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LIVE DATES
2020
'New Clear Days' 40th Anniversary
1 OctBrudenell Social Club, LeedsTickets
2 OctLiquid Room, EdinburghTickets
3 OctOran Mor, GlasgowTickets
8 OctConcorde 2, BrightonTickets
9 OctPortland House, CardiffTickets
10 OctGuildhall, GloucesterTickets
16 OctEpic Studios, NorwichTickets
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27 NovUnder The Bridge, LondonTickets
28 NovMick Jagger Centre, DartfordTickets
4 DecPhoenix, ExeterTickets
5 DecThekla, BristolTickets

Features

Together-reel to reel

We asked the band to write a piece about the gestation of the new album Together, from writing the tracks through to the recording in Liverpool with Steve Levine. Here’s the mammoth piece that they sent us back. Put the kettle on and get comfortable as it’s a long read:

The first question that came to us when we decided to record this album is one whose answer has evaded even the most avid of Vapors fans – what exactly is a Vapors song? The band have been labelled many things, from power pop to mod, but with songs ranging from Letter From Hiro to Daylight Titans it’s difficult to say exactly what the common themes are. Writing the follow up to Magnets nearly four decades later has also meant quite a few changes from 1981 – Michael sits in the throne behind the drums, Dan’s added another set of strings to play with, and Dave, Steve and Ed have had nearly forty years of growing up. The world had also changed a lot since then, from recording equipment to the world as a whole – we couldn’t very well write a song about waiting for trains now when you can just drop your mate a text. We had to write a Vapors album nearly forty years on from the last one. One that’s modern, using modern equipment. One that would hopefully be a natural continuation from 1981. One that would hopefully make the extended family we’ve built up over the years think “yeah, this was worth the wait.”

To put it short, we were a bit nervous.

But a bunch of writing sessions and rehearsals saw those nerves disappear long before we reached the studio. The excitement of bouncing ideas off of each other, putting all the pieces together and arranging them in a way that made some sort of sense saw that nervous energy replaced with creative energy. We had written a number of tracks since reforming, slotting them into our live shows, but these sessions were laced with some sort of magic. Some songs fell into place in an instant, and we’d have three songs completely finished in a day. Lyrics came with ease, guitar lines weaved around the vocal melodies, basslines thundered and drums boomed, with everyone adding a new layer until something that began life a tune in someone’s head became music. Dave would zip through countless voice memos of melodies and notebooks full of lyrics, and would manage to find something for everything. The lyrics for “King L,” which when said quickly is a northern expletive, essentially came out of a bet he had with his wife Branka – “I bet you can’t write a song about Leonard Cohen and call it King L.” So he did, and every line is a reference to a song or poem by the late great king. The outro reprise of what became “Nuclear Nights” originally belonged to another song he had some ideas for titled “Donkey Don” – we’ll let you ponder over who that was about.

The band in the studio with producer Steve Levine

Other days, we’d be a bit stumped over something not quite sitting right, until somebody came up with an idea to shake it all up – what became “I Don’t Remember” was almost scrapped for that reason, but a couple of changes to Steve and Michael’s “disco-house” feel and Dan’s jarring Marquee Moon-equse verse chords put that song right up with our favourites. We demoed some twenty-something songs, including the newer tracks that had already been aired at gigs, in the summerhouse at the bottom of Dave’s garden, and sent these cleverly named “Summerhouse Sessions” to Steve Levine, who gave us the thumbs up to come on over.

We journeyed up to Liverpool for the first week of studio sessions in February 2019, with Ed flying in from Budapest having been directing something he called “if I told you, I’m afraid I’d have to kill you.” We arrived at our first Airbnb; a glamorous terrace well stocked with all the essentials like rats, poor TV reception and not enough bedrooms. Dan drew the short straw and set up his bed for the week on the living room sofa, as youth had blessed him with the fewest back problems. He also had the apparently unique ability to go an entire night without making a trip to the toilet, which happened to only be accessible through the living room. Nature’s calls became regular wake up calls.

Still, it wasn’t all bad news – if we held the TV antenna up against a particular part of the wall, we could get a half decent image of BBC News to shout at. A bit to the left of that gave us some sort of documentary channel. It had a show on one night about Concorde, which allowed Michael to reminisce about his time working as an aeronautical design and development engineer on the project – he’s not just the band’s muscle. It can’t all be champagne, cigars and caviar. More like tinned lager, tinned mackerel and pork pies. We prefer that anyway.

Day one in the studio began with what became the usual pleasantries of cups of tea and a chinwag while waiting for Steve Levine’s studio to come to life. In the control room computers whirred, faders on the mixing desk slid up and down autonomously, the kettle just outside whistled like an air raid siren through helium, and all the while Steve L would beguile us with some fantastic story or other – like the time he, Stephen Fry and Boy George all went to lunch together. The studio itself was a magnificent tapestry of Steve’s love for his craft. The break room was chock full of guitars, drums and the all-important kettle, decorated with posters of films he’s worked on and records he’s produced. Even the fridge was decorated as a Marshall amplifier. The control room housed the throne from which Steve ran our new kingdom, facing an impressive mixing desk which dwarfed the Apple Mac it was hooked up to. There were boxes containing countless effects pedals, racks of compressors and even what looked like a hand-made spring reverb chamber mounted on the wall. A huge monitor system overlooked the room, giving us plenty of volume for playback.

Ed working on a guitar part

We spent the bulk of day one building our fortress of drums, amps and microphones. When we arrived, it was a large open space with a piano in one corner and a row of acoustic and electric guitars along the back wall. There was a window in the front wall leading to the control room, through which we could see Steve Levine forever beaming as he worked his magic. An impressive collection of guitar amps lined another wall, all of which gear fanatic Dan just had to try. The way we set up the live room was specific to the way we wanted to record the album. As a band, we chose to play as much live and together as possible. In a studio environment, however, that causes problems the sound from the guitars may get picked up by the overhead cymbal microphones for example, making getting a good mix difficult. Steve Levine already had the answer to that – we ran the bass through a silent cabinet, which is essentially a bass speaker and microphone in a big sound-proofed box, and Dave and Dan used speaker emulators that recreated the sound of an amp’s speaker cone using electric wizardry without making any noise. These feeds were run through the desk and fed back to us in our headphones – the only sound that could be heard in that live room was the drums.

This still left us with the issue of having no guide vocal to use as cues and triggers for transitions, since Dave didn’t want to throw his voice out singing all the way through every single take, but again there was an interesting solution. Dave would record a track of guide vocals acapella in the control room before we all went into the live room to play along to them. It has to be said, it was very odd hearing him sing without his lips moving. We had our system, so we set up the studio to make it work.

The next port of call, unfortunately, was to axe ten or so songs. There was no way we could all agree on which twelve should be on the album, because we each had our favourites, so we had to come up with a cold, calculated system to make the decision for us. After we had set up, we played through everything we had sent to Steve Levine from the Summerhouse Sessions. Our system was simple but brutal: we each, including Steve Levine, scored every song out of ten, added up the total scores for each song and the twelve highest made the cut. That led to fan favourite ‘One Of My Dreams’ missing out by a very small margin, and a couple of our individual favourites not making the cut simply because collectively there were others that scored higher. They were our children, and we were forced to disown them. At least, until next time.

After we spent the night mourning the loss of our children, we dove straight into recording the rhythm parts of those that remained. It was an incredibly intense six days, arriving at the studio early in the morning and not clocking out until six or seven in the evening. We’d get in, put the kettle on, set out a plan of action for the day and get to it. We were on a timeframe of recording drums, bass and the main guitars for two songs every day, since we wanted the second week for vocals, additional guitar parts and experimenting. We can’t recall the order in which we recorded the tracks, simply because it was that intense and there was no time to process what we had just done before moving on to the next track. Those six days flew by, and before we knew it, we had the drums, bass and backing guitars for the twelve songs that would become Together.

One particular day from these sessions involved recording Sundown River, where Ed and Dan wanted to play with a few of Steve Levine’s toys after Ed put the main guitar tracks down. Ed had spotted Steve’s Leslie speaker, and wanted to add that into the main riff. This is a pair of speaker cones facing opposite directions that rotate within a metal frame, and by a neat bit of science known as the Doppler effect it makes a very interesting warbling sound when it spins. There is a foot switch that controls the speed of the speaker’s rotation, and in order to get the best warbling the speed needs to be changed at the right time. So Ed set up his guitar in the control room and fed the signal to the speaker in the live room, which was being controlled by Dan. There was an electric twelve string running through a pedal called a “Byrd box”, which emulates the classic Byrds sound, and a slide part played on a distorted acoustic guitar inspired by Lennon. We had fun with it.

Michael and his cowbell

We returned to Liverpool in March to add the vocals, overdub some additional guitar parts and experiment. An upgrade of Airbnb was definitely required – we had a functioning TV, no rats and Dan even got his own bed this time. We changed the setup in the studio too; we no longer needed the drum kit so we set up a vocal booth and a spot by the amps to add in some additional guitar parts. Our work ethic was much the same as the previous visit; we wanted to get two songs a day finished, with Dave kicking it off by laying down his lead vocals. Dave barely spoke between takes in order to preserve his voice, and swallowed more throat lozenges than was probably healthy. Even all that preparation couldn’t save him when it came to recording “Girl From The Factory” – the subject of the lyrics caused him to burst into tears in the final chorus. We actually liked how that sounded, so we decided to keep it in. Steve and Dan then took to the backing vocals, with Michael joining in for group vocals. The group vocal set up was not what you’d call rock n’ roll – we stood in a circle around a microphone, clapping and stamping our feet, chanting along to the tracks like some primary school choir – but they were great fun.

Steve Levine was like a kid with his own toy shop who wanted to play with his mates – he encouraged experimenting with all sorts of sounds, and knew exactly which toys he needed to give us to get the sounds we wanted if we didn’t have our own. When laying down the additional guitar parts, we all played around with his toys. Dave went from the filthy distortions in “King L” to tight clippy sounds for “Real Time”. When it came to Girl From The Factory, which originally began life as an entirely electric number, Dan used three different acoustic guitars blended together – one regular six-string, one twelve-string and one “hi-strung”, which was essentially an octave higher than a regular acoustic guitar – for the basic strumming pattern alone. The intro for “Letter To Hiro (No.11)” came from Steve Levine and Dan simply trawling through his pedal collection and trying out weird sounds, including a pedal that you programmed with your mobile phone, and some rather complex wizardry involving Michael tapping on a drum pad to “gate” Dan’s heavily distorted guitar, making for a very interesting tremolo sound. Ed had the idea of putting pipe organs on the chorus of “Crazy”, and Steve L had just the guitar pedal for that – literally turned the sound of a guitar into a pipe organ. Percussion parts followed the guitars, with everything from cowbell, to tambourine, to a complex arrangement involving two snares in order to get the ‘dustbin lid’ snare sound for In Babylon. This worked by slowing down the song, recording a snare hit on the slowed down tape, then speeding everything back up again, making the snare drum sound more high-pitched when played back at normal speed. Think playing your 33rpm LP at 45rpm. Needless to say, we all had great fun exploring every nook and cranny of Steve’s studio.

Sleeve photoshoot, Porthcawl, Wales-pic Si Root

By the last day, we had everything ticked off our checklist. Drums, bass, guitars, vocals – everything was there. We gave everything one last listen through before declaring there was nothing left to add. We’d done it. The first Vapors record in almost 40 years. There was still a long way to go with mixing and mastering, but everything that was going to be on the record was there, as a chain of ones and zeroes, on Steve L’s computer. What started out as a bunch of ideas became twelve brand new Vapors songs.

However, what you hear on this record is more than just a collection of new songs. It’s a snapshot of how we felt at the time, from the lyrics to the way the record sounds. There was, still is and always will be such love for our extended Vapors family, and this album is a homage to you all. The excitement of being back together with you after all these years is the inspiration for a lot of the songs on this album. It’s the reason we came back in 2016, and it’s the reason we keep going. So thank you, to everyone who’s supported us in any capacity since 1979, thank you for still being there while we were away, and thank you for staying with us when we came back. This one’s for you.

Together, we got there.

Thanks to the band for that informative read.

Let us know your thoughts on the new album below

17 comments to Together-reel to reel

  • ANDREW G BROWN

    A brilliant record a modern twist added to classic vapors songs, a lot of hard work but very much appreciated , sundown river & nuclear nights are my 2 favourites, but they are all great .

  • Ivan Stephen

    Outstanding album and now a great behind the scenes extra to go with it, with the wit and wisdom of Dave’s lyrics. Proper storytelling.

    Kudos for using the emotive vocal take on Girl From the Factory – brave,but so powerful, it takes the song to another level.

    I look forward to seeing these songs being played live at some point but with so many excellent songs in the catalogue now, how the boys pick a set list will be quite a challenge!

  • Having been a Vapors fan since 1980, I never thought this day would come. An absolutely stunning brilliant work of art known as Together, has emerged and I am like a teenager again. All the work that you guys have put in to this creation is mind blowing for me! All the songs are fantastic, but my personal favorites are Girl from the Factory, I Can’t Remember, Wonderland and Nuclear Nights. Thank you so much Dave, Steve, Ed, Michael and Dan for putting in the time and effort to make this album! Long overdue, but definitely worth the wait! Cheers from Nashville TN.

  • Simon

    Simon Kent – You always wonder if after 39 years what a new album would be like well after a few plays all worries have been forgotten, a wonderful collection of songs that could easily have followed Magnets back in the day. Those Tears has really hit a nerve for me, such a beautiful song.
    Looking forward to album number four and hearing the songs live.
    Thanks to all involved.

  • Mark Cormack

    Been a fan since 1980.. And never thought I’d hear anything new from The Vapors.. Well it was well worth the wait. What a fantastic offering of music.. From start to finish, it is a work of art.
    The album is constantly on repeat.
    Well done guys keep up the great work.

  • Docs

    Great album that has got everything you would want from a Vapors album.Been a long wait but worth it

    • I’m amazed at how good this is after 39 years. I listened to it 4 times last night and have a new favorite song each and every time. All 12 tracks are very strong and well written. Most importantly, they are distinctly Vapors sounding. Meaning, 39 years later and it seems like you guys never left. Great job!!!!!

  • Suzanne Krasnowska

    Have been waiting for this for 39 years and was not disappointed. A perfect follow up to New Clear Days and Magnets, you scored a hat trick guys! I love every song on the album but standout tracks for me are Girl from the Factory, Sundown River, I Don’t Remember and Together. Well worth the wait, top album! Looking forward to the next one (hopefully won’t have to wait too long 😂.

  • Andy Barnes

    Hard to think of a more heart-felt and genuinely good ‘comeback’ album in recent times… Sounding fresh, catchy, exciting, new – but at the same time capturing that Vapors sound and style… Unlike some ‘reunions’ this is not pretentious in any way and feels very genuine… but hey, don’t ask me to be so generous with my comments if you leave it another 35 + years until the next album!!
    Well done guys, you’ve definitely hit the spot with Together…

  • Si Tourle

    This album IS by The Vapors…dripping in “New Clear DNA” with a sound that is unmistakable and as cool as ever. The vinyl cut is especially jaw dropping…a heavyweight slab with great mastering that bounces from the speakers. Every track is a new Vapors hook laden killer….no filler here…just great songs played as you would expect…with fire & skill…
    A rare thing this album…I’m convinced the band were cryogenically frozen just after the last gig in the 80’s…the flame is still burning brightly and long may it continue. A brilliant album sitting rightfully alongside New Clear Days & Magnets….still TOGETHER – VIVA the Vapors!

  • Scott Phillips

    Read this article while spinning the record for the first time ( CD’s on the way, but I couldn’t wait & downloaded the MP3’s that came with the CD ). After hearing “Crazy” & “Together” a few weeks back, I hoped the whole record would live up to those 2 stellar songs.

    It does. Man, does it ever. The classic Vapors sound, brought into the modern world. You guys have a lot to be proud of.

    Hope I finally get to see you live here in the US at some point.

  • Grant Houston

    I moved to New Zealand in 1996 so sold up all my old vinyl because CD’s were now the thing right? Wrong! one of the worst mistakes I ever made. What I’d give for my battered copies of New Clear Days and Magnets.

    Never thought I’d see the band again but I traveled home to London in 2017 and a mate had snagged me a ticket for the 100 Club gig. Didn’t know what to expect but was transported back in time.

    The new album takes me back again to those amazing days of the last century. Highlights? well for me Girl from the Factory, Letter to Hiro-No 11 and Nuclear Nights.

    Please don’t leave it another 4 decades, we’ll all be dead!

  • Elaine

    After numerous plays and some time for careful consideration-and TRYING to remain objective!….it’s a(nother) masterpiece, there is not one track that disappoints. The new songs are a heartwarming/heartbreaking delight. There is also a wonderful new dimension to the tracks that many of us have already had the pleasure of hearing live (Sundown River, Letter to Hiro No11,King L). I’m even O.K. with One of my Dreams not making it onto the album, I know it will be out there one day right?!😃 I keep getting drawn to Girl from the Factory, it’s so hauntingly sad and wonderful but I truly love all the tracks. A real treat for our ears, heart and soul! THANK YOU to everyone that made this happen. 🙏❤

  • WESTON WRIGHT

    Wow, King L!! We have all been waiting a long time for this. Where to begin? For years I have been a fan of The Vapors and was so excited when they got back together. I remember searching for information about the band when we bought our first PC and came across The Secret Noise web site. This was a very useful resource that helped me to fill in the gaps about the history of the band and the stuff I didn’t know. When the new album was first mentioned it reminded of the time all those years ago of the excitement and anticipation there was between each Clash album. What I didn’t understand at the time as a young music loving 17/18 year old is that bands evolve they become more accomplished in their music and writing so the differences between albums can be quite stark, London Calling and Sandinista. I think it’s already well documented the differences between NCD’s and Magnets, two very different albums but still two very good albums in their own way. It’s certainly not the case that your next album will always better than the previous one. Of the first two Vapors albums I have always leaned more towards NCD’s than Magnets but that’s because I found the songs to be more accessible, easy on the ear and full of catchy tunes. Magnets for me was a little harder to love at first listening but grew on me in time. Hearing songs now like Silver Machines, Live at The Marquee, and Daylight Titans are now some of my favourite moments when I see the band live.
    I have now listened to the new album and on first listening I think it bridges a gap musically between the previous two. The two singles ease you gently and yep, it’s The Vapors! For me it has that familiar Vapors guitar sound which can be found on new songs like “Real Time” and “In Babylon” but then moves up a couple of gears with a more dirty rock ‘n’ roll sound in “King L”, which having heard the band play it live a number of times this really blew me away! Another song which has been played a number of times live in the last couple of years is “Sundown River” which I thought also benefits from some great studio work with the sound to deliver a perfect song, excellent work Mr Levine. I agree with the fans that have also mentioned stand out songs such as “Girl from the Factory” (really good vocals) and I really like the track “Those Tears” which did make me feel a little choked as I continued with my listening. This may sound controversial but if “One of my Dreams” was omitted because the band only wanted one slower song for the album then in my opinion “Girl from the Factory” was the right choice and “Dreams” should make the fourth album or the next single.
    I’m a very happy Vapors fan, thanks Dave, Steve, Dan, Ed, Michael and all the people that made this happen.

  • Andy Griffiths

    I read reviews and realise I am not a wordsmith. I know what I like and unfortunately find it difficult to put on paper and explain why. Trait of being a Bass Player? 🙂

    As a 13 year old in 1980 and not having any money I had to find things to swap, not sure what it was I swapped for New Clear Days it may have been a pair of binoculars excessive I know but I needed to see what was going on after Turning Japanese.

    I was mesmerised by the cover artwork and as soon as Spring Collection started playing and working through each track I just loved the counter melody guitars, being a massive Jam fan something that was not really present in their music being a 3 piece.

    But of course it was Steve’s bass that fascinated me so far forward in the mix similar to Foxton’s but it felt more melodic and took you to unexpected places, Cold War with the slides brilliant and Sixty Second Interval say no more, even that age I appreciated the technical side of the song writing!

    Anyway here we are 40 years later, my first vinyl in 30 years and the album Together. As I said I am no wordsmith so just two words THANK YOU Dave, Steve, Ed, Dan and Michael!

  • Trevor John Heath

    Now every day is a judgement day
    Keep expecting me to hit the floor
    But I make it through and you do too
    But we’re missing you more and more,and more
    King L

    Wow, if that’s not prophetic regarding Lockdown, I don’t know what is!
    I’ve just sat and listened to the album whilst reading the lyrics properly, and singing along, of course. Something I used to to do in my youth, before real life took over. Jobs, family, commitments. Strains on our time that robbed us of moments of introspection. Moments where we enjoy art for art’s sake. Taken to thoughts and interior worlds where we can imagine, ponder and theoreticise.
    If there’s one thing that this album has done, it has truly brought us ‘Together.’
    None of us expected to see The Vapors live let alone have a third album. I thanked Dave at Portmeirion for getting the band together again and then had to wait a tortuous six months to hear the album. We were tantalised by Nuclear Nights, teased by Crazy and now it’s here. Can’t wait till we can go see you all again. See the band live again. I want it turned up to 11. No 11.

    King L.

  • Colin Cunningham

    Everything that has to be said about this wonderful album has, I suspect, already been said, so I’ll leave the superlatives to those who write far better than I do. From a personal angle this album has been the perfect pick me up for what could be the strangest times I have known in my 55 years, ie the Covid crisis and ‘lockdown’ It is unavoidable that this album will probably be forever associated for me and my family with the uncertainty and fear of these times, but I genuinely feel that those memories will be far more happy and positive because of the gift of such great music from The Best Band In The World. Thank you The Vapors, and all who sail in you, or alongside you – we love you – and we certainly love this album.

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