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08-16-15



Today is Derek’s birthday, and we hear he misses his old band mates since he moved to Seattle, so we spent last Bprax learning a 50 second rendition of NOFX’s ‘Thank God it’s Monday’, changing all the words to be about Derek. Even though we were at the studio, I decided it’d be a good time to ‘field test’ my new Zoom H6, using the stereo capsule on wide 120º mode, and the other four inputs for Kick, Snare, Guitar and an aux send off the PA mixer (in hindsight, some vocal separation would’ve been nice). Then we added another channel of guitar in Logic. Although the H6 has a mixdown function, you can’t then record on top of that stereo file because the Zoom won’t recognize it. Big oversight IMHO. Happy Birthday Derek!

08-04-15

It has almost been a year since we went to Iceland to write another Down I Go album, but now it’s finished and is due to be released (eventually on white vinyl) by Holy Roar on August 28th. When I pull up our back catalogue on Spotify and bounce between the records, it’s clear that our production has evolved since its lofi beginnings (SM57s and C1000s into a Delta 1010), and now that we sound relatively polished, I’m worried that we’ve lost some of our ‘almost unlistenable noise’ charm. Have a listen to some clips below.

06-16-15

Derek’s in town for a one off Whipped show at the Empty Bottle on wednesday, so we recorded this cover as ‘content’ so people might remember we were a band, and come to the show. Our new friend Paurl recorded Derek’s vocals in Seattle, and we did the rest here at Multitrack Chicago which recently got its Allen & Heath desk back. Dave made a video, using all the extra footage from our FML promo videos, but cut it to my rough mix, which has some serious multi-band release time issues, so listen to the ‘official’ version below.

05-11-15

EDIT: I’ve updated this post with the final mix so you can hear the difference between that and the rough mix I originally posted. Inspired by Kodo’s latest CD (they’re so good they have their own island), I decided to treat the session less like a natural sounding orchestral recording, and more like the usual stuff I do – aggressive rock records, putting the emphasis on the close mics rather than the stereo pairs, and using parallel compression to beef up the low end. And adding a bit of digital reverb (Valhalla of course) to create an ‘intimate yet distant’ dichotomy. I also went to town on panning, forgetting all about ‘realistic’ stereo width. I’m looking forward to working with these guys again later in the year.

Yesterday I recorded Ho Etsu Taiko at their homebase – the Buddhist temple in Old Town, using almost all of my mics. The common space in the basement is a huge concrete room that at first I thought would be the worst place to record them ever, but came round to the idea that it was actually the best place, not just for convenience, but sonically. When everyone is playing fortissimo, you get a natural distortion from the sheer volume in your ears – something that I thought was important to capture on a recording since it’d lack the visual element that is so essential to appreciate taiko drumming. A dry, controlled sound wouldn’t be any fun to listen to.
Everyone got one or two close dynamic mics, and then I set up a close pair of condensers for the quieter percussion (flute, clave and shaker), a mid range pair for general room sound, and a far pair. I have no idea how I’m going to mix it, but I’d imagine it’ll be a matter of balancing the boom of the low mids with the attack in the highs.

04-08-15

Yesterday I spent a day at the studio tracking bass for the Down I Go album. I borrowed the five string version of my Musicman from Jeremy (having to pick it up from Cobra Lounge/All Rise Brewing didn’t hurt either) because some of the songs were asking for a low B (A# really). Alan often writes one finger riffs (because he’s lazy) with chords that could be fifths (with the fifth on the bottom) or fourths, depending on what you call the root note, and since we write as a two-piece we can decide on the root pretty late in the game. Jeremy’s bass has almost no action, since he plays for Encrust, resulting in a pretty growly fret buzz tone, before you even get distortion involved. I tightened up my truss rod to match, so there was some consistency on the songs that required a four string, gave it a little push with a sansamp and then ran it through my Overtön head, a 1×15 and a 4×10. I mic’ed the 4×10 with an RE20 for most of the growl, used a DI for a cleaner low end, and added a bit of AKG C214 room mic for glue. Have a listen below to a clip from ‘Treefoot’, the one song on the album that Pete doesn’t sing on. Vocals in this case are provided by our new best friend Jamie Lenman.

04-03-15

I just finished mixing Chas Palmer Williams’ solo album, American Smile British Teeth. Some of you will know him from that “mildly successful 90s ska punk band” Lightyear, who my old band toured with back in the day. Chas funded the whole thing with Pledgemusic, met his goal, and was able to compensate everyone that appears on the record in some way or another, be it with cash, beer, or biscuits. The list of credits is lengthy, thanks to Pete, who produced the record and recruited all his favourite musicians to create a magically eclectic bunch of songs. I recorded the drums in London last year and the rest was tracked at Amazing Grace and Unit 9, before Pete WeTransfered me the stems, slightly behind schedule in January. Chas has a way with words, both poetic and sarcastic, which eased the usual mind-numbing process of listening to every song a hundred times. Pete was very particular and insistent on preserving the dynamics of the mixes when it came to master, while Chas, having only known the songs as solo acoustic numbers, was just happy to hear the tracks filled out, and rarely spoke a critical word. His pledgers have the pre-release on their iPods already, while the album should be available to regular people in June. In the meantime, have a listen to some snippets.

03-09-15

So, this guy mods SM57s on ebay by simply removing the transformer, supposedly making it more like an SM7. I tested it on snare and electric guitar to see if I could tell the difference. The modded 57, which I’m calling an SM(5)7, obviously needed a level boost (of about 6db) which I did digitally when I bounced the samples below. Both mics went straight into a Neve 1073 DPA, and then into a MOTU 828X, and were bounced with a tiny amount of limiting, for volume’s sake.
Here’s the 57 on snare:

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And here’s the mod:

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Not much in it. Maybe a little less hihat comes through on the mod, due to the different emphasis on the mids.
Here’s the 57 on guitar:

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And Here’s the mod:

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Still subtle, but the low end extension is apparent, and the mid range honk is reduced – the one characteristic that many people (not me) love about the 57. I rather spend that twenty bucks on a 12 of Bells Best Brown.

02-24-15

Here’s the session I did with Beat the Smart Kids, a ska band that, like Down I Go, are named after a Simpsons quote from an unfortunate character. I highly recommend downloading the EP, if only for the secret track that you can’t stream. It was a weekend affair involving appropriate amounts of beer and pizza, and it pretty much mixed itself.

11-30-14

Last week Alan came down from Toronto to record guitars for the new Down I Go record. We holed up at Multitrack Chicago and made awful noises for three days. When we wrote and demoed Gods on my porch back in 2009 all we had to work with was a Godin LG (with P90s) and a Fender deluxe, so all the resulting riffs were very clean, and not dependent on gain to sound good. When we wrote the new album in Iceland we were borrowing an Orange Dark Terror and the stuff Alan wrote was proportionately reliant on a bunch of gain and sustain. I was hoping to recreate the guitar tone of Gods, by splitting the signal between two amps, one dirty and one relatively clean, and then blending the two, but because of the way the riffs were written, anything clean just sounded ridiculous, and the only tone we were happy with came out of Alan’s MXR GT-OD. It’s crazy how much your playing style responds to the sound you’re creating, and how the music you write doesn’t necessarily translate to a different set up.
Have a listen below to some sections from We Are the Fins, Lar Had a Stroke (working title) and Kidhouse.

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10-16-14

My old band, Down I Go was invited to a farm in Iceland for an artistic residency, and while we were all living in different countries, and hadn’t seen each other for a few years, we couldn’t turn down this opportunity to make another record. So we got on airplanes from Chicago, Toronto and Stockholm, with as much gear as we could fit in our suitcases, borrowed the rest from generous Icelanders, and sat in a cabin for ten days and wrote an album. The Icelandic experience was bizarre and unforgettable, but this blog is about the boring stuff.
Alan took his 1981 Gibson Sonex, Boss OC-3 and a bunch of distortion pedals that we didn’t use, and borrowed an Orange Dark Terror and a 2×12 from a guy called Finnbögi. Pete’s a singer, so he just brought an SM-7B, which we used on floor tom when he wasn’t looking. And I took an AKG D112 to throw in the kick drum, a Beyer Dynamic M201 for snare (hyper cardioid and bright enough to negate a snare bottom mic), a Sennheiser E609 for the guitar cab, and my Oktavas for overheads, which I ran through my TFPro P4 for some squashy limiting. I took some cymbals and borrowed a Ludwig kit off a guy called Maggi.
We took the usual Down I Go approach to song writing. Alan and I hashed out some riffs until there was enough stuff to form a cohesive song and then glued them altogether in Logic. Then we doubled the guitar, sometimes figuring out alternate parts, threw down some bass with our host Halldór’s beater, and started layering vocals over the top, writing lyrics based on a book of Icelandic folklore that a fellow artistic resident Pétur had lent us. You can hear the process in two bar increments below in a clip from a song called ‘strike it while it’s still on my nose’:

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The cabin we were recording in turned out to be acoustically perfect for us, with wooden floors & walls and a high vaulted ceiling, and Maggi’s kit was pretty sweet, so I made some samples while Alan was trying to tidy up. He kept his mouth breathing to a minimum:

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You can download a zip of all the files here, four samples of varying dynamics of each drum, with appropriate amounts of overheads, all at 24 bit, 44.1khz. Now that the songs are all demoed, the task of actually learning how to play them, and recording them for real begins. Watch this space.