In February 1968, The Beatles left England for a trip to India. The plan was to live in an ashram and learn about transcendental meditation. “We have all the money you could ever dream of. We have all the fame you could ever wish for. But it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?” George Harrison said. In other words, they wanted a change of surroundings and to do things a bit differently. The result was The White Album, now considered one of the best albums of all time.
Over the years, countless bands have experimented with similar tactics to record albums. And while there are loads of tired clichés about how travelling enriches our lives, there are also plenty of examples of great albums that were recorded in faraway nooks of the world.
Blur, The Magic Whip (2015) – Hong Kong
Blur burst onto the British scene in the late ’80s, helping to define the genre of Britpop. By 2000, it appeared they’d done it all: they headlined Glastonbury Festival, had four number-one albums in the UK and cracked the American market. Thirteen years later, after they’d broken up and frontman Damon Albarn had sold more than 15 million Gorillaz albums, they re-formed. After a festival gig in Japan was cancelled, the band was stranded in the metropolis of Hong Kong for five days and recorded what would become their first studio album in 12 years, The Magic Whip. The result is a very urban, beautifully liminal album, with references to Asian culture. This was the point where most bands would have quietly faded into history and been forgotten about, but Blur managed a spontaneous comeback. And people loved it.
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) – France
Creatively speaking, a lot has happened in France. Back in the 1920s, authors such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald brushed shoulders with the likes of Picasso and Gertrude Stein in Paris. Almost a hundred years later, Radiohead added a little bit of their own personal flavour to France’s artistic history, when they travelled to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to record A Moon Shaped Pool. The small, provincial village is nestled at the foot of the Alpilles mountains in southern France.
But this idyllic spot didn’t necessarily lift the band’s spirits. As you might expect from Radiohead, the album is a dark, experimental epic that’s marred by personal tragedies. Thom Yorke was going through a break-up and long-time producer Nigel Godrich’s father died in the middle of recording the album. According to Thom, it progressed in “fits and starts” and there was no rehearsal. “We just went straight into recording ... The sound emerged as we recorded,” he said.
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Hawaii
Love him or hate him, Kanye West has a fascinating approach to his work. On one hand, he’s a symbol for ridiculous indulgence; on the other, he’s extremely dedicated to his craft, and almost every project is wildly successful. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye’s Grammy-winning fifth album, is a perfect example of this dichotomy.
Kanye primarily recorded the album in Honolulu, during what was described as a “self-imposed exile”. He didn’t spend a single night in the glass-windowed mansion he rented, instead choosing to take 90-minute power naps on the studio couch. And while a steady stream of celebrities were flying in and out to make cameos on the album, Kanye enforced a “no tweeting, no talking and no emailing” rule.