Tuesday, 14 December 2021

New Single - Thunder

 We have been writing away these past 18 months or so, trying not to let the time escape us during this Covid 19 era.  Back in the summer of 2020 Combine ran into our friend Rob Darch, who gifted us an anniversary present of a recording weekend at Hipposonic studios. Hipposonic is located in the exact studio space that was once Little Mountain Sound  (world famous for records by Metallica, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith... Pure and countless other massive hits).  Isabelle and I had started several new songs but weren't too sure which were the ones we wanted to record so I made the decision to go for broke and record as much as possible over that August weekend.

We loaded up with 6 songs, ranging from the very moody track we are releasing this week (Thunder) to some dance numbers and a couple out-right rockers which have kinda fallen behind.  It was a fun session with two different drummers, a violinist, a trumpet player and everyone from my folkband Farmteam coming in to sing backing vocals on an unreleased song called Canada (maybe we'll hear more about that song someday). We blasted through everything as quickly as possible but I knew we weren't going to capture complete records on that weekend. 

Going back home I had a harddrive filled with tracks and some inclination of how things should go. A couple songs just didn't seem to grab me on further work and one has morphed into a dance track called Bold Universe. We also tracked the live drums for the song Love Ballad. Three others are in the undecided pile for now and may or may not make their way to completion. 

   Of all the songs we recorded on that session Thunder has been the most clear cut on how to proceed. The song was created from a simple voice memo that Isabelle made one afternoon. She shared it with me and it hit immediately. I listened once and then went downstairs to the piano and a song fell out of my hands. An accending chordal change section appeared without effort and suddenly we were both quite excited by the sound. It seemed very lovely and melancholic but with an underlying strength. 

Back in that Auguest weekend at Hipposonic we had Jonas Fairley play drums to a basic demo arrangement I'd made at home. I confess on the weekend I loved what Jonas played but after developing the song to its final stage the drums we tracked were too epic and seemed almost prog-rock rather than the down tempo vibe the song evolved into. More about that later.  I then overdubbed a Yamaha C7 grand piano onto the new bed tracks.

That same weekend we asked violinist Johanna Sö to come in a play a lead part in the outro of Thunder. She came in, set up, quickly got a sound and her headphones set up and we tracked it in two takes (she's very talented with excellent ears!), with maybe another pass to catch the little pizzicato part in the return to the A section. 

Once we had that, Dan Blake dropped by that evening a put some electric guitar on the song. It's a gorgeous part that reminded me a tiny bit of something Cockteau Twins might have done. I love  how it lifts the B sections when it comes in. Very lovely and shiny sounding.  

And then we were gone from Hipposonic and back to the home studio, for one last month: Isabelle and I had to move last year from the house we'd lived in for 25 years! An era ended and this new one has begun. I lost my studio at the house and thankfully found space in the Song City building in East Vancouver where we've been recording this past year. 

Once we got the studio set up again we turned our focus first to the Love Ballad. I was determined to get that completed by Valentines day (it seemed significant) but once that was done we began forging new songs. I reviewed the work we had already started and Thunder came up sounding really good. We decided we should complete it so we'd have at least one other new song under our belt. Co-incidentally I was also working on Johanna Sö's debut album at the time so I became very familiar with her playing!

I think it was late spring when I felt Thunder needed some changes. We'd begun writing a pile of new material and the prog rock vibe was quite dissimilar to where we were headed. The drums stood out as the obvious culprit so I asked Dan Walker to come in and try doing something more controlled and quieter. After much work we found what we were looking for and the song was really taking on its final shape. 

With the tighter drums the grand piano sounded too excessive so I did an old trick of side chaining a noise gate to trigger off a drum machine just playing on the three beat. Add in some cool dub delays (Thank you Lee Scratch Perry for your teachings - R.I.P.) and things were sounding very ambient and cool.  Pretty much everything was in place except for the mix, and so we mixed it.

I guess in the 21st century music needs to have a visual element to connect with an audience so we then took to the Pacific Spirit Forest up near the endowment lands of UBC and managed to film on a day that didn't rain! It is such a lovely part of the world and we are lucky to have such natural beauty so close to where we live. The little cameos from violinist Johanna were filmed in southern Quebec (where she and her fiance live now) and I struggled to make them seem congruous with the lush greens of our west coast forest but it all seems to work together. We are making music that spans North America!


Please check out the track and let us know what you think. It would be brilliant if you shared it or added it to a playlist as well, Everything helps!

Thanks for reading and thanks for listening.

Mark and Isabelle

Combine the Victorious

Monday, 15 February 2021

The Love Ballad

      At the beginning of 2021 I took over Ryan Dahle's studio in the Song City building here in Vancouver. As one of the tasks I set for myself Isabelle and I recorded the following song, "The Love Ballad". We had collaborated and written this song for another person to sing back in 2018 but that fell through so the song just kinda sat on a hard drive for the past years. Then, while we were in Hipposonic Studio this past summer (thanks again for the great session Rob Darch!) Isabelle suggested we try tracking drums and other instruments on the demo. In the fast paced session we blasted through 6 songs (including the ballad) and then took everything home to discover what we'd captured. 

After much reflection I decided the version we'd recorded was not the version I wanted to present to the world. Nothing wrong with any of the parts we'd tracks individually but the song didn't sound like our own yet. So over the xmas season Isabelle and I rehearsed it with just a piano to get the lyric into our heads and arrange the  song more to our liking. Then in January we started to create a new version from scratch, abandoning all the recording we'd done up to that point. 

I had the idea that we needed to minimize the arrangement so I started us with just a very simple pad sound that outlined the chord changes and we started tracking Isabelle's vocals on top of that. Then a few subtle beats started to appear and we sat back to ensure we enjoyed where we were headed. That basic core still holds the song together, as it is the opening sound and runs through out the mix. 

 However once I had digested the song for where it was at I could hear new ideas and parts and began adding, carefully, additional instruments. One of the first things we did was to add in a simple but distant sounding beat. There is a 2 track reel to reel in the studio so I printed a version through that machine to give it a more unique timbre. That done we started adding bass, but with each layer there was a moment when we'd consider if it was truly necessary and added to the whole production. 

I am a decent bassist and solid keyboard player but guitar has always been a challenge for me. However, having a studio to play with I knew I had to try something so set about adding an Andy Summers like part to the second verse and bridge and suddenly the whole song sounded fresh again. It was a personal achievement to find the part and sound of the guitar for the ballad. 

From there I could hear the build up in the mix wasn't happening with enough impact so I went back to the summer demo and reviewed the drum part that Jonas Fairly had done for us. Even though we'd tracked that version at 68 bpm and our new version was 69 I figured we could make it line up with some simple time compression: and it did! Layering in Jonas's drums over the looped pattern I had already placed into the song gave everything the punch and dynamics I was looking for. 

 As the mix was getting closer I could hear where we needed to sweeten up the vocals a bit so we tracked some double and triple vocals to the choruses to really widen and warm up the mix. Isabelle did a brilliant job nailing her parts and I spent more than a day going over my harmonies until I lined myself up with her and made the chorus parts stand out. It took several shots at it to get it right but we are both super pleased with how it's all turned out. 

Please have a listen to the ballad. We are very proud of it and would love to have the whole world hear it one day! 


Mark (and Isabelle)



Saturday, 13 February 2021

Tiny Pretty Things and new songs

 So back a month ago we had a song we'd composed for an Australian fashion magazine, Façon, licensed to the Netflix series Tiny Pretty Things.  It is featured in episode one of the show and in a rather racy scene as well! We had never really intended on doing a proper formal release for the song but a few comments on various online sites suggested people wanted to hear it! So we made a lyric video with some nice kaleidoscopic footage to go with it. Please check it out below:



In other news we have been working really hard on a new love ballad. We shall be debuting a mix of the song tomorrow for Valentine's day on our soundcloud page. Please stay tuned, it is quite the big song!  


thanks for reading and checking out the music. We both really appreciate your attention and support!