IT’S MY SIN – PT. 1… JD SOUTHER

It’s my Sin was recorded in two parts over a period of about two years.  We tracked in Auckland (Airforce), Tauranga (Mountain), back in Auckland (York Street) and then Auckland again (Mandrill, Auckland Audio) and some more this and that in Auckland (Revolver). And then we mixed in Wellington (Marmalade).

It took a very long time for reasons that now escape me but I suspect that no one really knew how to make an album like It’s My Sin – especially me.

The initial recordings were with JD Souther at Airforce Studios and then the bulk of the rest of the album was recorded at Phil Rudd’s place in Tauranga called Mountain Studios.

As with all journeys I think it’s probably best to start at the beginning and that is with Jeremy Freeman at Warner Music offering me a record contract.

I had been with my all girls band Cassandra’s Ears for about 5 years and even though we had toured the country more times than a truckie on speed we couldn’t seem to get any traction. I was working out in Avondale at my Dad’s Panel Shop doing accounts after completing a BA at Otago University and spending a year as Advertising Manager at Radio One.

I had no idea what my next move would be, all I knew was that I needed to get out of the panel business – as much as I loved the smell of bog and petrol – it wasn’t really a career path that I had in mind. At that time I never really believed you could live as a full time musician in New Zealand especially when your music erred on the side of ‘alternative’. If you listen to It’s My Sin now – it doesn’t seem to have as many jagged edges but over time the things we think of as quite radical seem to smooth away and become acceptable. I guess that was what the song Viva Voce is all about about.

Be careful for what you wish for, as they say. I asked for change and it came in the form of a telephone call from Jeremy Freeman who I had met at Otago University. He asked me to come up to Warner Music to meet with him and Tim Murdoch.

“Do I have any songs?” I answered in the boardroom. “I have a whole heap”. And so it was loosely agreed that day I was going to make an album.  Little did anyone know it was going to take a couple of years to complete.

Next thing I was getting promo shots taken, choosing outfits from Zambesi for a Gluepot showcase and I was given an allowance to get my hair done at Servilles. It was quite unreal and something I had never known.

Then I was flying to Sydney with Annie Crummer for no other reason but to hang out with my record company. Everything was ‘on the house’. Including toll calls (that was a big deal in those days) and the mini bar. I invited a few friends around to hang out with me for the weekend. We made calls around the world and there was nothing left in the mini bar by the end of the first day. It was an incredibly opulent time and I will always remember this trip because it was my first in Sydney as a grown up and my first taste of what the other world lived liked. It was a pampered cacoon in which you are lulled – not realising that there will always be pay back in the form of what is called an advance.

And then after that flurry of activity I went back to the panel shop for another year and nothing really happened except my demos were handed out to a few producers.

Then to cut that long tortuous story short, I got a call to say that JD Souther would like to produce my album and he was coming to New Zealand in a few months.

For those of you how don’t know who JD Souther is –this is he http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._D._Souther.  He is a great Southern Man and accomplished song writer with a fantastic voice who said he came all this way to meet me because he had never heard of a woman using the word ‘quagmire’ in a song and he was intrigued.

He was also a friend of Tim Murdoch who ran Warner Music in NZ at the time.

Tim Murdoch is a bigger than life character and some one I will always be grateful to.

I was always petrified when I went up to the Warners office and used to ring in advance to check it was OK. One day I popped in to his office and he said “Jan, the reason I and every one else who works in this company has a job is because of musicians like you, without you there is no music industry so you are welcome up here any time you like”.

That’s the thing about Tim – he was an old school music man. The reason why folks like Neil Young, JD Souther, Jerry Harrison and Anthony Keidis always speak highly of him and visit him when they are in NZ is because he is one of the good guys. He loved his music and would go out of his way to look after any bands or artists when they came through town.  And when Tim said that Neil Young was staying with him at his Bach up north for a few weeks…well he meant it.

The other big thing Tim did for me was that when we recorded  It’s My Sin he had the ‘producers’ expenses’ excluded from the initial ‘heads of agreement’. And although I don’t think I will ever know the full extent of this exclusion – I will always appreciate him doing this.

Perhaps he knew in advance that the JD Souther way and the Kiwi number 8 wire way were poles apart. And then suddenly there he was JD Souther in Auckland after flying first class United Airlines, there we were recording at Airforce Studios.

I liked JD instantly. My first meeting was in the foyer of a hotel now known as the Stamford. He was moving out of his penthouse apartment because he didn’t like air conditioning so was heading to a hotel which had opening windows. He said wanted to breath fresh air while he was in Auckland and get close to the rain.

Working with someone as big as JD was a little disconcerting at first. I grew up listening  to The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.  He told me about how he was friends with Stevie Nicks, Linda Rondstat, actress Ellen Barkin, not to mention James Taylor,… It was like ‘wow’.

At that time I had what I thought was an extremely good band. They were friends and I loved the way they played my songs. First night in the studio JD pulled me aside and told me that he was going to let everyone go except Mark Peterson. It was very hard for me and I felt sick to the stomach that they wouldn’t be part of the recordings.  I cried for days and it took me a while to get my musical mojo back after that.

Today, I would probably have said ‘no’ to this move but at the time I was so desperate to record and so shy – well I have to say I let it happen.

He hired and fired several session muso’s before he decided to keep, Mark Bell (Guitar) Tony Lumsden (Bass) and Wayne Bell (No relation to Mark Bell)

Coming from an indie background I was mortified that I would be working with these guys. I don’t know why. They were all really good at what they did but I do remember being rather mean to Wayne Bell and wouldn’t talk to him – just glare at him through the studio glass. I think I did that for about three days. Funny how he ended up a close friend and has worked with me my on all of my albums since.

During these sessions we tracked on three inch tape. It was about 1992 and I think the tapes cost $50 per roll. We had budgeted for about 10 for the whole album.

JD would get through what seemed like about six in a night. He would insist the tracking was done live and we played “The Way I Feel” and “No Idea” about 1000 x a piece.

There was always a bottle of whisky in the studio and there always seemed to be a lot of beer on hand. Neil Baldock (Roundhead Studioswas the intern at the time and he told me that he spent most of his spare time cleaning up the discarded bottles. In those days he worked for free (and they were very long hours for him). Later when recording “All Grown Up” with him, he told me that he sold some equipment so he could travel to Wellington to finish the recording with us. I still can’t get over that.

Recording at Airforce


Recording at Airforce

“So let’s start early tomorrow, get up and put a good days effort in…” said JD Souther in his Southern drawl. “How is 3pm?”  For us they were never really long days. Mostly talking, I think. We hired a pin ball machine and chatted a lot. It was so much fun however I think we were recording in Californian time on an LA budget – it certainly wasn’t typical for a local recording.

Just to give you an idea of how we rolled in that studio. Takeaways would sometimes consist of a delivery from the French Café. The meals arrived in Pizza Boxes with perfectly formed meals on large dinner plates. We ate so well.

Westy Girls was recorded after a very late night session and several bottles of whisky. After some clever keyboard manoeuvring by Stuart  Pearce (I was fired from keyboard duty on the album) Westy Girls was recorded live. I don’t know if I could ever replicate the emotion of that song now. It’s one of those happy accidents that just ‘works’ and to this day it’s a stand out on the album for me. Here is the link….

JD stayed in NZ for about two weeks and popped back to NZ for another few weeks of recording a few months later. There was still quite a lot of work to do before we could say there was an album.

After two weeks, we had only one drum track for No Idea and the Way I Feel and the live version of Westy GirlsWe also had a live version of Fine Line, which was never released. We had blown whatever budget there was out of the water.

It was nearly a year later before we headed to Mountain Studios to finish the album.

When JD left he gave me an antique Sterling Swiss Watch dated 1917.  I still have it and it still works. It usually adds a few minutes every hour so it’s not the most accurate of watches and will soon be 100 years old. It will always be a vivid reminder of the JD Souther sessions.