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 2 highly anticipated albums due for release in 2016. The Anchoress’s debut album, ‘Confessions of a Romance Novelist‘, which is set for release on January 15th, 2016 and Paul Drapers solo debut ‘Spooky Action‘, 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 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 really 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 did some tracks and then slowly, bit by bit we decided it was going to be an album and we’ll just 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.
Because I really liked Catherine as a songwriter her music was based around her home studio so there wasn’t a band involved as such 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. Obviously playing the guitar is my main thing, so I could play the guitar and we looked for a rhythm section which was 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 really 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 really lucky 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 got 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 very 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 I think is quite unusual these days.
PD: We just played and played until we would get 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 we’d and pick the best one.
It’s really weird 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 really coming back in that isn’t it?” and I was like “what?” and he said, “live musicians playing music” [laughs]. There are a few really big records that are like that but it’s getting fewer and fewer. The charts are riddled with the Taylor Swift and Max Martin-produced records and stuff; 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 that 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 then go 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 really from doing the first Anchoress single ‘What Goes Around’ and doing backing vocals and playing the guitar and doing some interviews and 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 own record and obviously because Catherine is my work partner she has got involved in my album now so she is repaying the compliment. She is playing keyboards and synths and has written some songs on my album with me.
Catherine to Paul: It’s a similar process to how I started my record… I had sent you a bunch of old songs, half the record is those old songs and the other half is the stuff that 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 new stuff. They are sort of a mirror pair aren’t they really?
PD: It’s the same players on each album, Jon and Stax the rhythm section, and me and Catherine. Both albums have evolved out of each other really.
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 completely different musically but the DNA and roots of both albums come from the same place.
CAD: We didn’t really stop from finishing The Anchoress album did we? We just sailed straight on. We’d already started writing ‘Spooky Action’ while finishing The Anchoress record.
PD: They have certainly overlapped as two records, and I’m thinking when we go out on the road to perform the two albums…. It’s a big ask but I think 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 that’s what we would ultimately like to do.
XS: How do you both write songs together?
CAD: I sit at the piano, Paul sits with a guitar, we shout at each other and compete with each other 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 and try and keep the best bits and build a song out of it.
CAD: We’ve got a good 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 the way 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 just sit at the back strumming along and then when I come up with an idea then 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 a long time ago – we were just overdubbing and mixing on Catherine’s album. I remember saying to Catherine that I couldn’t focus on my record until hers was done.
CAD: There was only a little bit of an overlap when we started writing a few songs for ‘Spooky Action’ when we hadn’t really gone into the mixing of The Anchoress.
PD: I had a crack at mixing it in the box and brought in some mixers, but right 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 really 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’ as well, so we had two people mixing the album.
PD: It was a different process that overlapped really, we weren’t sitting 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 some of the others. I have given myself a deadline of Christmas to finish it. There are a lot of record companies interested in it which is really nice.
XS: So will it be released sometime in the New Year?
PD: Yeah, the announcement will in the New Year, Catherine’s album is out first, mine is further down the line.
CAD: The Anchoress album will be out 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 actually finishing the physical record to getting the release prepared and all the work that goes into that, which is huge.
PD: Basically once you’re 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 it is I’m doing at the moment [laughs] which is recording something for ‘Spooky Action’ today, which was the plan but it 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 and put the world to rights and 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 do like to keep my sanity and my quality control up really.
CAD: Whereas I’m the workaholic…
PD: Oh yeah you are the nutter! [laughs]
Preorder the 5 track ‘You and Only You’ EP HERE: