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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Recording “We’re All Human”: A Projecteer’s Journey…

When L Project Coordinator Georgey Payne asked me to write about the weekend I spent in London recording the campaign’s second charity single, “We’re All Human”, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. That’s partly because when Georgey asks you to do something, you want to say yes. But it was mostly because I was excited by the prospect of taking fellow L Project supporters, or Projecteers, along with me on an adventure I knew would be special.

I wanted to do that because I still consider myself, first and foremost, to be an L Project fan. I fell in love with their first song as soon as I heard it and I absolutely share the campaign’s values and vision of a world that is free from bullying and discrimination.

When I first heard “It Does Get Better” in early 2012, I could never have imagined the journey that being a Projecteer would take me on. It’s the kind of experience I used to think only happened to other people.

There’s just something about The L Project; the way they deliver their message and interact with the community they have built; that sets them apart from other campaigns I follow. They have created an environment that makes people comfortable reaching out to them and this has helped me reach for my dreams. Through their blog they gave me the opportunity to use my passion for writing to speak up for myself and, subsequently, for others who feel the same. And now, by choosing me to sing on “We’re All Human”, they have given me the chance to use my voice and my love of music to help deliver a message I truly believe in to a global audience.

Unlike most of the singers on “We’re All Human”, my weekend in Dean St. Studios was the first time I’d ever stepped behind a microphone in a professional recording studio. A self-proclaimed “bedroom musician”, the closest I’ve come to playing a gig is singing few songs at an open-mic night in sleepy John o’ Groats. But what was apparent very quickly was that I was the only person concerned with my lack of experience. Sitting in the green room, surrounded by faces I knew from the first L Project video and people I’d paid to see perform at L Fest, I was immediately accepted and treated as an equal.

Nikki Lamborn and I taking a selfie in the green room

I’m not sure what I expected of the other artists before I arrived in London, but as someone more accustomed to singing to an audience comprising of a single pet tortoise than a crowd of admirers, I guess I was worried that there might be one or two stereotypical rock stars in the mix. The reality is I was surrounded by rock stars; the diversity of talent still blows my mind; but they turned out to be some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Not only that, but it was clear that every single person really got why it was so important to give up their weekend—their time, their talent—to be in that basement in Soho. Everyone was proud to be a part of something that would help others that really need it; like the young people struggling with their gender identity that are supported by one of the Project’s chosen charities, Mermaids.

The second charity to receive proceeds from “We’re All Human” will be the Russian LGBT Network. Russia has been on a lot of people’s minds recently and, by coincidence, the green room TV was showing the Sochi Winter Olympics when we arrived both days. It was interesting to hear why some people had decided to boycott the Games, whilst others thought it was better to watch and support LGBT athletes and visitors. What was most apparent, though, was that every single person was really concerned about the current situation overseas and was glad to be helping.

Having watched some “behind the scenes” footage from the first single I expected that, at some point during the weekend, I would shed a few tears. What I didn’t anticipate was that the majority of them would be from laughing so much.

When we weren’t required for recording, most of the artists and crew hung out together in the green room. It was great to see old friends reuniting and new friendships forming all around. The usual introductory handshakes were replaced by warm hugs and the immediate connection of a group of people coming together to do something for a common cause. Laughter filled the air almost the whole time. We laughed as we realised that most of us had missed our true calling as professional ice-skating judges, we laughed as Nikki and Been from Never the Bride recounted rock and roll tales from the road and we laughed as videographer Nicola Prestage encouraged us all to join her circus of fabulous (if not a little useless) talents. I was especially pleased to learn that the group felt my unique skill merited inclusion in Nicola’s esteemed troupe. 

But, amongst all the fun, the serious business of recording a song was also going on and, on the Saturday, that was all about the instrumentalists. This began with Georgey laying down a guide vocal and guitar track for the musicians to follow. It didn’t take long for drummer Ben Lambert to do his thing and he was followed into the studio by bassist Lorna Thomas. Lorna arrived at Dean St. after a long train journey and only a couple of hours sleep; having played a gig in Scotland the night before; and she immediately went into the studio and put down the bass like a true pro. It was then the turn of Catherine “Been” Feeney, whose beautiful piano section is one of my personal highlights of the track. After waiting patiently, Mandy Burton from Eeek grabbed her guitar and headed into the studio to record the rhythm section. Finally, it was the turn of lead guitarist Charley Stone and I was delighted to be asked into the control room to watch her at work. I felt a bit like David Attenborough, sitting and watching in awe as Charley, whose bands have included Gay Dad and Joanne Joanne, stepped into the studio and did what she was clearly born to do. A true rock star, she warmed up with some pretty impressive shadow boxing and then had us all in stitches as she writhed around on the control room floor playing the most epic air guitar to the track she’d just laid down.

The L Project musicians, L-R: Mandy, Been, Ben, Lorna and Charley

Thanks to some expert coordination from Georgey and Sofia, Saturday’s recording went like a dream. That left them and a few others some time to record extra percussion, in the form of shaky eggs and tambourines; which isn’t, apparently, as easy as it looks! There was even time for Been to head back into the studio and record on a special old instrument that many of the musicians had been admiring all day. One take was all she needed and everyone agreed that her last-minute contribution really added an unexpected and beautiful new element to the song. 

At the end of the first day, we all piled into the control room to hear a playback of the completed instrumental track. I loved the song from the moment Georgey sent me the demo, but I honestly couldn’t believe what a handful of incredible musicians; with the help of a very talented and patient studio engineer, Austen Jux-Chandler, and his assistant Johnny; had pulled together in a single day.

Our engineer for the weekend, Austen

Hearing how great everything sounded by the end of day one made me even more excited to get back to Dean St. and get behind the mic for myself the next day.

When those of us staying at the hotel arrived back on Saturday evening, we met up with vocalists Beth Prior and Andy Fawcett for a drink. Once again, the common bond between us and what we were doing that weekend made it feel far more like a reunion with old friends than spending time with people I’d only just met. Although most of us were tired from travelling or being in the studio, we chatted well into the early hours before heading to bed to rest up for another big day.

On Sunday morning, there was more meeting, greeting and reunions as the lead vocalists arrived at the studio. We were also joined by Natalie Adams, who lent her hairdressing skills for the day, and her wife Sam, who assisted head runner, Cookie Arnone, in looking after all of the artists.  

It’s quite an unusual experience, meeting people for the first time when you already know exactly who they are. It wasn’t so long ago I was watching Amber Taylor-Groves of Heads Hearts owning the stage at L Fest and now I was in a studio with her, making her laugh with my silly circus skill. It was great to find that, again, every single person was genuine and lovely and it really did feel like another day of being surrounded by good friends.

Sunday was all about the singing and the lead vocalists were split into three groups; giving us a rough idea of when we’d be needed. I was quite happy that I was in the final group; I thought that would give me the opportunity to see how the others got on and to put any nerves I had at bay; but that wasn’t entirely the case.  

I’m a bit of a worrier; that’s just what I do. And I suppose, in this case, it was only natural considering that I was in such a new environment and about to do something that really meant a lot to me. It was important to me that I thanked Georgey and Sofia for believing in me and I knew the best way to do that would be to sing as well as I could. I guess I was worried that I might not do that.

Thankfully, I was surrounded by an amazing group of people who kept me distracted with good conversation and generally by being hilarious. We all had a laugh as Emma Kavanagh, who sings alongside Georgey in Greymatter, listed her various sporting (and non-sporting) injuries and I had a good chat with Natalie as she took pity on my messy hair and made me look presentable for the first time in a long time. Mandy kept me smiling too as we chatted in depth about what it might be like to be a mermaid and, along with Skylar, we embarked on a lengthy debate about one of life’s more serious questions: who really is the best character in “The L Word”? 

What exactly were they looking at?!

But at around 2pm, still a few hours before I was due in the studio, I began to get a bit twitchy. I suddenly had the terrible thought that I might have forgotten how to sing. Mandy came to my rescue, though, by grabbing her guitar and taking Andy and me into a quiet room to have a run-through of the song. This was just what I needed as it helped to release some pent up energy and also reassured me that my voice hadn’t, as I'd feared, suddenly gone.

After a bit of a wander through Soho with Beth and Annelen Starefoss and a final run-through of the song with the last group of singers, I didn’t have much longer to wait until it was my turn to record.

When Georgey called me through to the studio, I felt ready. I still had butterflies in my stomach, but they were more from excitement than anything else and any final nerves I had disappeared when I found Kate Green and Nicola Prestage waiting for me in the recording booth. I would have thought that having lots of big cameras pointing at me whilst I was singing would be the most awkward and off-putting thing in the world, but the fact that those two were behind them made it feel like I was just singing to a couple of good friends. They helped keep me relaxed with words of reassurance and the odd inappropriate comment thrown in for good measure. What was most important, though, was that I totally trusted Georgey and Sofia to tell me exactly what they needed me to do and I knew that they wouldn’t let me out of the studio until they felt I’d done that. Georgey made me really visualise the meaning behind my lines, which meant that I was able to deliver them with the emotion they deserved. I’m not sure how long I was in the studio for; that part is a bit of a blur; but, before I knew it, they said I was done. Kate, who was also the official photographer, took a few headshots of me and then I headed into the control room to have a listen.

I always thought people were just posing when they held onto their headphones!

One thing I’d never really considered about the filming and recording process was how tirelessly the people you don’t often see in the finished product have to work. Nicola and Kate, from production company Tiger Features, didn’t stop for two whole days as they filmed the official music video. The same can be said for Victoria Pratt, who filmed constantly to bring you all a “behind the scenes” insight to the weekend and also interviewed all of the artists with the help of Eeek’s Lucy Burton. They all worked flat out and did so with big smiles on their faces. And whilst most of the artists got to go home and relax afterwards, the videographers’ job of editing had only just begun.  I can’t wait for the final edits to go online and look forward to seeing some gems that I missed (which I hope include Hartley’s “Whitney” moment!).  

Victoria ended up on both sides of the camera! 

As I sat in front of Dean St Studios’ massive mixing desk with Sofia on my left, Georgey on my right and Helen (the studio cat) behind me, I couldn’t do anything but stare straight ahead. I knew that if I looked at any of them I was probably going to lose it. When we listened back to my lines and they asked if I was happy, I wasn’t really sure. It was the first time I’d ever heard my voice recorded properly and the whole thing was a bit overwhelming. But the more we listened, the happier I became and I knew that Georgey and Sofia must have been happy too or else I would have still been behind the microphone. I was the last person to sing before dinner and I waited for the studio to clear so I could have a minute alone to compose myself. In the blur of it all, I didn’t realise that Lucy and Emma were still in there with me. When I looked up, Lucy was standing in front of me with tears in her eyes and, as soon as I saw that, I had tears in mine too. They both gave me hugs and said lovely things, which was amazing, but that made me cry even more!

By the time I was finished recording and had pulled myself together a bit, some of the choral singers had arrived at the studio. Seeing another bunch of new faces reminded me that we still had the group chorus to record and, now that my solo lines were done, I began to get excited for that. Whilst the last of the lead singers recorded, I chilled out in the green room and got chatting to Louise Herbert; who L Fest fans will know better as Sherbs. She was there to support her fiancée, Stacey Donohoe, who joined us for the choral section.

Listening to Louise talk about their engagement and seeing first-hand the love they share really epitomised for me the reason we were all there. It’s the same thing I saw as I watched other couples interact over the weekend, or that I felt when I overheard Tom Guest talking about his engagement. It was all love and it’s the kind of thing that everyone deserves the right to experience. Regardless of where people are born or who they choose to be with, they deserve the right to have a family; the right to establish a home; the right to live an authentic life without discrimination or judgement. 

There we all were, around forty of us across two days, gathered together to do something good for people we’ll probably never meet and yet we’re exactly the people that almost 80 countries still criminalise because of the way we were born. The fact that we were even able to gather together to try and make a difference means that we’re the lucky ones. I hesitate from saying “we’re all normal”; I’m not convinced that exists; but what I will say is that the message of our song is true—“We’re All Human”—and we deserve to be treated as such. The same goes for the people we’re raising money for.

Once the last of the choral artists arrived, we all squeezed into the control room to let them hear what we’d been working on for the past 48 hours. This was also the first time I’d heard my vocal as part of the whole track, which was both exciting and nerve-racking. Everyone agreed that the song was sounding incredible; better than any of us could have anticipated. The way the range of voices—from Alex Reizos’ hauntingly beautiful first line, to the passionate delivery of West End performer Peter Caulfield and the raw rock edge of Nikki Lamborn—blended with the diversity of the instrumentalists took the track somewhere I didn’t know it was possible to go. I also felt really honoured that Georgey had chosen me to sing a particularly special line and was happy that it went down well with the others.

After the playback, the choir headed into the studio and tried to work out a logical place for us all to stand. This, at one point, involved six-foot tall Beth standing (much to her disapproval) on a box behind Emma and I; two of the shortest people in the whole group. But we soon got it sorted and the singing could begin. The studio became extremely hot with so many bodies in such close proximity; to the point where I began to regret donning my uber-fashionable and patriotic tartan blazer; but thankfully we all made it through without incident.

Georgey had the tough task of ensuring that we were all singing the same thing at the same time, but she’s a complete pro and after a few takes—in which she encouraged us to dig deeper and sing louder each time—we nailed it. There were many more laughs and memorable moments during the group recording and the limits of my comfort zone were tested yet again as we shot the end of the video. One of the main things I took away from that weekend is how even the most impossible of things can seem easy when you’re surrounded by a group of people that you know support you completely.

The L Project choir

It’s difficult to be objective about something when you’ve been so immersed in its creation and when you believe in it so deeply, but, after a final playback with the chorus included, I left the studio in no doubt that we had produced something really special. If the love and effort we put into the song translates across to the listener, as I believe it does, you really are in for a treat.

As most of us headed our separate ways, I had to say goodbye to many people that, over the course of a day or two, I had come to consider as friends. It’s amazing what a special bond can be created in such a short time when people come together with a common goal and I really hope that most of those goodbyes were actually just see you laters.

As the hotel crew headed back to Blackfriars, most of us were experiencing a heady mix of exhaustion and adrenaline. Putting our tiredness aside, we decided that we deserved a celebratory drink. I didn’t expect any of us to last long, but somehow (okay, it might have been the shots) we seemed to find a second wind. It didn’t take long for the singing, dancing and terrible puns to start and, before we knew it, it was 4am and we were being politely asked to leave the bar. Not because we were causing a disturbance, of course, but because the staff had to set up for the “early bird” breakfast!

On Monday morning, checking out meant saying goodbye to more people; including Georgey and Sofia; to whom I owe an awful lot. They’ve been a big part of what has become the most special time of my life and they have given me opportunities I never thought I’d get. I’m grateful to Sofia in particular for welcoming me into the blogging group from day one and guiding me through some of the most unexpected and overwhelming moments of my life. They both give up so much of their time, energy and talent to run The L Project; they do it with limited resources and they do it whilst holding down jobs. For this project alone, Georgey wrote the music and, along with Sofia, co-wrote the lyrics and brought together the most incredible group of artists and crew. Georgey also secured sponsorship and coordinated transport and accommodation for everyone involved. They both spent the whole recording weekend in the control room, directing and supporting every artist, as well as singing themselves. Their work didn’t stop when we left the studio either. Georgey will be heading back to London to finalise the mix at the end of this month, then they both have press-releases and promotion—perhaps even some live performances—to organise. Sofia has been busy creating all of the amazing “We’re All Human” artwork that you see online and was even working on that in any spare time she could grab in the studio.

The L Project uses a heart as their logo and Georgey Payne and Sofia Antonia Milone really are the beating heart of the whole thing. I’ve no doubt that they’ve touched more lives than they will ever realise. Mine is just one of them. I’m proud to be involved with The L Project and I’m proud to call them my friends.

Being a part of this project has been the best experience of my life and this is just the beginning…

Soon it will be your turn to become a part of the song’s journey too; by listening to it, downloading it and sharing it far and wide. Not only will you be sharing a fundamental truth that, really, we ARE all human, but every time you do, you’ll be helping The L Project raise money for other humans that really do need our support.

- Julie Price

The L Project's second charity single, "We're All Human", is scheduled for release on May 4th 2014. Keep up to date with all the latest news about the song on Facebook and Twitter.

You can follow Julie Price on Facebook and Twitter.