NOVEMBER 2008 WAS A MONTH TO REMEMBER FOR MR RASCAL
Amidst a cancelled wedding, a death in the family and some ridiculously bad luck were a series of sinister and curious tropical storms. In the deep hours of the night the streets of Brisbane became confetti-filled water courses and wind tunnels.
Stumbling through insomnia, sadness and these dream-like weather apparitions Christian Duell accepted the challenge to write and record an album in a month. What resulted was not so much an album but more an explosion of all of these experiences into songs.
Months later, the dust has settled on this memorable and turbulent month and the experience of November has now been revisited with a faithful remixing of the entire recording by renowned engineer Bryce Moorhead. The remixed recordings capture the spontaneity of the song-writing and performances, contained in the natural character of Brisbane's Old Museum Concert Hall.
The experiment of 'My, What a Big Black Cloud' has produced remarkable results. Not only does it have a semblance of album-like coherence, with common themes and sounds, it also hints at the numerous future possibilities for Mr Rascal's sonic direction.
'My, What a Big Black Cloud' is be available as a limited hard-copy release from independent retailers and online. The recording is also be available as a digital download from iTunes, emusic and Amazon.
For more details visit www.myspace.com/misterrascal and http://www.facebook.com/misterrascal
22 July, 2009, Time Off Magazine
MR. RASCAL’S CHRISTIAN DUELL ENDURED A TUMULTUOUS 30 DAYS TO WRITE AND RECORD HIS SOPHOMORE ALBUM MY, WHAT A BIG BLACK CLOUD. MITCH KNOX CHATS TO THE MAN BEHIND THE STORM ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE.
“I’ve got a really basic understanding of recording so it was an opportunity to challenge myself and see what I can do,” singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Christian Duell, better known as the creative force behind local ensemble Mr. Rascal, says of his decision to write and record an album in a month. “The way I songwrite as well is a really slow and casual process, so I often just get a melody in my head, record it on my mobile phone and just let it sit for a long time, and just add to it when I feel like it and as it grabs me. The first Mr. Rascal album’s songs were developed over a couple of years and so this sort of songwriting process was the complete other end of the spectrum in that I had 30 days basically to take an idea and turn it into fully fledged songs.”
But the recording process of what would become the rather aptly named ‘My, What A Big Black Cloud’ was marred by a string of mishaps, non-events and bad luck.
“Well, not just bad luck but just a lot of stuff happening in one month and it sort of came together at the same time that I’d agreed to do this album in a month,” Duell continues. “So basically from the first of November, event after event seemed to get in the way of everyday life and it made for some interesting songwriting and some interesting songs.”
Every cloud has a silver lining – even big black ones – and Duell nonetheless found some release in his music.
“If I hadn’t been songwriting, I would have found other ways to deal with everything that was going on, and I guess it was a really great time to be doing that,” he says. “The songs, and the whole reason I’m releasing this as a release is not necessarily that I think it’s brilliant, but that I think it’s a really interesting summary of a person’s experiences over a month and how they can translate into songs; those emotions, those feelings, those reflections and experiences can just intuitively end up as songs. Over time, on reflection, it has been therapeutic.”
My, What A Big Black Cloud marks the second occasion Duell has worked with producer Bryce Moorhead, having previously collaborated on Mr. Rascal’s debut effort, Pocketfuls Of Smoke.
“I played every instrument on My, What A Big Black Cloud, so I wrote all the songs, played all the instruments, did all the recording, did a pretty horrible job of mixing it, and then got Bryce Moorhead, who did our first album, to remix, and that’s the version that we’re releasing,” Duell laughs. “So he’s made it really different and he’s really captured the life and spontaneous and intuitive sense of those recordings and made it sound great. He’s a great guy and we’ve got such a good relationship now after working together for a while that I can really trust him.”
While Duell is clearly excited about My, What A Big Black Cloud’s release, he indicates it is not the “official” second Mr. Rascal album.
“This recording is something that I’ve just wanted to do justice,” he says. “But in terms of a proper Mr. Rascal second album, I’ve got really high ambitions about doing that in a spectacular way. We’ve already got plenty of what I think are really good songs that I want to develop further, and we want to get some serious money together and do a great – you know, a spectacular – second album. That’s probably a more long term thing over the course of next year, but we’re sort of doing this to just keep active while we build that monster.”
21 July, 2009, Rave Magazine
Think of the most emotionally draining month of your life. Did you write and record an entire album in those 30 days as well? SIMON TOPPER talks to CHRISTIAN DUELL, the sleep-deprived man behind the ever-changing collective MR RASCAL.
Two albums in, and for the local collective-band-idea Mr Rascal, masterminded by Christian Duell, there are so far two very distinct ways to create an record:
1. For the 2008 debut A Pocketful Of Smoke, write and record over a year or so in various places with up to 16 people floating in and out of the line-up; and…
2. For the new album My, What A Big Black Cloud!, write, record and mix the entire album from scratch in 30 days. With a line-up of just one.
Duell starts by explaining that the second Mr Rascal album isn’t actually the Second Mr Rascal Album at all – that’s still some time away. My, What A Big Black Cloud is instead an experiment that documented possibly the most extraordinary month of his life. A remarkably accessible and non-literal audio-diary that he’s decided to reveal to the light of day.
“How it came about was a mate of mine found out about this thing in America – the National Solo Album In A Month idea. You just start writing on November 1st, and within 30 days you write, record, mix and have a completed product at the end of it. Some mates and I decided to give it a go, one each, and just see what we could come up with.
“So right before November last year, I lucked into getting some after hours access to the Old Museum in Bowen Hills. There are some amazing instruments there that you can hear, like bongos and a big gong, a harp, some beautiful grand piano, plus I brought in all my guitars and mandolins and a banjo.”
Spurred on by his self-imposed deadlines, and lucky accessing to an array of instruments, Duell began writing songs for the record. However, as luck would have it, this November-long project coincided with a number of significant turning points in his life.
“My grandfather died in November, and I was really close to him. I was supposed to get married in November, which we cancelled, and then I ran into an old girlfriend, and we fell in love. Coupled with all of that there were these insane tropical storms in November.
I started the month fresh and in a good state of mind and as these things happened, as the month went on, I became more sleep deprived, and with that looming deadline the whole thing became more surreal and dreamlike. Inside the museum at night, especially with the storms, can be a scary place too. I had that instinctive scared feeling I haven’t had since I was a kid. The whole reality versus songwriting creative dreamland where I was thinking about developing the songs in every waking moment is so different to the way that I’ve worked in the past. The whole thing had so much of a different energy.
“The reason I’m releasing it is because putting myself in that cocoon of having to write and record an album in a month, brought all of that stuff from my life into the songs.”
Unless you’re living in Erinsborough that’s one hell of a month, and the record reflects this life-changing time, marching out of Duell’s cosy folk/alt-country comfort zone in ways both challenging and reassuring. “This project’s helped me think of new directions, new sounds that are a possibility. My vision for the next Mr Rascal record, the second one proper, is something spectacular, a big budget record. Mr Rascal’s not a folk band, not a country band – it’s whatever we decide to play. I want to do a big R&B record too.
15 July, 2009, Scene Magazine
'My, What a Big Black Cloud' is the product of Christian Duell's 'album in a month' challenge. He wrote, sang, played and recorded the ten-track effort in November last year, amongst personal sorrow, happiness, freak weather and a historical setting. As an emotional recount of his experiences, it is evident within the tracks that Christian was grieving, healing and looking ahead. Other tracks are just deliciously cute. With an array of amazing instrumentals (borrowed from Brisbane's Old Museum, where he recorded) and gorgeously tender vocals, his sound comes off as rather beautiful.
15 July, 2009, Scene Magazine
Named after the extreme weather suffered by all those in Brissy last November, ‘My, What a Big Black Cloud’ is a solo record from Mr Rascal (aka Christian Duell). After accepting the challenge to write and record an album in a month, Christian mastered ten tracks.
‘It’s an albums worth of songs but its not really an album. It didn’t consciously come together, it’s more like a diary of all my experiences from November last year”, Christian says.
Mr Rascal recorded in the old Brisbane Museum, which sounds like a hell of a studio. ‘It’s where the Queensland Youth Orchestra practices so I had access to these amazing orchestra instruments and acoustics. I was able to play gongs, great grand pianos and all these instruments that I wouldn’t usually have in my own bedroom. And also, if you remember in November last year we had some crazy weather. So I’d be in the museum recording till 1am in the morning and building’s roof was paper thin so it would leak. You can even hear the thunder and cracking of lighting in the recordings.”
With November came problems in Christian’s personal life. Alongside the extreme weather, it certainly was one intense month to write and record an album.
“It was a dramatic setting and in between working and all the crap I was going through in my personal life, as the month unfolded and I got more tired and pressured to finish it, the whole experience became more dreamlike and surreal. My sense of reality just drifted away.”
As a result, the record has songs ranging from emotional highs to lows. “There were also positive things that happened in November and the songs on this recording are just the whole range of experiences a person can feel in 30 days,” he says. “It’s not just about mourning, there’s optimism, excitement, fun and energy in there too.”
With the recording’s launch coming up, anticipate the usual from Mr Rascal. That is, something different. “No two Mr Rascal shows are the same and we have quite a revolving line-up of musicians. This time there’ll be brass, classical guitar and the usual band. We’ll be playing quite a few songs of the new release as well as a few newer ones. It’ll be like the usual Mr Rascal stage show but with some new songs and new energy.