As Gemma Hayes steps back into the fray with her long-awaited third album, Hot Press arranges for her to have a tete-a-tete with long-time collaborator Dave Odlum.
It was a lot like the inserts in When Harry Met Sally. Singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes and producer Dave Odlum might not be a couple in the romantic sense, but since the latter helmed the former’s debut EP back in the early part of the decade (among his first major post-Frames production jobs), both have enjoyed a fruitful creative partnership. It’s testament to Odlum’s studio skills that Hayes holds him in the same regard as sonic wizards like Dave Fridmann and Kevin Shields, both of whom she’s worked with over the course of three albums.
Since producing Hayes’s Mercury-nominated debut Night On My Side, Odlum has based himself in Black Box studios in France, crafting albums for dEUS, Nina Hynes, Josh Ritter, The Frames and many others, in the process establishing himself as one of the most sought after record-makers in Ireland. He and Hayes, plus allies like Kevin Shields, Joe Chester and Paul Noonan, have teamed up again for her third album and first independent venture The Hollow Of Morning, a hazy dawn fantasia that is equal parts pastoral folk and dissonant drone.
The two are as easy in each other’s company as one would expect of a pair who’ve spent endless late nights in the submarine-like environment of the studio. They’ve also taken HP’s invitation to interview each other seriously, showing up with reams of questions scribbled on the backs of envelopes and hotel receipts. Would that our job was always this easy.
Gemma: I think we met in the Irish Film Centre coffee shop. I had called David up because I wanted to make a demo, invited him along to a show to hear my songs, and that was it really. I met him just a few weeks before I first met Mic Christopher. We started recording stuff in Mic’s house, because Dave was living with Mic at the time. I remember Mic fell off the motorbike, he broke some ribs and a leg and he was in the hospital, and we decided to basically finish one of his songs and just surprise him with it in the ward. So we were staying up until all hours of the morning doing oohs and aahs and trying little fiddly things. He was delighted.
Dave: They were on the album in the end.
Gemma: So Dave, what was the first record that you bought with your own money?
Dave: It was Live (X Certs) by The Stranglers. I bought it off my cousin. And yours?
Gemma: Not so cool actually. It was Phil Collins, I think it was called …But Seriously or something like that. I remember a darkish photograph of his face on the front.
Dave: Okay, album-related question. I produced your record with you. What does that mean to you? What does a producer do?
Gemma: Oh my god. Well, for me anyway, I definitely need a producer to drag me out of the bushes now and then. And I’ve found with you, if I have my head up my arse, you tend to kind of pull me back musically to finish what I originally started doing. I love too many melodies, and you’re always there to make sure I don’t overcomplicate things. Plus, I’m a fan of your ears. (Laughs) I like how you hear things and how you play things… So who were the first band you ever saw who absolutely blew your mind?
Dave: Probably Echo & The Bunnymen in the SFX, I think it was the first proper gig that I wanted to go to. I was about 12 or 13. That Petrol Emotion supported them. That was one of those ones where you decide, “I’d like to do that too.”
Gemma: I didn’t get to see a band play live until I moved up for college. I was 18. And it was The Frames actually. The fact that it was the first band I had ever seen was mind-blowing in itself, just the noise and seeing these people lost in music on the stage. I think the venue was a student union place, and Glen was wearing a Bewley’s waitress dress. It was the beginning of wanting to get involved in music.
Dave: Okay, I’ve another one. We started out making this record, and it was supposed to take two weeks, and it took about a year and a bit – how did that happen? Was it my fault or yours?!!
Gemma: Well, you’re a busy guy, number one. Number two, I think the idea of making an album in two or three weeks was a reaction to being dropped, like, “Fuck it, this is just too hard.” So there was an option to get a ‘real job’ and do music as a side thing and just enjoy it. And the other option was go straight into the studio and make an album. And you were like, “Have you got any songs written?” And once I started, it became something else, I decided to take it really seriously and I wanted to make sure it was the best thing that I could possibly do. So that’s when it shifted over to, “David, have you got two months free? David, can you fly over to Los Angeles?” Myself and my manager stopped being artist and manager and became business partners, so he paid for the album, and then obviously I upped his percentage. So that really helped make it possible… Dave, can I ask you a question and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want? Why did you leave The Frames, and do you ever regret leaving The Frames?
Dave: I left really because at that time I was making a transition to being a record-maker as opposed to a guitar player in a band. Ultimately I fell in love with making records while being in The Frames and eventually just wanted to stick with doing that. It was weird the first time I went to see them after I left, but since then it’s been great, I really enjoy it. I’ve worked with them on the last few records. Being on-stage with The Frames is like being at a party, and it seems like a similar thing being off-stage. The audience are very much included in the whole shebang. Sometimes I really do miss playing live, and I didn’t for years, I was so engrossed with the studio. I wouldn’t mind playing live again. If it comes up, it comes up.
Gemma: Who is your favourite guitar player?
Dave: If I had to pick one it would probably be Dave Gilmour. I’ve always liked how melodic he is.
Gemma: Although I don’t play like him, I love Kevin Shields, I just love those dissonant chords. The chords he’s playing are sweet, but there’s a darkness to them too. Myself and Kevin had been writing a bunch of songs together before he played on any of this album, and I had so many friends texting and calling me and saying, “You’re going to meet Kevin Shields – write down everything he uses.” And I told him, “I’ve got a list of things to ask you,” and he said, “It’s really funny, 'cos so many people think I use a pitch-shifter delay pedal or something and I don’t.” He uses like, a midi-verb and one or two other things, and he showed me what he does and it was so simple, but effective and powerful, but because it’s such a Kevin Shields sound, one can’t go away and really copy it. He’s very passionate about what he does and has no care for time or what people want from him, he’s just doing it, and once it’s right, it’s right. You’re different people but you’re both massively talented, get completely absorbed in what you do and tend to not let go of it until you feel it’s done. I know Dave, from working with you, that you’re so detailed, everything has to be recorded perfectly and sung with feeling. You will always push me until I give a performance that is the best I can do.
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