The Journey is the new album from Wet Wet Wet, theirseventh LPbut the firstwith singer Kevin Simm. Released on November 5th, it features the singles Going Back To Memphis and The Conversation. All twelve tracks on The Journey were written and recorded during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021; a process that the band at times found pushed them to their very limits, but the result is an album with the soul, feel and strength of songs that the band’s debut ‘Popped In Souled Out’ has.
Writing and recording during a worldwide pandemic and national lockdowns set Wet Wet Wet a unique set of challenges, bassist Graeme Clark elaborates, “The way we would typically work is somebody has a piano line or something if you’re all there together, that works, but what happens when you can’t all come together? For The Journey, the easiest way to describe what happened was people were bringing in half or three quarter finished songs and then throwing it over to the rest of the band to see what people would do and how they would interact with it. It can go somewhere else and be completely changed without any input from me, and it can move in another direction. It’s an interesting way to write songs and think; the testament of this album is that it sounds like we were all together at the same time. We try and do something different every time, and with The Journey, I think we’ve done that. It’s perhaps the most direct album that we’ve made since the first one.”
For singer Kevin Simm, who was writing and recording with the band for the very first time, the process was particularly tricky “It’s a testament to the talent within the band and willingness as well to just do it, to suck it up and commit to writing and recording this way. Some people wouldn’t entertain the thought of not going in the studio and not having that luxury of someone else doing everything for you. Recording new music is something we discussed from early on after my joining the band, but there’s no point in just jumping straight in. We have to have chemistry between each other. Just before the pandemic hit, we talked about starting getting in the studio and writing together and then obviously, COVID came along and it kind of got put on the back burner a little bit because we weren’t really sure how to how to do it. Then we did a few acoustic-like cover things on social media over lockdown, and we kind of just started from there. So it was kind of organic, but at the same time, we had sort of plan to do this at some point. We just kind of wanted to write good songs and then have a collection of songs to choose an album from.”
During the first few writing sessions over Zoom and FaceTime the band developed a way of working that they would continue with for the rest of the album, Graeme Clark “I would bring a 75% finished song in, throw over a Kevin and say, I’m kind of stuck here. What would you do to move it on? And, you know, for me, that was the beautiful thing hearing what his input was.” Drummer Tommy Cunningham found the new way of working took a little getting used to “Collaboration is a very big part of writing a song and performing a song. And when you’re doing it in isolation, I can’t finish anything unless I’m bouncing off someone else. So, I would send out an idea, and Kevin would say it feels a bit slow and it’s not in a good key for me. I will then change that and spend week on it and then send it back down. And then Kevin would send up a great vocal, and that’s when you’d go, guys. I think there’s something working here and we can move forward. I didn’t have the ability to record at home, what I had was four days in the studio and 17 songs to record. I listened to the songs twice and then I would run through each song twice, three times at the most and then move on so my experience is different from Graeme, Neil Graham, Kevin it was very bizarre for me. Normally, I’m in a studio for three months, watching a song being born. This was very different. After I’d done my bit, it went away, and I didn’t hear it for another month or so and Graeme would craft more backing vocals onto it and an extra guitar part and then next time I hear it go on as a string part or a piano part or a new harmony. So it was very, very unusual.”
Graeme Clark “We used to go and make her albums, you know, we would go in a residential studio, maybe a particular house for months on end, then you would have nothing else to do, so you end up overcooking it. This time we knew we had a period of time, we finished writing this album in March and then it was the drilling down of the 16 songs we’d written and then comes the part where you have to be harsh. We have to say what works with that song? Is it 16 guitars? Some things sound better just having one guitar. Maybe we got a wee bit self-indulgent in the past and here it was much more about right here’s the song, what are you going to do to make it better?”
According to keyboard player Neil Mitchell, the process of writing and recording a new album was never in doubt, “We’d always wanted to do some recording since Kevin became the singer because we hadn’t really done new music since 2014. With Kevin there, it’s a different person with a different input, he’s 15 years younger than us, and it’s a different dynamic that’s refreshing and exciting. It’s given us a new lease of life. Maybe because we were all locked down maybe that kind of pushed it more because there wasn’t a lot you could do anyway. With the power of zoom and things like that we could all record stuff on our computers, and I guess that can help things”.
Drummer Tommy Cunningham cites guitarist Graeme Duffin, the unofficial fifth member of the band, as the glue that kept everything together. “Graeme has been the totem pole, the post in the middle, holding up the big top. He’s been overseeing it all. At times, I’ve spoken to him, and he’s been tearing his hair out. He’s been incredible. Neil also singles Duffin out for praise “He’s got his own kind of studio up in Glasgow he was the one that was kind of keeping it all together, I don’t know what we’d have done if we didn’t have him. It’s a big job to have all these tracks and make sense of them. There’s a lot of stuff to coordinate and not lose and people saying things like What is that? Oh, can you send me that again? He’s done that brilliantly in all of this.”
Graeme Clark credits Kevin Simm having given the band a new sense of purpose “It was good for Kevin and us to put his stamp on there because that’s so important. He’s the singer, and he’s the guy, he’s the face of the band, that’s an immense pressure for him. This has to be good and has to have gravitas and some sort of value to him. Hopefully, you touch people and they connect with it.” Tommy agrees saying “Kevin’s performances have lifted everything that we’ve done here to a new a new level, there’s a new way of looking at it, a new way of examining it because it’s a different human being telling the story and it’s wonderful, it’s a joy.”
Neil Mitchell says that the album was tough to make but that “We’re obviously very lucky to be in a band and we’ve been lucky enough be successful. It was tough enough anyway, just being on lockdown without trying to make an album. There were some times where you were just pulling your hair out. I would send something out that I thought was really good and spent a lot of time and then sometimes it didn’t fit at or they didn’t need my part anymore, which is fine but because you’re not in the same room together you can lose momentum. There was pressure on us because we had the release date, and you start to not even sleep at night you’re thinking about the record that it’s going to be late and you just want to get it finished.”
For Kevin making The Journey was unlike any other recording experience he’d ever had. “All the vocals for the whole of this album, were done in my home, I made a DIY vocal booth with my kids quilt cover over the back of it to stop the sound bouncing around.” He continues, “I came into this with a clear head thinking, well, I don’t want to sound like the old Wet Wet Wet because what’s the point in that? I wanted to bring a little bit of me into the equation. The Journey really is down to the willingness of everyone to sort of come in and do it this way and just the sheer talent within the band. I feel very proud that we’ve done this and the more feedback we getting the more I’m kind of excited for people to hear it. I don’t think we really had any sort of expectations but we knew that this album has to be good, it can’t just be like “you know, let’s just get something out with Kevin’s voice on it” it has to blow people’s socks off, and make people sort of reconsider me and respect what I can bring to Wet Wet Wet.”
Asked to sum up what The Journey means to him Tommy says “I don’t think if COVID had come along, we would have made the record, I think we would have done an EP, I think we would have done three songs and, and yet again, there would have been another greatest hits with these three songs on there because that’s where record companies would have would have felt more comfortable because they sell this again. However, We’re searchers, and we’re always searching for another way to do this. We have learned from Kevin about how much he’s had to face and how he is a fighter and determined. When we look at bands that are still going after 34 years it’s because they didn’t stop fighting and Kevin’s kind of brought that back to us. To some people, we’ll always be the smiley pop band of the 80s & 90s but inside, we are a soul band. We’re going to stand there and say, bring it on people!”
Graeme Clark says that the bands early forays into the studio with the legendary Willie Mitchell in Memphis (as heard on The Memphis Sessions) was at the forefront of his mind during the making of The Journey “He taught us about how he came to make things feel great. And that was always, something that we’ve tried to take through our whole career. Let’s just make it feel great. That’s something that I think was invaluable to us, you know, and being so exposed to that at a very early age. It helped us immensely and helped get us to where we are today.”