After my old band Down I Go released our first ‘proper’ record (i.e. on a record label), This is Disastercore, we immediately recorded the next EP to keep the ball rolling. We wanted to return to the original Dinocore format of short songs (because they’re easier to write) and we wanted it to sound different. How we decided on robots as the subject matter, I can’t remember, but I was insistent on adding some electric drums and samples to make it sound a bit more industrial, a bit more robotic. When I’d rigged up my brother’s old Octopad, 80s Simmons brain, and monitoring, and realized what a pain in the arse it all was, I just settled for a timbale by my hihat for the occasional metallic clang. But the electronics still managed to make their way into R5D4, despite Alan’s protests, and some of the vocals got a vocoder thrown on them.
The first to be recorded was T-1000, with Tom Savage (who mixed and mastered both albums) engineering and playing bass. After that first session, enthusiasm waned, and the target of four tracks was only reached by salvaging a track originally recorded for This is Dinocore. Plesiosaurus, who didn’t make it onto This is Dinocore because the lyrics consisted entirely of whale-like mooing (there was talk of recording them underwater for added authenticity) became Mechagodzilla.
Since each song was recorded on a different day with an entirely different set up, mixing them wasn’t going to be easy, so we thought we’d outsource the job to four different people and let them go nuts. The results were varied, and after a rather extreme mastering job at the now defunct Ideal Mastering on Holloway Rd, with added kick track for consistency, the original release of This is Robotcore was noisy at best.
Perhaps the best thing about that release (on mini CD with fold out poster) was Gemma Correll’s artwork (now widely known for her ‘Pugs not Drugs’ shirt). I still have a handful of those CDs in both the UK and the US if anyone’s interested – email email@example.com, but in the meantime, enjoy the remix, on bandcamp, for free.
Today I drove up to Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago, to record a chamber music recital in a church. I decided to mic the concert mid-side style, since I worked out I could use an X-Y bar to get both mics on one stand. Once the audience arrived, I realized I probably should have just mic’ed it X-Y style. Because the piano couldn’t be lifted on the stage, the performers were right up against the front pew, and the mics were in the aisle, somewhere around the 4th row. With mid-side in this position, you’re essentially pointing a microphone straight at the audience, to pick up their every fidget and sniffle, while X-Y would have been more directed towards the performers. Listen to this small clip of Marvin, a retired dentist, playing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance no.12, accompanied by Laura on the piano.
The session I did with Dissociates over Christmas finally yields some content – a video to the ‘obvious single’, Dead Language. It’s coming out on 7″ on May 13th on everyone’s favourite UK Punk label, Household Name. The performance shots were filmed at Studio 9, where we tracked most of the guitars, and the ‘love scenes’ were filmed in Dan’s flat and the surrounding area of East London, so for me, it’s like Christmas all over again. Also have a listen to a clip from Dial House, the same portion of the song that I posted before we’d tracked any bass or vocals.
I used to own a Fender P-Bass, and I used to own a Musicman Sterling (thin necked Stingray), one being passive and the other active. They were different instruments, so I couldn’t decide what made one sound better than the other, but now I have a Fender Jaguar bass with both passive and active circuitry, so I can flick it on and off and hear the differences.
Being subjective is hard when the active sound is naturally louder, and because it has a two band EQ, pushing highs and lows, therefore unavoidably scooped. I couldn’t seem to find a neutral point for the EQ, but I did my best, and recorded a couple of bars of SpaceHog’s In the Meantime, to demonstrate fingered playing, and Pixies’ Gigantic, for picked playing.
So, besides the active circuitry scooping out the mids, the preamp does add a liveliness that really kicks in when you play harder. Listen to how much more dynamic the picked active clip is (and I swear I played the passive one just as hard in the second half).
So the Jury’s still out. Active bass sounds much nicer for R&B and aggressive guitar based music, but for other genres the fuller passive sound fits a lot better. And with this guitar, you can have it all. I’ve had this bass for almost a year, and it’s taken me this long to get it fixed. Previously I was only rocking the passive side, but I took it in to 3rd Coast Guitars and they gave the electronics a once over. I’m selling it to buy a short scale bass, because I look silly playing a ‘proper’ one.
Regardless of where our inspiration comes from to write a song in the first place, it’s strange where our motivation comes from to ‘finish’ the song. MJ recorded this song almost two years ago with Cameron in Toronto, and it sat around on hard discs until she thought it’d be a good contender for a theatrical song contest. So Cam uploaded the Logic project, and I threw on some brushes and bass, then Dave Murray recorded some ambient guitar and I got down to mixing it. A week later, just in time for the competition deadline: kablam! It’s finished. Nothing was rushed. There were plenty of mp3s back and forth and mix revisions, but because there was a time frame, it got done. Have a listen.
#YearOfTheYob continues with AN hilarious video to my favourite track off the Mess is Lore EP – As the Crow Flies. We recorded that EP from the guitar track downwards, whereas the newer stuff was almost completely arranged with the Jupiter Club band before we started recording it. While you’d expect the latter method to yield tighter, more coherent results, as the producer/engineer, I’d like to think you can’t tell the difference. The girl in the video is Dan’s partner Alex, who also made the costumes for the Poseidon video. We recorded the double bass in Nick Powell’s kitchen as we were finishing up the JCQ album. Good times…
Last night we hosted our second show at Fulton Market Loft, i.e. Derek’s apartment. Your Skull, all the way from Brooklyn, and the Fencemen from Michigan, (both bands formed from the ashes/incestuous musician pool of punk favourites, Small Brown Bike) marked a decided step up from our first show in that they were ‘real bands’, i.e. out of towners and not our friends. And I was doing sound again, a formidable task given that I have almost no experience in the field (live and and recording are two very different games), and given that our PA is a mismatched, cobbled together pile of free stuff and wise investments.
We found the JBLs (one of which sounds inexplicably different from the other) and the subs on craigslist, the multicore snake I bought off some dude in Portage Wisconsin when I was up there for a funeral, the power amps (a Crown and a QSC) we bought from a website on a no interest six month payment plan, the monitors are a motley crew of half working wedges that various band members acquired over the years (still sporting cobwebs and cat pee stains), and the heart of it all, the desk, is a 70s Yamaha PM700 that David’s brother had in his garage.
I have come to love this desk, mainly because it looks rad and has VU meters, not because it’s in any way functional. First off it has no inserts, so any compression/gating has to happen before the board, and involve its own preamp (I put a TL Audio channel strip on the snare, and a Focusrite Green on the kick) or on the way out (My TFPro dual preamp as a limiter on the JBL bus). The three band EQ on each channel is usable at best, the mid and high frequencies being suspiciously similar, and the routing options give us just enough to run the JBLs in stereo, sacrificing a monitor channel for the subs.
The room itself is narrow and long which focuses the sound and makes my job a bit easier, but I’d like to think I’ve cut my live sound teeth. Now I’ve just got to work out how to record a live mix…
Year of the yoB continues with another track I mixed and mastered. This one’s a raucous horn filled affair about the standard policy in the UK of giving men a mere two weeks paternity leave. We recorded most of it around the same time we recorded Lips Legs Eyes (four posts below), but since then Jem Finer of the Pogues has added his banjo pluckin’. Download it for free.
Here’s a video I cut for Dissociates, from their Ukrainian tour footage. Although I live in Ukrainian Village (a Chicago neighbourhood) I’ve never been to the Ukraine. Apparently it’s a good place to tour if you’re a punk band. This song is one of the eight we recorded over Christmas. They’re hoping to get a 7″ out for record store day in April, on Household name records. Watch this space.
Sebastopol release their next video on February 25th, the follow up to Boats, but with similar visual themes (look out for the HMV dog). Hateful mob was the obvious single from the second recording session we did at DropOut, and I always thought it sounded like a sad version of Boats. I suggested they put a bit more of the girl in the video, because, you know, they’re nice to look at, but Phil pointed out that she’s bound, and they didn’t want to play up the rapey angle.