Song writing is what drew me into music. The craft and the process of putting together a good song seemed both exciting and magical. I have also wanted to record some of my favourite songs for a long time.
Rather than make a traditional covers record, I thought it would be much more fun to create a new type of project in which artists communicated with each other and swapped a song for a song, i.e. you do one of mine and I'll do one of yours, hence the titles - Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours. Although, at first, I hoped to have the companion record out at the same time, it became clear it would take a while longer pulling in the second record with all the other artists. This will come later.
In September 2008 I started listening to a great deal of songs and our neighbourhood friend, David Bates, was a great help in terms of assembling a jungle of material for me to explore, but as with many journeys, I returned to the place from which I had started, with one or two great new additions. I also had some suggestions from my daughters, Anna and Melanie, and Dickie (Chappell), which I adopted, and later in the day, Bob Ezrin encouraged me to switch from Randy Newman's 'Baltimore' to 'I Think its Going to Rain Today'. The list was pruned several times, and nearly all of the writers I ended up choosing for this first Scratch, wanted to get involved. Sometimes we'd have an exchange about which song to chose and how to do it, and sometimes it would be hands off. The intention was that we would each do the songs in our own idiosyncratic ways.
I explored a few different ideas for arrangements using only home made instruments, choral groups etc. but in the meantime was introduced to a wonderful arranger, John Metcalfe, who was doing some great work with Real World. I really liked his scores which seemed original, soulful and fresh. When we met, I felt we also had enough of an overlap of taste around such composers as Steve Reich, Arvo Part, Stravinsky etc. I asked John to keep the arrangements simple, stark but always emotional, so the songs could be really heard and felt.
The worst brief for an artist is to be told they can do anything. I have always believed that artists are a lot more creative if you tell them what they can't do. It's easier to find holes in a wall than it is trying to build out of nothing. The rules applied in this case were no drums and guitars. I also wanted to make the vocals as personal as possible, with much less tracking than I usually do. In December 2008 John came back with four amazing demos, and as the work began in earnest, the record began to get its own unique character.
John has done some extraordinary arrangements for this record and it was exciting for me to develop some of those with him. With these first four tracks under development, we were aware of the weight of what we were undertaking, so I called up my old friend Bob Ezrin. He would come in like a SWAT team for short periods, offering his feedback and suggestions, giving us a great deal of help with the orchestral recordings, and more recently critiquing the mixing.
We also tried different approaches for the mixing, one led by Tchad Blake and another by Dickie Chappell and John with occasional elements from John's original demos. Quite different personalities emerged and the result is a combination of all three approaches.