Sketches Of Europa Release
Since the beginning of this year I have been working towards the completion of 'Sketches Of Europa'. My aim was to get it out by the summer and this June I finally completed this SoulJahm album, which has been a long time coming.
Half the songs had already been released, some others had been recorded but needed to be mixed, and some required additional recording and mixing. Unsure for a while how to approach this, I ended up remixing the whole thing from scratch. That meant songs which were already released like "Giudecca" and "Karl-Marx-Allee" would get a new mix alongside previously unreleased tracks. This seemed to be the best way to get a cohesive sounding album, although it meant a lot more work. I'm delighted to finally get this finished and it feels another part of wrapping up the old to make space for the new.
The story of 'Sketches Of Europa' goes like this...
Having formed SoulJahm in March 2011 with just a handful of songs played on ukulele and melodica, by the summer of that year we had got together an album's worth of material and had intended on recording little demo tracks of them all for private future reference. The intention was we'd come back to them later once we had settled down somewhere and had access to better recording facilities. Since we were on the move around Europe, living hand to mouth, and nobody understood what the hell we were doing, we felt a bit of pressure to 'do something'. There was an inner process unfolding which we were aware of and trusted in but we couldn't show that to anybody else as anything tangible. You needed to be with us, living it daily, to understand. That is the dilemna of all awakening beings. How do you get society to recognise there is an inner intelligence governing things beyond all society's planning and calculation? In order to get people to trust in that you have to give them proof they can experience with the five senses but for you to be able to do that properly you need to go with that flow. How do you go with the flow when the rest of the world is dictated by time and money? Obviously a struggle is created in that conflict and that's what we found ourselves in. So to appease that slightly we began making the songs public, perhaps prematurely, but who knows?!
An opportunity came along in Milan, July 2011 to utilise the piano in an apartment we were staying in and so that became the backbone of these demos. In five days we recorded piano backing tracks for 11 songs and a further 2 were written and recorded in an apartment (also with piano) in Barcelona. We intended to add additional instrumentation as and when we could whilst moving around Europe.
This is why the first SoulJahm official release was "Christmas (C'mon)" in December 2011. It was not part of the collection of songs we'd recorded in Milan and Barcelona, it was an independent recording of its own which came about spontaneously in Paris after being inspired by the Christmas atmosphere. We approached that recording from the start with the intention of releasing it. The Milan/Barcelona songs were still intended to be private demos at this point, sketches.
We gave them the working title 'Sketches Of Europa', perhaps a subconscious nod to Miles Davis 'Sketches Of Spain', which was in my CD collection. As we progressed on our journey and finished up some of these recordings, we began releasing them as singles. I think "Why Do You Run" was the first, in the summer of 2012. "Giudecca" and "Italian Saturday" followed later that year and "Karl-Marx-Allee" in 2013. Behind the scenes, the rest of the recordings were in various states of completion. Some had vocals and some were without. New songs and recordings were coming through alongside this that were not part of the 'Sketches' collection, like "Where Are The People", "Balcarres Street" and "Nobody Wants You To Be Free".
What defined whether a song was part of the 'Sketches Of Europa' collection was whether it was recorded with either the Milan or Barcelona pianos. We had 13 songs in total and after those initial single releases we began talking about completing them all and putting out an album. 'Sketches Of Europa' seemed the obvious title.
Fast forward to 2015 where, having lost Kate, I was now back in Edinburgh with only an acoustic guitar, laptop, camcorder and audio interface. I had moved onto other songs in the preceding years but now started to take a listen back to these 'Sketches' recordings to remind myself what state they were in. That year I finished up "Drowning Into You". Kate and I had not put down a vocal for that one, all it had was drums and piano. So I added acoustic guitars, some percussion and vocals. This version ended up on the SoulJahm 'Live!' album.
The following year I worked on "Magica Fountain" and then "Suzanne", which by this time I had access to an electric guitar and bass again, both featuring on the track. They were released in 2017, the latter on the 'Live!' album and the former a single. A few years after this, in 2020, now with more tools at my disposal, I was able to complete "Metropolis". "Trojan Horse", "Mysterious" and "Nice" were only finally finished this year and I also went back to "Drowning Into You" from the 'Live!' collection and added strings, electric guitars, bass and new vocals.
A surprise during this process was discovering Kate and I had recorded a vocal for "Nice" which I was able to use. Sadly, there are some classic SoulJahm songs missing her vocal, like "Mysterious" and "Suzanne". Kate had harmony parts for these songs which you can hear on the live versions we did but we just never got round to recording studio vocals for those. Other songs like "Magica Fountain" and "Drowning Into You" she hadn't yet worked out harmonies for. We always did our vocals into one mic simultaneously for more of a live feel, so they can't be separated which I like, but limited the amount of editing I could do.
At the start of this year, with better gear available to me, I wanted to see if I could get more out of the recordings we'd already released. Nothing was added in terms of playing or instrumentation to these tracks, they are exactly what we recorded at the time, snapshots of that era that I didn't want to mess with but only enhance. I think I've managed to make everything sound bigger, clearer and more intimate. The strangest one to work on, perhaps, was "Mysterious" because it feels like one of the classic SoulJahm songs. Kate and I did previous versions of it, I've sang it many times busking and livestreams, and yet until now it had no proper studio version.
So this album has been in the making a long time, from 2011 to 2023, and it's nice to know those songs will be going out to the world and that Kate's beautiful harmonies will be heard and live on.
Sketches Of Europa is due for release on streaming and download platforms on the 17th June 2023.
You can download a pre-release version on Bandcamp at the following links: