un|broken

"Absolutely crackers"

Music Directors Colin Peckham and Dave Biddulph, and engineer Euan McRae discuss the creation of the Exile Band's debut album with Mark Calder.

IF you'd mentioned the un|broken album to Euan McRae a month ago, you may well have had a sobbing sound-engineer on your hands. Hundreds of hours of recording meant hundreds more hours sifting and mixing - countless Red Bull-maintained sessions in which creativity was demanded of man surviving on next to no sleep.

For him, un|broken is unprecedented in at least one way: "This is the first project that has given me a nervous tic above my left eye."

Unbroken indeed. So is this simply the cool masochistic dedication of a pro with high production values? There's more to it than that.

"The songs have caused many tears in the production process - not from the pain of producing them, but in response to their lyrical content. For anyone who examines their faith honestly there are some significant challenges in all of these songs as well as significant affirmation."

It's been worth the wait then. The Exile Band has been in existence since 2003 and the idea of recording recurred frequently. However, Dave Biddulph, the album's Co-producer and long-time Exile Band bass player had resisted the temptation to go for an album simply for the sake of posterity.

"People had asked before if we would do an album but we didn't play any original music, and I didn't see the point in just copying other people's music and having another "worship CD" when the same tracks are all on about 20 other CDs in the shops.

"The first time I thought that we had music that could reach people was when I was up in St Andrews at quite a low point in my life. I listened to a couple of demo tracks - one from Rebecca and one from Mark that we'd played in Soulgait [a Fringe show about the Psalms] - and I realised that the music was there, that music was at least available to us that could definitely reach people at quite a low ebb."

It's informative then that the album draws heavily on scripture, often used verbatim. un|broken emulates biblical diversity by preserving voices of doubt, disillusion and rage, as well as those of conviction, repentance, hope, restoration and praise.

"There's no question of it not resonating," says Colin. "Scripture has been shown to resonate with all peoples through time.

"And I think there's an honesty about the songs on this album which is rarely seen in such open terms in Christian music - from the questioning of "Thirteen" through to the affirmation of "Rumours" and the fantastic "My God How Great You Are"; from Steph's honesty in "Little By Little" to his passion and enthusiasm in "Shining Light". I think if you're an honest Christian who struggles like the rest of us this album can't fail to speak to you."

"I think that's what attracted me most to the first few songs that I listened to and that we ended up working with" says Dave, whose own story involves drug addiction and homelessness.

"They were all coming out of personal experience - I personally could relate to all of the lyrics on the album."

Notwithstanding this lyrical theme, does un|broken work as an album, as opposed to a compilation? The three song writers did not collaborate to any great extent, so the result could easily have been disparate and unwieldy.

"There's huge credit due to Dave and Colin," says Euan. "People listening to the album will hear the immense way their musical differences have come together to form something that is at times spectacular."

(What? "Musical differences" cited as a reason for a project working, rather than breaking down?)

"I can?t imagine there are many albums available at the moment that would satisfy so many coming from such different backgrounds," Euan continues. "It's eclectic but it works for some strange reason that I can't quite put my finger on. That was one of my concerns throughout the whole process that I wasn't quite sure how it would gel together - if you take Shining Light and Be Still you couldn?t get two more contrasting sounding songs and yet they're on an album together, they're a song apart and they work together."

Colin adds: "Using the choir and orchestra throughout brings a thread of similarity to the music, although this is certainly one of the most eclectic albums that anyone will ever come across.

"With Dave doing the band arrangements in Edinburgh and me doing the orchestrations and choir arrangements in Cape Town, it did end up with several really long Skype conversations. Conversations that went something like: "No, no, I mean this: "der-der-du-duh-dum-da-dum""

Continuity

The Exile Band emerged from the old Origin Gospel Night choir, band and orchestra, and it was important to the producers that the album retained some continuity with this heritage.

As Euan puts it: "When I listen to music I gravitate to voices as I think most people do. On this album the voices tie it all together."

This desire to keep the trademark choir and orchestra sound nevertheless created a lot of work. "I think in terms of scale, what we've done would have been ambitious for a pro group and is absolutely crackers for an amateur group - particularly in such a short space of time. I mean this has taken 12 weeks and you would expect to produce a small acoustic album in 12 weeks. So scale wise it's frightening. But we got there. We absolutely got away with it."

People

un|broken emerges out of a crucible then, which forced very different people to work at full stretch and in intense proximity. Dave recalls:

"I think at times, like any close knit sort of thing that's working hard, we went though a range of emotions. Moments of great joy, huge laughter - the amount of laughter was brilliant. And there were times of tension, times when people had to be honest and open enough to sort out any problems that were going on. But these things if they did present themselves were dealt with quickly. And I think people grew even closer together because of that."

New to Origin, Euan had a unique insight into this interpersonal dynamic: "I had some interesting preconceptions about Colin. They were very quickly dispelled and we forged a great friendship - as I felt with many of the guys involved with the project. I think that it was interesting to see a group of people working together whom I could see were so different in their make up. Under the strain of the hours we were working I was amazed how well we got on and really felt it was God?s sustaining hand upon us."

Perhaps it's telling then that the name un|broken emerged during the most intense week of the project in a studio on Mull.

"That was a joint one between Mark and me, as I vaguely recall," says Colin. "It kind of stuck in our heads for a bit. Then we chatted with the other guys and it stuck in their heads. Then I happened to read in my Bible-reading the following day the verse that Mark had quoted in response to the un|broken idea which was about the bruised reed [Mat 12:15-21]. And the name stuck and everyone felt it was kind of appropriate. It really does seem to fit with the feel of the album.

"Our hope was that this album would reach out to broken people. Of which I am one."