Neal Hoffmann & Sound

The story of Untrained Heart.

Neal Hoffmann album bc

It started with a band

Who played what
and where on new album Untrained Heart.

Track recording information

All vocals and instruments by Neal Hoffmann unless otherwise stated.

Under a Different Sun: Mix: Anders Bjelland (Broen Studio, Bergen)

Maybe Arizona: Cello: Celine Barry Backing vocals: Joakim Persson Mix: Julius Mauranen (Studio Kekkonen, Helsinki)

Not Johnny Cash: Horn: Oli Hickie Trombone: Sarah Mann Backing vocals: Joakim Persson Mix: Peter Junge (RecordMixing, London)

Untrained Heart: String arrangement: Neal Hoffmann Violins and violas: Antonia Pagulatos Cello (bass and staccato hooks): Miriam Wakeling Cello (legato parts): Celine Barry Mix: Anders Bjelland (Broen Studio, Bergen)

Give Way: Cello: Celine Barry Violin: Eva Wilde Drums: Jari Salminen Outro vocals: William Hut Mix: Anders Bjelland (Broen Studio, Bergen)

Vanity and Pride: Cello: Miriam Wakeling Mix: Anders Bjelland (Broen Studio, Bergen)

Instinct and Feel: Drums: Jari Salminen Trombone: Sarah Mann Backing vocals: Joakim Persson Piano: Jens-Kristian Mørkeby Rimau Mix: Anders Bjelland (Broen Studio, Bergen)

One Of Them: Bassoon: Corinne Camillo Cymbals: Josh von Staudach Mix: Neal Hoffmann (Fleetwood Road Studio, London)

Summer Time Bliss: Mix: Anders Bjelland (Broen Studio, Bergen)

℗ & © 2016 Amphibic Records Ltd London, All rights reserved.

Ideas behind the songs

Under A Different Sun

was written as a bit of a tongue in cheek song, about a fictional releationship in trouble that could only be saved, if at all, under a different sun.

Maybe Arizona

is a love song using imagery taken from the desert. I read Poet in New York, by the Spanish writer, Federico Garcia Lorca, and fell in love with the surrealist style and approach. So I just wrote down whatever popped into my head for an hour and then somehow edited it down to something that could pass as verses.

Not Johnny Cash

A couple of years ago it dawned on me that I might be turning into some sort of Johnny Cash type character. Then I decided to write a song where I was ‘trying’ to fight that trend. I guess, it’s a bit of an homage to the man.

Untrained Heart

Here’s a love song about someone who isn’t really listening to what their heart tells them. Yes, it is a personal story. I started recording it a bit like the other songs  when Josh heard the early incarnations of those recordings he said; “maybe you need to do this song completely different to everything else, maybe just try it with strings”. So I sat down for almost two months to completely re-work the song into an 11 piece string arrangement. Where a bit which was something close to a acoustic guitar rhythm/solo break became a violin solo.

Give Way

Started life a long time ago and it also had a different title and lyrics. But as you sort of grow with your skills and as a person, the old lyrics didn’t mean much to me anymore. So, I had to jettison the old lyrics in favour of new ones. This led to a new title as well. It talks about hitting difficulties and points towards the light at the end of the tunnel. I think I tried to express that as I was younger, things went quite well for me for quite some time, life seemed easy. As I got a bit older things became more difficult but I have retained a lot of my optimism. Even though I like to explore darker corners.

Vanity and Pride

This song was written towards the end of a relationship when I still believed it could be salvaged.

Instinct and Feel

In lots of ways I think of myself as someone who follows his head and has a very rational side. But I also follow my instincts a lot and have learned to trust that side of my personality. The song explores this and looks at the impact the approach has on a relationship.

One Of Them

This song imagines what it is like for a famous person to go home and hang out with friends and family, where no one thinks of them as a celebrity and they can just be one of them. Someone like Paul McCartney.

Summer Time Bliss

A few years ago summer didn’t seem to ever arrive. It was wet and cold for a long time and I thought, I’d write a summer song lamenting the its absence.

Untrained Heart, how was the album recorded

Let’s talk about the album ‘Untrained Heart’. Where was it recorded. Who mixed the songs. Which countries were involved, who did the mastering and so forth …

I think it all started with me recording demos for the last album with the band, using a digital 8 track recorder by Roland, called VS880. The results were quite respectable. From there I moved onto a Mac Mini and Logic Express which I used to record the drums for said album plus some of the vocals, additional keys and guitar bits. I learned a few things in the process and my mic collection started to grow very slowly. But the album suffered a couple of delays, mainly because the studio that was used had to relocate to new premises. That became quite a frustrating experience and I was determined to avoid situations like that in the future.

I guess it pretty much started me down the path of building my own studio in order to be independent.

I got some more software as well as mostly inexpensive instruments courtesy of ebay and continued learning the craft by recording more songs. A song I wrote as a reaction to the shooting tragedy in Norway, became a bit of a test case as to how far I could take my one man band, artist-arranger-sound-engineer-producer-mixer team. The song is called Half The Universe (is missing). I played various instruments, Jari Salminen recorded a drum track in Helsinki, Christine, Ingerlise and Jannicke from Ephemera in Norway, recorded lovely backing vocals and Antonia Pagulatos and Celine Barry came to Fleetwood Road, so I could record them playing violin, viola and the cello. I ended up mixing it myself with additional help from Mike Senior (Sound on Sound Magazine) who sent me a critique via email which really helped me, to up the quality. It was mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road who I had met when he was still at Metropolis Studios. The song was released digitally and free and you can also find it on Spotify.

I thought, “that went well!” and the idea to record an album and release it through my own label was pretty much born there and then.

Some songs had already been recorded as demos but needed extra work. I also recorded some songs from scratch. The extra work for the demos consisted mainly of re-recording a lot of the instuments and vocals. Recording all the strings and brass lines live and adding real drums or percussion sounds. After working on the recordings for a few months, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to mix them as well. I wanted people who mixed songs every day in order to push up the quality and also provide a fresh perspective. I felt it was important to find mixing engineers who understood my approach. I am a singer-songwriter who adds other instruments but it’s not a full band. The song and the voice had to take a front seat. Since I hadn’t worked with anybody for quite some time I decided to spread the risk by contacting people who mostly friends of friends. There was one studio in Norway (Bergen), one in Finland (Helsinki) and one in London. In the end I mixed one song myself, so you could argue there were two studios in London, that were involved at the mixing stage. Peter Junge, who did one of the London mixes introduced me to Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios for mastering. Her list of credits is very very long, but she has been mastering Björk’s music for a few years now as well as worked with Sigur Ros. I am very pleased with the result, loved working with Mandy and felt that we were in very good hands there.

Apart from using a big array of different instuments like an east German glockenspiel, a Selmer reed organ, a Hohner Pianet T electric piano, a Del Rey snare drum which I had found some years earlier, in Ealing, a ukulele, some sampled instruments, synths and soft synths there is also quite a bit of DIY going on as well. I used my fairly basic electronic skills to modify and improve some of my microphones even building one tube microphone from scratch. Old microphones were used for their character and or their quality. The same goes for a few microphone preamps I own. They include an old BBC designed broadcast preamp. All these factors helped me to get closer to recording what I would like to hear. I think in essence I’m after clarity but also warmth. A lot of people equate it with analogue. But I think a warm sound is perfectly achievable with digital, it is mainly the choice of instruments, choice of microphones and rooms in addition to their placement that does it. I still have tons and tons to learn, but I guess I have left the gate.

Anders Bjelland (mixing engineer, Bergen) asked me about a vinyl version of the album, since, as he said, “it’s vinyl music!”. I hope so too. Let’s see, there might be one in the future, for sale at live gigs.

One other aspect that I wanted to mention, was the concept of having some instruments recorded abroad. Instead of flying the instrumentalists here, we just booked a studio where they were and sent them the sound files and the score.

Corinne Camillo recorded her bassoon part at Solslottet Studio in Bergen, Kristjan recorded the piano for Instinct & Feel at Broen Studio, Bergen. Joakim Persson recorded some backing vocals himself in Sweden, Josh recorded and programmed cymbals in Germany and William Hut was also recorded in Norway. Helsinki got in on the act, as Jari contributed with drums for two songs. Lots of people are doing this now, as it has become very easy to do it using technology that wasn’t available some years back.

Neal Hoffmann


From the band Amphibic to starting a studio and record label

So we had a band called Amphibic, played gigs in London and recorded various demos in small London studios using digital ADAT’s and tape machines. The last demo was recorded at Scarlet Studio in Tottenham Hale using 16 track tape. The songs were, Dear Caffeine, Eden and The Maze. A friend with TV and production experience offered to produce a video which we shot, using upstairs at The Enterprise in Chalk Farm (Camden) for the band shots. Somehow this video got us a gig on a talent stage at a festival in Germany which in turn got us an offer to record for their brand new label. The year was 2004 and we ended up releasing two albums with Haldern Pop Recordings and had a great time!

Due to lots of factors we somehow couldn’t translate it into a successful venture where the income from gigs and record sales enabled us to keep going. But as the band kind of whithered away Neal kept going down the route to being a singer songwriter without a proper band but instead with a lot of different, mainly classical musicians, performing live gigs with him.

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