiesce, then, when he is gone, call it Goldfrapp anyway. To myself.

It will transpire that it doesn't make it onto the album either, because it is simply too insane. If you have listened to the album, you will know just how truly bonkers that makes it.


It is the coldest day in the history of the world. We spend all day in a recording studio. I have never been in a recording studio. I am thus childishly excited all day and keep jumping up and down and laughing. Everyone else has been in recording studios loads and it is quickly apparent that they find my noisy excitement tedious.

We record most of the album in the course of the day. Only 'Frost' and 'Moment of Clarity' are made elsewhere. Ric has prepared a guide vocal which I can hear through my headphones as I play. This is surprisingly soothing. 'Chorus coming up', he intones, like a musically inclined satnav. We stand in separate rooms, divided by thick glass, giving final form to the songs we've lived with for months.

It is a long day and strange. Music is art, but it is also maths. I have to be fluid and responsive, but also precise and accurate. This is the new bit for me. 'Way back to the sun' is particularly hard, rough and jangly as it is. Half the time I am too forced and measured, the other half I'm all over the place and sloppy. Neither is what the song needs, and it takes a while to get this right. My appreciation for my fellow musicians grows as I see how well they navigate this.

The vocals are not done today. Ric will do them later. All of them. Sometimes he will do many layers of vocals, as if there are dozens of him. Which is, I imagine, his secret dream. A world where there are just loads of Rics, all playing together in massive, perfect bands. But who would they play to? Eh? In a world entirely composed of Rics, no-one is going to want to stand in the audience.  Plus everyone would want to be in charge, so civil war would break out pretty quickly. He just hasn't thought it through.

I wonder about asking if we are all going to contribute to the vocals. But then I have a very clear mental picture of him looking at me, like I was his one year old son suggesting that maybe he could drive the car this time. I decide not to ask.

At the end of the day we congratulate ourselves and take a group photo. I decide to do 'happy smile', then change my mind and decide to do 'serious musician'. To my delight the camera catches the exact half point between these two states and I look like a simpleton.


Ric Neale sits across the kitchen table. We listen to the finished album. It has taken him ages to finish because he is very lazy.

The album is called Wilderness. It is peculiar and fascinating. I have no idea if it is any good. Mostly, I hear a process. In each song I hear the ghosts of other versions. I hear choices, paths taken and not taken, places where what I thought I was doing turned into something else entirely. Songs like Yours Sincerely and Rainclocks are as beautiful as I expected. Weightlessness and Is This a Place, on the other hand, are so transformed as to be new.

It is a strange, adventurous piece of work. I am very proud to be part of it. I didn't get my picture on the cover, but then neither did anyone else.

And I did get to sneak a bit of Marillion into Gone Too Far.