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Some thoughts on recording 'Rain Dance'

This past week I released my third studio album Rain Dance, and I have been thinking these past few days about some of the moments and realisations I had along the journey of recording it. To mark its release, and return to these written explorations of my work, I’d like to share some thoughts on the process and what I’ve learned from it with you.

Shane Hennessy Rain Dance album cover

Recording is not a straightforward process for anyone, especially for those who are not experienced with it, and to be honest it is not an experience I really enjoy. I’ve never had much interest in spending time on recording because I get great pleasure from performing and creating an atmosphere. Playing acoustically, or through an amplifier, is great because the ambience of the room affects how you feel and how you interpret the sound. Recording is the opposite of this – the only ‘atmosphere’ is in your own head, and all your flaws and errors are magnified by the recording process because your other senses are mostly tuned out. Additionally for me, the adrenaline I would usually get from an audience reaction isn’t there to spur me on. Audiences focus on the flow of a show, and that same flow affects how you play. The flow of a performance also makes allowances for small mistakes. Recording makes you focus on an individual piece of music, usually out-of-context with the other pieces.

In lots of ways, Rain Dance started coming to life before the preceding album Marrakech (2017). While some tracks were finalised and/or improvised in the studio, some of the ideas on Rain Dance date back as far as 2015. It’s a good lesson to anyone who thinks that:

1) Your musical ideas should be exhausted with each album release

2) The formation of albums (or musical ideas) happens sequentially

3) Musical ideas are fixed once they’re formed

I don’t believe that any of these are true. A great example is track #8 on Rain Dance – ‘L’Isola’. This tune started in Sicily in 2015, when I was there on a holiday with my friend Daniele and his family. I was lying on a hammock playing guitar, taking in the night sky, when Daniele’s uncle was passing by. I remember him saying “bella musica, mi piace” (lovely music, I like it). It’s a little cliché but it’s true – music is a universal language. I had a very rudimentary grasp of Italian, and he didn’t have a word of English, but the music I made and its effect on us both transcended our language barrier and our cultures. Even though it’s a simple piece of music, it took me a long time to finish it. Finding a complimentary second section was a process where I tried bringing the tune into different keys, different harmonies, more dramatic melodic lines, and in the end what felt right was a very simple idea with a very prominent melody. I felt like I had finished the piece in about 2018 or so, and I had been playing it on-and-off since then. But what I’ve realised about this piece is not so much the composition itself, but rather the feel with which I play it.

The Music Will Chan