(Please note. The photos here do not appear in the book.)
With regards to Virgin’s stipulations, ahough Jansen was not truly a ‘name’ producer, the label were pleased that two ex-members of Japan were back in the studio together. However, Karn still needed a vocalist to meet Draper’s original stipulation for agreeing to the album. Apparently, Jansen suggested the obvious: his brother. ‘Such audacity to mention the ‘D word’ to my face!,’ recalls Karn in his autobiography, going on to add somewhat disingenuously that ‘I hadn’t actually spoken to or seen Dave since the split, and if there were any grudges being harboured, they should be mine and not his.’ Karn had in fact seen Sylvian occasionally since ’82, attending the Perspectives preview in ’84 and instigating a meeting in ’85 at his flat between all ex-members in order to propose a re-formation. Whatever the dynamics, real or otherwise, Karn allowed Jansen to put in the request to which Sylvian readily agreed. The base of operations moved to the Townhouse studios in London to ‘record instruments not easily found in Bury,’ and to save Sylvian a trip to Manchester. According to Karn, Sylvian had initially worked out a vocal to what would become ‘Buoy’. This track, originally demo’d by Karn, started off as a completely different song with lyrics and vocals by Karn himself; a breezy, near Poppy number with Karn’s typically angsty lyrics; ‘…every move is killing me.’ This song existed as a rough 8-track demo which at some point Karn reversed. The definitive ‘Buoy’ would be transformed by Sylvian’s stately vocal and melody, underpinned by Karn and Jansen’s exquisite musical bed which again featured a reversed bass line. ‘The environment was a little tense,’ Karn would recall of the session, ‘but Dave was very helpful with suggestions and the vocal to ‘Buoy’ is one of the best I’ve heard him deliver …I couldn’t have been more pleased.’ ‘It was certainly nice to be working with Mick again,’ Sylvian would state in a radio interview that year, also implying that Jansen’s presence helped facilitate the process, ‘it was a really nice experience to be doing that again, but it was under very different conditions [to working as Japan]. I was working for Mick and that was a very different circumstance. I had my own ideas about how it should sound but I gave the final say to Mick about everything. I’d push a point if I really thought it was right but I left it up to him …I recorded my vocal and then left it up to him to mix and edit it as he pleased, and that’s the way it has to be.’
Sylvian was content to sit quietly in the studio once his vocal to ‘Buoy’ was completed and according to Karn it was then that Sylvian heard the music to what would become ‘When Love Walks In’ and jumped at the chance to put a vocal to it. Typically, Sylvian remembers the order of writing these two songs as the complete opposite. ‘When I went in to do the vocal for the first track, ‘When Love Walks In’,’ recalls Sylvian, ‘Mick played me some of the other tracks that he was working on and I heard what was to become ‘Buoy’. It wasn’t a track he’d planned to put a vocal on and when I heard it I said, “That’d be great with a vocal, have you thought about it?” He said, “No, but Steve had mentioned it,” and [asked] would I be interested in doing it? And that’s the way that worked.’ Whatever the timeline, the results spoke for themselves. Both vocal tracks were among the most accessible on the album, and ‘Buoy’ itself was a true jewel akin to Rupert Brooke crooning over a poppy Jaco Pastorius. Karn: ‘We were both incredibly nervous when we got to the studio, because we hadn’t been in a studio for longer than we hadn’t seen each other! But it went incredibly smoothly and turned out really well, because we both wanted to work together again.’ Sylvian would also contribute keyboards to ‘Land’. Another high profile guest was one time Manfred Mann main man, Paul Jones, who contributed searing harmonica to ‘First Impression’. ‘He was recommended to me by a company called Worlds End Management,’ explained Karn, ‘I just let him play what he felt and it was magic.’
By May ’86, the recording of what was now known as Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters (after Goya’s etching, The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters – ‘I know I’ll get slaughtered for that title,’ Karn admitted) was near complete. Karn, Jansen and Jiya then relocated to the Virgin owned Townhouse (studio 4) in London to mix the album throughout June. Dare (then Andy) Mason was the tape op at the sessions. ‘I’d been there about a year,’ he recalls, ‘and there’s a difference between working with big names and working with people you’re a fan of. I was definitely a Japan fan.’ Mason recalls the dynamic between the three as being ‘very relaxed. By then they had arrived at a very easeful level of communication. (Steve and Mick looked great, too. They were very handsome men and they came across as just old mates, really.) I wasn’t surprised that Mick didn’t hit it off with John Leckie. Leckie is undoubtedly a great producer but Mick was very, very fluid …he kind of made it up as he went along. It was a very relaxed session, one of my favourites in fact. Very clean sessions, no drink or drugs. You weren’t even allowed to smoke in the studio as I recall. The sessions ended late though …it was summer and I remember leaving the studio and walking home as it was getting light. When we first rolled the tape it struck me that it was quite an odd album, but then that would have been straight up my street. As I said, the dynamic was relaxed. Femi [Jiya] was one of the easiest-going men in the world and would never have inflicted his will on anything that Mick did. He understood how Mick’s thought processes worked. Mick definitely did need Steve there as a creative foil, and together they made a great team and I felt accepted by them all. We did only a few overdubs – some woodwind – and I don’t remember any disagreements at all, everything was very relaxed and smooth until …well, I think we all got a bit nervous when David came in to record his vocal.’
Here the timeline of how and when Sylvian sang on Karn’s album warps once again. Mason remembers the tracks for ‘Buoy’ and ‘When Love Walks In’ as being set up and ready for Sylvian’s vocal overdubs, and that the vocals were one of the very last things done at Townhouse. This suggests that, if we believe Karn’s account, Sylvian must have sat in on an earlier session and at which point he may have contributed keyboards to the Jansen composition, ‘Land’. Whatever, Mason remembers Sylvian’s entrance. ‘He walked in and he looked immaculate, with this real charisma. And what’s more, he knew he had charisma. Inside I was like, “Fuckin’ ‘ell it’s David Sylvian!” He wasn’t chatty. We didn’t have a laugh. In fact I don’t think we exchanged one word – and I’ve worked with Paul McCartney and Prince – and they talked more than Sylvian did – so I just got to setting up his microphone. And I’ll never forget this – we were getting his vocal levels and ran the tape, and I was still fiddling around when I heard him sing. And it was like… “Wow! That sounds just like David Sylvian! Oh fuck. It IS David Sylvian!” And I don’t think I’ve ever had that in the studio before or since. He’s got such an iconic voice. A shiver ran through me…’ Far from being the perfectionist of Tin Drum, where Sylvian and Nye sometimes recorded vocals line by line, in this instance (and again, Mason’s account contradicts Karn’s) Sylvian was in and out of the booth in a day. ‘He did his vocals standing up and wasn’t being the archetypal fussy artist, he was there to serve Mick’s vision and was happy to do as asked. He offered suggestions, “what about this, maybe we could try that,” etc., but he went with what Mick wanted ultimately. It was done pretty quickly. I don’t recall us labouring over anything. He definitely came in prepared and then just refined the idea. I didn’t say one word to him, but then I was in awe and quite shy back then. And Sylvian isn’t a chatty person. It was all very business-like and we were all very happy he came in and did a great job.’
‘Buoy’ had come and gone that January, peaking at 63 in the UK singles chart. Reviews were mostly good (it was single of the week in Melody Maker), and with Sylvian on board hopes were high – although not high enough to warrant a promotional video. Amongst charts dominated by Five Star, Nick Kamen and Madonna, ‘Buoy’, in all its out-of-time and other-worldly noble beauty, didn’t stand a chance of airplay. It was not Pop enough for daytime radio and not Indie enough for late night radio. Karn warranted enough space in the Pop press – it seemed almost everyone missed Japan – and the photographs of Sylvian and Karn together taken by Fujii were strangely touching considering their public history; but in retrospect this was the last time Karn would be given ‘the benefit of the doubt’ as it were. The album stiffed, peaking in the UK at 89 for just one week, a similar chart position for all of Karn’s solo releases proving that while he had a committed audience it was a niche one and one in decline, mostly made up of ageing Japan fans.
This is an excerpt from ‘Cries and Whispers : Sylvian/Jansen/Karn/Barbieri/Dean, 1983-1991. Published by Burning Shed LTD. You can buy the book Here.