No Studio

Tourdöd Pt 2

I don’t really get to take holidays. As a freelance engineer I feel like if I take myself off to a beach to lie down for a week then not only will I forget how to mix anything, but also every band who has worked with me will be so appalled they will find someone else to work with who isn’t so lazy.

But it is good to get out of the studio, and so in my ‘down time’ I try to organise myself and my friends in Pijn so that we can go on tour, travel around to fun places and see some cool stuff. In just the last couple of months we have toured the UK and Europe, hitting up places like Luxembourg, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Bristol, and sometimes even having more than half an hour to look around.

Portals

I always feel incredibly privileged to get to do this, and it remains a goal of mine to help any bands that record with me to experience the same thing. Make a record, then go and play it to as many people as you possibly can. Go far and wide, you’ll play to some folk who just won’t get it, but the same night you could be stopped whilst loading out by someone who thinks you’re the best, it is bizarre and awesome in equal measure. Henry Rollins moment over.

Here are some wonderful bands that I met or played with whilst we were away over the last few months.

Conjurer – you don’t need me to tell you about them. Wonderful people, stunning band, fantastic tour mates. Their album ‘Mire‘ is one of the greatest metal records I have ever heard, and as usual Lewis Johns‘ production is amazing.

Slow CrushHoly Roar Records label mates and recent UK tour buds, not only are they amazing people, but they create soundscapes that make me seem like a toddler with a delay pedal. Plus they were incredibly gracious when Belgium somehow beat England in the World Cup. Their new album ‘Aurora‘ is out in September and from what I have heard it is absolutely gorgeous. A Neil Kennedy production special.

Giver – more label mates who helped us out with a show in Cologne. I wish they had been able to play the show as well, their album ‘Where The Cycle Breaks‘ from earlier this year fills the gap left by bands such as Carpathian and More Than Life, and is incredibly satisfying punk and hardcore.

Modern Rituals – just some lovely fellas playing fantastic grungey bangers. Listen to ‘The Light That Leaks In‘ and then listen to it again and again.

Waco – now, these guys are one of the most fun bands I have seen in years. We played with them a couple of years ago and make sure to catch up whenever possible, I cannot wait to hear the new album but until then it will be ‘Mother Mercy‘ on repeat.

Wilderness Hymnal – when I was organising the Manchester date for our latest tour, it was an easy choice for who we wanted to be part of it. Captivating live and with some amazing use of synths and a TC Helicon to create atmospheres both menacing and beautiful, I hope to see more of them soon.

Conjurer

Dvne

At the tail end of 2017 Dvne travelled down from Edinburgh for an all night live session. I am really happy with how this turned out, amazing camera work from Just, Louis and Paul and a really ace performance from the band. In fact it looks (and sounds) nice enough that I’ve almost forgotten about the load out at 7:30am.

This live session features ‘The Crimson Path’ and ‘Scion’ from their awesome space-prog LP ‘Asheran’, available here.

Pijn

Recording your own band doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Since I first tried my hand at recording five years ago I have engineered all of my own bands, from grimey Knife Crimes to moody Bleaklow, noisy Old Skin, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Won. These sessions often allow me to experiment with weird stuff I wouldn’t risk doing to anyone else’s music, and always teach me some serious lessons (let’s not talk about my first ever attempt to record drums). In early April 2016 myself and Nic decided to take advantage of a last minute cancellation at the studio and start recording a few tracks for Pijn, which would eventually become the ‘Floodlit’ EP.

Just a heads up – this is a bit longer than the normal posts here, as what started as a quick session for some demos soon grew into a maxed out Pro Tools session with ten musicians involved.

Recording Nic’s drums was much like any other session, although I had just watched the Berklee College Of Music video about the making of Converge’s Jane Doe so I tried out the ‘COK’ mic that Matthew Ellard employed in that session as a little experiment. The ‘COK’ (centre of kit- which became our ‘crotch’ mic due to where it was pointed) was a large diaphragm condenser set to omni that picked up a wonderful full sound of the kit. When blended in with the room mics and a bit of the close mics it had a very ‘real’ sound to it – reinforcing the sound of the drums in a way familiar to the person actually playing them, and was one of many small decisions I made to ensure a very different production style to the last time I had worked on my own record. I am on the lookout for a small omni mic for the same purpose now, as the novelty of an expensive mic pointed at your groin wears off after the first few times of it toppling over or getting hit with a rogue drumstick.

crotch mic

Guitars, bass and most of the vocals were all done over the same weekend and were nothing of particular note. Just smacked a few loud amps through some chunky preamps. With the basic tracks down we brought in wider members of the group to add their own particular styles to the tracks. Starting with saxophone during a session in Spirit Studio, I witnessed some mad circular breathing to create drones, and by splitting the signal from the mic into a delay and valve distortion pedal we could create wild feedback, a lot of which unfortunately didn’t make the final mix (sorry James) but they were incredible textures. Saving them for the difficult second record.

Next up was lapsteel back at HQ. Known more for country, bluegrass and hawaiian music, but in this case capable of adding a gorgeous piano-like chime when put into a Fender combo for the clean melodies, and equally capable of searing lead tones through the Marshall JMP (when it worked). There were no fancy techniques going on for this, just a performance that lifted the songs in a way I wish I had been able to write. Nice one Paddy.

The strings. My favourite part of the whole record. In preparing for these sessions I knew that the arrangement would be key in making the strings have the sort of effect that we were after. Myself and Nic had written various ‘call and response’ sections for strings, and from the first practice we kept it in mind that more space should be left for them, or that guitar parts should be simplified for the benefit of what the violin and cello could add. Once the parts were *mostly* written (after I had brushed up on reading/writing music too, very proud of that) we travelled to a few locations to fit in with our string players busy schedules. For Claire’s violins in Bristol, I brought my brand spanking new AEA N22. Although the room was not ideal (small practice space, low ceiling) with the mic just under a foot away from the instrument we achieved a well balanced and natural sound, with the typical ribbon HF-roll off doing me some favours removing any nasty top end, but the extended response of the N22 making sure it didn’t sound like it was underwater. Again, performances were more important than the signal chain, and Claire’s wonderful playing simply blew me away. After a quick ice cream and walk around Clifton Suspension Bridge we packed up and headed north.

cellooooo

As the portable setup had worked so well for violin, I used the same for Maggie’s cello, with the N22 positioned just under a foot from the body and recorded in various lounges in Rusholme. A very classy affair, relaxed and fuelled with a lot of cups of tea. Whilst I would have loved to use a Coles 4038 for it, (everyone I asked said I should, but unfortunately I’m not made of money to just grab one on their whim) we still created a full-bodied sound with the AEA for my favourite, and the saddest, sound on the record. My highlight for the entire EP is Maggie following the drifting chords at the end of ‘Lacquer’, when going through multiple takes and comping to create the most complimentary parts, this simple pattern was more gut wrenching than other melodies we tried out, and sticks out as something I was particularly proud that we had made.

One of the final parts added to the record was piano, and I finally got to use a 4038. I could have used a spaced pair of condensers but at this point in the recording, track count was really starting to matter, plus I just wanted to. The piano up in Spirit Studio wasn’t particularly well tuned at the time of the session, and also suffered from a few keys which didn’t work. This cool set of problems resulted in us recording ‘Hazel’ a semitone higher and pitch-shifting the track down to be in the right key afterwards. Technology is mad isn’t it.

What did I learn over the course of making ‘Floodlit’?
- Maxing out the track count in Pro Tools isn’t fun. I should print stems more often.
- The arrangement was more important than any of the recording techniques I used.
- I would like a Coles 4038.
- Ice cream makes sessions better.
- I can’t listen to my own bands
*but*
- Recording your own band doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Floodlit’ was released by Holy Roar Records on 27th January, with the first track ‘Dumbstruck & Floodlit’ premiering on BBC Radio One, and the EP streaming exclusively on The Independent prior to release. It is available on Spotify, iTunes and Bandcamp, and I am extremely grateful to anyone who has listened to it so far.

House Of Flowers

Earlier this year my friends in Earth Moves came up to Manchester for a few days to track their debut album. I could write about the seemingly endless list of gear that broke during the session (particularly heartbreaking was the 1974 Marshall JMP that died during the song below), or our studio diet of Club Mate and fancy coffees, but instead you should just listen to the first track that they have released.

Pre-order the record here.

Don’t Piss On Me, I’m Already Dead

What do you do if you want to make music but there aren’t any instruments around? If you’re Crywank, you pick up the nearest thing to hand and you make noises with it. Then you play that thing over and over until you have a song.

In the process of recording their new album, I got to record the following DIY instruments:

-Spring Machine
-Egg
-Jack-in-the-box
-Tambourine Man
-Hambone
-Squeaky Squirrel Toy
-Dog Bowl
-Mouth Pop
-Screwdrivers
-Toy Phone

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

My approach to the record wasn’t any different from usual really, I just used my ears and put mics here and there. The most technical I got in the whole process was that the drums were recorded using either the Glynn Johns method or the usual close mics, spaced overheads and wild rooms mics. Then we’d just decide which approach was best for each track. That’s it. The rest was pretty much just a case of micing up home-made instruments or toys (apparently there aren’t any books or online guides on how to capture someone slapping their belly and their thighs) so it was total guesswork.

I’m not gonna lie, there were moments in the studio where I may have thought “why would Dan want that many tambourines attached to him” or ”how the hell should I mic up a dog bowl”, but it was amazing to have them trust me on this record, and I think it came out really well. Give it a listen below:

Oh Man, The Website

I have been very slack with this.

Anyway, at the tail end of last year I worked on a new record for Oh Man, The Mountain. Due to their lack of d-beats I felt I needed more preparation than usual and looked up a load of fancy new techniques used by actual professional studios. I won’t bore you with them here but some of them worked a treat. Some were bollocks though.

Experiments with micing drums in neighbouring rooms captured the studio door squeaking in the middle of THE take when we realised the bassist had been outside in freezing rain for half an hour and let him in. Whilst not quite ‘the cough’ from Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste by Norma Jean we decided to leave it in as it acted as a slight lift into the next section. Let me know if anyone can find it in the finished track, which you can hear below. Get the EP later this month, it is lovely.