We recently welcomed Ajimal, winner of the Focusrite Dream Recording Competition, to the world-famous AIR Studios in London to record with producer Guy Massey.
A full overview of the weekend's events will be featured soon in Sound on Sound magazine, but in the meantime we spoke to Francis O'Hanlon, aka Ajimal, to discuss the competition experience.
What was your initial reaction when you found out you won the competition?
I was at work when I got the email to say we'd won, and could only briefly skim read it at first. I actually thought it must be spam, so it was only later on when I went back to re-read it that I realised what had happened. It was obviously pretty spectacularly exciting so I rang the rest of the guys to let them know and then had quite an elated drive home.
How did you hear about the competition?
It was actually my brother who sent me a link to the video and the competition page - and thought 'why not?' - I'd pretty much forgotten about it and didn't think I'd win, but it sounded like an insane opportunity.
Tell us about your band and a little history on it?
Ajimal is a project I started a couple of years ago, with the idea of writing songs and then opening them up to different collaborations depending on the sound I want to create. I've been lucky to work with some wonderful musicians and most recently have worked a lot with Mark, Ben and Matt who are also in a band called Tessera Skies. I've Known Your Heart was one of the first tracks we worked on and it meant a lot to record it together.
What was your favourite part of the recording experience?
We spent the first day really getting the right performance down and the bones of the track sketched out. I think the second day felt absolutely magic because we experimented with a lot of beautiful textures like bowing the vibraphone and using mallets on piano strings. It took on a totally re-worked feel and really opened up again. That was pretty special for me.
Was Guy Massey the perfect producer for you?
It was absolutely fantastic to work with Guy. We spoke on the phone and discussed ideas for the song and how we were going to approach the recording and he really understood the sound that we want to make and the song. We had a lot of fun and I think we came up with some fantastic ideas together. He kept the atmosphere really relaxed and knew how to get the best out of our performances. So yes, it was wonderful.
What was it like using original Focusrite ISA modules on your recording?
I watched the video about the ISA and the Focusrite history when I entered the competition and it was great to learn a bit more about it. It was wonderful to hear it in the flesh as we built the track up.
Focusrite pulled out all the stops on this competition, what was it like to live the dream this weekend - some key things they enjoyed about the experience both in terms of fun and music recording?
The whole weekend was just pretty wonderful - everyone at Focusrite went out of their way to make sure had a fantastic time and everything was there to make the track sound great. I'd like to say a big thank you to them. They transported us in a beautiful tour van and put us up just next to the studio. Everyone working at Focusrite is working on creative projects and they took us out to dinner we chatted a lot about what different people are doing - it's great that there's so much life in the company. And then there was the recording, I've seen some live sessions from AIR and thought it would be amazing to record there and out of the blue it happened. It was pretty mad!
Does the band own any Focusrite products, if so what and what do they use them for?
I have a terrible old battered audio interface with only one working input, that I make all of my demos on at home. Nothing quite in the same league unfortunately, but actually we hired in one of the Red series compressors for some vocals on a track called Footnote to Love [Part One] and it sounded absolutely great!
If you'd like to learn more about Focusrite's history, and how our earliest consoles were integrated into the world's greatest studios, watch our documentary: