Albums in the independent sector have traditionally in the past nearly always been recorded very quickly. In the last five years or so, however, developments in technology and computers have been such that musicians are now able to record entire records at home and at a far slower pace. While many bands on small budgets still choose to use studios, preferring the tried and tested format of arriving tightly rehearsed and laying down tracks swiftly, other acts have embraced the new technology, feeling that it allows them a greater range of options and more space to try out thoughts and to experiment.

One such group to do this has been the Chemistry Experiment, a Nottingham-based five piece with limited finances but lavish ideas. When they decided to begin work on their debut album proper, ‘The Melancholy Death of the Chemistry Experiment’ (Fortuna Pop) in 2001, it was to be just the beginning of a four-year odyssey, which would push the band to the limits of endurance and almost to collapse.

The Chemistry Experiment, which consists of Steven J. Kirk (vocals and guitar), The Paul Stone (bass and programming), Lee Tombs (flute and keyboards), Emily Kawaski (keyboards) and Martin Craig (drums and percussion), first formed in 1999, after its different members met in local snooker halls and libraries. They began to put together ‘The Melancholy Death of the Chemistry Experiment’, after first recording three singles, Agua de Beber’ (Short Fuse, 1999), ‘Be My Postman’ (Fortuna Pop, 2000) and ‘Round the Corner Dutch Zebra’ (Fortuna Pop, 2002). They have also since then released ‘The Giraffe Album’ (AAS, 2001), a collection of out takes and demos, and another single, ‘We Were Never Wrong’ (WIAWYA, 2004).

“We started recording ‘The Melancholy Death…’ in studios and it wasn’t going very well” says Steven J. Kirk, taking up the story and talking to Pennyblackmusic. “We couldn’t afford to pay £20 an hour to get it done, so eventually we transferred it onto tape and then the tape onto computer. While a lot of the drums and some of the bass and guitar were recorded in the studio, the rest was done at home. We just worked on it there.”

Described by one critic as “the most musically inventive record of 2005”, ‘The Melancholy Death of the Chemistry Experiment’ is a rich, multi-layered work, which encompasses together genres as diverse as progressive rock, folk, electronica and disco, and has drawn the band comparisons with acts as diverse as Pulp, Tindersticks, Pink Floyd and Chic. Segued together across its forty five minute running length with one track floating into the next, bubbling synthesisers and breezy guitars are merged with rattling strings, pealing trumpets and even at one point a vibraphone to create a lush, often orchestral sound. Kirk’s crooned, soulful vocals meanwhile dip in and out of the mix, telling of love, heartbreak, alienation and long, lonely nights spent alone.

“We called it ‘The Melancholy Death …’ because it felt like that sometimes” says Kirk about the title, which takes it name in tribute to film director Tim Burton’s fantastical and dark collection of short stories, ‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy’.

“It was a kind of painful process. The main reason it took so long was we didn’t really know what we were doing when we started out, and we had to learn as we went along. I think that it cost us something like £3000, maybe slightly less, over a four year period. A lot of people with more experience helped us out, but it was pretty hard unless they were actually in the room with us to explain how things work.”

The eleven song ‘The Melancholy Death of the Chemistry Experiment’ was originally conceived as a double album and a concept record about the rise, fall and eventual demise of a relationship, but both ideas were eventually cut.

“We did the three EPs and then we thought ‘Let’s do an album. In fact let’s make it a double album.’ ” Kirk says. “We almost achieved that, although we didn’t quite. We had to scrap half of it. It would have literally taken us 10 years. By that time we had some new songs which wouldn’t have fitted onto the album, and decided to ditch some of the old songs. We finally finished ‘The Melancholy Death…’ in almost a hurry.”

“We ended up recording the first and last sides of the double album” he adds, going on to talk about the album’s forlornness. “Between that there was a happy bit which got missed out. I think my voice is stronger singing sadder stuff. We decided to skip the happier part. There were maybe two or three songs that we could maybe have used at that point, but there were other tracks that we weren’t very happy with anyway.”

“I guess we didn’t have anything better to do” he quips when questioned why, up against difficulties which might have broken up many other bands, the Chemistry Experiment managed to stick it out. “There was certainly a determination there to get it finished eventually. We also really wanted to get it done so that we could move on to do the new songs.”

Although the Chemistry Experiment finally finished recording ‘The Melancholy Death…’ last summer, they decided to delay releasing it until May, preferring to tie it in with a tour with fellow Fortuna Pop signings and Norwich-based indie rockers Bearsuit.

“We all have day jobs” Kirk explains. “Some of the members of the band couldn’t tour until April because of their holidays with work. There’s not a lot of point in releasing an album if you can’t tour. We can also be quite slow at doing things, although we’re hoping to change that.”

In the meantime the band have started work on their next album, which is provisionally entitled ‘Gongs Played by Voice’ and have already recorded backing tracks for six of its songs.

“It is a good sound, a gong played by a voice” jokes Kirk. “‘The Melancholy Death…’ is quite synthetic. This one is going to be a lot more organic, from the country to the city. We built ‘The Melancholy Death…’ up and started on the first track, went to the second track and so on. This time we’re just concentrating on the songs, and then we’ll decide what order we will put them in and how things will work together. We couldn’t have done another album with the approach we took for the last album. I don’t think we would have survived to be honest. This album is going to be based more around the live band. I have a vision in my head that I want it to sound like The Soft Machine with maybe a bit of Will Oldham and Tindersticks. How it will turn out though is anyone’s guess?”

On the recent tour, which ran across the length of Britain from London and Reading to Scotland, the Chemistry Experiment played a mixture of old and newer songs.

“There are only five, maybe six tracks off ‘The Melancholy Death…’ that we can play live” says Kirk. “The remaining songs are just too complicated. We played as much of the album as we could, but it’s pretty difficult to play live and we had to use backing tracks on some numbers. Other songs off it were just totally impossible. We wrote most of the songs from it in 2001 and 2002, and we filled out the set by playing a lot of the new songs that we have written since then.”

In the meantime ‘The Melancholy Death of the Chemistry Experiment’ has been picking up ecstatic reviews and selling well.

“I still can’t listen to it” says Kirk self-effacingly in conclusion. “None of us can. If it was an album that we had recorded in a couple of weeks that might have made it easier, but we took over three years and we can hear every little thing we didn’t get quite right. Not mistakes as such. I don’t think there are enough mistakes on it, but things we didn’t quite right and which perhaps didn’t have the correct feel. Other people seem to like it though and it does make you feel ‘Wow ! We must have done something right after all.’”

Where the Chemistry Experiment go next, whether they spend years again working on the next album or whether it comes together more quickly, remains to be seen, but their perseverance has paid off. ‘The Melancholy Death of the Chemistry Experiment’ has been very much worth its slow genesis and long gestation











Related Links:


http://www.chemistryexperiment.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/thechemistryexperiment


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