'HARMONY': a collaborative Corrs cover

“Let’s live in harmony, harmony”

For a fun side project over the past year, I collaborated with fans of Irish band The Corrs to make a cover of their song Harmony. Seven musicians from six countries recorded themselves singing or playing instruments into smartphones and microphones, and sent their parts over the internet. Before starting, we only knew each other through an an online community called ‘The Corrs Club’, had never met in person (still haven’t), and had little idea of each other’s musical capabilities. This could’ve been a recipe for a very mediocre Irish stew…but it turns out Corrs fans are a musically talented and dedicated bunch! The musical stew far exceeded our expectations!

Harmony is about the troubles in Northern Ireland, unfortunately ongoing, as there were riots in Londonderry just hours before writing this blog on Good Friday. (This day being significant in Northern Ireland’s history for the Good Friday Agreement of 1998). But the highlight of the song for me is an epic, lush, hopeful chorus of voices singing “Let’s put it all behind us, let’s live in harmony”. Wherever you are in the world, that’s an inspiring message, don’t you think?!

I sang lead vocals, played tin whistle and clarinet, and assembled this cover (I’m reluctant to say “mixing” as my skills are basic). I’ve now heard the song hundreds of times, but still find it powerful. And, this collaboration gives it extra meaning. By harmonising with others on the word “harmony”, from four different continents, we’ve literally created worldwide harmony! ;)

Read below to learn how we did it.

Here’s our cover:

And here’s the original version by The Corrs:

THE STORY OF HOW CORRS FANS SANG HARMONIES ON THE WORD “HARMONY” TO CREATE WORLDWIDE HARMONY…

The band’s hiatus
When in 2015, Irish family band The Corrs returned from a ten-year hiatus to release new music, fans worldwide were ecstatic - including this fan. Having been enamoured with their sweet melodies since the late 1990s, The Corrs played a big role in inspiring me to take up songwriting, singing, Irish tin whistle, and to visit Ireland from Australia. 

The Corrs’ previous album, Home, had been released in 2005, and was a return to their Irish traditional music roots. It was an apt ending of an era, covering music from their parents’ old songbooks, but a question mark hung over their future. The band hadn’t officially quit, yet they increasingly took more time away to raise families and pursue other projects. Lead singer Andrea and violinist Sharon developed solo music careers, creating some great music, but there was never quite the same magic that the four siblings had together.

WhiteLightAlbumCover1b.jpg

The return (phew!)
Finally, the band announced that they’d recorded a new album, White Light, and I felt excited and relieved, as though,All is right in the world again”.

The announcement also breathed new life into an online community called ‘The Corrs Club’, a forum which had been running since 1997 (formerly known as the CorrBoard). I joined it in the early to mid 2000s. Today’s internet is infamous for its dark corners, but The Corrs Club has always been a positive online space where fans across the globe could discuss favourite songs, albums, performances, and interviews. Throughout the The Corrs’ hiatus, the forum continued to bubble along, but new music had us energised.

The band’s sixth studio album, White Light, was released in November 2015. The music industry and the internet had changed dramatically since their last release ten years before. Music streaming and digital downloads were the norm over buying CDs; music recording equipment was cheaper and more accessible than ever before, and anyone with a smartphone could record decent-quality sound and send it across the planet within seconds.

The club collaboration
An idea was tossed around in The Corrs Club - should we try collaborating and making our own cover? The technology now would allow it, and there were enough musicians in the group to make it work. The main problem was that we didn’t know what level of musicianship everyone was at, and how, logistically, we’d make it happen. So we decided to play it safe for our first cover, to choose a simple song and to keep the arrangement close to the original. Perhaps in the future we’ll try a punk-hillbilly-flamenco version of Runaway, but not for attempt #1!

After nominating several song ideas, we decided on a beautiful song called Harmony; track 11 from White Light. Lyrically, Harmony is about Ireland’s troubled history. Phrases like “Down Bombay Street, there’s flames at our feet” references the burning down of houses in the 1969 Northern Ireland riots. It has that perfect Corrs’ blend of the traditional with the modern, and the song seemed to match our two main requirements: simple to cover, with the potential to be inclusive.

1. Logistically simple to cover (or so it seemed): Harmony opens with nothing but a synth drone and a single vocal melody reminiscent of Irish airs. Gradually, layers of guitars, drums, tin whistles, violins and other voices are added. It sounds more simple than highly produced songs like Breathless or Summer Sunshine…but perhaps deceptively so. Like Pass the Parcel, we’d unwrap one layer to fine another musical layer, another melody to cover. But that’s all part of the fun!

2. Inclusive: We wanted to feature as many club members as possible, and several people were keen to lend their voices. Harmony seemed perfect for this because at 3.25, it bursts into a giant chorus of voices singing “Let’s put it all behind us, let’s live in harmony, harmony”. I was stopped in my tracks when I first heard that chorus, because it’s so powerful, joyful, and unexpected. I loved the idea of bringing voices together from around the world to recreate that sound.

The puzzle (how on earth do we do this?)
The score for Harmony hadn’t been released to our knowledge, so we had to learn each part by ear. And, none of us lived in the same country, let alone could rehearse together. So, to make our cover sound tight, we decided to record our parts while listening to the original version.

Steve in the US got the ball rolling and cleverly worked out the atmospheric ‘drone’ sound and chords on keyboard. Terry in the UK expertly deciphered the intricate guitar picking, and a killer drum track came from StPaddy (his online name) in Germany which made me think I had to up my game! I recorded four layers of tin whistle parts in Australia, and doubled some parts on clarinet as we didn’t have a violinist between us.

The voices (borrowing a technique from The Punch Brothers)
Recording all the voices was trial-and-error. We asked everyone to listen to the original track while wearing headphones, and record their parts into a microphone or phone. I borrowed an idea from US band The Punch Brothers, who feature their fans’ voices in their song Little Lights at 3.26. On their website, they’d uploaded a demo of part of the song, and asked fans to record themselves singing along. The result is an airy mass of voices, floating underneath the lead vocal. So for Harmony, I recorded myself singing the different vocal harmonies and uploaded them to my website for others to use as a guide. The process still wasn’t perfect, but we made it work! In the end we combined voices from England, France, the US, the Philippines, and Australia. 

The lead vocal (Andrea’s so darn good)
When it came to the lead vocal, I really wanted to attempt it because I loved the folky Irish feel of it. There are other Corrs’ songs that I know I wouldn’t be able to do justice, but this one seemed within reach. Well…I can tell you that Andrea is a really good singer. This is a hard song to sing in tune, and it spans several octaves - yet Andrea sounds so effortless and emotional when she sings it. I recorded hundreds of vocal takes over months, and had to do a lot of practice to be able to reach those low and high notes. Even then, I couldn’t sing them as well as Andrea, and had to edit the best takes together. The upside is that my voice got better and stronger from singing this song on repeat!

The assembly (more cowbell?)
Using Logic Pro, I put all the parts together and would email mixes to Steve in the US to get his opinion (and Terry in the UK towards the end). The more we listened to the original, the more barely-audible melodic motifs we would hear and feel the need to replicate. For a few months, the cover felt it needed a bigger instrumental build. One main problem was that we were lacking Sharon Corr…or any live strings, really, so we improvised! Steve added synth strings and other sounds, and I often doubled them on live clarinet. The combination of sounds gives it its own flavour, but is representative of who we are as a group of musicians around the world, making do with what we have!

The final vision
To visually depict how we came together in spirit, I used a NASA satellite image of earth at night and placed photos or images representing each musician roughly on the countries they are from. Please note: this image is not to scale, otherwise we’d be huge! I had a bit of fun with InDesign’s pen tool to show how we are all connected (inspired by maps of flight paths!). To thematically link it to the White Light album artwork, I used a similar font, and popped the album’s photo of The Corrs in the corner…so they can talk on corners. (That’s a cheesy Corrs joke). I assembled the picture with the song in Premiere Pro and uploaded to YouTube.

The credits
Firstly, thanks to The Corrs for writing this inspiring song. Secondly, thanks to all the patient musicians who contributed musical parts (especially Steve for his huge amount of work as we emailed back and forth dozens of mixes) and general ideas of how to approach this. Thirdly, thanks to general members of The Corrs Club for creating a positive community to talk all things Corrs. This was truly a team effort!

Wendy Lang (Australia) - lead and backing vocals, tin whistle, clarinet
Terry Burbridge (UK) - guitars, backing vocals (outro)
Steve Wang (US) - keyboards
StPaddy (Germany) - drums
BallerinaTay (US) - backing vocals in verses and outro
GaelleF (France) - backing vocals in outro
nightcat (Philippines) - backing vocals in outro
Produced by Wendy Lang, additional production by Steve Wang


The lyrics

HARMONY
Music and lyrics by The Corrs

More walls since Good Friday he said
There's nothing good about that
Down Bombay Street there’s flames at our feet
And they burn like the Indian sun

It's a far cry from home you land
Your brothers and sisters behind
This battle scar's long, like a mourning song
You know though you never had learned

Now we'll never know, the man you'd have been
The one who brought peace to a land born in pain
Taught love to a daughter, kindness to a son
But you've ended before you've begun
You've ended before you've begun

And a Main Street became the frontline
My beloved a casualty of time
It's wrong, it's wrong, no matter what side you're on
To end them before they've begun

Now we'll never know, the man you'd have been
The one who brought peace, to a land born in pain
Taught love to a daughter, kindness to his son
But you've ended before you've begun
You've ended before you've begun

We'll never know, the man you'd have been
The one who brought peace, to a land born in pain
Taught love to his daughter, kindness to his son
But you've ended before you've begun
You've ended before you've begun

Let's put it all behind us
Let's live in harmony, harmony

Behind the scenes of the "Somehow (You Always Leave Me In Tears)" video shoot

Ever since recording my song Somehow (You Always Leave Me In Tears) for the Independent Music Project, my friend Nathan Hoad has been volunteering to make a music video.

Inspired by my lyric "to the sea where we met", his idea was to film on the beach in Shorncliffe, a quiet, seaside suburb on the outer edges of Brisbane. His heart was set on filming along the historic and rustic Shorncliffe Pier, one of the longest timber piers in Australia, which reaches over 300 metres into the beautiful Bramble Bay.

The song, if you haven't noticed, is pretty darn melancholy. This meant we had to wait until the weather was moody and grey. But this last summer in Brisbane has been relentlessly long, hot, and full of matte blue skies. In any other situation this may be considered idyllic - I'm sure there are about 9 million people in Sweden who are incredibly jealous right now - but it wasn't the right setting for the song. After all, who can be sad under a blue sky? We didn't want viewers to think, "Look at the weather, woman! Get over that guy you're singing about and go for a swim!". No. We wanted the viewer to feel the emotion of the song. To think, "Now THAT'S a dreary sky. No wonder she's miserable. I'll make her a cup of tea.".

So, one Sunday afternoon in February, when autumn was wandering up the footpath and the weather forecast yelled "Clouds!", Nathan, his partner in crime Lilly Piri, and I, drove up to Shorncliffe. (Well, Nathan drove, and I sat in the back fiddling with my nail polish).

We arrived to discover the weather there was PERFECT! Layers and layers of thick grey clouds. Rain-free. More wind than a wind machine on a Beyonce set. 

I was really excited. Then, I heard disappointment coming from Nathan's corner. "The one thing I really wanted to film was the jetty". We looked over and saw that Shorncliffe Pier was closed off, surrounded by the plastic orange skirting indicative of construction sites. Apparently, a wooden pier that was built in the 1880s needs a bit of mending every now and then, assumably to stop small children from falling through mouldy wood. Fair enough.

Plan A: Thwarted by the  Shorncliffe Pier Renewal Project .

Plan A: Thwarted by the Shorncliffe Pier Renewal Project.

It was time for Plan B. If only there was another jetty-type structure nearby! 

Plan B: More edgy. More rocky. More chance of me falling into the ocean.

Plan B: More edgy. More rocky. More chance of me falling into the ocean.

And if only there weren't children playing on this other structure! You know, the sort of children who would have fallen through the mouldy wood of our Plan A Pier if it weren't closed for renovation! They'll get bored soon and leave. What should we film in the meantime?

Nathan filming a rock...because...TEXTURE.

Nathan filming a rock...because...TEXTURE.

Shorncliffe beach isn’t your typical Queensland beach. There’s sand, but it’s not the pristine creamy type you’d see on the Gold Coast. It's much darker. But what it does have, is rocks. Lots and lots of beautiful rocks, in 49 shades of grey. Lilly suggested we keep an eye out for animals on the beach, and we found a delightful little crab, nestled in between rocks. I'd like to thank Annabel Crab - or Leonardo Di Crabrio, as I'm not sure of its gender - for appearing in the second shot of the video. 

We'd decided in advance to film the video in slow motion, so that the movement of the waves and the wind would look more dramatic. I also wanted to try that special music video technique where the artist is seen singing in time to the music while his or her body moves in slow motion. Coldplay's Yellow is a good example of this.

How is the effect achieved? The singer mouths along to a sped-up version of the song while the video is filmed at a slower frame rate. It's then stretched in the edit suite, and voila! Mouth in time, hair gracefully blowing in the wind. 

Weather forecast: Hair rotation 180 degrees.

Weather forecast: Hair rotation 180 degrees.

You may notice in the video that I’m carrying a tiny silver handbag. I was secretly carrying my phone, which had a version of the song at double-speed. When Nathan was ready to film, I’d hit play in iTunes, pop it back into the bag, and sing along. 

This is harder than it looks, because even a slow song that’s been doubled in speed sounds FAST! I spent at least an hour the night before practicing at the new speed, and it felt very strange not being able to sing long notes. All my singing standards had to be thrown out the window, just so I could get my mouth around those sprinting-leopard words. My next release will be rap.

When the kids left our Plan B jetty, we raced up there and Nathan filmed me walking along it, back and forward. It was so windy up there that Nathan had to hold down his tripod and my hair was performing an interpretive dance.

Sneaky team selfie.

Sneaky team selfie.

Finally, Nathan filmed me sitting on the edge of the jetty, staring at my necklace as though it had an important meaning. And it kind of does. It was a handmade item I bought from the South Bank Young Designers Markets at least six years ago. I love its whimsical design reminiscent of Celtic illustration, and it's been all around the world with me. As a possible ending, we filmed me pretending to throw it into the ocean, but I'm morally against flinging sinkable objects into the sea. 

Nathan took the footage away and a very speedy two days later he showed me the clip! A big thank-you to both Nathan and Lilly for their hard work on this. You can check out their other artistic endeavours at their Little Nebula YouTube Channel

As for the song, did you know you can buy it? Or stream it? Find it on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, and an ocean of other places. 

Thanks for reading, watching and listening!

The Making of...the Funky T-Shirt Music Video

Since releasing my first music video late last year for “Funky T-Shirt”, I've often been asked how it was made. Then, last week, I received an email from the wise and entertaining entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who I'd written to about something completely different. He had obviously checked out my website though, because immediately he wrote that he was watching the video. "God, that must have taken some patience!" he said. "Paid off, though."

Firstly, there was some freaking out on my behalf that Derek Sivers had watched my video. (Derek founded CD Baby, my online distributor, and these days makes excellent speeches like this one). Secondly, YES IT DID take some patience!

When brainstorming the kind of video I wanted, originally I envisioned a live-action dance video with me prancing around in a cute t-shirt and a tulle skirt. (It may still happen). But then I thought about how the song describes the little thrills we get from seeing a hilarious quote or cute illustration on a t-shirt, and I began googling animators and illustrators, thinking this may be a better direction. 

One Sunday evening, I discovered Soymilk Studio - a Brisbane-based company who make stop-motion animation with craft materials. The company was founded by illustrator Paul Lalo and designer Jenni Vigaud.

Two things stood out to me:

1. Paul and Jenni were French-born and between the two of them had trained in France and Denmark. Big points. I love cute, chic, understated European style and wanted that sensibility on the video.

2. Their work was adorable, thoughtful and clever. Check out their sweet short film about the designer of the Sydney Opera House, "Mr Utzon":

I sent them the song, asking if they'd consider meeting to discuss making a lyric video. To my good fortune, they liked the song so much that they wanted to make something a little more...adventurous. At our second meeting when Paul was telling me their ideas, he said to me, “We like to do things the hard way”, followed by, “So we need t-shirts. LOTS of t-shirts!”. 

Paul and Jenni are experts in stop-motion animation: the technique that’s used to make television shows like Pingu and Wallace and Gromit. A photo is taken of a clay figurine in one position, the figurine’s arm or leg is moved a fraction, and another photo is taken. After hours and hours of taking photos and adjusting clay body parts, the photos are stitched together. That's when Pingu no longer looks like a static pile of clay, but a waddling penguin. Where Paul and Jenni’s work differs is, they’ll animate using materials like felt, wood and paper, and incorporate illustration.

But, they hadn’t tried this technique before with a human. I was to be the first! I would be that clay figurine, having my limbs moved millimetres at a time.

Attention seeking? Not at all. I sewed those glittery letters on the night before! (It's actually the same t-shirt as on the single cover, but with different letters). 

The plan was for me to don multiple coloured t-shirts in the choruses. And in the verses I would wear white t-shirts, illustrated by the team. Hand-illustrated. With a fabric marker. To give the effect that a cartoon was happening on my shirt. These days, it’s far easier to draw an image with a computer and digitally layer that over a t-shirt. But remember how I said Paul and Jenni like to make things the hard way? Authenticity is cool. So I was in.

Our first step was to collect coloured t-shirts for the choruses. Paul and Jenni threw a party and invited friends to bring their most eye-catching shirts, and I dug out whatever shirts I could find at home. By the end, we had piles and piles of shirts!

Friends of Paul and Jenni's. We photographed everyone with the t-shirts they lent us, so that no t-shirt would lose its owner.

Then, we sourced other materials for the shoot. I ordered over 100 plain white t-shirts for Paul and Jenni to draw on. In the end we only used about half of them (and returned the unused), but that's still an awful lot of drawing! 

The deer illustrations that Paul and Jenni hand drew on plain white t-shirts. My favourites!

The shoot took place in the co-working space Salthouse where Soymilk Studio was based. The day before we started shooting, Paul filmed me singing along to the track so we'd have a visual record of all the correct mouth shapes. 

The next day, I was seated in front of a green screen, facing Paul with his computer, and another large monitor. On this, I could see the video of my singing from the day before. We'd freeze the video every few frames and I'd have to move my mouth into the exact position that I could see on the screen. Sounds easy, right? It’s surprisingly difficult. Paul would be saying things like, “Close your mouth a little more. A little more. Hold there!”. The goal was to piece the still photos together so it would look like I was singing the song, but in a more choppy way. (Check out "In Your Arms" by Kina Grannis for a great example of this). After shooting the first verse, it just didn’t look like I was singing the correct lyrics. In English, anyway. Maybe it was Welsh. But we wanted it to look like English, so we shot it again and thankfully it looked far more accurate!

The setup! Paul had his monitor while I watched another monitor to help me align to the correct positions. 

The setup! Paul had his monitor while I watched another monitor to help me align to the correct positions. 

The shoot took around four days - a Thursday, Friday, then Monday and Tuesday. I’m pretty sure I lost weight in that time. Long days were spent having to hold a position, hearing Paul say, “Move your left arm up a tiny bit. No, too far, down a bit. Okay stay there! Now move your chin down a fraction. Hold...hold...hold...and...next shirt!”. Every three shots, I’d have to change t-shirt, and make sure it didn’t mess up my hair or makeup. That was also quite a feat. My hair had to stay still which is why it’s tight and braided for most of the video. However, having my curled hair down during the deer jumping scene gives a pretty cool effect. I look like Medusa!

I've estimated that I must’ve changed t-shirt approximately 400 times during those four days. My body was probably aching by the end, but I seem to have blocked that part out. But I DO remember thinking, "If Gotye can do it, so can I". Because as I like to say, when in doubt, ask yourself WWGD? (What Would Gotye Do?).

"We need t-shirts." said Paul. "Lots and lots of t-shirts!"

After the shoot, Jenni crafted adorable backgrounds made of felt and balsa wood. In real life they weren't much bigger than an A4 piece of paper, but in the video they look huge! I love the record store she made with the little felt records. And the cityscape. And the little white forest. All. So. Cute.

Then Paul spent months editing and piecing the whole video together, adding in extra bits of digital animation. I think you can see that a huge amount of work and care was put into the video!

Thank-you to our friends who lent us their t-shirts, and to Paul and Jenni for their beautiful work!

Let me know what you think of the clip!

This one was inspired by my cousin's "Irish I Was Drunk" t-shirt. The story goes that he tried wearing it, sober, into a bar on St Patrick's Day, and they wouldn't let him in.