"Just For The Record" is a brand new section at the RockUnited site where 'DJ Urban' has a look at some old(er) records/albums in the great history of hard rock and metal. It could be some "obscure" minor record label release that simply didn't get the attention it so rightly deserved the first time around. It could also be a what you would call a "classic" album or sort of a best-seller. They all have one thing in common though. They all ROCK and and they all have at least one classy enough band member to answer our q's.
THE VIOLET HOUR: "The Fire Sermon"
THE VIOLET HOUR and their debut album "The Fire Sermon" from the year of 1991 (released by Sony Music/Epic). This is actually a rather difficult album to classify. The one and only effort by the cult U.K. band, The Violet Hour, originally released by Sony Records in August '91. Is this a Prog-Rock record? Dream-Prog? perhaps, nevertheless, the music is definitely atmospheric, melancholic, emotional, haunting, and close to experimental. The band's main influences at the time were Pink Floyd, Kate Bush and Clannad and they were loosely compared to another female fronted act, namely, 'All About Eve'. Their excellent vocalist, Doris Brendel, the daughter of pianist Alfred Brendel, regarded as one of the most thoughtful interpreters of classical Germanic works by such composers as Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart. But hey, nevermind the posh dad. Let's get on with "The Fire Sermon" questions. Here's TVH's lovely, out-of-ordinary vocalist, DORIS BRENDEL
How long did this album take to make from start to finish, recording-wise?
The answer is not as straight-forward as one would think. We were keen for Pete Brown, who had produced our last demo prior to us being signed, to also produce the album. But Sony had other ideas. They insisted that unknown Phil Brown (no relation) should produce it and stuck us into a plush residential studio for 2 months. Phil Brown had a CV as long as a toilet roll and had worked with some impressive names, including Led Zeppelin. What exactly he did on those sessions remained a mystery – presumably made the tea, as he proved to be a poor producer. He literally sucked any life out of our performances by having us repeat each song ad nauseum without making any suggestions for changes. We expressed concerns that it wasn’t sounding good and were told: 'it’ll be great in the mix.' Well we were young and inexperienced so we soldiered on. When the album was finished it still sounded awful. Fortunately Sony agr eed. We then had 3 weeks to rerecord the entire album in another studio with Pete Brown.
What kind of initial budget are we talking about here?
What the recording and marketing costs were I wouldn’t know – you would have to ask Sony. As for the band, we received a £200,000 advance including publishing.
How much of the budget did you actually spend on useless equipment and other nonsense?
Not much unless you include managers, lawyers and accountants who between took a huge chunk of the advance. We were pretty sensible with the remainder. We did buy some new musical equipment and kept a roadie on retainer. Of the rest we paid ourselves a modest monthly wage to see us through to the next album. Sony on the other hand, wasted huge amounts of 'our' money as we discovered near the end of the band’s unity. Sony threw parties while we were abroad touring in our name and charged our account, they would send hampers of champagne and fruit to venues and charge us. You live and learn...
What kind of 'sound', production wise, did you have in the back of your mind, prior to entering the studio?
I was very green at the time when it came to studio production. We had recorded several demos of course, but the technical side was never my strong point. Markus Waite, the keyboard player who had written most of the songs for the album had stronger ideas. My forte has always been in structuring melodies and vocal arrangements.
What kind of input did the producer have during the process?
Well I shan't mention Phil Brown again. But Pete Brown has always been a very forceful producer with strong ideas. Being a guitarist as well as producer he is particularly good when it comes to guitar and sound effects. He is also a perfectionist and pushed us all to our limits to get things to his liking.
And were you pleased with the final outcome? (sound - production wise)
I think Pete did a great job, especially as we only had 3 weeks to record the whole album. Those were weeks of no sleep and gallons of coffee. Personally I am never 100% happy with my vocals, but I'm sure that's not unusual.
Did the producer use any (weird) experimental miking and/or recording techniques?
I'm the wrong person to ask!
How much time did you spend on overdubs?
All I can remember is that it took 3 weeks from start to finish, starting with us all playing together and then redoing guides bit by bit until it was done.
Which band member spent most of his days in the studio and why?
Well we all spent the 3 weeks in the studio. But I'm generally the person by the pool table when I'm not recording. Markus was the most attentive to what was happening and had the most ideas as to production.
Which band member hardly spent any time at all in the studio and why?
Me no doubt. As I mentioned before – I'm there, but I like to go in with fresh ears and analyse final takes rather than sitting through the process of getting it right.
Let's talk about the lyrics. Are you just as fond of them today or are they typical of its time?
I only wrote a few songs on the Fire Sermon – most were written by Markus and I think some of the lyrics are still very good. Some of them were always a bit 'hippy' for my personal tastes and that hasn’t changed. "For Mercy" and "Offertory Song" are great lyrics. As for my contribution, I have improved a great deal over the years, both lyrically and melodically.
How did you go on about capturing your 'live sound', or perhaps you didn't?
As mentioned before, our live sound was almost destroyed when we recorded with Phil Brown, mainly by the boredom of constant repetition. But with Pete we all played the songs live, while concentrating on the drum takes and then redid any bits which weren't up to scratch.
Did the record company interfere anything on your "sound" and "songs", considering what's 'hot and not' at the time?
Of course. It's almost unheard of for an A&R man not to stick his oar in somewhere. It's part of the job description. The changes were minor however and I can't even remember what they were now…
Your favourite songs off the album and why?
"By A River" and "Offertory Song" I like for their haunting melodies and dynamics. "Hold Me" possibly has my best vocal performance, and "For Mercy" has a retro quirkiness and the lyrics are particularly good.
Any 'oh-I-wish-we-had-never-recorded' song on this album?
Not really. We had already discarded a number of songs.
Were there any other tracks recorded during those studio sessions that didn't make the cut?
Not in that session. There were previous demo songs which are pretty poor quality and have never been released. The B-sides were recorded afterwards and have been included on the re-issue.
What's your honest opinion about the songs and the production today? Dated, fresh, a mess?
Certainly not a mess. It does have a certain retro feel, but then technology has moved on tremendously since the early 90s which was pre-digital. So some would say dated, but not necessarily in genre. It didn't follow any trends at the time and still cannot be pigeon-holed comfortably.
Are there any 'crazy' behind the scenes anecdotes from these sessions that you can share with us?
Most of the ‘crazy’ stuff happened when recording with Phil Brown. We were all very unhappy with the way things were going and how it sounded, which led to tempers flaring. About half-way through Markus threw quite a tantrum about Phil's incessant spliff smoking and directionless production, resulting in tears and Phil threatening to walk out. The record company had to mediate to get things back on track.
Were you ever a "priority" case or merely just another release at your record label?
I think we were a priority to a degree. One would think that having a major record company behind one would lead to good organisation. But we found that while we touring most of the nearby shops hadn’t been stocked with the album. Apparently not much has changed in that respect.
Did you ever feel like the record label supported you guys enough afterwards? (promotion-wise, tours, etc.).
Yes and no. They wasted far too much money on unimportant things, limos etc, and didn't invest in promotional things like videos. We had a full touring schedule which was great, lots of press and radio interviews, but the distribution was patchy at best and the album was withdrawn far too early and before many people managed to get hold of a copy.
Any regrets whatsoever? (regarding the album of course)
Not a lot of point in regrets. The album is what we produced at the time and that cannot be changed. I regret not getting on better with the rest of the band; I regret that we wasted so much time with Phil Brown in the studio – but then it may have changed the album if things had been different, and not necessarily for the better.
If there's anything you'd like to add, say, or promote, please do:
Interview by: Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,