‘Back to basics’ was the general idea behind the latest 14corners recordings. When we started work, in the later part of last year we decided to go back to 4-track cassette, to limit ourselves and take away the opportunity to run wild with layers and layers of unnecessary parts and overdubs. We have a habit of doing that and often it’s someone else that has to step in say “Yeah, you’ve gone silly again.” And then we’ll sit, listen and laugh, realising we had gone completely off the rails with beeps and whooshes and an overzealous use of effects pedals.

Our last release was back in 2008. “Hymns in the Wind” became a clean-up exercise, we re-worked some of our many ditched songs from the previous years and re-recorded others that were originally released under our previous guise, The Four Fifty’s (misplaced apostrophe still intentional). It didn’t come out too badly considering the lack of rehearsals, we sold a few copies, got our first review in a newspaper (The Ardrossan Herald gave it a good two-thirds of a page!). It had handmade ‘aged’ lyrics sheets that were printed on paper I soaked in coffee and baked in the oven and then had to iron to get them through the printer, all in a printed, sealed envelope. I don’t even have copy with the full packaging myself! It was totally DIY. It was nice.

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(The miserable pair, Stevie McEwan (left), Shane Simmons (right), “Hymns In  The Wind” promo shot, 2008)

Between then and now we would sporadically write and record new material and each time the process would peter out to inactivity. There was supposed to be a “Reconstruction” EP, a “Horror Towns” EP, a “Not on the Radio” EP, the list goes on… There were mock-up covers, tracklistings, demos, all left at the wayside. Recently I trawled the archive that is my hard drives and compiled two CDs of all those lost tracks. It stunned us both to see that we’d left give or take about forty songs, most of which (in our overly critical opinions) weren’t awful…

But we started writing fresh material and stuck with a train of thought that kept us towards the simpler sound we once had before in The Four Fifty’s. In relative terms, since picking up our guitars again, it didn’t take long to get the juices going. Each time I leave songwriting behind me, it presents a daunting task to relearn the skills when I (eventually and always do) come back. Stevie finds the same with his guitar playing. Sheer creative frustration and sore fingers weren’t an uncommon occurrence.

There’s a certain importance that I hold in the little things that we do. There’s many reasons, my requirement for creative output of any sort, the sheer passion for music, but now, more so than before, Stevie’s ongoing health issues are having a strong bearing on the music we make, and how we make it. I may be quite open about my own personal matters but I thought it right to ask Stevie’s permission to go into this here. He summed it up quite well, “It is a big influencing factor these days and to be honest I think it has a good effect on the music.”

Stevie was born with a heart defect. I can’t quite explain the ins and outs, as you can imagine it’s quite complicated. Doctors love prodding and poking around with him for this fact. If we jump right back to 2003, when 14corners MK1 first entered a practice room together, I knew that Stevie had health problems. Throughout our years as a gigging band, I’d terrifyingly watch from the opposite side of a stage as his lips and then his face would turn blue as we bashed out our tunes. When we went acoustic in The Four Fifty’s he would suffer with what can only be described as severe palpitations. He didn’t know what they were, the doctors were none the wiser. When 2006 came, we played our final gig, Stevie became a husband and father but we always continued to dabble with our guitars.

It was after a recent trip to the Golden Jubilee this January that his condition hit home. Stevie sent me a text.

“Nothing left they can do apart from making things a bit more comfortable as we go down the line. So that 14corners reunion is fucked lol”

Stevie may have stuck that ‘lol’ at the end of the text, but I knew that it was just to soften the meaning behind the message. I read the text out to Nicholas and couldn’t contain the emotions that suddenly, and surprisingly, burst forth. The thing is I had known for years that we’d probably not ever play live again, but we held onto some shards of hope while there were talks of a transplant and the like. I wasn’t upset because I’d never get to play in a 14corners reunion, as much as I would’ve loved to, no, it’s because I knew how much Stevie missed doing what he loved. It hit home and hit hard.

But from that point we both seemed to know that we had to get back on track. Stop frittering away our songs and get back to what we could still do. Write and record.

Thanks to the technology in our mobile phones we recorded demos and sent them through emails. We bounced songs and ideas to and fro. This wonderful Lennon/McCartney-esque songwriting relationship, one prompting the other, just without the competition…

When it came to record we decamped to Stevie’s bedroom with a laptop, a microphone, some software and a guitar. Simple as. Stevie wanted to record guitar and vocals live, just how we used to in the days of The Four Fifty’s. Stevie battled through, despite worries about running out of breath (Stevie’s oxygen machine may have been a tad too loud to run while the mics were in place…) I took away the tracks to elaborate upon them. This was the first time Stevie had been deeply involved in the mixing, even at the distance between Glasgow and Kilmarnock. I had a habit of living out my sound engineering dreams whenever we recorded, reigning control over everything production wise, but now I was so happy to see Stevie asserting his ideas and suggestions, all of which were taken on board. The artwork had been designed months before we even had the songs. Stevie took the photo which became the front cover, I took the photo that became the back cover. More so than ever, we were collaborating wholeheartedly on all aspects of a musical project.

When I sat down and listened to the almost finished mixes for the “Chase The Day” EP all the way through, I sat and welled up a little. I’m far too emotional a guy obviously! I never thought we’d complete it considering our penchant for ditching anything we committed to (proverbial and sometimes literal) tape.

And before the EP has hit Bandcamp (our new online outlet for distributing music, no more burning CDs and soaking paper in coffee… unless you politely request of course!) we’ve started work on the next EP. We’re chosen to jump on the creative wave that is still flowing. There’s a prospective title and a few songs on the go.

We may just achieve two EPs in the first half of this year. I really hope we do. Just don’t expect a tour. Or any live shows for that matter. 14corners needs Stevie McEwan to hang around, writing and singing his songs for as long as possible…

Love, peace and harmonies,
Shane (and Stevie)

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