Adrian Drew, David Crowhen, Craig van Kan and Adam Morton make up Tāmaki Makaurau rock act INVESTIGATOR who celebrate the twin-release of their debut album ‘Shade’, along with lead single Sores, on 11/11/22. Reflecting on life, the album is a juxtaposing collection of bright songs with dark undertones – melodic rock that, while sometimes brooding, is always leavened with optimism.
Singer, songwriter and producer, Adrian Drew, the instigator of INVESTIGATOR, volunteered to tell NZM about, errrm, picking at his Sores.
It’s been a round for a while but to explain the origins of Sores, I remember feeling especially upset at the world. Not just your everyday upset, but vulnerable and bullied. I was getting it from all angles and not coping too well. Knowing that some of my best stuff came from these places I set to work channelling those emotions.
I often start songs with an opening lead guitar, it gives me direction as to the tone of the song, is it dark or light, minor or major? I wanted it to sound ominous, almost like the start of the song was teetering on the edge of a precipice. I also recall that this was around the first time I was toying with a capo and different keys and fell in love with the capo on the 4th fret. Now my E minor became G#m/Abm and I could instantly hear the opening lines, “I won’t sit cause I can’t stay, yes it’s sh#! that I don’t change.”
I remember writing the first two verses and the chorus in that one sitting. The final verse wouldn’t come until much later – it’s written in a different coloured ink and the bridge structure seems to be another pen! I think there’s at least four updates to the original. I can see some backing vocals written in a pink ink, no idea why and they didn’t even make the demo… Neither did the humongous tea stain on the page, although it does add to the aged vintage vibe.
Sores has gone through a number of changes over time. I had finished a demo in 2017 for the original album, but flicking through the original Warwick 1E8 Quad Book, it looks like the first song I wrote after leaving my radio career to pursue music in 2015!
It was meant to be included in the original album I was working on, ‘The Outcome of Dust’, but I recorded a pop-rock EP of new material instead. It didn’t have the same vibe so I put it on the shelf with other darker numbers. And it was dark, too dark. Not lyrically, but tonally. All the demos had a plexi-drive effect on the guitars, but it was a bit muddy and lacked dynamics. In the studio we went with more of a Marshall sound.
Lyrically, this is one of the few times that I used my own first-person narrative,”… but mine’s the lonely song you hear today.” Although the chorus is actually a voice inside my head telling me to stick to the status quo, stay in the box created for you and don’t show any emotion.
It wasn’t until the very last demo that I totally changed the chorus melody and syncopation. I felt that’s where the song was the weakest, a bit flat. You can hear the anguish in my voice from the onset when I literally crack into the opening verse. My favourite lyrics are, “Once I lived down memory lane, what I’d give to have it all again. Time’s not the only to heal the pain, but times were lonely so a choice was made.” I was essentially replacing unconditional love with other devices.
A couple of years ago I added a lead line throughout the verses, which has become kind of a signature for the track. The band played this version at a practice with a drum loop, Craig was having hand surgery at the time. I remember both Adam (guitar) and Dave (bass) thinking that it had legs, but we also struggled to ever really nail it… so back on the shelf it went!
As I started to compile all the songs for this album, I revisited Sores. I sped it up, slowed it down and then sped it up again, eventually landing at 145bpm. It originally had a swing to it, but I felt it detracted from the lyrical style. So I had Craig (drummer) come up to my newly built studio and we worked on it solidly over the weekend. We started throwing some 16ths on the hi-hat and then went crazy and added 32nds in the last part of each bar, almost sounding like a tambourine.
We then transitioned with some toms (there’s some really cool toms across the whole album) into a crashing, smashing chorus. This was added to the final demo that I sent Kane. Prior to this, songs only ever had drum loops that I had created, due to the inability to record an actual live drum kit.
As per most INVESTIGATOR songs, Sores has some amazing added guitars from producer Kane Bennett of Soundscape Studio – he comes up with all the big guitar solos, spooky synths and anything we feel the song needs. I recommend finding a producer who is invested in your work, knows what should be added and what can be taken away. Having a guy like Kane that can do these things and then play those parts is a huge bonus. He also does some backing vocals, you can hear his high notes in the last chorus, really high notes. Another plus, Kane used to front heavy metal band, Sonic Altar, so when I hear an extremely ‘out of my range’ vocal melody, I throw it his way!
Sometimes there’s a sound in your demos that just have to replicate in the studio, but it’s never that simple. I absolutely love the bass in Sores, it’s very Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order), and took us quite a while to replicate in the final recording.
Firstly, we worked out that I’d played it wrong on the demo, I was out of time and had some extra unnecessary notes in there, so Dave (bass) and Kane had to figure out how to get right in the studio. Originally I recorded on an old Samick P Bass by playing up the neck, through a Fender Bassman modelling pedal, bit of EQ and a hefty amount of limiter to get that twangy sound. There was a lot of back and forth and it wasn’t until someone suggested throwing another take on top an octave higher that we managed to get it… and that bass sound is across most of the album now.
While we were in the studio, Kane also came up with the idea of single-strummed guitar chords in the chorus. I was originally giving it everything but it didn’t leave any bass space, and the drums were already pretty intense. Less sometimes is more.
The biggest challenge I faced personally with Sores was playing the verse rhythm guitar parts. I often write with a very percussive guitar style, palm mute and staccato, with each song being slightly different and not always on the beat. It took forever to re-learn that rhythm and created a small headache for Kane and Dave. Sorry! Unfortunately, Adam wasn’t available for the recording session of Sores, so to add to my stress, I was left- and right-tracking chords and power chords that I had only managed to get my head around days before going into the studio.
Sores wasn’t the first song to go on the album, it was recorded third to last, but we all knew it was a single. I think it’s the perfect bridge from the old INVESTIGATOR, with the pop-rock sound, to the more alternative rock that INVESTIGATOR has become. It started out as solo project, and as I gathered a band around me, I started to write and revisit songs that sounded more like a band and this also started pushing my playing ability further.
I went from ’80s nostalgia on the self-titled EP, to alternative ’90s teen rocker. Makes sense, since release day coincides with my 45th birthday, what better way to relive your youth than to pour some of your favourite influences of that generation into a rock album.
If I hadn’t kept pushing myself musically, I don’t think I would’ve ever finished Sores, it almost didn’t make the record and now it’s one my favourites. Every time that I play it I’m reminded of just how far INVESTIGATOR has come and the realisation that, I’ve only just begun.