A Conversation with THE ANCHORESS & PAUL DRAPER 4

The Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies) and singer-songwriter, musician and record producer Paul Draper, formerly the frontman of English rock band Mansun have been busy for the last few years working side by side on two highly anticipated albums due for release in 2016. The Anchoress’s debut album, ‘Confessions of a Romance Novelist, is set for release on January 15th, 2016 and Paul Drapers’ solo debut ‘Spooky Action’, is due shortly after.  

This week the brand new single from The Anchoress. ‘You & Only You feat. Paul Draper was unveiled. The track features Paul as a guest vocalist and is his first lead vocal performance on a single release in over a decade; he also features on the guitar. Catherine and Paul took time out from a busy day in the studio to chat with Mark Millar.

XS: How did you both begin working together?

CAD: I think Paul dropped me an email…

PD: Catherine put a video of herself playing at the ICA in London on YouTube…

CAD: Yeah, I got an email through to my website from him, and I was like, “oh yeah, I know who you are” my boyfriend’s favourite record was ‘Six’.

PD: I saw Catherine as hotly tipped at that point, so I threw my hat into the ring to produce some tracks, and there were a few other producers in the mix, such as Bernard Butler.

CAD: We ended up doing two demos at that point. I was at university, and I had this manager who wanted me to drop out and do music full time, and I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to finish my degree and have that under my belt, but we stayed in touch.

PD: Yeah, we did some demos, and we both did other things and then when I got my production room, ‘The Kitchen’ in Stanley House, I said: “Come over, and we’ll do some tracks”. To start with, we just made some tracks and then slowly, bit by bit, we decided it would be an album, and we’ll do it. We went ahead and did the whole album ourselves without any record company finance or involvement, and once we finished the album last year, we brought the record company on board at the very end. It gave us the complete artistic freedom to make the album we wanted.

The team in the studio
The team in the studio

Because I liked Catherine as a songwriter, her music was based around her home studio, so there wasn’t a band involved because she is a multi-instrumentalist; she was layering up instruments in her studio. My idea for Catherine was to get her on her piano and put a band behind it. Playing the guitar is my main thing so that I could play the guitar, so we looked for a rhythm section: Jon Barnett, who used to be in the ‘Upper Room’ and a friend of mine, ‘Stax’ who was playing around London. We tried a couple of different drummers until we got Jon. Jon and Stax gelled, and when those four musicians came in, Jon, Stax, Me and Catherine. That’s when we went into Hugh Padgham’s studio and started recording the album.

Listen to ‘You And Only You BELOW:

We were fortunate because Hugh had produced ‘The Police’ records, and he had all these old microphones and preamplifiers and gear that he had recorded Stewart Copeland’s drum kit though, so The Anchoress album has the spirit of Stewart Copeland in it because it’s recorded through all the same gear. Our brief at the start was to have Catherine with a live band, so the album has a real live feel – it’s not processed. I listen to a lot of stuff on the radio and in the charts now, and it’s very computerised and processed.

CAD: That’s basically how we did it for the first two sessions: Jon and Stax came in, and I would teach them a song in the morning, and we would play it 9-10 times, and once we had got it, we would record some takes. Everything was built up from that live foundation, which is quite unusual nowadays.

PD: We just played and played until we got it right. My favourite band ever was The Beatles, and they would record something 60 times until they got it right, and then they would listen back to the takes and pick the best takes, and that’s what we did. I don’t think we had the time to get that many takes, but we would get up to 15-20 run-throughs of something and pick the best one.

Weirdly, we had an A & R man, who shall remain nameless, come to the studio to listen to it, and he was like, “wow! That’s coming back in that, isn’t it?” and I was like, “what?” and he said, “live musicians playing music” [laughs]. A few massive records are like that, but it’s getting fewer and fewer. The charts are riddled with Taylor Swift and Max Martin-produced records; even bands are starting to sound processed now and very electronic. I’m a big fan of Editors, and I’ve heard their new record, and it’s completely electronic.

XS: Is ‘You and Only You’ the only track Paul sings on?

PD: We went through three different incarnations and eight remixes until we arrived at guitar, bass and drums, but yeah, that’s the only one where I have been elevated to duet as a “featured artiste”.

Catherine to Paul: That was part of the process of you feeling comfortable enough to go then and work on ‘Spooky Action’, wasn’t it… me coaxing you out of your vocal silence?

PD: Oh yeah, I never thought I would sing on another track again; I was happy just being a studio person.

XS: Are you glad you are singing and recording again?

PD: Yeah, I guess so. It’s just been a natural evolution from doing the first Anchoress single ‘What Goes Around’, backing vocals, playing the guitar, and doing some interviews. The next thing all the Mansun fans were running their Facebook groups. They have also had the convention, and now it coaxed me into doing my record, obviously because Catherine is my work partner. She is currently involved in my album, so she is repaying the compliment. She plays keyboards and synths and has written some songs on my album.


Catherine to Paul: It’s a similar process to how I started my record… I sent you a bunch of old songs, half the roster is those old songs, and the other half is the stuff we ended up writing together. ‘Spooky Action’ is the same; half of it is that old stuff that you had already, and we ended up writing another half of the new stuff. They are a mirror pair, aren’t they?

PD: The same players on each album, Jon and Stax, the rhythm section, and me and Catherine. Both albums have evolved out of each other.

CAD: They are both quite angry records as well… They are both about settling scores to some extent.

XS: So they are companion pieces, then?

PD: Definitely, yeah! They have the same musicians; they are done in the same studio. They sound completely different; my album is a rock album, whereas I would describe Catherine’s album as Barbara Streisand on acid [laughs]. They are entirely different musically, but the DNA and roots of both albums come from the same place.

CAD: We didn’t stop finishing The Anchoress album, did we? We just sailed straight on. We’d already started writing ‘Spooky Action’ while finishing The Anchoress record.

the piano and guitars from Stanley House.

PD: They have indeed overlapped as two records, and I think when we go out on the road to perform the two albums…. It’s a big ask, but ultimately, what we would like to do next year or the year after, if it comes to it and we get offered the right festival slots and shows, is to go out and perform both albums in their entirety back to back. But it’s a big ask, so we don’t know whether it’ll come off, but if it does, we would ultimately like to do that.

XS: How do you both write songs together?

CAD: I sit at the piano, Paul sits with a guitar, and we shout at each other and compete to write better choruses. And then he tells me that he is better than me at writing melodies, and I say I’m better than him, then we both write two choruses, and it’s like Abba went wrong [laughs].

PD: Yeah, Catherine sits at the piano like Benny, and I sit behind her with an acoustic guitar like Bjorn.

CAD: Obviously, Paul has taken the lead on stuff with his record, and I’ll take the lead when it’s my record. We try not to step on each other’s toes too much. It’s always lyrically, certainly about the person who’s singing it.

PD: We have been friends for so many years now, and we have worked together, and obviously, I have seen Catherine go from a university student and aspiring musician to do a solo spot next month at the O2 (with Simple Minds) in front of 22,000 people, so I have watched her journey, and we know each other so well we can make fools of each other, which you have to be able to do to write songs.

CAD: There’s a level of intimacy. It’s very weird… you have to be willing to make the most ridiculously awful sounds if you can’t do that when you’re not going to come up with something exceptional.

PD: When you’re writing a song, I would say 95% of everything you do is rejected in real-time as you’re doing it. You have an internal quality control mechanism; try to keep the best bits and build a song out of them.

CAD: We’ve got a reasonable hit rate, haven’t we with that?

PD: Yeah, I think so; Catherine has a different way of doing it than I do. I’m more like a craftsman. I’ll redo things over and over again… I’m very methodical. An analogy I made a long time ago about how we write together is when you get a team pursuit in a bike race when you get one bloke up at the front, and he pulls the others, and they go faster using less energy. When we’re writing, Catherine does that; she comes up with a whole section and melody, then I’ll sit at the back strumming along, and then when I come up with an idea, Catherine goes to the front and pulls the rest of the team along, and I’ll come up with the ideas.


PD: No, Catherine’s songs were written long ago – we were overdubbing and mixing on Catherine’s album. I remember telling Catherine that I couldn’t focus on my record until hers was done.

CAD: There was only a slight overlap when we started writing a few songs for ‘Spooky Action’ when we hadn’t gone into mixing The Anchoress.

PD: I had a crack at mixing it in the box and brought in some mixers, but at the very end, we decided to bring in a guy called Paul “P-Dub” Walton, who engineered the ‘Six’ album with me.

CAD: He’s also worked with Bjork, No Doubt, and Birdy…

PD: He has a great pedigree of mixing, so that’s when it overlapped…

CAD: We had Cenzo Townshend do some of the mixes on the record too. He did ‘Doesn’t Kill You’, ‘What Goes Around’, and a version of ‘You And Only You’, so we had two people mixing the album.

PD: It was a different process that overlapped; we weren’t sitting and writing for one and then writing for the other…

CAD: It’s all about ‘Spooky Action’ at the moment.

XS: When can we hear something from ‘Spooky Action’?

PD: Not until the New Year. The backing tracks were finished a few months ago. We put something on my Facebook page showing the last recording session. I’m mixing some of the tracks now and simultaneously overdubbing guitars and vocals on others. I have given myself a deadline for Christmas to finish it. Many record companies are interested in it, which is really nice.

XS: So, will it be released sometime in the New Year?

PD: Yeah, the announcement will be in the New Year; Catherine’s album is out first; mine is further down the line.

CAD: The Anchoress album will be out on January 15th. These things take so much longer… The Anchoress record was mastered in July, so that gives you some idea of how long the process takes, from finishing the physical record to getting the release prepared and all the work that goes into that, which is huge.

PD: Once your record is finished, you plug it into the music industry system, and that’s a lot of time and work for everyone involved with the team. You’ve got the record company people who are all behind it and all very excited.

CAD: It’s like you hand it over to a massive team of people who take it into the world for you… it’s out of my hands now, which frees me up to do whatever I’m doing at the moment [laughs], which is recording something for ‘Spooky Action’ today, which was the plan but hasn’t quite happened yet…

XS: Hopefully, you will get something done today at some time.

CAD: Yes, we will. It always happens. We are always productive every day of the year! [laughs]

PD: when I was younger, I was a workaholic, but I was more of a neurotic life-or-death workaholic. Now I get up, put the world to rights, get myself in order, and then I’ll work. I’m a lot more measured about it now. I probably don’t get as much stuff done, but I like keeping my sanity and quality control up.

CAD: Whereas I’m the workaholic…

PD: Oh yeah, you are the nutter! [laughs]

Preorder the 5 track ‘You and Only You’ EP HERE:

Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as hosting interviews for the weekly XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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