What made you take on the Tess concept album project?
I must confess it took a great deal of convincing for me to take it on. I believe it was about the fifth time Michael Blore asked me that I finally said “Yes”. It was by no means due to any kind of disinterest. I just didn’t feel confident that I would have the time, or even the know-how, to do the material justice. But then it dawned on me: exactly how often do people get approached to produce a concept album for a new through-composed musical?
Not often, I’m guessing?
Not to mention being allowed a wealth of creative freedom and an opportunity to work alongside some big names in the industry. From there, I romanticised the idea of producing something that could rival my all-time favourites in the musical theatre concept album form – the original recordings of Jesus Christ Superstar and Chess. And thus, it was safe to say I was hooked.
If I really had to choose, I’d maybe pick the Quartet in Act 2 – a genius moment that is dark and tortured yet, at the same time, consoling and beautiful. Not only does it showcase the brilliance and complexity of the Michaels’ writing, but also the expressive vocal performances of four of our marvellous leads. I also love the dramatic shift and change in mood as it seamless follows on from the contrastingly upbeat and quirky Society Ladies. Another one of my favourites!
What was your favourite track to mix?
That would easily have to be I Always Get My Way. I think I even managed to get the kitchen sink into that one there’s so much going on! However, at one point early on in the mixing phase this song would temporarily become my biggest bane.
Oo, do tell. It is an interview.
We had already recorded a version of I Always Get My Way for the demo we’d put together in 2015 and I had done everything to get that sounding as tremendous as possible.
The energy of the demo version just wasn’t there, the instruments were stepping all over each other and I simply hadn’t done any justice to Tam Mutu’s electrifying performance. It was the one time that I truly felt defeated. I felt I had no choice but to begin again and mix the entire album from scratch, which at that point was already about two-thirds complete. Thankfully, the Michaels were gracious enough to give me the time that I needed to rethink my mixing “game plan”. For the next album mix I started with
I Always Get My Way first and did not even think about moving on to anything else until I was completely satisfied. The song ended up becoming my benchmark for the entire album thereafter.
Can you give us the scoop on any gossip?
Ooh, there’s far too much to tell! But I shall save the Michaels any embarrassment and further damage to their already deplorable reputation –
And focus on myself for this one.
I’m all ears.
As can sometimes happen when recording a multitude of vocal parts for a project as colossal as Tess, I discovered during the early stages of post-production that a few lines in some of the inner parts for the female chorus were completely missing here and there in a couple of numbers.
Most people probably wouldn’t even be able to spot those moments, but they are there. I can certainly hear my voice a mile off.
We should listen now and play “Spot the Prod”!
[He doesn't respond.]
Perhaps another time. What were your technical challenges?
Where do I start?! For me, the greatest challenge was probably making an incalculable number of vocal and instrumental performances (well, 1,306 to be precise!) sound like they were all recorded “as one” in the same room and within the duration of a couple of hours even though they were captured over a period of nine months and across five studios. I probably used every trick in the book to achieve this – and even made up some of my own!
So, killer question, would you do it all again?
I’d love to… but maybe after a decent couple of years’ break at least! As much as I’ve loved dedicating most of my musical focus on Tess it’s definitely nice to be getting more than three hours sleep every night once again.
Three hours sleep? And you still look so young?
Moving on. What’s next for you?
In terms of projects, I have my own album of material that I have been constantly putting on the back burner since 2010, so really I should be getting on with that if I want it to be completed any time before 2040!
I see it now. TESS 2 - T2 - Revenge of the Tessth!
Can I go now?
Sunim Koria was in conversation with Tess administrator Scott Collins.
Thank you for reading and following the progress of Tess. Please feel free to leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you.
Next time on d'Blog... We bring you more news on the Tess journey from score to stage via the radio.
It’s hard to believe but we’re sitting in the studio of producer Sunim Koria discussing the final mix of the Tess concept album.
The journey thus far has taken more than four years. To be this close to a finished product is slightly unreal.
Reverb levels, percussion cut-through, dialogue fades - this is the kind of fine detail we’re into at this late stage. And even allowing for these tiny tweaks, it’s sounding extraordinary, though we say it ourselves. In fact, there’s no reason not to say it ourselves as all the magic is being woven by Sunim and his producer wizardry.
Because that, after all, is what this whole exciting project has been working towards: we went into it with the approach that there was no point writing something that wouldn’t ultimately be performed. The reason for the album is to use as a promotional tool. While it won’t be commercially available for contractual reasons, we will be offering listeners a chance to hear the material online and, hopefully, fall in love with it so much that they start demanding that someone makes a stage show out of it.
And so the next phase begins…
Thank you for reading and following the progress of TESS. Please feel free to leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you.
Next time on d'Blog... We bring you news on the first live performance of one of the songs from TESS as the album heads for completion.
"As I write this, it has virtually been a year to the day we produced our very first recording for TESS – a demo of the leading character’s song ‘In My Hand’, sung by the magnificent Joanna Strand. Roll on another twelve months and here I am with the producing gig of the century!
It was not long after all three demo recordings were successfully completed when Michael Blore got in touch with me again to enquire as to whether I would now be interested in producing a concept album of the entire show. I was flattered to say the least! And it’s always been an ambition of mine to produce something as “epic” as TESS. However, currently having almost no concept of a work-life balance - working 40 hours a week as a gameplay designer for Guitar Hero in Leamington Spa during the day and spending a lot of my evenings playing bass in a theatre pit somewhere around the region – most unfortunately the answer had to be no. Also on top of this was a pending house move to Lutterworth; I simply couldn’t commit to a project of this magnitude, as much as I’d wanted to!
...and today I have to say I’m very glad he does; how could I be so foolish to throw away an opportunity as good as this! In order to give myself enough time to get my head around making this project fit around my already busy lifestyle we agreed that April 2016 would be an appropriate time to commence with pre-production of the album and I’d be in a much better position by then to completely lend my focus towards the project. “But wait!” you may proclaim, “Didn’t the last blog mention that work for the TESS concept album was already well under way?” Yes it is! It just so happens that I have managed to shoehorn in an arbitrary stage that we have dubbed the “pre-pre phase”...
So what is this “pre-pre phase” we speak of? Well, primarily, it came about around the beginning of this year when I simply couldn’t wait until April to get stuck in to TESS! Secondly, it seemed like a very good idea to do everything in the time we had leading up to the start of the project to avoid the inevitable “damn, I really should have thought about this before, Michael...” The main difference between the “pre-pre” and pre-production phases is most probably in the mindset; at the moment my role has a more organisational aspect, as I’m setting into motion a variety of methods to effectively split the potential workload into comprehensible “chunks” (management speak), and, furthermore, endeavouring to make scheduling the vast number of cast members we will be recording come July as straightforward and efficient as possible. For pre-production I am anticipating a greater focus on the technical side of things – making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible in the forthcoming recording sessions, maximising the use of the time and resources we have available during the production phase, and making sure everything’s in place for us to get the material we need to finally put the album together. I have also enlisted the talent and expertise of two fellow recording engineers (one in Stratford-on-Avon and the other in London) and very recently acquired a trusty and enthusiastic production assistant to help manage any organisational duties once my role in the project becomes more technical!
inspiration that just happens to strike me about the project at any given moment. But every idea I’ve had so far they have welcomed with open arms.
What can I say? It’s the collaboration of dreams! It really is an honour to be “the chosen one” in helping something as majestic and beautiful as TESS to finally come to life."
Thank you for reading and following the progress of the show. Please feel free to leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you.
Next time on d'Blog... Audition time! We take you behind the scenes as casting for the album recording of TESS is concluded.
In this special d'blog, audio engineer Sunim Koria lifts the lid on his studio days with Team Tess.
"The first I heard about TESS was when I met Michael Blore for the first time at my local theatre bar after a show in 2013, but it wouldn't be another two years until I finally sat down with both Michaels to discuss recording the demo.
In all honesty, I was quite apprehensive about my involvement in the project at first, but after the initial discussion I was reassured to discover that the Michaels seemed incredibly easy to work with and, most refreshingly, they were completely open to my creative input from the onset.
Being somewhat of a literary ignorant I wasn't familiar at all with the story of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but the Michaels were very quick to remedy this by giving me a copy of their “bible" to provide me with all the information that I needed to capture the personalities of the characters and the nature of the complex plot in the soundscape that I would go on to create.
The first listen to the rough recordings of the music that were sent to me completely bowled me over. The music, even in its rawest form, was incredibly beautiful. A solid chemistry between the lyricist and composer was apparent, with the words and music seamlessly bound together - the passion of these guys was strong enough to come through even a basic digitised mock-up. My ideas for producing the demo came as soon as I heard the music and the picture was instantly painted - it’s very rare I reach that level of excitement upon the first listen! However despite this excitement I was now filled with a new apprehension - the task of fitting into this equation. Knowing how to bring this material to life and realise it to its full potential to the best of my ability.
Before I knew it I was introduced to a number of outstanding vocalists who had made a successful career for themselves on the West End circuit; namely Joanna Strand, Antony Lawrence and John McLarnon. All of them were a pleasure to record - no egos whatsoever and nothing less than extraordinary talent. They were the definition of true professionals, with each of them possessing the determination to get it right no matter how many takes it took. They nailed everything, and it’s a privilege for any engineer to have the opportunity to work with performers of such a calibre.
Musically speaking, the two key words for me in putting this demo together were "MASSIVE" and "LUSH" (the capitalisation of those words is everything!). I strived to create a sound that is both beautiful but still have the ability to really "push out" of the speakers. An engineering highlight for me was recording the choral parts for ‘I Always Get My Way’ - overdubbing every vocal line several times individually to give the simulation of an enormous choir in a single room. It was a process that was considerably time consuming, but ultimately rewarding. Also, ‘I Always Get My Way’ was the first of my studio creations where I could really indulge my influence from one of my favourite music producers of all time - Phil Spector - right up to the inclusion of 'Be My Baby' castanets during the song's climactic moments (I hope you didn’t mind, Mr Blore!). The demo we finally created was truly "magical", though the vocal interplay between Joanna and Antony in 'One Look of Love' did it for me most especially - you wouldn't think the two singers recorded their individual parts on completely different days!
I'd love to say that I worked arduously in engineering these songs, but honestly, from the quality material I was given to work with, everything just simply fell into place and nothing was laboured. And of course, no studio session is complete without the obligatory bit of banter (almost always between the two Michaels!), but there was absolutely no antagonism amongst the team; just excellent communication at all levels. The Michaels put complete trust in me and gave me the freedom that any audio engineer in the field longs to have without a single feeling of artistic compromise. This is more than exemplified by what Mr Blore said to me on more than one occasion: "Don't tell me what you want to do, just go ahead and do it!!"
It has been an absolute honour to engineer even such a small portion of this musical masterpiece and I very much hope to be continually involved as the show evolves into a life that it truly deserves.”
Thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment.
We’d love to hear from you :)
Next time on d’Blog… composer Michael Blore concludes the Tess herstory and discusses the future of the show
MASTER AT WORK
INTERVIEW WITH A COMPOSER
ANOTHER MICHAEL'S STORY
THE LAST 5 MONTHS
LONDON STUDIO DAYS
A DAIRYMAID'S DIARY
IN THE STUDIO WITH TAM MUTU
THE ADVENTURE ROLLS ON
IT'S PRE-PRODUCTION TIME!
WHERE ARE ALL THE D'BLOGS?
A HERSTORY (THE FINAL PHASE)
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 4TH)
THE LYRICIST SPEAKS
RECORDING TESS - THE SINGER
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 3RD)
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 2ND)
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 1ST)
REVIEWS & REVELATIONS
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ALEC
ONE HELLO IS HOW IT STARTS