In the fourth part of our series of guest blogs from LTTM friend Haydon Spenceley about the recording of his new band Ghost Tree’s debut album, Haydon gives us an update on the album and explains the heart behind some of the songs.
So I look out of my window as I begin to write this fourth blog entry for you about Ghost Tree’s recording trip to Nashville. It is cold, it is grey. It is raining. I must be home. It’s amazing that you can so comfortably gauge whether you’re in the UK or not by whether it looks like it might rain or not. I’m looking back over the last couple of weeks since I last wrote for Louder Than The Music and I have no idea where to start in how to describe simply how awesome, exciting, frightening and fattening the latter part of our trip has been. I suppose, as I wrote about my toilet travails last time, I should pick up from where I left off.
You’ll be pleased to know, no doubt that the only lasting damage from my brush with the bathroom was to my pride, but that was by no means the last of my hazardous health histrionics. Indeed, on the very next day, while Ben and Mark were tracking at Brown Owl (which may be one of the coolest places on the planet). I discovered a large bite on my arm. Upon inspection at the local hospital, it turns out I had been dinner for a Brown Recluse Spider. I don’t know whether I’m exaggerating, so please excuse me if I am, but apparently bites such as these are potentially fatal, so I was freaked out more than a little bit. Anyway, come 3am the next morning I was home tucked up in bed, having been treated well, but still a little bit scared, I must admit. One of the things that had scared me was the potential financial cost of visiting the hospital and paying for treatment (high). In this, as in every other aspect of this trip, God was faithful, and provided me with a route to claim on my insurance, and pay for the prescriptions I needed to deal with the problem. I am pleased to say that now my arm is completely healed and I am back to health. It was a sobering reminder of my need for God though, the kind of reminder that seemed to come for all of us who were involved in the record at one point or other in the trip.
The next day was another rhythm section day, with some keyboards for me to do as well. I took abundantly great joy in playing a couple of songs on a Fender Rhodes, and another on a wonderful old upright piano, before finishing with some time on a Wurlitzer. All great fun, especially on 4 hours sleep. We concluded at 2am with Kevin (producer) trying to work on a Wurli part that ended up requiring that he play the right hand and I play the left. Teamwork is dreamwork people! I should point out as well that Kevin and Brandon had gone well above and beyond the call of duty in taking me and staying with me all the way through my hospital experience the previous night, so we were all quite worn out by this point!
I also had the pleasure of coffee-ing with Chad Johnson that day. Chad is a total legend, who heads up Come and Live! and seeks God in a way which is consistently challenging to me. Come and Live! have some cool bands, and an even cooler heart for ministry. Keep an eye on what they’re doing, and pray for them.
With the rhythm section stuff laid down (with some amazing help from Chris Vicari), we were on to guitars, keys and vocals in week 3. This was last week, which went by in a total blur, as we powered through the remaining stuff that needed to be put down for the record. Allie Kelly, our guitarist, played some great stuff, and Kevin came up with some great production ideas to augment and improve on what we had. Later in the week, another new friend, Ryan Stubbs, came along and sprinkled some magic dust over various parts of the record with guitar parts that were so cool it didn’t really seem fair. I sang some of the most challenging vocals I’ve ever had to record (including one standing up, which was like my own personal Mount Everest), and then before we knew it, our parts were done, and it was time to go home.
It was fascinating to me that my songs, written (mostly) in my bedroom back in the UK, seemed to provoke such amazingly positive reactions from guys we met in Nashville. Being British seems to be cool right now, and I with my “bizarre” and “silly” chord progressions (I was accused of being Prog at one point) seem to have made an impression on some people. This was cool, obviously, but not just from a vanity point of view. It was cool because I was able to just be myself, write and sing the songs that God had given to me, and here I was on the other side of the world, thousands of miles from home, and they were resonating with people I barely knew. Quite a confidence boost that. I guess it struck me that we need to push in to the things that God has for us. Not to push past Him, or run away from His still small voice, or His leadership down the narrow path that leads to life, but to stay in step with Him, to know that His character is to be generous, abundantly, to His children, and to trust His provision. I’ve worked hard over the years, and pushed on all kinds of doors that were closed, and were meant to be closed, but here was one that was wide open, and had only been made so by the grace of God, not by my merit, or through my ability to blag my way into something. There’s a lesson for me there, and I would guess I’m not the only one! For all those times when I’ve doubted my calling, it strikes me that I’d missed what my calling actually was. I remember writing here once before that life is less about doing and more about being, that it’s not what we do that defines us, but who we are. That statement’s always been true, but it’s so much more real to me now. God made me for Himself, not to be a musician, a Church minister, or anything else. He doesn’t need me to make an album, but He gave me the gifts and the grace I need, so that, with a lot of help, I can make an album to honour Him. Really, it takes a lot of the pressure off when you look at it like that. God provides for us to do everything He asks of us, but the primary thing He asks of us is love. He is love, and it is Him in us who makes us able to love, so we need to focus on Him, learn how to love, and then do it, in whatever area of life we are.
So now, looking back on the trip, I have to conclude it was the best few weeks of my life. Not without challenges or even frightening moments, as I said before, but without a shadow of a doubt the best time I’ve ever experienced. There’s nothing like seeking your calling from God over a prolonged period of time, and then finding that you’re actually walking (or rolling) it out, something I experienced here. I know, talking to the other guys, we’ll never be the same for what we’ve gone through either. I’m excitedly waiting to hear first mixes in a couple of weeks, and already we’re itching to find the best partners to release the record with, so that you can all hear it, and can experience with us something of the beauty and power of the God that we love through these songs.
Really, this is about so much more than a record, or an experience. For me, this was an experience of God, blessing me, teaching me, refining me, challenging me, to see myself for who I am, to see Him for who He is, and to walk in His way, confidently approaching His throne of grace, as He has invited me to do, and then taking the love and blessing I have received and sharing it with the world. That is what we want to do with these songs, this band. It’s cool to have great experiences, but it’s even cooler to know that our faith is on the solid rock of Christ, and I hope that when we come to release this EP in the latter part of this year, you will be blessed as you hear it, and led to worship and the one who loves you most of all.
If you want to keep up with us and our progress over the next few months, you can at @ghosttreeband – we’ll be launching our Facebook, Twitter, Reverbnation and everything else pages very soon!