In the studio

At the start of 1999, David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels wrote and recorded demos for Omikron: The Nomad Soul in London and Paris.

In spring they began recording the songs at Seaview Studios in Bermuda, where Bowie and Iman owned a holiday home.

This has been a very exciting recording period. Reeves and I started writing way early last year and unbelievably have produced well over three or four songs. Actually over 100 songs.

We’re recording most of the stuff ourselves and Reeves and I are playing most of the instruments and programming drums, etc. But I think you’ll be surprised at the actual intimacy of it all. I certainly was especially when it started taking my jacket off. By the time it got to my shirt, I had to give it a damn good slapping. Into it is not the word.

David Bowie
BowieNet live chat, 27 April 1999

Several of the album’s backing tracks were recorded in Bermuda, while others were made at Chung King Studios in New York City. Uniquely on ‘hours…’, Bowie chose to share the writing credits; each song was co-written with Reeves Gabrels, with ‘What’s Really Happening?’ additionally featuring fan-written lyrics.

Sharing the writing and production chores with David always makes for an interesting ride and for some very healthy and amusing debates. At the end of the day, it is his name on the album cover and so he is the one who needs to be most happy. Having said that, if it had been up to me I would have brought Mark Plati in sooner at the very start of the finishing touches, tightening up the tracks and mixing. Sonically, left to my own devices it would have been edgier or creepier.
Reeves Gabrels
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Mark Plati had joined Bowie’s coterie for Earthling. He joined the ‘hours…’ sessions midway through, after receiving a pager message containing Gabrels’ telephone number.

I rang back and David and Reeves were at Chung King Studios, wondering if I’d like to put fretless bass on some of the new songs they’d written. Within two hours I had biked to the studio with a couple of bass guitars, and unknowingly settled in for the next few months. David and Reeves had been writing and working on the songs which would become ‘hours…’ for a few months by that point, working in fits and starts in Bermuda and other places. David and Reeves had convened in New York, looking to wrap up the project. A lot of it was already recorded – basic guitars and keyboards, drum loops and programs, some vocal ideas. My involvement grew from being a bassist to doing some additional production and recording and, eventually, mixing the album.

I hadn’t even counted on being involved in this album. Rumours abounded – David and Reeves were doing it on their own in an underproduced ‘home-grown’ fashion, in direct contrast to the last few albums, which were of course full-on studio affairs. Also, it was strongly rumoured to be Tony Visconti’s return to the fold, and since Tony and I are both producers/engineers/bassists, I figured that I’d be about the last person they’d need to call! But call they did, and a treat it was.

Mark Plati
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

In the studio, Plati found Bowie more relaxed than during the frenetic pace of Earthling.

I hadn’t seen him since early 1998, and his hair was a lot longer and no longer dyed. He seemed a bit calmer, no doubt due to the conclusion of the Earthling tour and surrounding activities. It occurred to me then that I’d only worked with him while he was doing either a lot of press or live shows – both very draining, especially while trying to record at the same time. As a result, we spent more time discussing the news events of the day and life in general, a lot more so than on Earthling, when the pace was a lot more hectic, and we didn’t know each other as well. David would tell stories, talk about books he was reading, films he’d seen, and art he was interested in. He loves kids, so I’d fill him in on my six-year-old daughter’s shenanigans (when she would visit the studio she would lecture Reeves and David about smoking – they were polite, but it didn’t stop them smoking). He’d go on about the internet… he was very into eBay at that time, just amazed at the things people would put up for auction. And the humour between David, Reeves, myself and [assistant] Jay Nicholas – we’d often go off at a tangent and be howling for hours.
Mark Plati
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Another musician making a return was Sterling Campbell, whose first album with Bowie was 1993’s Black Tie White Noise.

In the late ’90s, I received another call from David to recruit me for the album ‘hours…’. To hear David calling me, inviting me to play with him, was the most wonderful sound. He had such a great speaking voice – it was a gift to receive.
Sterling Campbell
The Epoch Times, 15 January 2016

Otherwise, ‘hours…’ featured a new set of musicians: Mike Levesque was the album’s primary drummer, while Chris Haskett played guitar on ‘If I’m Dreaming My Life’.

The album’s opening song and lead single, ‘Thursday’s Child’, featured Holly Palmer on vocals. She was not the first choice, however: Bowie had wanted R&B trio TLC to appear on the song.

David originally wanted TLC to sing on ‘Thursday’s Child’, which I wasn’t really into at all. Through a stroke of good fortune I managed to get Holly Palmer, who is a friend I used to write songs with in Boston.
Reeves Gabrels
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Before Palmer was brought in, however, the part was offered to Mark Plati’s daughter, who turned down the chance to appear on a David Bowie album.

As far as the backing vocals are concerned, David had the idea of a child singing the ‘Monday, Tuesday’ part, so we asked my six-year-old daughter Alice to come in and do it. However, Alice wanted no part of it. She said she’d rather sing with her friends than with grown-ups. So we called Holly and she auditioned for David over the speakerphone, with him giving her some direction, like ‘more vibrator, less vibrato’. In a couple of hours she joined us on Varick Street and cut the backing vocals. Alice later had misgivings about turning down the session once she saw Holly performing with us on Storytellers and Saturday Night Live. After all, she could have been on tour with Dad!
Mark Plati
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Also guesting on the album were Alex Grant and Larry Tressler, who sang backing vocals on ‘What’s Really Happening?’ This was the result of a “Cyber Song” contest which ran on BowieNet from 2 November to 15 December 1998, offering fans a chance to write lyrics to a Bowie songs.

Grant’s offering was chosen from over 20,000 entries, for which he received a $15,000 publishing contract from Bug Music, a $500 gift card for CDNow, and Bowie’s complete back catalogue on compact disc.

The backing track for ‘What’s Really Happening?’ had been recorded in Bermuda, and the vocals, lead guitar and bass were added in New York. Grant and Tressler, a friend, were invited to attend the session and sing on the track.