From their lounge-pop debut (2004’s ‘They Died For Beauty’) Joanna Swan and Ilya have trodden a musical path that is wide-ranging and eclectic. The Guardian’s Adam Sweeting puts it this way: Ilya’s “music comes close to being indescribable…Edmundo Ross-style dance music, cool jazz, modern jazz, Hungarian dances and grand opera.”
In a series of beautifully crafted albums Ilya have been, by turns, lush, romantic, sparse, challenging and always unexpected. But for their latest release, ‘Fathoms Deep’, Ilya have taken their strangest, and riskiest, musical direction to date.
Arriving at one of the last residential studios in Britain (Rockfield, in Wales) with a few handpicked musicians to record songs live, with no rehearsal, is, to say the least, challenging. And considering that Ilya, with two core members (Joanna Swan and Nick Pullin), are not and have never been, a live band, such a move could have been career suicide.
Thankfully, the results prove otherwise. ‘Fathoms Deep’ shows a band at the height of their powers, searching for a more spontaneous, improvised approach to their music and succeeding wildly. Enhanced by top quality sonics only a high end recording studio can provide, ‘Fathoms Deep’ has that loose, swaggering confidence produced by musicians who, at the peak of their game, have the freedom to break loose and go wherever the music takes them.
Although ‘Fathoms Deep’ is based around songs that were pre-written, then presented to the musicians in the studio, and though some overdubs were added later, it is in essence a live album: an album that contains the oddest hybrid of prog-folk, jazz-soul and blues-rock that you’ll ever hear. And soaring above it all, Joanna Swan’s extraordinary voice, travelling in a heartbeat from exquisite, ethereal tenderness to a gargantuan blues howl.
This is music, steeped in the past that sounds eerily like the future.
Joanna Swan: Vocals, Nick Pullin: Guitars, Dan Moore: Piano & Hammond, Andy Lowe: Basses, Matt Jones: Drums & Percussion (tracks 1,2,4,6,7 & 8), Damon Reece: Drums & Percussion (tracks 3,5,9 & 10), Ruth Hammond: Saxophone (track 6).
Society of Sound asked Ilya engineer Tim Lewis to give us the background to the recording of ‘Fathoms Deep’ at Rockfield’s Quadrangle Studio in Monmouth, Wales on August 16th and 17th and October 11th and 12th 2011 “The recording comprised of two two-day sessions a few months apart. The intention was to record the band and Joanna’s vocal as live takes so we set up the rooms with this in mind.
The drums were recorded in the room adjacent to the main dry area. As this room has a stone tiled floor and moveable paneled wooden walls we used a few acoustic screens and some damping to make the room a little less live. The bass drum was miced with a Neumann U47 FET, an AKG D12 and a Yamaha NS10 for some sub. The snare was miced with a Shure SM57 on top and a Sennheiser 441 on the bottom. Hats were Neumann KM84s, toms were Neumann TLM 170 and the overheads were a pair of Neumann KM56s with a spot mic KM84 on the ride. The room ambience was minimal but was recorded in stereo with a pair of Coles 4038s through the MCI desk.
The double bass was recorded in the main dry area along with the piano and the Hammond although we built some screens around it to provide some separation. It was miced with a Neumann U47 FET and a DI via one of Rockfield’s BBC Mic amp/DIs. Both channels ran through Rosser Mic pres. The Fender electric bass just used the BBC DI.
The Bosendorfer piano was recorded in the same room with a pair of B&K 4011s through the MCI desk mic preamps.
The Hammond was in the same room with the Leslie in the games room miced with a Neumann U47FET on the bottom and two Neumann U87s on the top. These mics ran through the MCI mic pres.
Nick Pullin played acoustic guitar in one of the side booths miced with a Neumann KM84 through a Neve 1060. Joanna’s vocal was recorded with a Neumann U67 in an adjacent booth through a Neve 1060 with a small amount of compression from a UREI 1176.
Most of the songs were done in one or two takes with the only overdubs being Hammond where there was live piano, some Farfisa reed organ and some electric guitar. The entire recording was done straight to Pro Tools at 24 bit, 44.1KHz.
Joanna and Nick edited the takes at home in Logic and added some backing vocals and additional guitars.
I mixed tracks were mixed at Aeriel Studios, Carmarthen. The Logic sessions were transferred back to Pro Tools with everything being brought back on individual faders on the DDA AMR24 desk. Joanna’s vocal ran through a Neve 1073 and a UREI 1176. A Lexicon PCM91 provided the reverb for most of the instruments while the vocal reverb came from the UAD EMT 140 plug-in.
A Lazy Lizard Labs stereo buss compressor was used across the final output.
The album was mastered at Skye Mastering by Denis Blackham.”
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An island in a sea of sound – Chris Watson’s Nature DiscoDecember 08,2014