Notes from the studio: Miss Sawaran Band records Sabay Jong Jam

By special correspondent Greg Beshers.

Saturday – pre-production day

We packed the van and set off for Siem Reap around 8.30 am, arriving at 60 Road Studios at 4 pm, dropped the gear, went to the hotel and checked in.   Then it was back to the studio to spend a couple of hours setting up, getting sounds ready.

We already had an idea of how we wanted to cut drums and bass and so on, and surprisingly it only took us about 15 minutes to get a drum sound – that’s a testament not only to the studio but the engineer, Steve [Bloxham], who was doing the engineering on the record. We spent a couple of hours to orient ourselves, set up some amplifiers, and then we called it a night.

Sunday – day one

The action started with an older song, Shiva, as Andre’s bus was delayed and we didn’t want to try to record anything new without bass and drums being live. We got through that song and put some keyboards on it before Andre arrived, and then we started recording some of the newer material.

We started with Snow Train and Bopha, songs that the band had been playing for a little bit but were still fairly new. Those recording of those songs went very quickly, so we recorded another brand new song, Mun Snae Ha, and got the basics on that. After that we did some overdubs to give folks a rest from doing take after take after take.

With a lot of the material – as I had anticipated – there were never many takes of the song, usually five or six, seven or eight on a couple, but most were done within the first two or three. So we were getting stuff right off the floor, which keeps it fresh.

So with the first day ended we had some fantastic takes in the can and few overdubs, a little bit of guitar here, a little bit of keys there.

Monday – day two

Day two started slowly with some keyboard and acoustic guitar overdubs, before the guys came in around one o’clock. We kicked off with a couple of the more upbeat, fast, kind of rocking tunes, starting with Sabay Jong Jam, the title song, and we did five, six, possibly eight takes… but after a while I realised that Antti and Andrey and Joe were kind of holding their heads in frustration at not getting it.

So we moved on to a song scheduled for day three, called Mirage on the Mekong, a kind of lilting spaghetti western type thing. Again, it just wasn’t happening. So after about an hour I called the session told them to get out of the studio for a couple of hours and come back refreshed.

In the meantime, we did more keyboards, and I had Mealea do some vocals. The band came back and we ran a couple of takes of Mirage on the Mekong, which we got; they were a little bit more relaxed, like the day before. And then we did Sabay Jong Jam again and Antti still wasn’t feeling it, so we finished up day two with some guitar overdubs.

Tuesday – day three

We started day three listening to the tracks from the day before. We found we definitely got a version of Mirage on the Mekong, and, as I suspected, we had a version of Sabay Jong Jam from the day before – at the time people hadn’t been happy with how it was sounding, but today it sounded good and it’s the take we will end up using.

Sophal overdubbed some keyboards on Sabay Jong Jam and a few others, and we did some guitar parts, and then Gunter Hofmans came in during the afternoon to overdub some percussion – conga, cowbell, shaker and tambourine – on Snow Train and Bopha.

After that we did one more song, Hippy Som Snae, with the full band – a couple of takes of that and got it, and had Andrey lay down a bass line on Shiva, the track from day one. That completed the bass and drum parts, so we went into guitar-world and laid down a bunch of guitars, some more keyboards, and by the time we finished up, around nine o’clock, we were all exhausted and went out to dinner.

Wednesday – day four

Antti had taken the night bus, Andrey was leaving also – so day four started with one just keyboard part from Sophal before he took an afternoon bus. So it was down to just Joe and Mealea and I.

We set up a vocal mic and we started cutting Mealea’s vocals. She was super, super on, absolutely in the zone, really brought her strong voice out. She cut three new vocals, and re-did another that she had done on day two. She nailed it. Joe did vocals on two of his songs.

A Khmer musician, Vanthann Belo, came in and play tro and roneet on a couple of songs, which broke up the rhythm of the day, and then Joe had guitars to do, mainly electric guitar parts, solos and such, which we put down and nailed. It took us all day until about nine o’clock that night – it was kind of a race to the finish. But we got it.

Thursday – day five

We’re going in for a half day today to edit the tracks. There are some different keyboard solos to choose. Also there are some comps to make, which means taking two tracks and putting them into one – we recorded a lot of the guitar parts using two microphones on the same amp, and we are going to combine those to one track. By the time we send everything to the mixer, Bobby Harlow, he’s going to have fewer tracks to use – instead of 30 he’ll have 15, making it easier to mix.

The only thing that we really have to do when we get back to Phnom Penh is some of Antti’s background vocals, which we anticipated, maybe add a tambourine or two, and once we get that done we’re going to send everything to the Bobby Harlow. So that’s that.

Sabay Jong Jam is expected to be released in August 2019.  You can assist with their crowdfunding campaign by visiting here.  Note that arrangements can be made for those without online money – contact the band or Leng Pleng.

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