"It was a really amazing gift for us as a group," acknowledges Michael Bloch, guitarist for Brooklyn quartet Here We Go Magic. The gift? Nigel Godrich, the producer and "sixth member" of Radiohead, offered his services for the band's new album, A Different Ship. Godrich and Thom Yorke became fans of the band after randomly catching their afternoon set at Glastonbury a couple of summers ago and venturing backstage for a chat.
Bloch explains that after self-recording and producing all earlier releases, "we were at a point in our development where, without an outsider's objective point of view, we would have gotten stuck."
Still, it was with some trepidation that the band went into the studio with him. In fact, the effort got off to a bad start: Six weeks of recording in Los Angeles, along with the entire record company advance, resulted in nothing the band or producer cared to keep.
According to Bloch, the band had always written and recorded spontaneously, working off a lyric and structure brought in by singer/songwriter Luke Temple. But the group wanted to impress Godrich and make the best use of his time. They wrote and rehearsed 17 songs in the two months before going in, and were exhausted.
Once in the studio, they began playing the songs live repeatedly.Through the process, the band and producer bonded, and mutually concluded the songs they'd prepared just "weren't inspiring." So while the sessions were necessary for Godrich to understand how to get the best performance from the band, none of the songs were used on the album.
The band spent its own money for six weeks in his London studio. There, the songs were conceived and recorded using their spontaneous process, with Godrich guiding and contributing. The band returned to New York, leaving him to mix the tracks. Three days of additional recording were arranged to coincide with other business that brought Godrich to New York.
By late October, the producer needed someone to join him in London to complete the mix and decide on song sequencing. The job fell to Bloch.
"It was obvious to all that 'Hard to Be Close' would be the first track, since it was a microcosm of the journey presented by the album as a whole," he explains. "You think you know where your ear is when the song starts, but it's in a totally different world by the time it ends."
Working with Godrich wasn't the only serendipitous event. In May, as the band was driving their van from Ohio to Indiana, they passed a hitchhiker that looked so much like movie director John Waters, they turned back to see.
Sure enough, it was him, hitchhiking to collect material for a book. A few tweets and Instagrams later, the story went viral. This summer, the band will be opening for Coldplay on several North American dates, raising their visibility even further.
Here We Go Magic performs at Sons of Hermann Hall on Monday, June 18.