Of all the rock 'n' roll clichés, singers leaving the band to pursue solo projects must rank near the top of the list. But Skye Gordon's split from Morcheeba after eight years wasn't quite so dramatic. “It was no real shocker that Paul and Ross [Godfrey] wanted to go in a new direction and work with other singers,” she says, adding that “it really was for the best, if not a little Spinal Tap — ‘Hang on, aren't I supposed to leave you?’”
Her sense of humor isn't the only new side of Skye's personality that listeners will hear on Mind How You Go (Atlantic, 2006). While her role in Morcheeba was more supportive (singing someone else's lyrics), her solo debut sounds like diary excerpts set to electronic-tinged acoustic folk. Listeners get a clear view into her life — the carefree days (“Love Show”) and her sadder moments (“What's Wrong With Me?”) —elucidated in the silk tones of her voice.
Although she had been a member of a world-famous band, Skye was a newcomer to calling the shots in the studio. Fortunately, she had guidance from producers Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel) and Patrick Leonard (Madonna), as well as engineer Michael Perfitt (Seal). The sessions with Leonard resulted in seven of the 11 songs on the album. “Pat and I spent two weeks together and wrote a song a day,” Skye says. “I could communicate how I felt and get across what I wanted. At one point Pat said to me, ‘Talk to me in colors,’ and I said, ‘I'd like it to be orange and yellow with a little bit of black in there.’ Somehow, he knew exactly what I meant.”
Perfitt got it, too. “Describing music in terms of shades of color seems natural to me,” he says. “Vibrant colors often imply bright sounds, for example cymbals or shimmering acoustic guitars. That is yellow and orange to me. Blacks, blues and browns imply earthy, muted sounds. I would translate these colors by using a lot of lowpass filters, recording with ribbon mics, compressing with dark compressors, et cetera.”
But one piece of gear was always essential: Leonard's “Madonna mic.” “[Leonard has] used the AKG C 24 on every album for 20 years,” Perfitt adds. “The bottom capsule has a crystalline quality that I have simply never heard in any other mic. Singers are often shocked by it at first as it literally picks up everything — heartbeats, gulps, clothes rustling, buses going by, the kitchen sink. [But] this mic captures all of what is beautiful about Skye's voice.” Along with the C 24, the guys used a Neve 1073 preamp and a Tube-Tech CL1B compressor. “The 1073 contributes warmth and richness, and the CL1B compresses without revealing itself,” Perfitt says.
Skye also had less technical but equally important studio preferences. “We'd light a candle or two,” she says. “I liked to be barefoot, and depending on what time of the day it was, I might like to have a wee dram of whiskey.”
But with or without liquid courage, Skye did run into the occasional dry period. “[At one point], nothing came for a whole week,” Skye confesses. “I woke up in the middle of the night — because of the time zone difference to the UK — and wrote in my notebook, ‘I can't find the right melody or make the words fit how I'm feeling. There's nothing! Nada! I'm empty!’ Driving to the studio the next morning along Sunset Blvd., the sun was shining. I thought to myself, stop complaining. It could be raining.” Thus began “Stop Complaining,” which soon made another sudden step forward with Leonard's help. “A snare was routed to the Sherman Filterbank through the [Electrix] MO-FX, creating some really cool 16th-note distorted delays,” Perfitt remembers. “It wasn't deliberate, but Skye loved it.”
Most songs were programmed, but parts were often replaced by Skye's husband Steve Gordon on bass, Brian MacLeod on drums and other musicians at Studio 3 at Cello, where the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was recorded. “Not a day went by that Pet Sounds wasn't mentioned in conversation,” Perfitt says. “We were in the process of cutting guitars with Wendy Melvoin on Skye's record when I stopped the tape, and we heard a voice in the background say, ‘That sounds really good.’ We all turned around, and there was Brian Wilson! All of us sat there in utter disbelief. It was thrilling.”