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11-08-17

Studio Envy, the final chapter.

Last week I was in Brooklyn visiting the Stefanellis, and we took a trip out to Rockaway Beach to visit Mike’s old friend Matt in his semi-restored Arts & Crafts Victorian family house (Sandy gave it a battering) and semi-finished recording studio out back. Matt is doing a similar thing to me here in the barn, but on a much grander scale. They had a middle-aged Polish guy dig out a 6ft basement in the original coach house, by hand. Just him, a shovel and a wheel barrow. Incredible. But the rest of it, like me, he’s done himself, with a lot of help from his friend Good Keith. He’s also doing the rough cut pine boards thing, with no particular treatment plan; just hear how it turns out and adjust accordingly. His control room is on the upper level though, and he has a bunch of smaller booths built in to the plan. I expect to have my studio up and running by Christmas, with the occasional impromptu session before then, so Matt’s studio will probably be the last one I stick my head into before I can truly call myself a studio owner. And as a final chapter, it was certainly the most appropriate and inspiring, talking about the prizes and pitfalls of studio construction with a like minded soul (he’s a bearded drummer too) while we drank beer and he nailed wood to the wall (the main difference is that I only use screws). Check out his band The Forms.

08-15-17

I would have mentioned this earlier, like last year, when I went to Toronto to write it with Alan, but we were trying to keep it under wraps for added surprise appeal. It seems to have worked. The Independent streamed a pre-release and did an interview with us, and the unfortunately named music blog, Toilet Ov Hell said some very nice things about it, and I think we’ve sold enough copies on bandcamp to buy Pete a plane ticket, so that if we do another one, we won’t have to wait FOREVER for his vocals.
We wrote it in Brendan’s now defunct (I’m assuming, since he moved to Ottawa) Stu Stu Studio in Toronto, and then Alan came down to Antioch and we tracked the drums in my (still) unfinished control room, and the guitars in the (still) semi finished barn. Once Pete had tracked all the vocals (using an SM7 and some iPhone earbuds), I mixed it over a couple weeks in June. I’m pretty stoked on how it sounds despite initially trying to steer the mix in a more ‘pop’ direction and failing. Sometimes it just comes out the way it wants.

04-26-17

Here’s a song from an EP I just mastered. It was recorded live at MAP in Kentish Town, London. And it was mixed, rather expertly, given that everyone was in the same room at the same time, by Duncan Thornley. If you’re in North London, MAP cafe is worth a visit. They have an espresso machine and draft beer.

04-26-17

Here’s a track from = that I did some work on a while back. Jim records all of Ade’s vocals in the spare room of his flat in Dalston, and although he’s using an SM7B with a reflection filter, the room is still reflective enough (and almost perfectly square as far as I can remember) to dirty up the audio with unwanted reverberation. Some gating, some careful compression and a bit of melodyne is the usual order of the day, but occasionally I flex my creative muscle and edit the parts so that whoever ends up mixing it has a good time. It’s grunt work, but I love it, because the songs are good, and it’s so different from the stuff I usually do.

04-20-17

Here’s a band I mixed and mastered a bit earlier in the year. They recorded live in a studio in Hackney called Sound Savers and sent me the rather well recorded wavs for me to mess with. They’re a 3-piece, so I hid the guitar double under a panned, fuzzed out bass duplicate, for a more representative sound, and drew my inspiration from some iphone gig videos, since I’m unlikely to be able to watch them play anytime soon. The whole process was a hoot. They let me put some cack handed organ (German Herman’s Hammond, see below) in the quiet bits, and didn’t wince at my liberal application of distortion. If you’re in London, go watch them play, if you’re anywhere else, buy their EP. It’s out at the end of April.

02-23-17

Since my last blog entry I’ve moved out of Chicago and bought a house near the Wisconsin border with my wife Zoe. I’m in the process of building a studio, with a live room in a barn, a control room in a rather spacious garage, and a patch of wood chips in between. I’m hoping to get it finished sometime this summer. If you want to follow the construction, the best place is my instagram for now, but I’ll probably build a new site once I’ve thought of a good name/domain to buy. In a bit…

11-15-16



Here’s a collaboration and a half. I recorded three of these four songs at CoachHouse (Mickey’s new place since they booted us out of Wall to Wall), and since Kevin had already established a sonic identity for them (very modern, slick, space rock) I just handed the wavs to him. I love what he does with low end, always, and he swears on the SubPac, so I may have to get me one.

07-13-16

Fifteen years ago, a band called Jesse James went into Black Wing studios and recorded an EP. Black Wing was a studio in a converted church in Borough, near London Bridge. Its credits include the first Depeche Mode album and half of the last Pixies album, Trompe Le Monde, so basically, it was a big deal. Us and various Wildhearts related bands were some of the last bands to record there before it closed. We recorded to 2″ tape with a guy called Roger Tebbit, and it was mixed by Harvey Birrell at Southern. The reel then sat in my parents house for about ten years, until I tried to digitize it. I drove it back over to Southern one evening, but Harvey couldn’t get his Studer to work. Last year, while I was still recording out of the ill-fated Wall to Wall studios, I got Paul to transfer it for me and another year later, I got round to remixing it.
My favourite thing about that studio was the drum room, set behind a sliding glass door at the back of the main live room, the walls were covered in what looked like crazy paving. It sounded cavernous, but it was big enough that the close mics weren’t drowned in reflections. On remixing it, I championed the room mics (no artificial reverb needed) so it’s a bit heavy on the cymbals. I also ditched the double (sometimes triple) tracked vocals in favour of a mildly melodyned single track. The horns were recorded with all of us around one mic (a 414 I think), and double tracked. I remember being amazed that Roger didn’t use any compression on the drums on the way in, as my only other recording mentor, Tom Savage at Jigsaw, tended to slam everything. Other than that I don’t remember much about the session, and I don’t think I realised how lucky we were to record there, with a record label footing the bill.
I think we sold more of that EP than any of our subsequent releases, a silly song about fashion and the male gaze, written with place holder lyrics that ended up sticking.

05-10-16



Since Ruby Crystals is a song about Transformers the Movie, making a music video from the 1986 animated classic was a no-brainer, and that’s exactly what Bryan did. Hear the song in its entirety with stunning robot themed visuals. It’s like 2001 A Space Odyssey, but not as long.

04-14-16



Today we took the Beat the Smart Kids album to The Boiler Room for mastering. Collin has mastered a bunch of great Chicago records there, from Alkaline Trio, Local H, Lawrence Arms and so on, on his 6ft Dunlavy monitors (tall, not wide). I was stoked just to have my mixes mastered by a dedicated mastering engineer (and not me), and I sure learned a lot while we were there. He obviously had some cool gear, including a Mini Massive, a Vari Mu (if you can see the needle moving, you’re using it too much) and a Weiss DS1. But mainly I was impressed by his tricks, much use of mid-side EQ and a phase-switched dupe to hear the changes he was applying. A/Bing his masters against the attempts I’d made as I was mixing it, showed up a lot of bulk, that sounds good in my room on my Dynaudios but never translates to anything else. The way he preserved the attack of the kick and snare (just the right times on the limiter?) and his general disdain for multiband compression have certainly made me rethink my mastering methods. Have a listen to a little clip of Ruby Crystals, my favourite song from the album, which is about Transformers the Movie, obviously.