What goes into the making of a great album? From the creative throes of songwriting to the sometimes-spontaneous, sometimes-arduous process of recording a full album, Wales Arts Review dives into the making of some of some iconic albums from Welsh music artists in our new series ‘The Making Of… ‘. This week, we take a look at Embarrassed Landscape by Irma Vep.
With a ramshackle recording experience, and a sound which is – if not alien – then at least transcendent, Embarrassed Landscape from Irma Vep (moniker for Edwin Stevens) is a masterclass in chaotic beauty and lo-fi, alt-rock enticement. Despite a three year run up, Stevens recorded the album in just three days and that spontaneous, rough-hewn edge is part of what gives this record its compelling, conceptual feel.
Coming in at 7 in Wales Arts Review’s 100 Greatest Welsh Albums of all Time list, praised for its “consistent conceptual energy, of energising riffs and lyrical turns” – and also dubbed “something fresh and new whilst holding the familiar aloft like some kind of sacrificial offering to the gods of rock n roll”, there is a lot of love for this album in Wales and far beyond. But what about the stories behind its chaotic recording? We hear from Edwin Stevens on the making of Embarrassed Landscape.
The album was recorded onto a computer in bits either at home in Glasgow or at a practise space shared with friends called Namaste Sound Studio (RIP). I had just moved up to Glasgow from Llanfairfechan and had zero gear. I mentioned to Ruari Maclean, an old friend who I moved down the road from and begun to play music with, that I had an album to go and he proposed to help record it. He sourced some posh mics from friends and recorded the two day session of me and Andrew (Cheetham, drummer). Overdubs were done fairly quickly either at the space or at home. There were no real problems apart from the mixing process, which took me ages to get right – 95% of all my other records had been made on either four or eight track and recording and mixing on computer proved a challenge. There was too much choice and I didn’t like the way it all sounded. I wasn’t used to all the frequencies. It wasn’t squished. It took me a while to make it sound like the other records, which is something I didn’t think I would miss.
We got pissed a lot. It’s always fun. I can’t remember much. We went to see Flower-Corsano duo play at the old hairdressers on the last night, which felt like a reward or something, hah. The room we recorded in was great for drums, but because we recorded on a computer it didn’t have the tape compressions or limit that previous albums had, so I spent a lot of time compressing and adding effects that, in retrospect, I wouldn’t add now. Ah, well.
These songs had been hanging over me for a good three years prior. The record was originally half-recorded with my friend Dominic Tanner in Manchester, but financial and mental issues meant I had to leave it and go back to Wales. Then it was scrapped, as far as I was concerned. I had written a whole albums worth after, thinking I’d just record that stuff. But these songs felt right together. ‘Purring’ was the last one written for it. The rest were oooold. The first track, ‘King Kong’, was half constructed with the band I had in Manchester, the band I toured with at the time. Same with ‘Not Even’, which was originally just a jam I had with Andrew Cheetham (drummer). ‘I Do What I Want’ wasn’t going to be on it but Ruari insisted as he had heard an earlier demo. It was written how I usually write all my songs; messing around on guitar watching telly. I’m usually all lyrics first, and pick them from a book I had unless lyrics just pop out while I’m playing, like they did with ‘I Do What I Want’, or ‘Standards’. I was either poor and in-between jobs or doing support work when they were written and I think all that comes across. Especially on ‘Canary’. That one kind of glued it all together. It’s the full stop.
It wasn’t ideal that we couldn’t tour it but there we are. I’ve recorded a few albums since and now see the error of my technical ways. No regrets though. It is what it is. Kind of embarrassing on purpose. No Handshake Blues (previous record) was restrained and closed off from any real pay off or joy. Embarrassed Landscape is the most layered and ‘big’ sounding one I’ve done. It’s the pay off after a ton of albums that are, for me now, fairly hard to listen to. I’m happy it will be the last one under the Irma Vep name. Onwards and upwards (hopefully)!
Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep Irma Vep