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.


Today my new band Big Night In’s EP hits the digital shelves. We called it Big Night In, and the second song is also called Big Night In, so if you play that song on your iPhone it’ll say ‘Bight Night In, Big Night In, Big Night In’ in iTunes. Also we bought as a domain name. It’s that kind of band.
We recorded it all at Wall to Wall, just in time before they booted us out and the jackhammers came in to turn the place into luxury condos. Some of the last sessions were kind of sad and empty since Mickey had moved most of his gear out, but we kept the couch and the lava lamp until the very end.
As hard as it already is recording and mixing your own band while retaining some sense of distance/subjective judgement of the music, we also ran into trouble tracking the guitars. The songs are a weird mix of Thin Lizzy style riffs, AC/DC open chords and modern punk rock, so finding a guitar tone/gain that would work throughout was always going to be a struggle. We thought we’d found the answer in an Orange Rockerverb 50, with the mids cranked and the gain just shy of noon, but over the course of January we decided to retrack various bits for various reasons, and only had Dave’s modded JCM900 at hand. By the time we were happy with all the solos and rhythm parts we’d retracked almost half the guitars, and the Marshall and Orange tones are VERY different.
I think if this were an actual session, rather than MY band’s first EP, recorded in various degrees of inebriation, I would have insisted on starting again and tracking all the guitars with the same set up. But this is Big Night In, and we have different priorities. So here it is, my new band, and the only five songs we know how to play.


I normally pride myself on my turnaround, but this song took me five years to mix. When I was living in Brockley, in my attic bedroom, in the middle of a bunch of projects, a band facebooked me to ask if I’d record them. I think I initially thought their press shot was lame, or was just too busy to listen to their demo, but one night, trawling my inbox, stoned, I found the email again. This song, Black Rainbow, jumped out at me. So dramatic, so bleak, and yet quite funny (you have to understand the use of the word ‘nightmare’ in British vernacular). An odd song structure eschewing recognizable verses, choruses or bridges with two guitarists doing very different things, but then coming together with the same power chords when necessary. And when the singing descends into dismal screams, the guitar picks up the melody instead and keeps it interesting.
But by the time I’d actually booked them to record, their singer, Olly had quit. We went ahead anyway since they had someone new lined up, and I’d just driven down to the west country with all my gear.
We recorded drums in a horrible room at the office where Rob, the guitarist worked. It was totally square and full of semi reflective surfaces like printers and year planners, but with some of those cubicle style partitions we managed to get a passable drum sound. We tracked the guitars at Rob’s house, using his Adam A7s to monitor on (I was dragging my Genelec 8020s around the country at the time) and we fucking nailed it on getting the gain right, if I may say so myself.
But when it came to vocals, the new guy, who had stuck his head in very briefly once, maybe twice, said he wanted to track them on his own, since he wanted to do something different from Olly’s parts and take his time with it. He assured us that it’d be top notch stuff, since his friend was an audio engineering student, and they had access to some great gear. So I drove home to London.
Eventually, about a month after the session, the new guy started dropboxing me vocal files. Everything was so compressed that the breaths were as loud as the singing itself, and every file was clipping to the point of having no waveform at all. It was all just square wave. I didn’t really like what he was doing with the songs anyway so I threw in the towel and gave Rob the stems to mix elsewhere. But recently, trawling through an old hard disc, I found the instrumental mixes again and started lamenting the loss of that one great song. I had the stems from their original demo, albeit 15bpm slower than we’d retracked it, so I cut them up and made them fit. With the laziness of the old tempo over the new, Olly almost sounds drunk. A song is reborn, and since the band broke up, I’m not at the mercy of their mix opinions, so I do wha I wan. Turns out the song is about Raoul Moat.


On my last trip back to London I threw an old guitar in my suitcase, a 1976 Gibson Marauder that I bought in 1998 from a Loot ad in Wales. Over the years it’s been in various states of playability, and on JesseJames tours, Rich gave it the nickname The Melingerer, due to its crappy tone and disheveled state. This might have had a lot to do with the cheap mini humbuckers I fitted it with, so I decided to revive it with a Seymour Duncan SM-3b. As you can hear below, not only does it have a higher and brighter output, but generally, it’s clearer and more aggressive. I’m still convinced the original pick ups are in my parents’ attic somewhere.
Rather than add a bunch more variables by recording it through an amp, I just DI-ed straight into my Apollo Twin and ‘reamped’ using the UA Marshall Plexi plug-in.


Pete wrote a theme tune for the Game Friends podcast, and made me mix/master it for him, another reluctant foray into Logic X. It’s pretty ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as the podcast itself, which for the IT Crowd fans among us, isn’t far off Moss’ Board Games. If you’re into video games, you can listen to the whole thing and hear all the extra stings and beds. The only game I play is Battlefront, so it’s not really for me.


Beat The Smart Kids’ full length is now in the can (save some gang shouts) after about 50 hours of tracking spread over the last couple months. All the drums went down in one day (thanks Anthony) with enough time spare to track the rest of this song before the submission deadline for this NOFX tribute. Download it for free and expect the LP (featuring blistering overdrive and glassy cleans from an Orange Rockerverb 50, punchy horns, and lyrics about transformers) some time in the new year.


Even though we went to Iceland over a year ago, and the record came out months ago, I’m still working on it. As part of the kickstarter that funded the Down I Go album we offered a package that included the writing demos that we recorded in a hut, in a lava field in Iceland. I’m just now getting round to remixing them, and was just finishing up when I realised that the kick drum on the opening track, Kidhouse, was overbearingly clicky. As well as the usual variables in kick drum sounds: mic choice, placement, thickness of head, type of beater etc, performance has a huge effect on the attack. I guess I was stamping particularly hard for this particular song and so the initial transients are correspondingly loud.
I was hoping to go back in and just EQ and compress that song differently, but the Logic project for day one’s recordings became corrupted and refused to open, so all I had was my initial mix to work with.
Izotope’s RX4 to the rescue, using the sensitivity control to reduce the kick clicks, while not dulling the snare. Have a listen.


Chas made a video for the closing track on his album, American Smile, British Teeth, featuring probably ALL of the remaining payphones in Brighton. It gets emotional. I mixed this back in the spring, and now I’m wondering why I panned all the brass to one side. To make room for the slide guitar I guess.


Last month, I recorded a taiko show at Athenaeum theatre. Ho Etsu Taiko were collaborating with OnEnsemble from L.A. (Shoji from OnEnsemble had given me a few recording/mix tips for my first session with Ho Etsu) for a spectacular and very diverse show. This song, Little Man, was my favourite, having a great groove, an ear-worm melody played on dueling flutes, and the loudest moments of the concert.
My main concern about recording the show was not to get in the way. Taiko is a very visual art, and having the stage littered with mic stands would kill the vibe, so I set up a stereo pair in the pit, and four close mics, on short stands to grab the attack of the first row of drums.
I scoped out the venue in advance and was relieved to see that they had an Allen & Heath MixWizard, so I was safe on the preamp front, and conveniently presented with Direct Outs on every channel. But on the day, once we’d loaded in (one of the drums was so big it wouldn’t fit through any of the doors) and set up all the mics, I discovered that the Direct Outs were configured POST fader, making them pretty useless. We pulled up the manual pdf, and opened up the board to see if we could switch them back to the presumably factory default of PRE fader, but couldn’t even find the tiny jumper. So I came out on the channel inserts instead, essentially adding my interface to the signal chain/gain staging. I was using two MOTU firewire units (an 828 for 8 ins, and an 896HD for the next 8 as ADAT optical) and since the thru is a digital connection, and CueMix can’t control the ADAT unit’s outputs, I couldn’t return the signal on the second eight channels, and had to rely on the mixer’s direct outs – at the mercy of Karl, the live sound guy, and whatever sounded good out front.
But by carefully selecting which channels I was stealing on the inserts, and which I was getting post fader (which meant repatching in between numbers), I managed to get enough usable audio to mix a half decent live recording with. It meant me and Karl were busier on the night (and the matinee) than we would have liked, but the show must go on…


As well as the ten tracks we wrote for the Down I Go album, the kickstarter that funded it also commissioned three cover songs, which we did with varying amounts of enthusiasm. They’re all up on our bandcamp, and now available on a matching grey vinyl 12″ to go with the album. The drums and guitars were all recorded at the same time as the album, but when it came to mixing, I used a bunch of UA plug-ins with my Apollo Twin, namely the SSL 4k channel strip on all the close mics, and the Maag EQ4 on guitar and vocal busses. The Lexicon reverb also got a look in, but is a little processor hungry for my Duo Core. What I like most about these hardware emulations is the interface – you can’t see what’s going on without the usual graphics, so you just have to use your ears.

The B-side, our ill fated side project Sammy Davis Jnr. Jnr. was recorded about four years ago, and languished on a hard disc until we found people to sing on it. The drums are sample free (wish I could remember which snare drum I used) and the guitars were double amped (a slightly dirty and a clean stack, back to back), and hard panned. The second guitar went down the same way, but the pans reversed. This pseudo stereo image meant that even if only one guitar was playing, it still sounded full and less lop sided, but had the live feel of a single tracked guitar.

The opening track of the record is a song that didn’t make it onto the album, because it was deemed ‘too silly’ by the rest of the band. Silly or not, it show cases my 5-string Musicman, a purchase inspired by borrowing Jeremy’s back in April (see below). You gotta love the tension in that low B.