The folk singer-songwriter selects the five key ingredients that helped him put together his soothing new album ‘The Summer Isles’
British folk singer-songwriter Roo Panes is back with The Summer Isles, his first full album since 2019’s Quiet Man. Both an actual archipelago off the western coast of Scotland, and a nod to the various loved ones and cherished memories that have helped to keep him afloat during difficult times, the album’s title is a refuge under which the songs within can shelter. It’s also a land of sonic adventure, the considered production flourished marking a slight evolution in Roo Panes’ sound. Soothing and emboldening, it’s a reminder of the talent that arrived in 2014 with debut album Little Giant.
1. WURLITZER KEYBOARD
After a number of years writing on guitar, I felt I wanted to explore some new starting points. I bought this keyboard last year and played around with it through my Marshall amp. This instrument was pretty key to my songwriting process.
I explored the different textures I could get out of it throughout the album. On The Summer Isles we recorded it purely acoustically, placing the mic close to the casing, which really brought out the dry, thuddy, percussive nature. We also did this on Let It Be A Long Time, though we moved the mic to capture the “bell” like sounds it can make, which almost made it feel like a marimba.
On songs like Suburban Pines, what sounds like an electric guitar was actually this instrument through both the Blue Sky reverb pedal and fuzz pedal. The fuzz pedal gave it a great lo-fi feel and the reverb pedal created a huge nostalgic canvas. It was nice to get these flavours from one instrument as it also helped glue the track together and create cohesion.
It also has great capacity for warm bass chords, which we used in The Summer Isles, and lovely bright solo’s like on Fairy Falls. I’m excited by the versatility of this instrument and can’t wait to play with it more.
2. MY GUITARS
My guitar selection for this album was my Taylor 12-string, a Martin OM 21, a Gretsch resonator, and a mandolele.
The mandolele was again a fresh starting point. It records so beautifully and when used a certain way creates a unique lightness of feel combined with an immersive atmosphere. The fact that it’s also a different tuning is really cool as it forces you to discover new chord shapes, and stretches you. I find that different instruments create different types of songs, and the mandolele is responsible for The Summer Isles and Arcadia, as well as Childhood, and helps to bring an innocent freshness to a track.
The resonator guitar was a really important new ingredient also. I spent ages choosing it and trying out other resonators, as I was after a very particular sound. What’s beautiful about this guitar is its ability to create what I’d call an “oceany” sound. Rather than using it for its throaty warmth, I wanted its sparkle. I capo it very high, and play fast picking loops on it as it feels otherworldly. I used this in Letter To The Boy, and again can’t wait to explore it more.
Finally, my 12-string guitar and Martin OM 21. The Martin I bought for its lovely dark and warm tones. It’s a beautifully balanced guitar that can either sit into a track, or come through clean and pure. This is my songwriting guitar really. My 12-string has been with me forever, it’s always in the same tuning DADDAD, for tradition more than anything else! But it has such a huge warmth to it, that if I’m ever struggling for melodies it feels like an easy way to get inspired and excited. For me, this instrument has a big heart!
3. TIME AWAY FROM INSTRUMENTS
The paintbrush on my keyboard represents the time spent writing away from instruments. For me, if you look at a light too long, it gets harder to focus, so I try to find activities that allow me to write…whilst not writing. Painting is perfect for this. It allows my mind to explore lyrics and hum melodies whilst also being gently occupied. I’ve done this since my first album.
4. A GOOD BOOK
I tend to find more inspiration in books than music. I think it’s because I love words, and for me a huge part of songwriting is communication. It’s a nuanced art form and books are where I tend to go for “writing” exercise. Most of the time I read a good book and think, “I wish I had that skill with words,” so it inspires me to have a book available when I’m in a creative mood.
5. A GOOD VIEW
The least obvious in the photo but almost more important than the rest. For me writing is about unpacking things, grappling with life, thinking about things bigger than yourself, telling stories, celebrating beauty, empathising, taking thoughts on board, adventure etc. I could go on, but for all these reasons a view is important for me! I’m the same with recording studios, I try not to box myself in if possible, and so often I actually take instruments in the car to somewhere nice and sit in a car park writing!