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Peaceful Protest: The PAIX Project

Recording The Same Song 31 Times
By Tom Donovan

The author.The author.

A project that was started to help unsigned bands show solidarity with victims of the Paris attacks has grown to unite musicians, artists and film-makers from around the world. And it’s not finished yet...

In November 2015, 130 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Paris. Among them was an old friend of mine, Nick Alexander, from my home town of Colchester. Working as merchandise manager for Eagles Of Death Metal, he was one of many innocent people brutally gunned down at the Bataclan Theatre, at a concert where people were just out to enjoy themselves. This was an event that shocked the world. To me, it also felt as though the music world was being attacked; it has been challenged before, but this was something way beyond all reason.

Shortly after the attacks, EODM spoke about the events of that evening in a Vice video interview that was incredibly hard to watch. The band invited musicians to cover their song ‘I Love You All The Time’, and pledged to give all of their publishing royalties from these recordings to the Sweetstuff Foundation, who would then use the money to help those who survived and the families of these who died. They also challenged iTunes, Spotify and other online distributors to donate any monies made from sales of these ‘covers’. This seemed like an amazing idea to me, and an opportunity for musicians to come together and create something positive out of a very negative situation.

Giving Something Back

This is where my story begins. I run a pretty cool studio just outside of Colchester, Essex, aptly named Tom Donovan Studio (www.tomdonovanstudio.com). I’ve worked in the industry for a number of years, and have been lucky enough to make a living as a producer, mix engineer and musician. As a producer, my job is incredibly diverse; in 2015 I worked on about 235 records, across pretty much any genre you can think of, from grime to metal, from folk to gospel.

When EODM offered their song as a way of raising money for Sweetstuff, I knew that bigger, signed and established bands would have the financial backing to fund the studio, mix and mastering time, plus the resources to get this out to the world. However, an average unsigned band would have to fork out a sizeable chunk of cash before they would even have a product to sell for charity, which seemed backwards and totally counterproductive. In some ways, an unsigned band would be better off just donating £400 to charity than taking part in the project!

So, after a brief discussion with my wife, Jenny, we came up with the idea that we would open the doors of the studio for free to any musician or band wanting to cover the track and be part of the campaign. The studio would provide the act with the time they needed to get a fully produced, mixed and mastered cover of the song, and they could use the track to raise money for the Sweetstuff Foundation. I’m not the sort of person that would run a marathon or jump out of a plane for charity, but it felt right to offer my skills and studio to help bands give something back to the community that had been affected by these horrible events. Historically, the last month of the year had usually been a quiet month for the studio, and even though December 2015 had been pleasantly busy, I figured that I would quite easily fit the sessions for these covers around my normal day-to-day work.

I sat down and penned out a Facebook post... and at the end of the first 48 hours I had 20 acts booked in, with another 20 organising dates. A mild panic attack set in when I started to realise the magnitude of the task I was about undertake! At the same time, looking over the list, some of the coolest bands I knew were getting involved. Musicians from all over the country were coming down to be part of it, and there were even acts from around the world that wanted to get involved, such as the Double D Horns in LA and Riley Day Rebels in Venezuela. We would collaborate on these remotely using the powers of the Internet. December had gone from looking comfortably manageable to completely out of control!

Branching Out

I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to handle every aspect of the project, so I decided to recruit a few friends to take on mastering, and was lucky enough to get Ed Woods, Sam Moses and Arturo Banus to help out (see box). What also crossed my mind was that, although there would be a huge number of musicians coming through the studio, people would be doing so in isolation, and I wanted a way for all involved to feel like they were working as a team. So I called up my friend Broa Sams, who runs a film and video production studio called Chromaquay. I asked him if it would be possible to borrow a couple of GoPro cameras for the duration of the project, so I could document everything and maybe put it together in a short film at the end of the project. Broa had been following what I had been planning on social media, and asked if I wanted Chromaquay to come on board, visiting each session and filming what was going on. We also both discussed our fears of people thinking that we were doing this for self-promotion, and Broa had the idea of bringing this project together under the name of PAIX (French for peace). We set up a separate Facebook page under this name, and agreed to use it as the hub to show everything the project was doing.

All Time High

For those of you who haven’t heard the original, ‘I Love You All The Time’ is a relatively straightforward rock song, clocking in at around 3 minutes, 10 seconds. It features a very distinctive, almost nursery-rhyme melody, plus a second verse and outro which contain some questionable French lyrics. My initial reaction on hearing the song was “this could be difficult to record 40 times without them all sounding exactly the same”. In the week leading up to the first session, a number of bands started to send me rough demos, or came over to play me their ideas. Some of them were relatively faithful to the original; some of them were, quite frankly, nuts! All I knew was that the next few months were going to be fun.

The first day of the project was 7th December, with Sky Valley Mistress,The control room at Tom Donovan Studios is based around an SSL Nucleus fader surface.The control room at Tom Donovan Studios is based around an SSL Nucleus fader surface. who are based in Blackburn and travelled down the night before; my folks put them up for the night, so they could start fresh on the day. It was a great way to kick off the session, as the band are an incredibly tight unit and tour extensively. I tried to keep the session as live as possible, we used no baffles or separation, and used the spill to filth up the vibe of the mix. Their cover sat somewhere between the stoner weight of Kyuss and the feedbacked soundscapes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. We worked a lot on the tones of guitars, swapping out heads, guitars and pedals until we found the winning combination.

After we got the backbone of the track down, we added some additional guitars and noise, along with the vocals. It was a really great day. Broa brought along his colleagues Jamie and Clare from Chromaquay, who filmed the entire day, and had posted up an impressive performance music video of the cover by the following morning. I think we were all a little shocked at the quick turnaround, and despite the fact we had worked on it for no more than eight hours, it sounded and looked great.

Over the following three days we completed covers from bands like Ghosts Of Men, Tropic Of Xhao, the Baskervilles and Rad Pitt. These were all incredibly different from each other. Tropic Of Xhao created a beautiful reworking of the track fusing acoustic and electronic instruments with smooth multitracked female vocals. Rad Pitt on the other hand completely flipped the cover on its head by turning it into a brutal hardcore song; clocking in at just over a minute complete with beat-downs and indecipherable desperate screams, they truly owned it. They nailed it in their second take and were in the studio for no more than 30 minutes.Peaceful Protest They left with a finished mix, and within a couple of days had a fully mastered track with a suitably crazy video to match it. On that particular day I recorded three versions.

Keep It Fresh

When I started planning the production side of the project, I promised myself that I would keep each session fresh, and that after each session I would pack down and unpatch the gear, to deter myself from using the same equipment over and over again. Logistically this made things a lot harder to manage, but it forced me to think a lot harder, and helped me make each cover different from the last. I also wanted to try to capture the soul of each performance and keep things as live as possible. This also meant that we kept some of the mistakes and weird anomalies that happened during some of the performances — it was about capturing a snapshot of that moment in time, warts and all. First off the blocks with their cover of ‘I Love You All Of The Time’ were Blackburn-based guitar band Sky Valley Mistress.First off the blocks with their cover of ‘I Love You All Of The Time’ were Blackburn-based guitar band Sky Valley Mistress.Hardcore band Rad Pitt lay down their memorably intense one-minute version of the song.Hardcore band Rad Pitt lay down their memorably intense one-minute version of the song.

By the end of the first week I had recorded eight versions of ‘I Love You All The Time’. I was incredibly tired, but I wasn’t sick of the song yet. Each version had its own particular flavour, not just from the way the band had presented it, but also from the production techniques we had used on it. Different songs had different sample rates depending on what sounded best for the job; drum kits were tuned and set up according to the vibe. Some songs had in excess of 100 tracks; some had six.

With Arcaves we went for a more Jamie Woon-style production, using a splash cymbal on the snare to give it a more hip-hop edge, and then sending a number of the stems through my Korg Kaoss Pad to break up the sound and give it more euphoric textures. With Ghosts Of Men — who are only a two-piece — I was conscious of not adding too much to their sound. We tracked Adam’s DW drum kit without the cymbals, then overdubbed cymbals afterwards. This gave the drum sound a lot more space, and stopped us from reaching for drum triggers to help it kick. The guitars were interesting, too: the signal from singer/guitarist Clegg’s Gibson was split through a Boss OC3, with the wet octave signal going to my Gallien-Krueger head and 1x15, and the normal signal going to his Marshall JCM 900. This was double-tracked and panned hard left and right, with the octave signal kept central to create a soup of bass frequencies. We also used a Berkatron to give it a broken 8-bit vibe in places.

Release Me

By the end of the second week, the PAIX project had 14 versions of the track mixed and mastered. What had started to worry all involved was that there was no outlet through which to push these covers. We were unsure of the legalities of selling covers of the track; we knew the band were signed to Universal, but there had been no indication as to whether the record label and their publishers had given clearance for the general public to release their versions.

Vanessa Higgins of indie label Regent Street Records had contacted us shortly before the recordings started to offer help in getting the records out if we got stuck. Broa and I took her up on her offer when we realised we were going to need someone who was capable of running the whole release side of things. She worked hard to set up channels for us to push the releases out for the public to buy and a Vevo channel for us to show the high-quality videos that Chromaquay produced, and direct 100 percent of all money made from the sales of these tracks to the charity.

This was no easy task for her. But by 4th January, we were pushing out tracks for people to buy; we had also begun a Kickstarter campaign to get a limited run of vinyl featuring all of the covers. We also invited visual artists to create artwork for the releases, and I was able to pair up artists and musicians who shared similar qualities. The project had now started to bring all kinds of people together, and the productions and visuals were becoming more and more elaborate. We had done several radio and newspaper interviews, appeared on regional BBC and ITV news, and started to shift units, with all proceeds going to charity. It had really started to take a life on of its own.

School’s In

Around this time, a friend of mine, Geoff Lawrence, who had recorded a cover for PAIX with his band Slugworth, inspired an idea. His kids went to the local primary school in Rowhedge, and mentioned that the teachers were planning on doing an assembly for the children about the PAIX project. I was really blown away by this, and asked Geoff if he thought the school might want to do their own cover of this for the project. A couple of days later Kerry, the head teacher of the school, contacted me to say they would be up for doing this.To prevent things becoming formulaic, the miking and processing setups were broken down at the end of each session, so each new recording would begin from scratch. These photos were taken while recording the band Animal Noise.To prevent things becoming formulaic, the miking and processing setups were broken down at the end of each session, so each new recording would begin from scratch. These photos were taken while recording the band Animal Noise. Geoff agreed to write a ‘child friendly’ version of the song, and teach it to almost 200 four-to-11-year-olds to be ready to record a in two weeks. Over the next two weeks, amongst recording several other versions of the song and trying to juggle paid work, I set about planning how I was going to record a performance where I would have eight guitar players, one ukulele, one glockenspiel and 178 children singing. This was never going to be an easy job and I knew that I wasn’t going to get any more than four takes out of them before it descended into chaos.

I spoke to local business Audio Plus, who agreed to lend me some gear to record the performance on site. Chromaquay were also going to film the whole performance, so I was going to have to set up around the film set that was being created in their school hall. To make things even more complicated, BBC Look East news and BBC Radio Essex had found out about what we were doing, and brought film crew and radio broadcasters to report on the event.

I used four AKG C451Bs and two Shure SM81s. A pair of 451s at the back of the room were set up in an X-Y configuration for ambience, while the SM81s were aimed at the guitarists, who were set up up in two groups at opposite sides of the hall. I then used the remaining 451s on the group of Year 6 kids strategically placed in the room. The oldest children had the most powerful voices, and I knew from rehearsals that they would hold the ensemble together. I recorded everything to my MacBook Pro running Cubase 8 through an RME Fireface 800, with a Focusrite OctoPre connected over ADAT for additional inputs.Peaceful Protest

So not only would 188 children be singing through a number of renditions of the song, but they were also being asked to concentrate for the music video and for the media, who were keen to document the event. The day was absolutely amazing, and I really couldn’t believe how much the kids, teachers and people involved put into the performance. Geoff sat to the side of the hall, and before each performance, looked for a rough tempo from me waving my hands in the air. We were finished at the school by 11am, and I used the third of the four takes. The school had been given permission to release a number of the kids in the afternoon to come over to the studio for a visit, and I took this as an opportunity to record some additional vocals, noise and video footage for the track. At one point the teachers looked terrified when I handed every child an instrument, including cymbals, amplified electric guitars and a didgeridoo! Studio in the school: the most ambitious version of the song involved the entire cohort of St Lawrence’s School, Rowhedge.Studio in the school: the most ambitious version of the song involved the entire cohort of St Lawrence’s School, Rowhedge.

By the end of the day, I had put together a very rough version of the song. I was really surprised how consistent the timing of the performance was, and the tuning wasn’t as bad I thought it would be. Admittedly I had some priceless background noise in the vocal performance — one kid decided to clear his throat just as one of the verses ended, and during an instrumental part, a child shouted ‘quack!’ at the top of his voice. This wasn’t a musical school, this was just a normal primary school doing something fun for charity, so I kept all of these little quirks in the performance, as I had done with a lot of the other bands involved in the project. Concentrating really hard on the all-important glockenspiel part...Concentrating really hard on the all-important glockenspiel part...

Still Growing

As good as I thought it sounded, I wanted to take this version to another place and make it something much bigger. The school had put so much effort not only into teaching the kids the song, but explaining exactly why they were doing it. It was a very powerful thing for a child to try to understand.

I have worked a number of times with my friend, composer Oliver Weeks; he was aware of what we were doing and offered to compose some orchestration for the track, with the idea that I would use my Kontakt sample sets to add it. The only brief I gave him was “think Disney” and “make people’s hearts melt”. He came back the following day with a truly amazing composition. As I played each part into the track it grew bigger and bigger. I played the rough mixes to a few people who literally broke down in tears.

I lived with the mix for a few days, until one night I woke up in a panic. I’d planned to send the mix off for mastering, to meet the end-of-week deadline for release, but I knew that if I got a few live players on the track, it would add the realism and depth that I felt it was missing. Two hours after deciding on this, I had managed to assemble a full orchestra from contacts I had from around America and the UK. Danny T Levin of Double D Horns provided me with all of the horn parts, which he recorded at his studio in LA; Andrew DB Joslyn of Macklemore’s backing band provided violins and cello from his studio in Seattle; Rory Sadler of UK ska band New Town Kings provided me with tenor sax; and Jonny Poole of Monster Florence managed to record everything else with his contacts in Sheffield. I received the stems incredibly quickly and I managed to mix the entire track in less than a day. Ed Woods handled mastering duties, and we only missed the deadline by two days. I was immensely proud at what we achieved with this version in such a short space of time, and the video that accompanied the music really captured the magic of the day.

Full Circle

By the time the school version had been released, the project had really picked up momentum. Nick Alexander’s sister Zoe had contacted me to show her support for what we were doing, and asked if her and some of Nick’s family and friends could come to the studio and record a cover of the song. This meant so much to all of us involved in PAIX, especially me. We blocked out the first Saturday in February, and leading up to the recording I got a number of my friends who had recorded covers to provide parts for this particular song, including Nick’s cousin Jordan on drums.

The day of recording was very emotional but hugely enjoyable. I got to hang out and record with lots of friends who I hadn’t seen for years. Nick’s parents laid down tambourine and handclaps, and Zoe and everyone else provided vocals. They had reworked the lyrics to make them more personal for them, and even worked on three-part harmonies, which was a great surprise. We filmed some video footage so that they would have something with which to remember the day.

I was hoping to finish the PAIX project before submitting this article, but at the time of writing it is still going strong. At the last count, I had recorded 31 versions of the song, with as many high-quality music videos and cover artworks. I never would have imagined that this idea would have grown into something so amazing, bringing together people from all over the world to create something beautiful out of something so terrible.

The Paris attacks were so utterly random, and could have been directed at any of us, at any time, anywhere in the world. They were designed to scare and confuse, and to disrupt the everyday lives of normal people. What we have made with this project is not just a collection of songs, but also a show of defiance in the face of evil. There was no political or promotional agenda behind the project: it was a peaceful act by everyday people who donated their free time and talents to raise money for those who need it, and the fact that we all have enjoyed ourselves doing it has been something that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

On a personal level, this has been the single most important thing I have done in my musical life. It hasn’t been easy; at one point in January I didn’t see daylight for four and a half days, I was working 18-hour days, seven days a week for quite a while, and it tested all aspects of my personal life and probably shortened my lifespan considerably. But I’m glad I did it.

Mastering

There are several mastering engineers I use regularly, and they were keen to be involved in the PAIX project. Ed Woods (www.edwoodsmastering.com) is a great mastering engineer who works out of Blackdog Studios in South London, and has worked with artists such as the Who, Bloc Party and Manic Street Preachers. He brought a more polished edge and British punch to the tracks he worked on. Sam Moses (www.samlightning.com) is based in Nashville, and comes at the mastering process with a more experimental edge, utilising more obscure equipment and techniques to master records. Arturo Banus is based in Caracas, Venezuela; his sound is very forward and punchy and I used him on the heavier, more intense tracks on the project. What was so great about this side of the project was that these guys are close friends of mine, and I was able to send them tracks that I knew would suit their style.I knew they would give the tracks exactly what they needed.

Monster Movies

One of the covers that departed furthest from the Eagles Of Death Metal original was by Monster Florence, who combine live hip-hop and other genres such as jazz and funk. The cover was approached in a completely different way, with the singers taking the concept and lyrics and flipping them around to tell a different story altogether. I initially created a number of scenes on NI’s Maschine, based loosely around the melodies from the original, and lifted some samples from the original, using Cubase’s VariAudio to manipulate the pitch and groove. I then resampled the cuts back into Maschine through various pedals and outboard to degrade the samples further.

Cameron the drummer played a live groove on his Gretsch Renown kit over the track, and I used Cubase’s Hitpoint to MIDI function to layer up some samples from Battery and Steven Slate Drums. Cameron has a Kickport installed on the kit, which adds a huge amount of sub-bass and depth for an acoustic kick drum. I miked it with an Electro-Voice RE20 on the inside and an sE Titan on the outside, and the bottom end was bolstered even more with my 808 and 909 samples. I also compressed and EQ’ed heavily on the way in, with Distressors on the kick and snare, Lindell 7X and PEX-500 on a mono ribbon room mic, and an SSL compressor and Sontec clone on the overheads. The bass and electric guitars were very simple loops, recorded via a DI box straight into Maschine and manipulated with NI’s Guitar Rig.

The vocalists in MoFlo are very particular about their choice of mics. I used the Shure SM7 on all of the verse vocals, with the SSL Nucleus preamp, Neve 8803 EQ and Alan Smart C2 compressor. This gave them the sharp attack that they needed for the fast delivery of the verses, but for the chorus, I put up a combination of the sE Gemini and Sontronics Sigma for a bigger, more open sound. This is a trick that producer Daniel Boyle showed me, and gives a lovely combination of the warmth of the valves and the smoothness of the ribbon, which helps keep sibilance under control. School in the studio: recording overdubs in the live room, with Geoff Lawrence orchestrating.School in the studio: recording overdubs in the live room, with Geoff Lawrence orchestrating.Recording: more fun than a  day in the classroom!Recording: more fun than a day in the classroom!

I am a huge fan of analogue outboard and guitar pedals, and have a large selection of equipment made by gear enthusiasts Analogue Addicts, including germanium and valve preamps, optical compressors and germanium and valve summing amps. Ian at AA is familiar with my taste for filth and saturation, and always builds me kit that is customised to my saturated tastes! In this case, I used the germanium summing amp to blend the vocal signals together. To give the vocals more width on the chorus, I reamped through an old Peavey stereo chorus guitar combo. It’s a little noisy, but at low levels in the mix, helps add more depth. I also used my patches in Tim Exile’s Finger to glitch up the track and give it a more schizophrenic and intense vibe. All in, this version took approximately six hours to write and record, and I was really pleased with the results.

Find Out More

You can hear 15 of the PAIX project’s covers of ‘I Love You All The Time’ at the media page accompanying this month’s issue at www.sosm.ag/may16media. To buy them as downloads surf to www.tomdonovanstudio.com. For more details on the project, visit the following links:

www.facebook.com/thePAIXproject/

vimeo.com/user42114332/videos

www.thesweetstufffoundation.org

Published May 2016