Sydney’s Tenderfoot on the recording of their nostalgic debut at Abbey Road Studios
“It was a pinch moment,” says Australian bandleader John Vella Novice from when they first heard original compositions the band had written in Sydney, performed by a full orchestra at the famed Abbey Road Studios.
All 11 tracks from their warm, nostalgic first album Be young were recorded there. The English Session Orchestra performed on eight tracks with co-producer Julian Emery (Lissie, Nothing But Thieves) at the helm.
“We did all this orchestration, which [keyboardist Anthony Donlon] was a big part of – before we left for London,” says Vella over a beer, in a North Sydney pub with bassist Joel Burton. “When the three of us arrived and the orchestra started playing our songs, in this room with all this history, the hairs stood up on our arms. We were like, ‘Whoa, the most ever crazy!’ »
The orchestration had to be meticulous. Every detail has been programmed into a MIDI. Donlon then mapped everything out before sending it to London for verification. Vella adds, “It’s the first time we’ve had an orchestra on anything. Before, I just programmed everything. The first time any of us heard the strings of our songs was with the English Session Orchestra at Abbey Road!
Soundtracks like star wars and more recently The shape of water are regularly recorded at the legendary studios, but its endearing ties to the Beatles, who recorded within these hallowed walls between 1962 and 1970, are what the studio is best remembered for. Tomes have been written about the effect that the recording equipment and vintage instruments found in the studios had on the experimentation and sound of the Beatles. Especially on albums like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.
Much of the equipment still remains there.
Eager to include as many Beatles on their album, the group used the two upright pianos as well as the microphones that once pressed against the pursed lips of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Keyboardist Donlon is absent tonight, but when first introduced to Abbey Road and given the task of using an orchestra, it was he who casually suggested he might l ‘assume, to the great surprise of his comrades. Burton explains, “When Audio Network said we’d like to hear some chords on this, Anthony said, ‘I know how to do that!’ We were like, ‘What? You do? What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘This stuff is easy, I can do it.’
Said Vella, with a smile: “He did a degree in Orchestration at the University! We never knew.
The result is a strong album that shows their versatility. Upbeat, choral pop from “She Calls” to “The Fixer” à la Coldplay. Many songs are built around the sound of Vella’s voice. It’s less Lennon/McCartney and more Bob Dylan, thanks to Vella’s natural troubadour style. Donlon’s love of the pairing of strings and piano gives some songs a Bernie Taupin-Elton John edge and others a more grand cinematic effect. It’s easy to see why their music has already been used on several TV shows and in the trailers of critically acclaimed movies. A film by Jia Zhangke The mountains can go.
When Vella is allowed to sing unadorned, as in the meditative “O How Time Flies,” where space is created for quiet orchestral crescendos, that’s when their music is at its most emotionally moving.
“It was one of the only times I played guitar on Facebook and demoed the song,” Vella says of the song’s genesis. “It was called ‘Friday Night In’ because it was one of those times when I stayed home and wrote the guitar parts. We had just been given the opportunity to record with an orchestra and I thought it would go well together.
The song became a centerpiece of the album, with the band choosing from older songs such as “The Day We Met”, written eight years ago, and others written more recently to match the theme of the album about facing the present, with a conscious nod to the rearview mirror.
Explaining the mood he was in when the first words came out, Vella said, “I had just realized that I was spending too much time on social media and that I’m a very nostalgic guy. It goes through everything for me – I love it Ninja Turtles and Breaking point. I never tire of the classics that came out when I was a kid. A lot of my lyrics are nostalgic and when I was writing this song I was like, ‘OK, this is the record.’ »
“Life’s Not Perfect” is the only acoustic track on this album, without an orchestra. As such, you clearly hear Vella’s clipped Australian accent as he sings a tale of waning love; raw and stripped down. And it was done in one vocal take. “We had 20 minutes between the end of the piano parts and the arrival of the orchestra. I just jumped in. They threw up the two mics the Beatles had used,” Vella recounts beaming. “I just had to close my eyes and say, ‘Come on, it’s time, don’t stuff it. “”
It’s not every day that an up-and-coming band from across the globe record at Abbey Road. It’s a testament to the talent and promise of the band, this UK-based music and publishing company audio network threw his weight behind them. The band, which now consists of Vella, Burton, Donlon and new drummer Rick Austin, has been around in one form or another and has been making music since 2008.
Apologizing for the absence of the other two members as he takes a sip of beer, Burton continues: “Rick is new, our old drummer that we’ve had for 10 years also plays with the Jon Butler Trio and when he goes to tour, he may be away for years, so we had to recruit Rick.
Their best songs have a Bob Dylan meets Ryan Adams, radio vibe, with arrangements by Dolon that lend even more weight to tracks like “Oh How Time Flies” and “The Fixer.” It is therefore surprising that they are barely broadcast on Australian local radio stations.
Burton, who has played with bigger artists like Robbie Williams and Jennifer Hudson as a session bassist, explains, “If you’re not with a major label and you’re not in mainstream radio, you basically only have Triple J, and if they don’t stand up for you, or if they hear from you for any reason, then the path is much harder.
I’ve put forward the theory that there’s a strong push for diversity and more female voices in music these days. “Well, that’s really good,” Vella quickly adds. “We don’t want to prevent anyone from having a fair chance. But that just means we have to do things differently. So we spent our budget in North America instead of Australia.
The lark has paid. Tenderfoot has already been rotated to college radio stations across the United States with well-received shows at Soho House in Los Angeles and New York. Vella also decided to take the plunge and move to New York later that year, taking a less obvious, albeit well-worn, path than other Australian acts before them have done. This allows them to make more frequent tours in their adopted country; build a profile, fan base and buzz. Then hopefully they will get noticed when they return.
“We just spent five weeks in North America having an amazing time,” Burton says with a wry smile, “So it’s not all bad.”