Anna Domino talks us through the making of ‘Lake’ from her 1987 Les Disques Du Crépuscule-released album, ‘This Time’
“In my songwriting there’s often a city, view or landscape I want to describe, but ‘Lake’ turned into something more vivid. In my mind, I am walking along a narrow dirt road in late afternoon, beside a body of water the size and deep blue of Lake Michigan. It smells of pine needles, sun-baked stone and autumn. I am compelled to dive into the water, but it looks so cold that I’m putting it off.
“Looking over my shoulder, the way back is unclear. I want to ask for guidance from someone way in front of me. I have to rush to keep up with them and they keep vanishing as the path winds through groves of tall pines around the rocky shore. The further shore is far off… I don’t see how I can reach it, aware that even if I do it might be sheer, unscalable rock, it may also be pitch dark by then.
“It beckons, but I know I will give out before I arrive. I’m bracing myself, while also hoping someone might jump out from behind a tree, be happy to see me, tell me it’s all fine, that I haven’t been forgotten and I can go home now, or at least not go into the water alone. Or maybe, I’ll just wake up… it’s sort of a lighter, less absolute story for Arnold Böcklin’s painting, ‘Isle Of The Dead’.
“I began writing with Michel Delory, the guitarist for Bel Canto, after he joined my band for a three-month European tour in 1986. We played every day, often driving through the night. How we all wept when it was over! Our writing process started with me dropping a cassette of a sketch of the song ‘Tempting’ into Michel’s mailbox and him returning it a few days later sounding complete. We did this for a few songs, without any communication between us, until we set up a studio at my house and began working in the same room.
“‘Lake’ was the first song that Michel instigated. He had written the instrumental melody on a keyboard several years earlier. I heard him playing it on a guitar one day and ask him to repeat it. ‘It just came to him,’ he said. The vocal melody and lyrics followed almost immediately, out of nowhere. Songs that write themselves are the best!
“When we began playing ‘Lake’ in public, I would notice people in the audience tearing-up. No one ever came to me after a show to talk about this, maybe because it’s too private or not easy to explain, or people assumed that I knew. Like many women, I am a writer of sad songs. The better ones don’t explain themselves, and that silent weeping felt more cathartic than sad, which I think is a good thing.
“We recorded ‘Lake’ in Brussels at ICP Studios in 1987, during sessions for ‘This Time’. But for the vocals, the song was written and recorded before we even went into the studio. The synthesiser orchestration, which was basically everything, plus the three guitars, oboe, reverse piano, flutes and strings were all on our Akai S900 sampler. My DX7 synth, which I smuggled from Japan by telling the customs officer it was just a guitar pedal – ha! – was played through a Roland sequencer to trigger the sampler. The oboe was borrowed note by note from a classical CD, and the reverse piano, flutes and strings came on floppy discs with the sampler, I think.
“ICP was a really good studio complex, the only trouble was that to get there we had to pass through a plastics factory where they shrink wrapped records. The owner of Inter Chemicals and Plastics [ICP] was the father of the studio boss and if he spotted me, I’d have to explain to him, again, how I was not in fact a groupie, but a real live female recording artist – it was pretty tiresome.
“Michel had worked at ICP earlier in the decade when it was just one studio. By 1987, they had three, and lots more equipment. They had loads of odd instruments like the Memorymoog and other analogue synths to play with. They also had an SSL mixing board that was set up with a screen through which the board would communicate mistakes made by the engineer. It had an ‘insult’ setting, allowing the machine to curse you when you did something stupid, which was hilarious.
“We had a great engineer in Philippe Délire and our label had brought in Flood, who’d worked with U2, Depeche Mode and Nick Cave. Flood was very young, very funny and entirely inscrutable, but then so were we. Mostly he left us alone while he made crowns out of gaffer tape to wear for the day, but a couple of tracks collapsed under the weight of professional backing vocalists and bombastic brass. Happily, ‘Lake’ was spared.
“Everything on ‘This Time’ was recorded at ICP on 24-track, two-inch tape, of course, with all the basic tracks on the sequencer/sampler combo. We brought them to the studio as sound sources and sequenced tracks, and hauled along the cumbersome DX7 as well so we could edit sequences where needed. It was a really tough album to make as the label wanted big radio pop which, I discovered, wasn’t in me. There were concessions galore, but ‘Lake’ was not compromised. It made sense to all of us exactly as it was. I remember it as being recorded without any complaints, which was extremely rare.
“‘Lake’ is far from perfect, but it will probably always be my favourite Domino song because of that early collaboration that has lasted a lifetime and also for the strong sense of atmosphere we captured. The girl out there, who is me but not me, doesn’t know whether she’s being damned or saved. She’s at a threshold between ecstasy and the loss of all belonging. So far, I’ve managed to wake up.”