We were asked to do a track by track breakdown of our newly released third album, Maximum Growth and Vigour, but we thought we’d unnecessarily and without invite do even more than that, and also explain how on Earth to make a mega-mondo smash-hit filled party-banger of an LP. These rough rules may not be suitable for all, but they sure as hell work for us:
1. Write a load of great songs. It helps if everyone in the band likes songs and knows how to bodge them together. You can always work in pairs or threes and fours here, too. Sometimes with minimal adaptation, someone else’s song can become your new song.
2. Practice them. Learn them. Hone them. Add in stupid intros and/or outros. And daft middle eights/breakdowns. Or one-note solos. It’s probably best if the lyrics are fixed and memorised, but as lazy fools we sometimes have to scribble them out in the studio. It’s your time, remember.
3. Book some studio time. Choose someone you like whose work you enjoy, who isn’t insanely pricey. If you get on on a personal level, that’s cool too. This step can be moderately costly, but at between £0 and £50 per show (not including fuel or expenses), it takes us no time at all to save up.
4. We like to book 3 days in the studio for a typical album of 14 or 15 songs.
5. We never tell the producer exactly what we want it to sound like. They have a big role in the sound, but these principles also have a say.
6. One the first day, we just set up the drums, bass and guitars in one room, and spend some time making sure it all sounds pretty good and there is separation between them (sticking things in between stuff so the sound doesn’t bleed between different microphones too much).
7. We bang out all the backing tracks. It usually takes 2 or 3 goes at each one and we pick the best. Get warmed up! The first take is nearly always garbage with us. If we have to do one song too many times, we also descend back into garbage. Relax! Play like you would at a gig, but with no bothersome singing to do, it can be easier to remember chords and how the songs go.
8. Usually it’s the second day now: we do all the singing separately, alternating if our pathetic voices give up. Lead vocals followed by backing vocals, unless the backing vocals can be used as a guide for staying in tune.
9. Next it’s time for the other overdubs, guitar solos, clapping, piano, even acoustic guitar if we want to show our emotions.
10. The final day is for tying up loose ends, re-doing some singing if needed, and finishing the overdubs. ‘Adding the gloss’ is what we tend to call it. Then we sit, listen and nod whilst the professional does a first mix.
11. Then we go home listening to it in the car smiling and thinking how clever we are.
12. A final mix will show up via email based on our minimal, ill-informed feedback.
13. We send it to a person to master it. In Shaun ‘the Hand’ Alcock’s words: “this changes the sound, but I don’t know how”.
14. Then it’s ready to go online, on record, on tape, on CD, on other format.
15. Go on, have a go!
On to the tracks on Maximum Growth and Vigour (named after some seeds we saw at Shaun’s house):
Doin’ Nothin’ All The Time — 2:20
This is about Ben not doing anything ALL THE TIME during that difficult period that is early adulthood. Dan and Ben’s mum (yes, they are brothers, just like the Kinks) thought Ben was wasting his life sitting in bed reading the internet but really he was devoting his time to getting a job that wasn’t in an outdoorswear fashion shop in Bakewell. Andrew made Ben write it by getting him to sing the guitar and bass parts then working out how to play them on actual guitar and bass.
Ben is so lazy. He is one of those people that can do nothing and be very happy. Andrew envies him. Ben has been known to pass time by playing Tetris on his fridge with fridge magnet Tetrominos whilst humming the theme music.
Bevo — 3:00
Bruce wrote this one in the style of Devo. As it is Bruce’s version of Devo, it became Bevo. Coincidentally, Bevo is the nickname of cricketer and Great One Day Finisher Michael Bevan. The Hipshakes have a cricket team called the Gentlemen Phisters. Some solid one note soloing on display here. ‘Open my eyes and let the science in’? Or ‘sights’? Who knows. Who cares? An absolutely classic Bruce delivery in the vocal booth. This involves some seriously inept guitar playing that no one who could properly play a guitar would ever deploy.
Dumb No Fun — 2:41
Here’s a banger by Dan. The verses are about how you won’t necessarily like someone as much as you used to if your relationship breaks down. The intro reminds us of the Libertines. I don’t know if that was intentional. The singing is much richer and classier on our song, anyway. The chorus is about the prospect of new love. Life finds a way. We went through a phase where we couldn’t remember how many bits this song has as it has lots of bits. But I think we did it right on the day, so that’s good.
What Makes You Act Like That — 1:31
Check out the unison backing vocals making up for the fact that harmony is too hard. The breakdown around the minute mark is the most fun part of many Hipshakes gigs, we just can’t help but bend our legs and crouch down and up again out of time with each other and the music – see it to believe it! This song is about seeing someone or something in a new light, and being amazed by it. I think Andrew was trying to be pseudo-intellectual, but it just sounds a bit mental which is a fairly normal Hipshakes end result.
Hold You Tight — 2:42
‘Comin’ home on the M25, the thought of you, well it keeps me alive’ or something like that by Bruce sums this one up. It’s about working away from home, destroying non-indigenous plants all over the country and driving home quickly (but safely) to the lady in your life. Try playing guess the lyric – it’s a total blast (on most of our songs, but especially Bruce’s). We like to deliberately mis-hear bits: ‘have some sex’ instead of ‘add some zest’ and so on. Hilarious! Dan had to play the intro for ages as it’s difficult, hence the bum slightly muted notes. Still, when it kicks in, whattatune!
Bruce plays the same chord in different places when writing songs and thinks they are different notes, so we get some great weird chord progressions. Once again Bruce proves that he is the idiot savant of lyric writing… he puts things together that make no sense and yet it somehow makes perfect sense. Sounds to me like being on the end of some Bruce love is a pretty intense experience, that’s for sure.
Disappointment — 1:39
I think Andrew wrote this about how much of an idiot he can be sometimes… that thing where you get an idea in your head and you think ‘I better not do/say that because that would be stupid’ but then by some process of grim inevitability you end up doing it and you’re like ‘D’oh.’ The solo is a lot like going up stairs.
Twenty Two — 2:34
Dan did this one about the past, being 22 years old and meeting some people who he liked around the same time. Conflict! He’s 29 as of writing this, and ‘getting nearer the end of (his) youth’. The singing on the chorus sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. Classic example of the Dan Russell deaf man singing technique here. Dan likes to loll his tongue out on the solo and wiggle his head around – you can try this at home, too. Live, it’s possible to play the outro for as long as you like in case you’ve forgotten some songs or not played long enough. On the record we wisely faded it. Andrew plays lead guitar (sort of) which is makes it a rare novelty item.
My Confession — 1:50
What a bloody brilliant tune. We weren’t so sure of this when Andrew brought it to the practice room: it stays on ‘a’ for so long! ‘Save this for your B-Team, Proto Idiot’, we thought. Bloody glad we kept it for the old ‘Shakes though. People often dance to this one. Uniquely on this record, in the intro Ben ISN’T playing the root note.
Yeah… Andrew was dead chuffed with this, brilliant opening fill from Bruce and some excellent noodling riff stuff from Dan. Ben, competent as ever. Andrew uses the classic ‘sing the last verse as same as the first but higher so you don’t have to write more words’ trick on this one. It’s good to point at people in the crowd (rather: smattering of audience) when singing the ‘you’ part at the end.
If That’s What You Want — 1:45
Minimal. Tense. Explosion of chorus. When we record singing, theres a secret competition to hold the notes nice and purely for as long as possible – here Dan is the clear winner. Also, check out his rippin’ one-string bouncy-finger solo. It is good to chant this. Interesting side note, the chords were stolen from Andrew trying to play two different Bob Dylan songs…can you guess which?
Maturing Boring — 1:47
Longtime Hipshakes friend Jimbo wrote the title to this one in the car once. Jimbo wasn’t hungover driving to work so Dan said maybe he was maturing, not having gone out the night before. Jimbo said it was actually because he had become boring. The vocals were meant to be like the Ean Eraser ‘Illegitimate Love’ record, but despite talking low, singing low is hard for Dan.
It’s about coming to the end of love, and knowing it. Just listen to that turbo twin guitar solo! Took flipping ages to work that one out. It was meant to match the vocals, but seeing as Dan doesn’t really sing actual notes, that was scrapped. Naturally Dan was Mr. One Take for the solo, Andrew narrowly missed his first take then suffered one of those sequences all professional album-churners will surely relate to: the ‘will I ever get this done million take meltdown’. The intro is absolutely knackering, too. Downstrokes. This was one of the first things Dan and Andrew worked on together after Andrew had been away for a long time…still got it, eh?
We Don’t Mind — 2:00
One this record, Matthew (who produced, engineered and mixed it) made us warm up vocally (you can really tell, right?), doing wobbly lip exercises and singing scales on the piano. As the best piano player in the band, Bruce did some of this on his own, but it descended into Jools Holland style boogie-woogie. In the control room it’s always amazing when Bruce unleashes a vocal performance like this, we all crack up and roll around with tears of joy streaming down our rosy cheeks.
The man’s a beast. The rest of us weeds need double-tracked vocals (we have to sing the song twice to sound beefy, non-studio literate music lovers), but Bruce? No way. He has beef to spare. Anyway, singalong with Bruce. The last syllable is the best. All together now: ‘AAAUUUGGHHHM!’. Is he eating in there?
This was one Bruce and Andrew worked on together, I think Andrew wrote the chorus words (but not the chords) and generally helped Bruce deliver this monster baby of a song. Working with Bruce is very inspiring, as you would expect from a man once voted Derbyshire’s Most Beautiful Baby (1987-88). It’s a companion song to ‘Summer of Bros’ by underrated Swedish band (better than their terrible name) Randy. Oh yeah, there’s another vaguely Libertines-y intro on this for some reason.
No Money — 1:52
Interestingly, Ben wrote this with the intention of it being from the perspective of Bruce’s brain. If Bruce ever has money, he goes ‘EEEEUUUEUURRRGHHH, I must spend this all as fast as possible on anything at all’. When he doesn’t have money, he still gets everything he wants by being a loveable pup who’ll never learn his lesson. Eventually, the concept of Bruce’s brain became too much, and lyrics were written purely because they rhymed. Is the forbidden jar real? Or a metaphor?
Ben sang this, and had a cold, so he has wobble-voice a little. Still, belting performance. Again note Dan trying to steal the show with some loud and long ‘IIIIIIIIII haaaaaaaavvvveeee’ backing vocals. Leering at females is dead wrong, but we sing about it as the concept of hoping for a woman to leer back was irresistibly amusing. Can a woman leer? Either way, it rhymed with beer, and we were tired.
To go back to an earlier point, this is another example of Ben being lazy. I believe it was written while we were waiting to go to band practice, and based entirely on whatever was happening that evening (Bruce going to get money out of his holiday money jar…which never had anything in it, so we never went on holiday). Bruce recently came into money, but is doing his best to get rid of it as quickly as possible…so normal service should be resumed shortly.
Not Fair — 1:50
Top singalong chorus, lovely ascending pre-chorus (almost in tune), stabbing staccato verse. Dunno why that sentence was written in the reverse order, but there are the key ingredients. Pay close attention to Dan absolutely buggering up the should-be-triumphant ending: once as the singing ends and again at the very end of the outro. The rest passed our ‘good enough’ benchmark so we didn’t bother to re-record it.
It is really fun to sing the ‘some…day…we’ll…find…a way!’ bits, it makes you feel like you’re in a real band with real musicians (you’re not).
I Don’t Need You — 2:33
Pretty complex this one. The guitar sings the singing part at one point. Nice chimey Bruce piano outro, eh? Matthew taught us that trick, as he was in he midst of doing the same for his band’s album when we recorded it. This one is about stuff you don’t need but you keep doing anyway because you’re a spanner/prannock.
Forgive & Forget — 2:04
One of about 30 absolute smashes we can choose between to close our sets with. Dan made a good fist of buggering up the very end again, but with some quick thinking, turned it around with a bitchin’ hair metal full note bend. Phew! There’s also a good bit in the double tracking where Andrew One sings one line, and Andrew Two sings a different line, and it just sounds like he’s singing ‘bom pom pom’, like that’s a proper lyric! It’s again around the minute mark. What is it with that time? Anyway, it unsurprisingly passed the ‘good enough’ test.
Andrew wrote this while hungover at work. Not sure exactly what ‘turn off the path, and just say yes’ means…but it works. Great lead guitar playing from Dan on this. Live it is fun to headbang until your neck really hurts, and also to say ‘YES YES YES’ at the end while thrusting suggestively.
Total running time: 32:08
Nice and short. May as well listen to it again.
Or buy other Hipshakes albums.