Vanessa Anne Redd and Marc Makarov of the London duo Six Years — and also the well regarded Rubicks — graciously answered a few intrusive questions about the wonderful new Six Years record Rivers.
WTF: You were both already in an excellent band together: Rubicks. So why Six Years? How does having this other creative outlet affect Rubicks?
Vanessa: We like to keep on our toes. We’re greedy so we need to have as many bands as possible! The opportunity to make this record came up, and we’re just enjoying going with the flow. Creativity runs in strange ways; you’ve got to follow the grooves.
Marc: Sean McLusky asked us to record a duet of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” for a feature film he was producing. We decided to write an album as well. It seemed natural to call this something else. Not sure how this affects Rubicks. Tomorrow never knows.
WTF: How do you share song-writing duties for Six Years? Who writes what using what instruments and what tools? Do you write separately then come together or do you sit together and explore ideas? Do the words or the music come first?
Vanessa: We usually set the black room up with curtains, low light then show and tell each other what we’ve got; that could be a drum beat, bass line or sometimes a whole song, lyric and chords. Then if it passes our “duet test” it gets to be a fully grown Six Years song. I mainly write on guitar or piano or just write words, and Marc will work more on beats and bass lines.
Marc: I tend to sing to write lyrics, Vanessa tends to write poems and then sing.
WTF: You get great sounds. What instruments, tools, and devices are in the Six Years arsenal?
Vanessa: Thanks! We go into the woods and record branches crunching under our feet and set up four mics at odd angles throughout the trees to catch the lonely howl of the endangered shrew, but when that doesn’t work, we stick to drum machine, guitars, synth/organ and vocal chords. Alan O’Connell did a great job of working on some sounds with us in his studio too.
Marc: Back room of an old art gallery, late nights, an electric guitar, bass guitar, a 70s organ, Korg Poly 800 synth, 80s Linn drum, MPC 2000, some shakers, tambourines, 70s amps, couple of microphones, flip flops and some random people walking in and out occasionally.
WTF: Were there any new approaches, motivations, or instruments for your excellent new record “Rivers”?
Vanessa: Marc found his voice in a glass in a Berlin bar, after catching pneumonia, so the new approach was to add our husky new member. We also wanted to be much more ruthless as to what instruments went in. We’d ask ourselves “Do we need a Sousaphone?” and “Would the orchestra really work on this track?” We tried the less-is-more approach in every instance and also focused more on the storytelling in the songs.
Marc: Once we’d worked out the main melody and lyrics, we recorded the performance without rehearsing. We wanted to record the album as close to the original thought/first idea as possible, without changing and not judging too much. Our motivation was to be anti production.
WTF: Since it is only the two of you making the music, there is obviously much layering happening when you record. How do you know when to stop adding parts and textures?
Vanessa: You generally know when enough’s enough as it gets too confusing and that’s usually when our speakers break.
Marc: Our rule was not to record more than three parts playing at the same time. Instead, we used simple reverbs and delays to create the dynamics and layers. I mixed the album, but we still wanted more depth to create the space and feel we were looking for. Fortunately, Alan O’Connell has a studio in the basement, below our rehearsal room. He mixed the album using a couple of 80s outboard reverbs and compressors and fed some sounds through various amps and rooms in the building.
WTF: “This Is the Day” is the song that I cannot shake. It’s a wonderful song, and the recording is perfect. Is the “Stand By Me” allusion in the bass part intentional? Vanessa, do you intentionally sing off-mic at times? There is a moment in the video when you look away as the vocal recording sounds off-mic. Is this intentional?
Vanessa: Why, thank you. Well, I am always very distracted! On stage I use two microphones. One of them’s a more heavily reverbed mic. I think you’re getting some of the movement that happens when I change between mics on the record too. The video moment is probably down to the ingenuity of the editing from the video director. I can’t remember if I did it intentionally on the video performance or not!
Marc: I wasn’t thinking of “Stand by Me” when I recorded the bass line, but it’s a great classic! The bass was the last instrument to record on “This Is the Day.” It was recorded in one take and I made the bass as simple as possible to follow the vocals. It was refreshing to play like this, normally my bass lines comes first.
WTF: I get a Terry Jacks/Jacques Brel feeling when I hear “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” That may be a coincidence, but it’s certainly a good thing. Whether that feeling has merit or not, what are your musical influences and inspirations? What have you enjoyed hearing (or watching or reading) lately, even if its influence on your music is not perceptible?
Vanessa: I’ve been enjoying lots of male/female duets across all genres and eras but there seem to be a lot in the 60s and 70s, so you’re definitely picking up on that I guess from your Brel feeling. “Help Me Make it Through the Night” is the only song we didn’t write ourselves on Rivers‘ It’s by Kris Kristofferson, written in the early 70s and around the same era too as Terry Jacks/ Jacques Brel’s “Seasons in the Sun.” The version we most listened to, to inspire ours, was the one Kris Kristofferson sung as a duet with Rita Coolidge. Elvis does a great version too. Some references have definitely found there way in from what I was reading too at the time. Walt Whitman, his line from “Leaves of Grass” in our song “Perfume (War’s Perfume),” Murakami’s influence of his surreal world of the lift in our song “Elevator,” Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot makes an appearance in “This is the Day,” Dante’s and Huxley’s heavens and hells, and some other ideas from other myths. Another big favourite from his writings and drawings is the eternal William Blake. Music wise, I can listen to Carole King all day long and Holly Golightly, who I have the pleasure of knowing, is also a big influence. I’ve also been really enjoying the latest beautiful instrumental records from Cindytalk and Tetine. Super filmic gorgeousness.
Marc: I’ve always been mesmerized by Jacques Brel’s music. Brel’s beat on “Seasons in the Sun” is perfect. At present, I’m enjoying Suicide, Beach House, our friend’s band The Veees, and Jaakko Eino Kalevi. We hope to play a few more gigs with the Veees in the not too distant future.
WTF: I visited London for the first time last August and now am anxious to get back there and explore more. How does living in London affect your music? What are your favourite spots in the city? Where do you feel the most inspired there? Do rural settings inspire you also?
Vanessa: My favourite spots are usually the quiet ones. One’s definitely the Art Gallery black-box space where we recorded. It definitely affects the music. It’s a great place to retreat to and hide from the hecticness of town — our version of nature. Sometimes the lack of nature means imagination becomes very important. Even imagining being on the banks of the river can be as good as being there in reality.
Marc: We recorded and wrote the album at the back of an art gallery in Redchurch Street. The room has a distinct sound; the walls are brick, no windows, low ceiling, no heating, concrete floor. It’s the type of place where you have to switch off from the environment, or else you wouldn’t stand staying there. In one way this stopped us from writing or recording anything which didn’t involve us wholly, as when this happened, we’d get out and see the outside. This room was probably the biggest influence, but maybe Redchurch Street influenced are recordings too. We’d mainly people watch and view the free exhibitions and art openings. Now the street’s lined with 4x4s, Maseratis, Jaguars and newly opened designer shops. It’s crazy to see the road change so much within a year or so. Presently, my favourite area is Dalston for it’s venues like Birthdays and The Kings Head Members Club and interesting goings on.