Recording studios are a huge part of music lore, hallowed places where even the door handles vibrate with the memory of previous occupants.
As such, any number of artists would jump at the chance to walk the zebra crossing at Abbey Road and then actually into the wood clad studios. Or even to bare their bottoms on the same toilet seat that Sinatra once rested his own posterior on at Capitol. Just in the hopes of soaking up some of that talent.
Home is where the heart is, so it only makes sense that some of our favourite, heart-felt records were recorded straight from the source.
Other artists look outside of the studio, Led Zeppelin were pretty much responsible for the idea of rockstars holing up in country houses and dangling mics into stairwells, after recording four albums at Headley Grange. Black Sabbath, unsurprisingly, favoured gothic castles.
On the other, more modest hand, one of last year’s most acclaimed albums, Tame Impala’s Currents, was a home recording job. The product of Kevin Parker’s minimal, two room studio in Fremantle; one room housed a ramshackle assortment of equipment, while the other played host to Parker’s design for a light show to accompany performances of the album.
Tame Impala are not the only band to shun professional studios, preferring the comforts of their own homes. So we’ve pulled together some surprising home recorded albums, including some that even came as a surprise to the artists.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
The genesis of the debut album from Bon Iver, is nearly the stuff of legend. Or, at least, a particularly moving feature film, with all the self discovery of Into The Wild but a less tragic ending. By 2007, Justin Vernon had already made the beginnings of a career in music. But the dissolution of his band, the break up of his longterm relationship and contraction of mononucleosis and a liver infection brought Vernon to a difficult place.
The legend goes that Vernon holed up in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin to recover. Where he went back to nature and a life solitude, and was inspired to write and record the songs that would launch his career – the album For Emma, Forever Ago.
All of the above is true, but Vernon had dismissed the idea of the romanticised story. After passing two weeks in the cabin in a state of inert, self-indulgence and boredom, Vernon roused himself to start making music again. Working on an old Mac and a copy of ProTools LE, with his guitars and his own voice for company, it is true that these recordings were radically different to his previous writing.
He began to sing in the falsetto tone that is now so synonymous with Bon Iver, finding that this pitch helped him illustrate the emotions he was looking for. Working in intense twelve hour bursts, Vernon experimented with mass layering of vocal tracks – eight or more at a time – and using Autotune software to create choral effects like the beginning of Lump Sum.
Dependent on his father for regular deliveries of eggs, bread and other staples, it is true that Vernon hunted for food and took care of manual work around the cabin during this time. At one time even bartering venison to get his 1964 Sear Silvertone guitar repaired.
From the outside, this really is the stuff of music legend. The reality may have been closer to a gruelling recovery both physically and emotionally. Named for his ex-girlfriend’s middle name, Bon Iver was certainly born out of very real pain. Vernon has since commented that “Emma isn’t a person. Emma is a place that you get stuck in. Emma’s a pain that you can’t erase.”
The Streets – Original Pirate Material
The UK is not often thought of as a hotbed of rap, or hip-hop. I mean, we have already proffered prog rock, ska, britpop, The Beatles… Most artists making waves quickly decamped to the US, and until 2002 Britain wasn’t really home to mainstream hip-hop artists.
Some Americans maintain that the British accent remains hysterically unsuited to the genre, imagining us well-enunciated brits to be only capable as far as chap-hop. But then again, most Americans have never been to South London.
Which is how the UK broke international hip-hop in the 21st century; South London by way of Birmingham, in the form of Mike Skinner a.k.a. The Streets. And the record that broke it, Original Pirate Material, was in fact a particularly skilful home recording.
Anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with The Streets will be familiar with the picture of the kind of gritty, humorous, breadline existence the music paints. Nothing near the American rapper lifestyle, it’s a distinctly British feel. And one that was pretty much Skinner’s own life at the time.
The album was recorded between his mother’s house in Birmingham (a city depressing enough to inspire music good enough to get you out of it), and a rented house in Brixton, South London. The instrumental tracks were created on an IBM Thinkpad, interestingly, and vocal tracks were recorded in closets.
Cleared and repurposed for use, Skinner used mattresses for sound absorption in his DIY vocal booths. Anyone au fait with home recording will know that this is actually a top tip for budget acoustic treatment.
Temples – Sun Structures
Home recordings are often thought of as the domain of DIY artists, experimental musicians and early material from emerging talent – before a label can buy them some studio time. It isn’t often a process that is associated with the multi-layered cosmos of psychedelic music. Or one that many bands would stick with if given the option of a producer and professional studio.
But that is exactly what UK act Temples did. Already ornamenting the music scene in Kettering, James Bagshaw and Thomas Walmsley had played in various bands and worked together in The Moons. The duo came together in 2014 to work on a bedroom recording project of their own.
The result is surprisingly slick record that spans 60’s psych and 70’s glam. Bedroom recordings are sometimes given away by how tight and confined the sound is – wardrobes can be like that. But in their album Sun Structures, Temples manage to actually give the impression of airy spaces and breathing room between instruments.
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
The godfather of Americana rock, Bruce Springsteen, is best know for his fist-pumping anthems. A career spanning four decades, racks of blue denim jeans and more stars ’n’ stripes than the White House. A phenomenon of American rock, Springsteen is best known for songs like Born In The USA and Dancing In The Dark. He is also, unintentionally, responsible for one of the best known home recordings.
Springsteen began work on his sixth studio album in 1982, but he decided to make some changes to his writing habits; “I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient.”
Armed with a Teac four-track tape recorder, Springsteen recorded a collection of sparse demos using only acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, mandolin, glockenspiel, tambourine, organ, synthesizer and vocals. The album was taken into the studio and recorded with the E Street Band, but ultimately Springsteen and producers Mike Batlin and Dennis King decided that the raw demos should be released.
This surprise move meant opting for the raw, haunting folk recordings as the final album. Simply mixed on a small Echoplex, they ran into difficulties with the low volume of the recordings. Overcoming this problem using noise reduction techniques, Nebraska has become one of Springsteen’s most lauded albums.
In writing Nebraska, Springsteen also demoed early cuts of Born In The USA, Pink Cadillac and Child Bride among others. The full band recording of the album has never yet seen the light of day, and it seems unlikely that the “Electric Nebraska” will ever be released. Springsteen’s manager John Landau commented in 2006 that “the right version of Nebraska came out”.