We’ve generally been of the opinion, at odds with much of the wider a cappella community, that we want to sound exactly like we do on stage on our recordings. However, many of us have being doing this for a long time – for me it’s been 12 years, and In the Smoke has now been going for almost 8 years (a good chunk of us have been there from the beginning) and in that time have recorded 4 CDs.
So, we thought, why not give a more technological approach a try? This time we recorded people’s voices one at a time, carefully edited and tidied up each layer of the texture, and spent a good bit of time mixing it – with all of the production toys such as EQ, reverb, compression and a teeny-tiny touch of autotune (but only for creative effect of course).
Some things to note:
This is Nine Inch Nails – we deliberately didn’t go for an ABBA classic for this – we wanted the music to be intricately constructed and a little dark, to help fire our imaginations
At the time of writing there are 17 people in In the Smoke, and all of their voices feature – it’s going to sound dense (and intense) at times!
The song starts with an gradually building and thickening intro, which cleverly moves from 3 to 4 in a bar, then it kicks into 2 verses, punctuated with the refrain ‘tried to save myself…’, which pervades the texture throughout in one way or another.
Then into the second half it breaks down to some quiet sustained chords before swelling into a chaotic, cacophonous section which hurtles towards the final iteration of the refrain.
You won’t get Pentatonix recording a version of this – we deliberately set out to try to make something that people haven’t heard before, so open your ears, strap on your headphones, crank up the volume, and enjoy.
I’m sitting on a train on the way to Edinburgh, looking out at the sea to the east. I’ve just received an email from one of our committee members reminding me that it’s my turn to do a blog post. Could I write about one of our new songs? Or an artist we’ve covered? An arrangement, maybe? Or about what the group means to me?
That last one resonated with me, but not in the way I was expecting. What does an a cappella group mean to anyone? It’s a chance to sing, to perform, to challenge yourself. It makes you look silly on stage and learn to accept that that’s ok. It’s a weekly opportunity to bop around, belly laugh and drink white wine. It’s a way to develop your sight singing skills, your ability to blend, the range of sounds you can produce. But it’s more than that.
Like far too many of my recent trips north, I’m on my way to a funeral. Two years ago, when I lost my dad, I spent the evening at a rehearsal. I sang and I cried, but I did neither alone. It was one of them who stayed with me that evening to ward off the darkness. And they were there to support me a couple of months later when I dusted off my dad’s old guitar and took it out for its first – and only – public performance.
It was on Christmas Day last year that I lost my godmother. The funeral would surely be delayed by the festive season, I thought, and so I joined some of ItS for a New Year’s jaunt to somewhere remote with log fires, long walks, and lots of gin. So the call on the 30th to tell me that the funeral was to be held in Dundee on the following morning came as a bit of a shock. Again, ItS rallied round, got me to Peterborough and on train so I could spend 24 hours in Scotland, stayed sober so that I could be picked up from the station on New Year’s Eve, and delayed dinner so that I could be there too.
This time I’m going home to say goodbye to my uncle. And I know that when I come back, ItS will help make life feel normal again, not by doing anything in particular, but by just being there every Tuesday night, as usual.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, it won’t have escaped you that we’re doing a gig – a Summer Extravaganza, to be precise – THIS Friday 31 July at the Greenwood Theatre in London Bridge (get your tickets here!).
Whilst the programme for this one has already been arranged, rehearsed, memorised, and (almost) polished, the ream of new songs we’ll be airing has left us wondering what our audience (that’s you) would most love to see us perform next.
And that’s where you come in. We want to hear your suggestions, thoughts, feedback and general banter – good or bad: what have you enjoyed seeing us do before; what would you like us to do more, or less, of? Send us a tweet or post to our Facebook page, using the hashtag #WhatIWant, and you could see your message hilariously worked into one of our skits, live on stage…
We’ve written before about how we like to record the same way we perform: the whole group together, often including the soloist. We like the authenticity, we find it more enjoyable, it’s cheaper and quicker (!)…
But we’ve decided to give it a go the other way: recording each part individually and letting our MD Michael play with it until it is something very different indeed.
More on that soon, but it was after one of these sessions that a few of us treated ourselves to a pub lunch. They must have recognised us, as shortly after finishing our meals (but, frustratingly, before we had finished the jug of Pimm’s), they laid on a fire alarm and oodles of smoke, presumably just for us.
It quickly spilled out into the beer garden:
…and even after we finished our drinks classily on the pavement outside, the journey to the toilets was a bit like being in Knightmare:
We’re assured it wasn’t actually a fire – somebody accidentally hit the alarm – but we never got an explanation as to where else the smoke might have come from. Anyway, it was In the Smoke (in the pub) in the smoke, which we agreed was worthy of a blog.
With our Summer Extravaganza less than three weeks away, preparations are in full swing – in particular for our 10 (yes, 10!) new numbers as well as a brand new, never-seen-before skit, which will no doubt have you rolling in the aisles.*
A particular favourite of mine is Sia’s Chandelier, arranged by Michael and featuring the dulcet tones of Katie in the solo spot. Michael’s arrangement centres around the girls, with one to a part, bringing the gentlemen in later as the song climaxes into rich 10 (yes, 10!)-part harmony. Whilst it’s highly likely that our dancing will not match up to that of child prodigy Maddie Ziegler, who features in the original 2014 music video, I’m willing to bet Michael’s arrangement will send the good kind of shivers down your spine.
As well as our 10 (yes, 10!) new numbers, there will of course be an opportunity to hear some old favourites including the tUnE-yArDs’ Water Fountain, our award-winning Musicals Medley and a teary rendition of No Air performed by departing a-cappellists Shirley and Teddy.
In the Smoke’s Summer Extravaganza will be taking place at the Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge at 8pm on Friday 31 July. Tickets can be purchased online or at a discounted rate via a group member. We’d love to see you there!
*We cannot guarantee that this will be down to the hilarity of the skit.
If you have been a fan of In the Smoke for some time, you may know that we LOVE a medley. Practised hands, their skills sharpened on Britney, The Beatles and Bond, have brought Don’t Stop the Music, Kids’ TV and a Disney Medley to our repertoire.
Earlier this year, we were crowned Voice Festival UK Community Champions having performed our latest medley – a 12-minute musical theatre treat:
Why do we love this format so?
The great advantages of the medley are clear to the audience-focused, the impatient and the indecisive alike. Presenting a new arrangement of a single song to the group might cause division of opinion; medleys are safer as most people will like at least a bit of it! Arranging a whole song needs variety to keep the audience’s interest; changing from song to song means you don’t have to think of another way to do the chorus. What’s more, just choosing what to arrange is never easy; think of the medley as an all you can eat buffet! As you can see, the medley is a secret democratic weapon!
You can see our Voice Festival UK-winning 12-minute musicals medley AND our infamous 57-song Disney Medley at our summer concert on 31 July 2015. Book your tickets now!