Empty Swimming Pool Explained – At Knife Point

Posted on April 2, 2012

Before the release of Empty Swimming Pool You Will Never Defeat Me I gave you, dear readers, a peek behind the curtain with a little history on the song Jazz Standards.  Today I give to you another look at how this stuff works.  We’ll be concentrating on the song At Knife Point.  Click on the link to the song and follow along.  Let’s go!

This one was a late addition to the album, put together rather hurriedly over a weekend in March.  I had done up the basic guitar tracks a while back and forgotten about it completely – I have a huge pile of files like this, little ideas that are useable but abandoned for no reason other than I moved on to something else.  The most distinctive thing about this one, if you ask me, is the vocal tone (note: this use of the word “tone” describes the colour of the sound, if you will, also known as its timbre).  A while back I found myself listening to the Feist album The Reminder.  Here it is (+1 for the typeface, too, very nice):

A good album. Yup.

A sweet babe. Yessir.


I enjoyed this record, along with oh everyone else alive, but something in particular stood out for me: the tone of Leslie Feist’s voice.  Give that record a listen, pay attention, and you’ll see what I mean.  Sure she’s got a great voice, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Listen closely and you’ll hear that her voice sounds unnaturally crisp, sort of, and particularly the ‘s’ and hard ‘c’ sounds really crack.  It even distorts a bit.  Just a bit.  I love that sound a whole lot.

Now you’d think, given all the money I’ve poured into my studio and the centrality of vocals to most of my music, that I’d have some fine gear for recording my voice.  No sir.  I use the same condenser mic on everything, and just point it in the right direction and hope for the best.  This is not ideal, to say the least.  I was so captivated with the Feist vocal sound on The Reminder that I did some searching and found an interview wherein somebody (her? the engineer? I don’t know) explained how they got that sound.  Any guesses?  No?  They ran it through a guitar amplifier, just a little bit.  Now listen to it again and it will absolutely sound like that, right?  Check it out.

I’d been meaning to give it a shot, so on this song I did.  Except that I took it a little more to the extreme.  The vocal which begins at 0:15 is entirely through a Carr Mercury amplifier, with the reverb up.  Gosh I love that amp.

The trusty Carr Mercury, a very handsome devil

I ran the mic straight through a preamp and into the Mercury and it sounded pretty damned good.  It ran a little hot and you can hear it feeding back intermittently between 1:00 and 1:30 or so.  I like the sound of it so I kept the feedback in.  In a few places I layered the through-the-amp sound with a clean vocal track on top of it, to add a little clarity (the amp version sounded a little muddy sometimes).  This sound contrasts with the vocal sound at 1:54 which is completely dry (no effects at all) and layered.  Doing this allows you to create different signatures for the same basic sound (my voice), which adds a little variety.  This was a worthy little experiment, and I’ll try it again for sure.  Thanks Feist and co.

What else?  Well…  The bit starting at 0:40 features a guitar played with an ebow.  Look it up.  It can sound a little hokey, if abused, but done right it’s not so bad at all.

What is the song about?  One of the motifs of the album: black magic!  Or is it?  You decide.  I can’t trade on being cryptic if I just give away my secrets.  And yes, this song accidentally references the regrettable band Live and their big hit.  I’m sorry.  It sounded right.

Questions?  Ask in the comments.