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The Creative Music Recording Magazine

Smashing Pumpkins
A studio history with Billy Corgan, Flood,
Jimmy Chamberlin, Butch Vig, Alan Moulder,
and Tommy Lee

Blake Mills
Shawn Everett

Alabama Shakes Sound & Color and more...

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Billy Bush

Garbage, Grizfolk, Jake Bugg

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Annette Cisneros
Offspring, Social Distortion, Alice in Chains

Jack Shirley
Deafheaven, Loma Prieta

Music Reviews

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Chris Staples
Margo Price

Issue

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Gear Reviews

No.

Sept/Oct

115

2016

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Hello and

Tape Op

#115!

Letters
Annette Cisneros
Smashing Pumpkins
Jack Shirley
Billy Bush
Blake Mills
Shawn Everett
Gear Reviews
Music Reviews
Johns End Rant

Online Only Features:


Rob Chiarelli & Chandler Bridges
Behind the Gear at Gauge
Bradley Studios & The Nashville Sound
Bob Ferbrache
Denvers Denizen

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p a g e

welcome to

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Larry Crane, Editor

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Looking back over the history of recorded music, one thing is for
sure: the technology used is always in flux. When Ive interviewed engineers from the 60s or 70s,
there will invariably be a point where the number of analog tape tracks (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24,
32, 48) a studio was able to offer would affect the financial end of running a business (see Annette
Cisneros interview this issue). These days, its quite different; and while some
studios, engineers, and producers will look to the past and pick and choose the recording
technology they wish to utilize, the majority of recording folks are looking at a computer screen,
unlimited track count, and data to back up.
Check out John Baccigaluppis End Rant this issue. As technology focuses on the everyday user,
hes questioning his faith in computer companies as many other professionals might be doing these
days. Note Billy Bushs tale of job advancement due to his eagerness to explore new technologies.
Read Jack Shirleys story of moving from digital to tape for better sounds and workflow.
The technology of recording is fascinating, but we must always keep in mind that it only serves
a means. Capturing art, expression, and emotion in any way possible is the goal.

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The Creative Music Recording Magazine

Editor
Larry Crane

Publisher &!Graphic Design


John Baccigaluppi

Online Publisher
Geoff Stanfield

CTO & Digital Director


Anthony Sarti

Gear Reviews Editor


Andy Gear Geek Hong

Production Manager & Assistant Gear Reviews Editor


Scott McChane

Contributing Writers &!Photographers

Jonathan Saxon, James Salter, Jake Brown, Scarlet Page, Scott Evans,
Lindsey Byrnes, Scott McDowell, Dave Cerminara, Garrett Haines,
Tom Fine, Adam Kagan, John Noll, Dana Gumbiner, and Stephen Allbritten.

Editorial and Office Assistants

Jenna Crane (proofreading), Thomas Danner (transcription),


Maria Baker (admin, accounting)

Tape Op Book distribution


c/o www.halleonard.com

Disclaimer

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TAPE OP magazine wants to make clear that the opinions expressed within reviews, letters, and
articles are not necessarily the opinions of the publishers. Tape Op is intended as a forum to
advance the art of recording, and there are many choices made along that path.

Editorial Office

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(For submissions, letters, music for review. Music for review is also
reviewed in the Sacramento office, address below)
P.O. Box 86409, Portland, OR 97286 voicemail 503-208-4033

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All unsolicited submissions and letters sent to us become the property of Tape Op.

10/Tape Op#115/Masthead

Advertising

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916-444-5241, (john@tapeop.com)
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Please do not email or call the rest of the staff about subscription issues.

Postmaster and all general inquiries to:

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(916) 444-5241 | tapeop.com
Tape Op is published by Single Fin, Inc. (publishing services)
and Jackpot! Recording Studio, Inc. (editorial services)

www.tapeop.com

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be able to light a candle next to


these amazing people. I am in the process of

moving my indie label (Mission Control Records) from


Spokane, Washington, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
There we will have a hybrid studio that will include a Neve
VR 60 desk and a Studer A820, among other things. Thanks
I just wanted to praise the inventors... and then for this great magazine. It inspires me to keep on rockin!
you... for developing, then reviewing, the DynaMount:
Karl Bingle <karl@mission-control-records.com>
X1-R & V1 robotic mic mounts [Tape Op #113]. This is
Dana Gumbiners review of the [Undertone Audio] Varione of those things I never even thought about maybe
Cap
instrument cable [Tape Op #113] states that
I thought it was in the Jetsons future of flying cars. But
this is the kind of gizmo that I think everyone has capacitance in this context is the cables ability (capacity)
needed since forever. Ill wager to predict that in 20 to store, or effectively transmit, that electrical signal. For
years, engineers will wonder how people existed before the benefit of your readers it would be good to clear up that
robotic arms the same way my kids cannot imagine life this is factually incorrect. First: capacitance is the ability to
without a cell phone. I have a very short audio memory, store an electrostatic charge as a difference in potential
and I bet a lot of other engineers do as well. If I step between two conductive plates. Any real-world shielded
away from the desk for two or three minutes I can easily cable has a small amount of stray capacitance, but the cable
lose the sense of tone I was looking for. But thats been does not store electrical signal. To say it does is to
the reality for me for 20 plus years. Think about it. imply that a cable is a recording device. Additionally, a
Imagine being a graphic artist and having to close your cables ability to effectively transmit electrical signal is
eyes for two minutes every time you need to change a function of the conductivity of its center conductor
colors in Photoshop. Thats what audio people do all the almost always copper and the impedance relationship
time when we decide that a tone is wrong. We have to between the source and load. But not the cables
get up, go into the studio, make a guesstimate capacitance. Cable capacitance can impact audio when the
adjustment, then schlep back into the control room to cable is part of a tuned resonant circuit, along with (pickup)
hear the results. I want to encourage every manufacturer coil inductance and resistance provided those parameters
to get on this train. I can easily see every pro stand or allow the capacitance to be significant at frequencies of
mic having a little robot solenoid/wi-fi device in a few interest. But its important to recognize that the definition
years. It shouldnt be an add-on. It should be standard of capacitance does not change depending on context, and
equipment (like a shock mount), just as wi-fi remote is that cable capacitance is a measure of one thing only: the
incidental ability of a cable to behave as a crude capacitor,
now standard on every decent camera.
due
to the proximity of the conductor and shield over a
JC Harris <mail@jchmusic.com>
significant length of conductive material.
Longtime reader, first time writer. Im in an airport,
Brad Alllen Williams <www.soundsdifferent.com>
diving into issue #113, and I just wanted to applaud
Chris Coadys honesty and perspective when it comes to
competition amongst studios. We can all coexist, and
the culture benefits when we do. Valuable insight.
Larry Gates <curbservicemusic.com>

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I want to begin with an apology for not writing


sooner to thank you for such a righteous gift that arrives
every [other] month to my pad! I have played guitar
most of my life, and witnessed Jimi Hendrix and Eric
Burdon jam (at the football field many of us were
sleeping on) at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Fast
forward to 2000. I retired, went back to school, and
[became a] Certified Pro Tools Operator. Your publication
is one of my favorites, along with Hot Rod. Your
interviews have confirmed many of my views, taught me
valuable lessons, as well as given me insight into others
thoughts, techniques, and experiences. So thank you
all, for all you do in the wonderful world of sound!
Steven <bay.blues.man@gmail.com>

I just signed up to receive Tape Op and I am completely


engrossed in all of the articles. This is like a mecca to me!
Im soaking up articles, especially this one with Don Was
[Tape Op #133]. As a guy that grew up playing in bands
that gravitated towards production, I am humbled and
inspired by these articles. I hope to someday

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Thanks for all the tweets and texts we were thrilled


to see Tape Op on such a great show! - LC

I just want to say thank you for a great mag! I just read
#113 from cover to cover. The Don Was and Scott Hull articles
were so good, in different ways. The Winner Takes All by
Larry Crane on the back page is so relevant to my 40+-year
career as a band member and songwriter. Keep em coming!
Jonnie Miles <jonniemiles@gmail.com>

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Hey, did you see the copy of Tape Op that appeared


in the May 29th episode of Silicon Valley on HBO? Right
around the 24-minute mark you can see a copy in the
background in a wall rack. Thought that was pretty cool.
Thanks for putting out a great magazine.
Bobby Lott <robertclott@hotmail.com>

we hate

bad records.

I just want to say thank you very much for providing


such informative and down to earth articles. I really
appreciate the kind and human approach to your
interviews. I have recently completed several video
courses on <lynda.com> from Larry Crane and now know
why your magazine is so good! Larry explains things in a
way that makes it easy to understand, but also exciting
because its obvious from his tone how much he loves
audio and music. Thank you all so much for your
enthusiastic articles and videos. I really appreciate it.
Chris Davidson <weaktearecords@hotmail.com>

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I have been vexed by a conundrum brought about by


the resurrection of all analog recording that has
occurred in the last 10 to 15 years: Why is it that
modern analog recordings sound so much more high
fidelity than recordings from the 70s on back? By way
of example, compare the sound of any orchestral
recording from the 60s to the 2004 recording of the
score from The Incredibles, which was recorded on
analog tape for the ostensible purpose of imparting a
vintage feel to the soundtrack (but didnt really, in my
opinion). Any light you and your readers could shed on
this would be appreciated.
Nathanael Davenport <nathanimal@me.com>

If you even read this I


will be honored, because
it means theres a chance
you might enjoy what I
have to say. Having read
so many of your
magazines, I think I have
a story you will
appreciate. It began when I
created an affordable tape studio in order to help young
bands in the Richmond, Virginia, region to be able to
make albums without having to deplete the already
nonexistent budget. The results have been amazing, and
I would love a chance to send you some bands that have
come out of the Virginia Moonwalker. If that seems
mundane or typical, we are about to put into production
(via a partners company, Portal Pusher), a line of 50s
inspired mic pres, compressors, and squeeze-your-lemon
type spring reverbs (these are no copies or kits!). All tube.
All handmade. We are closer to how things were done in
the past than most recording facilities because its all
done in house. Its all done right. And
A little bit of Abbey Road, a
little bit of Muscle Shoals, and a lot of
plugger/ditchdigger mentality. We build the gear. We got
the songs. We are damn good engineers, and there is
plenty of pedigree to go around. But who doesnt? Wed
just like the chance to tell you/show you.
Hercules Mulligan <thevirginiamoonwalker@gmail.com>

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I really appreciated Larrys Winner Takes All End Rant in


Tape Op #113. As an audio engineer and musician who plays
both Jeff Beck licks on a Telecaster and Saint-Sans sonatas
on the cello, I can tell you that this problem exists equally
for classical musicians. Everyone knows Yo-Yo Ma, but who
(outside of our small cello community) ever heard of Lynn
Harrell, Ofra Harnoy, Mischa Maisky, or Allison Eldredge?
These are all highly talented musicians who I imagine earn
only 1/100th as much as Yo-Yo, simply for lack of name
recognition. Of course, there are more famous violinists than
famous cellists. But still, less than one percent

of state of the art players are


known to the general public. Same for

flautists. Everyone knows Sir James Galway and Jean-Pierre


Rampal, but very few people know any of the other 100-plus
fantastic and equally deserving players.
Ethan Winer <ethanwiner.com>

12/Tape Op#115/Letters/

Send Letters & Questions


to: editor@tapeop.com

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Annette Cisneros is a highly experienced


engineer and studio manager. Her credits are
long and her knowledge is deep. For several
years she was Dave Jerdens [Tape Op #86]
assistant engineer. When Jerden asked Bryan
Carlstrom [Tape Op #28] to join their team, the
three of them had a very successful run,
cutting records with bands like The Offspring,
Social Distortion, and Alice in Chains, to name
a few. Eventually Cisneros moved into the
role of studio manager when she opened
Tranzformer Studios with Jerden and
Carlstrom. After Carlstroms untimely passing
in 2014, Tranzformer Studios closed its doors.
Annette is currently an engineer and
assistant to the studio manager at DiaDan
Studios in Burbank, CA.

Where did you get your start?

Yeah, they dont teach you about

human dynamics.
I thought it would be cool to work in a recording studio.
Id always loved music, so after high school I said, Id Yep. Or when the artist youre working with, or even the
like to work in a studio! I went to an engineering
engineer too, are doing cocaine throughout the
school in North Hollywood called Sound Master. It
night. How do you deal with that?
doesnt exist there anymore. I think its in Alhambra, How do you deal with that?
[CA], now [currently known as Pinnacle College].
Carefully. Everybodys like, Come on, come on. Lets go!
When I finished the school I didnt get a job in a
Were your parents supportive?
studio right away, so I worked at a record store for a
Yes, they were very supportive. I was born and raised here
while. Then I got a job at Rusk Sound [Studios]. Its
in Montebello, [CA]. The school was in North
a studio in Hollywood on La Brea Avenue, between
Hollywood, so it wasnt very far. We learned how to
Hollywood and Sunset. I think the sign is still out
align tape machines there. Pro Tools wasnt even
there on La Brea.
invented yet when I was in school. We learned all
about tape machines; 24-track and 2-track machines. How did you get that job?
So when you got out of there, were you I heard they needed an assistant, so I just went in there.
Of course you work for free for a while, so that they
ready to work in a studio?
can see what youve got. Then I started getting paid.
Yep. Working with bands you get to learn [how to work
The assistant engineer there told me that Eldorado
with artists].

Annette Cisneros

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by Jonathan Saxon
photo by James Salter

14/Tape Op#115/Ms. Cisneros/(continued on page 16)

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Recording [Studios] was looking for a woman We were a well-oiled machine. We all knew our roles and
assistant, because a woman assistant had just left
what to do. We met Bryan at Track Records, but he
and they wanted another woman to be an assistant.
didnt really come into the picture until we moved to
Sunset [Blvd.]. He had left Track, and he was
Really! Thats unusual, right?
working at Capitol. Since Dave knew Bryan, he said,
Yeah, it was. But at the time I didnt think anything of it.
Youre too good to be an assistant there. Come work
I wasnt even going to ask any gender
with us. We worked together at that location for
related questions. To me, youre an
about six years. Then we moved to Burbank on
engineer. Period.
Providencia [Avenue]. Gary bought that place.
Thats my thinking as well. I didnt know how rare
woman engineers were until I was in the business for What prompted the move to Providencia?
a while. It is rare. Gary Gunton owned Eldorado, and Gary was just renting on Sunset, so he bought the
he also managed Dave Jerden. Dave just finished
building in Burbank. There was a warehouse that was
working with the Rolling Stones as an engineer. He
being built, and he bought the warehouse. He had
wanted to be a producer, not just an engineer, and
his guy, Steve Klein [Steven Kleins Sound Control
to produce local bands. I just happened to get a job
Room, Inc.], build out the control rooms in there.
at Eldorado, and since Gary managed Dave thats how He doesnt own it any more, does he?
I started working with Dave.
No, he sold it; the studio and everything. We did a lot
of records at Eldorado on Sunset. Then we moved to
So you started working with Dave before
Providencia and we worked with a lot of the same
Bryan Carlstrom started working
bands, like The Offspring. We did Ixnay on the
with him.
Hombre at Sunset, and we did Americana at
Oh, yeah. We worked together for almost two years before
Providencia.
we met Bryan. Eldorado used to be on Sunset, right
across from Capitol Records. I think the first project I What about the early Alice in Chains
did with Dave was a band called 54-40 from Canada.
and Janes Addiction records? Was
There are quite a few artists we worked with at
that on Sunset?
Eldorado. Then we had to move because the old Dave and I did the first Janes Addiction, Nothings
building wasnt up to earthquake code. We moved to
Shocking, at Eldorado on Vine before we moved to
Track Record [Studios], and thats where we met Bryan.
Track Record.

How was that transition for you?


It was definitely a learning curve. First we were on 24track analog, and then digital came out. We were
doing 48-track digital tape, recording on that. Then
Pro Tools came out, so it was a digital recording. We
were incorporating a lot of things together. For The
Offspring, we tracked on analog. It was the same
thing for Alice in Chains. We tracked on analog and
transferred it to digital.

Okay. Not digital tape, but to digital


hard disk?

We did for The Offspring. Alice in Chains was digital


tape. We tracked our 24-track analog and then
transferred it. Sony had a 48-track digital tape
machine, so we transferred it to a digital tape
machine and then did overdubs on that. We got 48
tracks on one reel.

You worked on one of the Bozzio Levin


Stevens records [Terry Bozzio, Tony
Levin (Tape Op #33), and Steve Stevens].

Right. We did that album [Situation Dangerous] in


Burbank on Providencia. A lot of the recording was
done already, and they just came in to do overdubs.
It was cool to see Steve Stevens play guitar hes so
good. It was just him and Terry; Levin wasnt there.
I think hed finished all his parts.

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When youre engineering, do you wait


for the producer to tell you, for
Thats in North Hollywood.
You were working a lot!
example, which reverb to use, or do
In North Hollywood on Vineland Avenue. Tom Murphy, I was always working. I was the assistant at Eldorado,
you set things up according to your
who owned Track Record, had just built out a second
there were other projects coming in when Dave
own sensibilities?

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No, there were two separate rooms there; a North room


and a South room at Track Record. We mainly worked
in the South room. Bryan was an assistant engineer
at Track Record, like myself, so thats how we got to
know each other, while working on different
projects. When we moved to Track Record, it was
only temporary. Gary [Gunton] was still looking for
another place. Almost two years later, we moved
Eldorado, and our studio, to Hollywood on Sunset
[Boulevard]. The place that we moved into used to
be Marvin Gayes studio [Marvins Room].

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Once you met Bryan, were you and Dave


working with him right away?

wasnt working. I was able to work with other artists Well, Ill know I want to use a certain preamp or
too. I assisted on a lot of projects. It was cool
compressor. I just make sure that what Im recording
because I was able to work with a lot of other
is sounding great and everythings going to Pro Tools
engineers and producers and learn from them.
okay. As for reverb and things like that, I just use it
dont think your AllMusic.com
to monitor. I dont record with the reverb, because I
discography is as thorough as it
dont know how much Ill want to use in the mix, or
should be.
even if thats the right kind of reverb Ill want. Maybe
Thats true. And if the record company secretary didnt
Ill decide that its just a delay I want to use. Working
get your name on the record, then youre not on
with Dave, hell have the mix in mind all the time.
AllMusic. There are a lot of records I worked on that
He [hears] the end product. So when hes recording,
Im not credited for. Its just paperwork. Somebody
he says, I want that guitar to have a chorus effect
didnt get my name on something.
on it. So we record the chorus effect. Thats the
All those Summit preamps and so forth,
difference working with Dave he knows exactly
were those owned by the studio, or
what he wants. If somethings not working hell pull
were those Bryans?
out another box to try. A lot of people just wait,
Those were Bryans. He bought that equipment when we
Well fix it in the mix. You want to get it right when
were working with Dave. There are pictures of when
you record it. You want the sounds to be there. If the
we were working with The Offspring. Bryan built the
guitar amp isnt quite the right sound for a part, hell
very first big Pro Tools rig.
try another amp.

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control room in a warehouse. Billy Idol was working


there at the time, and Bryan was working with Billy.
Thats how we met Bryan. We had all the equipment
from Eldorado, but no place to go. Tom had a studio
with no equipment, so that worked out.
I

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Was there any equipment in there when


you moved in?
Really?
No; it was all cleared out, but it was a studio.

Once you started working with Dave, was


it like going to school again?

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Oh yeah, absolutely. The engineering school really just


gives you basics. You need to be in the studio to
really learn. Dave was a great teacher and was
showing me a lot of things. Dave still engineered,
and I was assisting him.

So when Bryan came into the picture,


you guys were a solid, three-piece
production team.

What prompted you to decide to move

He bought all the equipment: the huge Anvil cases that


into the studio manager role?
he had that said Bryan Carlstrom... he put all the Pro Gary had sold Eldorado and everything changed. Back
Tools racks in there with monitors and everything.
then it was getting harder and harder to get clients
He was calling Digidesign to ask them questions, and
into the studio. Gary said he had to sell the place,
theyd say, Sorry, we havent really built a rig that
because it didnt make sense to keep it open. We
big yet. They couldnt really help him when he had
were at that location for nine years by then. We all
a question.
went our separate ways. Bryan had a studio in his
Wow! So he was totally ready to make
guesthouse. Hed left Eldorado about two years prior,
that transition.
and was independent already. When he needed to
Yeah, as soon as it came out. I think maybe The Offspring
move his studio out of his guesthouse, thats how
was one of the first records we did in Pro Tools.
Tranzformer Studios was born, in Burbank on

16/Tape Op#115/Ms. Cisneros/(continued on page 18)

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Magnolia [Boulevard]. He moved all his equipment in.


A couple months later, he called and asked me if I was
interested in helping out and being partners. He had
reached out to Dave, too. It was the three of us again.
I took on the role of studio manager. After some trials
and tribulations we moved into the old Mad Dog
Studios [Tape Op #57] on Lake Street [in Burbank, CA]
and started up again.

John Nuss came in as an assistant


engineer when Tranzformer opened.
Is that when you decided to manage
the studio?

It was a single room, and I was fine being the manager of


it. Bryan was so good. Its like, Really? You want me
to engineer? Come on. I was fine with just taking the
role of manager/assistant.

Youre good too. Dave told me, Annettes


as good as any of us.

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gr

Well, I learned from Dave mainly. I engineered for Dave


when Bryan left Eldorado. We did a few records
together. I also learned from other producers I worked
with. As an assistant, during a session, you really know
more of whats going on equipment-wise, because
youre the one setting up and patching everything. You
know that this compressors going to that guitar amp.
You know more than the engineer. Youre the one
keeping track of what goes where. You have to keep
good notes on exactly whats going on. When you have
a full-on tracking date with drums, bass, and guitars,
youve got at least 20 microphones going on. If
somethings not working, you have to be able to trace
it down and troubleshoot. Youre the one who has to
figure all that out. Especially if its an outside engineer
coming into your studio. You have to know your room.

Did you have outside engineers come in?

A lot of times, when it was Eldorado. Gary was booking the


studio when Dave and Bryan
were between projects.

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So Gary owned Eldorado, and Dave and


Bryan were like the house engineers?

18/Tape Op#115/Ms. Cisneros/(Fin.)

Dave produced and mixed, Bryan engineered, and I


assisted. Since Gary managed Dave, Gary tried to get as
many projects for Dave as possible. After Dave did Alice
in Chains, Social Distortion, and The Offspring, the
phone was really ringing off the hook from managers
and record companies wanting Dave to work with their
artists. There was a band called the Bone Club that
wanted Dave to mix six songs. They just dropped off
the tapes. I set up the mix; we mixed the six songs,
sent them back, and that was it. No recalls. Then the
guy from the Bone Club came one day and was like,
Dave, thanks! You bought me my hot tub!

People are lucky to work with you. Not


only are you excellent at your job, but
you guys are all great people.

Thanks. We do this for the love of the music. There were


times when it was really hard, and we were struggling,
but I told Bryan, Listen, were dream makers. There
are lots of artists Ive worked with who have said that
its their dream to come into the studio and make their
record. Were happy to help people realize their dream.
Thats why we do it. r
<theevergreenstage.com>

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Smashing
Pumpkins

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A Studio History

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In a walk through Smashing Pumpkins history, we examine the


stories and situations that created the studio albums from 1991s
Gish to 2014s Monuments to an Elegy. Well hear from singer,
songwriter, and guitarist Billy Corgan, drummers Jimmy
Chamberlin and Tommy Lee, and a cast of producers and
engineers, including Flood, Alan Moulder, Butch Vig [Tape Op #11],
Brad Wood [#99], Howard Willing, and Terry Date.
20/Tape Op#115/the Smashing Pumpkins/(continued on page 22)

by Jake Brown

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Billy Corgan: I was intimidated by the recording studio


environment early on, and in that intimidation I
defaulted to letting the people around me do what
they do get the drum sound, whatever and I had
some early experiences where I questioned people, or
I suggested maybe that there was a different thing
that they could have done. I didnt get a very positive
response, which set me down the path of, Well, I
guess I should know how to do that, so when they
say, No, I can tell them why theyre wrong. [I
preferred that] as opposed to someone telling me,
No and, You dont know what youre doing.

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Billy Corgan: The first


time I met Butch Vig
was when we walked into
Smart Studios to record
what became our
Sub Pop single
[Tristessa].

What made the pocket Jimmy Chamberlin: I Am One was really begat out of
a drum machine beat that Billy had come up with
between Billy and
that was really almost impossible to play on a drum
Jimmy so special,
kit. Its just one of those things where somebody
and key, to the core of
writes something on a drum machine with absolutely
the bands sound?

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Your debut album, Gish, holds up as


one of those life-changing
albums for most fans.
It certainly was the
first time anyone
had ever heard a
sound quite
like that one.
What made
you feel
B u t c h Vig
was the right
man for the
job as your coproducer?

Jimmy, I think it could be credibly argued


that Gishs I Am One is one of best
examples of that synergy in action,
and one of your most celebrated beats.
What do you remember about bringing
that one to life in the studio with Billy
and Butch?

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Youve been very hands-on throughout


your entire professional career as a
co-producer on all of the Smashing
Pumpkins albums. What motivated
you to begin taking an interest in
the recording process?

So they really just had a bond, in terms of how they


played, which Im sure came in part from when they
first started out jamming in someones basement. They
definitely had a chemistry, and I think thats one of the
things that really made that band sound special.
Jimmy Chamberlin: We were very intuitive, and wed
listened to a lot of the same music, so our idea of
where the destination was, both rhythmically and
harmonically, was oftentimes very similar. Billys got
an understanding of my ability that I dont have, so
he knows what that intangible feeling is in my
playing. If I listen to two takes, and I think one may
be marginally better than another, and he picks the
one I think is probably not as good, hes probably got
better reasons than I do.
Billy Corgan: It was, What cant Jimmy do? [laughs]
Butch is a very good drummer, but he, of course,
recognized very early on that Jimmy was sort of a
savant and playing at a higher level, even then, than
just about any drummer whod ever walked through
his door. They hit it off right away; it was like Jimmy
played the way Butch wished he could play, and
Jimmy hits drums in the way Butch wished that he
could hit the drums which pushed Butch. If you
listen to the drum sound on Gish, its still one of the
great drum sounds of any record youll ever hear. Its
just so beautiful; Im still struck by it.

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Billy Corgan: I had a very early awareness of sound that


was very personal. Of course later I figured out what
I was reacting to, but I do remember having really
deep emotional experiences listening to Queen, Black
Sabbath, Cheap Trick, and The Beatles, where I
connected the sonic information to an emotional
quality that I saw as distinctive.

I knew who he was by name and reputation, but


didnt know anything else about him. I think [I liked]
the fact that he wasnt pretentious; he was a hard
worker and he wasnt intimidated by the scope of
what Jimmy and I were trying to do. In fact, he
seemed to welcome it. Then, in turn, he asked us to
play at a higher level than we even knew we could
play at, which just fueled our, Alright, if you meet us
there; well meet you here. That started this really
incredible relationship between Jimmy, Butch, and I
we tended to feed off of one anothers insanity.
Butch Vig: When I first met the Pumpkins I was thrilled
to work with them because I think I had found
someone, in Billy Corgan, who really set the bar high
sonically. I knew right away that he was gonna push
me, but I could push him right back. Quite frankly,
on most of the albums or projects Id done before
Gish there was never any budget or any money. I had
to do records really fast, in two or three days, or
maybe five or six days, so everything just had to be
by the seat of my pants. Id have to make really fast
decisions. When we went in to make Gish, I think the
budget was maybe 30 days or something, and I was
over the moon. I was really thrilled about that,
because I always wanted to be able spend more time
finessing a sound. As much as I love punk rock, rock
n roll, chaos, and noise, I like to hear the focus of
that sound. I like records to be focused: I like to hear
the instrumentation; I like to hear the hooks. Billy
and the Pumpkins felt the same way. We were a
good pair, and I think that was one of the
first things we bonded on initially;
setting the bar really high in what
we could do sonically.

no idea of hand-and-foot proximity, and then says,


Butch Vig: Billy and Jimmy
Hey, what do you think about this? Oh, it sounds
had almost a sixth sense, in
great Well, can you play it? Well, I can come back
terms of the feel that they
in a week and play it, but in order to play it faithfully
developed within songs. They
Ive gotta do a single paradiddle on my floor tom, and
are both amazing musicians.
then bring my left hand Theres a pedagogical
Billy can play crazy, shredding
component to learning that. The genesis of moving
metal, muso-jazz chords, and
my big [floor] tom over to the left was just trying to
rhythmically hes just amazing.
assimilate that beat.
Jimmy had rock chops, but he also
had jazz chops and could play these Billy Corgan: If you go back and listen to I Am One, and
the drum balance on the toms, those are not geeked
crazy buzz fills. He had a great
up; those are him hitting the drums. Thats the
swing he could bring, even if
concussiveness of the way hes playing coming through
it was a 4/4 rock
the room mics. Oftentimes when you hear drummers
track.
play, and then you see them live, they dont have the
same power because theyre aided by the studio
balance. That is actually true to Jimmys balance; what
you hear is how Jimmy sounded in the room.

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When did the concept of produced by on


the back of a vinyl album first occur to
you as a music fan growing up?

22/Tape Op#115/the Smashing Pumpkins/(continued on page 24)

What were some of the challenges of


being a co-producer for the first time
working with Butch Vig, who was
probably used to running the show
from behind the board with most of
his artists?

Billy Corgan, photo by Scarlet Page

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Your second album, Siamese Dream, set


a new bar sonically and really
solidified the bands wall of guitar
as a signature sound. What was your
vision for that aspect of the record?

moment. Heading into the studio on Siamese Dream,


Jimmy was very much still the drummer on Gish. When
you listen to something like Geek U.S.A., that
opened up the door to where Jimmy was going as a
drummer. Its like a Disneyland ride. [laughs]
Jimmy Chamberlin: Billys a great barometer for my
playing; he knows what Im capable of, and he
challenges me to move beyond what I think Im
capable of. I hope hed say the same thing about me.
We both have a great admiration and respect for each
others talents. Ive heard him do things on the guitar
that are literally like Coltrane-level lead runs; just
stream of consciousness playing that Ive never heard
another guitar player do.
Billy Corgan: I loved Janes Addictions ability to shift
gears, I loved Bad Brains abilities to shift gears, I loved
The Beatles ability to shift gears, but I felt like we
found our version of that. I felt like we were no longer
imitating, or in the shadow, of anybody; we were now
in our own clear space. The nice thing is that time has
born that out. There are still people, to this day, that
dont like Siamese Dream because they loved the Gish
band and feel I cut that band off to go in this other
direction. Its this weird what-might-have-been thing.
I feel like the progression of Gish to Siamese Dream to
Mellon Collie, that was who we were. We would
embrace whatever we were into, and when we were
done with it, we were ready to move on.

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By 1995, heading into the double-LP


Mellon Collie and the Infinite
Sadness, what made you feel the
co-production team of Flood and
Alan Moulder would be your best
sonic sidekicks to achieve your next
studio ambition?

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Billy Corgan: Butch Vig loves vocals, so when I was


sitting in Smart Studios, circa 1990, and I was cranking
the guitar, he was looking at me like, Yeah, every
guitar player wants to crank the guitar. And Im
saying, No, you dont understand. The guitars need to
sit here for a reason. I wasnt turning up the guitars
cause Im a guitar player, I was telling him, This is the
best way. Then I, of course, put what we call
Pumkinizer around my vocals and then buried my
vocal, like Exile on Main Street. He was looking at me
like, Wait a second. He pulled the faders down and
said, This is where the guitars should be, and this is
where the vocals should be. I said, That sounds
boring. I put the faders back up, and I pulled the voice
back up. Thats the sound. Thats the sound. So I was
saying that. And he was looking at me going, Wait,
youre the songwriter. Youre the singer. Youre the
guitar player. Who am I talking to? I was trying to say
to him, This is the producer talking. Its hard to have
credibility in that moment, because they ultimately
assume that youre like every other musician who wants
to hear their part, their way.
Butch Vig: Wed go in the studio for 14 or 15 hours a
day and just go to battle as co-producers. It wasnt
like we were yelling at each other, but we were
constantly trying to up the ante. Id say, Well, you
can probably do that better. Or hed say, I dont
think that sounds right. You can get a better sound
on this. So we were just constantly pushing each
other. I loved that. I respected that.

Butchs for a 4th of July picnic, and we were probably


some of the first people on the planet to hear that
record. We were listening to Butchs mixes. The first
song we hear was [Smells Like] Teen Spirit, and the
first thing through my mind was, Wow, Kurt
[Cobain]s ripped off More Than a Feeling by Boston.
The second thing through my mind was, Oh, by the
way, Butch has ripped off my fucking guitar sound.
So I think, in my mind, it was like, Okay, Im going
to create a guitar sound that no one can follow!
Butch Vig: We recorded Siamese Dream on analog tape,
and looking back its inconceivable how much work it
took. Nowadays, in Pro Tools, its so easy to slide things
around to edit, cut, and paste. It makes the engineers
job so much easier. The great thing about how we
approached Siamese Dream is because we set the bar
really high we had to make sure everything sounded
really good, and then the band had to play. They were
great players, but we did a lot of takes. Sometimes I
would do razor blade tape editing between takes
especially when they were cutting a basic track. Jimmy
had to play drums a lot, and Billy had to play most of
the guitar and bass on that record. There was a lot of
burden, initially, just on getting the drums right; and
once we had all that tracked, it really came down to
Billy. It was just me and him in the control room, and
it was immense, long hours 12 to 14 hour days of
him playing guitar and singing. I had to keep him really
motivated and focused to try to keep track of his vision.
Ive always loved working with bands that have a strong
vision as a producer, and Billy Corgan had a very strong
vision. I had never really done a record of that sonic
scope. I remember it almost killed me, but was an
immense achievement for me personally. Billy was a
mad scientist with the guitars. A lot of times I would
have to draw out a map, literally, of the song for his
guitars with all these arrows, going, Okay, this one
goes to track 14 for the clean guitar through the second
verse. For instance, on Soma, that was one of the
biggest guitar maps I ever had. I remember that was
epic. I remember having to flip over the back of the
track sheet and continue the map.
Billy Corgan: There is a sonic aspect to that. My voice is
quite thin and small, so my voice tends to sound
bigger, actually, in a wall of guitars. Its been weird for
me in the last seven years, because as vocals have
gotten louder in the sonic spectrum and the general
consensus is, Well, you should have louder vocals it
exposed my voice in a way that probably wouldnt be
as exposed if it was still sitting in a pile of guitars. Fans
are always complaining and saying, Turn your vocals
back down, but thats the way I like to hear it. Siamese
Dream is probably the greatest: Jimmy on fire, and me
singing behind a wall of guitars is probably the greatest
expression of what we are capable of.

rm

Butch Vig

hl

Billy Corgan: I came in with a very strong mind that we Jimmys drumming took things to an
entirely new level. What were you
needed to have a guitar sound that was idealized in
pushing him to do on Siamese Dream?
the way that Cream or Boston had an idealized guitar
sound. Im not really sure how I arrived there, but it Billy Corgan: Siamese Dream was a tricky record as it
pertains to Jimmy, because Jimmy was asked to be
probably had something to do with the fact that
more than he was at that moment. And, at the same
Butch finished Gish and literally packed up the next
time, he was asked to be less than he was at that
day to record Nevermind with Nirvana. We were at

24/Tape Op#115/the Smashing Pumpkins/(continued on page 26)

Billy Corgan: Flood, I felt, understood what I was trying


to get at. My sense of it is Flood came to see us play
live and said, I want to record that band. Flood
being Flood, would be way more attracted to the band
as we really were, as opposed to the shiny version.
Hes more than capable of doing the shiny version,
but I think he thought the other version was going to
be a lot more fun.
Flood: When you watched them live, at that time, during
Mellon Collie, I dont think Ive recorded a better
band. They were so amazing, but it had to be all four of
them there. They all needed each other in different
ways. The groove and the feel of the combination of all
of them; when they were really on it, nailed it, and knew
what they were doing, it was amazing. Jimmy and Billy
are so creative. Sometimes Jimmy might come up with
guitar bits, or Billy might a have technical idea, so it
was a really special time because no one was really
overbearing ego-wise at all. As co-producers, Billy was
one of those artists Ive worked with who just had
creativity coming out of every pore and he wanted to
push; he never wanted to stagnate. He had ambition
and he was always pushing. Theyd rehearse a song until
it felt right. You could say genius, or you could just
say somebodys found their calling and theyre not
frightened by it. They wanted to embrace it and push it
as far as they possibly could.

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Billy Corgan: Then the famous no one knows what Im


saying thing at the beginning; I heard that in my
head, picked up a 58, sang it into the Kurzweil, fucked
that up, and looped it in. We thought, Well replace
that later with a keyboard, because I heard it more
as a melody idea, and then it just stuck. When we
went to take it off, and they were like, No, this is too
good. It was like a beautiful day of weird stuff.
Alan Moulder: Thats a classic Flood production: the
vocal effects and the Kurzweil distortion on the
drums. I think once they decided how to do it, it
came together rather quickly. That was a special song.

The next album, Adore, took things in a


more programmed direction
rhythmically with Jimmy gone,
arguably expanding on the 1979
production. Heading in that
direction, where were you looking to
do something different with the
bands sound?

Billy Corgan: Adore was me trying to create a unique


sonic landscape that was certainly inspired by those
movements, but, at the same time, I had my own
stamp or take on it. It was a very particular kind of
ruin. Using that Kurzweil keyboard was one of the
many tools that I used to make it almost [sound] like
if you found a record in the attic and said, When was
this made, 50 years ago? It was like trying to make
a living relic of a record.
Brad Wood [initial producer, Tape Op #99]: Billy hired
me to work on what was initially to be his solo album.
That concept got expanded to a proper Smashing
Pumpkins record pretty quickly, and we went at the
sessions pretty hard. The first two weeks were really
fruitful (To Sheila, Ava Adore, and Behold! The
Night Mare) and I felt good about the pace, and the
relationship between myself and the band. That all
kind of eroded soon enough, and what followed was
a lesson for me in how not to produce an album. I
learned a lot from the Adore sessions; much of it
painful. I didnt serve my client in the best way
maybe I was never the right fit for Billy, or maybe it
was the particular circumstances of our lives then. It
doesnt matter now. What matters is that there are
some really great songs that now are part of the
Smashing Pumpkins catalog, and I am proud to have
played a part in the recording of them. Plus, the dude
can play the hell out of his guitar.
Bjorn Thorsrud [digital editing, engineering]: When
we started doing the recording, Billy had this idea to
go and set up in a different studio every week to
create a different vibe and ambience as we worked.
Billy Corgan: It wasnt very effective, and I wasnt very
inspired by Chicago even though I did good work. I think,
in the first six weeks, I did Behold! The Night Mare, Ava
Adore, and To Shelia. When we moved to L.A. the
record went through this crazy abyss that seemed to take
months, and months, and months. As far as Flood coming
in, I got so far out in the hinterlands producing the
record myself and I got so lost in it. At some point I
called Flood and said, Youve gotta come help me. Im
just lost. I really need a tour guide to get me out of this
thing. I think he came in the last six weeks of the record,

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some of the nuances in the personality of my singing;


Alan Moulder: Flood and I, as a team, both have the
which he wanted more of, not less. So he freed me up
same sensibility about what we want from a record. We
to sing with a handheld [Shure SM]58 and the
both want excitement and passion, so the same things
speakers on full-blast in the control room. By doing
get us excited. We work very well together that way,
so, he got the singer that he saw on stage. Obviously
and were free to argue without fear of anything being
we wanted the best version of that.
personal. We always know if were arguing that its a
creative argument. We actually enjoy arguing, because The production of 1979 has long
its more like you understand what the other persons
been the subject of lore among
hearing and it makes you hear the song in another way
Smashing Pumpkins fans, so lets
you might not have thought of. So were free to say
pull the curtain back. Is it true that
what we think without having to worry about each
that one almost didnt make it to the
others feelings, because we know nothing we say is
finish line?
meant to hurt that persons feelings. Its purely the Flood: 1979 had been running around for a long time,
creative war, if you like. It was the same way with Billy,
and it had started to turn into one of these songs that
making that record, and he would be an absolute fraud
every album has where you just grind, and grind,
if he was not a co-producer. The team of the three of
and grind away, and it just wont turn any other color
us was great, and a similar thing; where nothing was
except for gray. You spend all your time on that one
ever taken personally from what was said. We all felt
song, and it usually doesnt make the album. So it got
everyone was confident in each other, and nobody
to almost the last day of recording at Pumpkinland
knows how the Pumpkins should sound more than Billy.
[the bands rehearsal complex] before we were going
He was ahead of the charge, in terms of the vision and
to swap over into CRC [Chicago Recording Company],
headspace where things came from.
and I went, Alright, thats it. Youve got one more
day. Wed spent a load of time going through the
Billy, how would you describe the
song again and it just wasnt happening, and I said,
energy Flood brought to the sessions,
One more day. Thats all this songs got, and then Im
in contrast to Butch Vig?
gonna chalk it. Im gonna drown the child. And
Billy Corgan: When we played particularly difficult
everybody was going, No, you cant do that! And I
songs, like Fuck You (An Ode to No One), Flood
said, I can. Im so bored of it.
would have us practice the song every day, first thing
in. So we started every workday with an hour of band Billy Corgan: I still remember the fateful day, sometime
during the last week in the studio, when Flood turned
practice, and afterwards we would do two or three
to me, looked at the song, and in a very professorial
takes of Fuck You, or whatever was the crazy, progway said, Youve got 24 hours. Meaning, If you do
gy, heavy song of that day. Bullet with Butterfly
not come in here tomorrow and have that song
Wings is another song that comes to mind. So we
figured out, its off the record. We dont have time to
would get in a really good, almost live, frame of mind.
fuck around with these things anymore. We need to
Then he would track it, and sometimes he would say,
focus on things that need attention, because theyre
Ehhh, wasnt very good. Well do it again tomorrow.
gonna be on the record. So I went home. I dont
We would never get too stuck on anything.
remember working on it all night, other than when
Flood: With Bullet, really early on when we were
you listen to the demo, the demo sounds remarkably
going through all the demos, it was quite obvious
like the record. So much so that we even took the
that the great thing about working with the
drum beat: the exact tempo and exact programming
Pumpkins was that it was obvious which tracks were
from that machine and that became the
going to be the real main players. That was most
foundational basis of where we started. Then Flood
definitely one of them, and we all knew it because it
and I worked basically alone, throughout the day, and
had the energy we wanted to capture.
added little pieces of prog rock and little new wave
Were there any new recording
punches. We built this painting of a track. There was
techniques that Flood brought to
no sense of rules or, Its gotta be like this. There was
bear in the studio you felt helped you
no sense of even, Does this fit on the record? We
do something new on the album?
just got really excited by the version that we were
Billy Corgan: Most producers usually get out of the way
into. Everything you hear on the track except for
with me with guitars. They know that Im a charging
the vocals is from that one 12-hour span. We built
bull there. They dont have a whole lot to work to do
the track up with just the drum machine. But then it
with me on the guitar, so one could argue Ive rarely
was like, Should we have Jimmy play on it? We had
been produced on the guitar. Vocally, however, I think
Jimmy go in, and I think he played for four minutes
Ive benefited from working with great producers like
to a click; just played the same beat, over, and over,
Flood, whove gotten the best out of me as a vocalist.
and over again. Then we took the one bar that I liked,
I probably havent done as good a job when Ive
put it in the Kurzweil K2600, fucked it up, laid it in
produced myself. Thats probably the hardest thing to
the track, and were like, Oh, that works!
do, is to have a critical eye, because I dont know any
singers who love their voice. I hear that all the time. Jimmy Chamberlin: No Pumpkin record was ever
recorded with a click. The only songs that we ever
Its really hard to hear your voice and hear it the way
recorded to a click were 1979 and Try, Try, Try
other people hear it. So, for instance, early on, Flood
because we sped the drums up. And I think thats it.
realized that recording me with headphones was not
We didnt use a click on anything else.
only a challenge for pitch, but it was taking away

26/Tape Op#115/the Smashing Pumpkins/(continued on page 28)

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and in his very straightforward way said, Right, this ones Flood: When Pro Tools first came out, Id been working Billy Corgan: We spent over a year forming this new language,
with Trent [Reznor, Nine Inch Nails] and I was very,
which is best embodied and probably most clearly stated
good. This ones not good. This drum set sucks. This has to
very used to working with whole songs based in Pro
on United States. There, somehow, a primal foundational
be better. He helped me task out what needed to be done
Tools, and then committing them to tape. So it was
riff, which any kid can write in his bedroom, somehow
and helped me finish a record, which I dont think I would
very good for Machina. When he wanted to go off and
turns into this other thing through repetition and a
have had the strength to finish on my own.
follow a particular idea he could do that in Pro Tools,
psychotic, polyrhythmic approach throwing some weird
Flood: Billy was really frustrated, because what he was
brilliantly. It was a great vehicle for him. Then I would
blues vocal that probably seems to be from another song
hearing in his head wasnt seeming to translate. It was
try and hone those ideas down; just trying to make
in that song, you can hear where all the pieces connected.
a lot of technical issues, where theyd tried to do things
decisions. It was really good, and it meant that Billy
Terrys sonic landscape is pretty particular, and of course I
in a certain way and it hadnt worked. When youve got
could get rid of some of his frustrations, or try ideas
was aware of it because I was a fan of the records he had
such a major part of your band dynamic missing, it was
while I was trying to manage something else. This is
worked on. I got to get inside that, see the stark beauty I
a bit like everybody was unsure of how to move
another reason why Alan [Moulder] is so vital; because
was attracted to, and [feel] the muscular power of what he
forward. I came into it cold. I hadnt heard any of the
he understands. If youre dealing with a very difficult
likes to hear coming through the speakers. I think that had
songs; I just started going through them, and it was
situation, someones got your back. The same for Billy.
a very positive influence in cleaning up our act a little bit,
obvious that it was such an intensely personal record.
He knows as soon as Alan walks in the room that he
as far as what we were going for.
It was going to be a solo record, but still had
and the other guys in the band respect him immensely. Terry Date: We were trying to make that record using all
something about the Pumpkins in it.
Thats the thing about albums and individuals. Its
tape without Pro Tools. During my time on the record,
Billy Corgan: I was a bit of a hot gambler. Every production
never about one person; its always about a group of
thats all we used. The challenge was competing with
decision I made seemed to pay off, and so, for me, in
people. One person cannot take credit; its that
the advantages of Pro Tools while recording only to
that period of my life the production style was intrinsic
collaboration. Thats whats brilliant about music:
tape. There was no fixing parts. We had to get them
to the songwriting, and the songwriting was intrinsic to
capturing human beings reacting and working
right the first time, and Jimmy and Billy had a unique
the production style. Nobody had really made a record
together, and providing an emotional response. You
pocket that wouldnt work with a click track.
like Adore, up to that point.
hope that you can capture that. I think you can. Its Billy Corgan: Our bringing Roy in was trying to bring in
You continued your working
hard, but you can do it; and the Pumpkins were
some peacock-type color over the top of the record. I
relationship with Flood on
amazing for that. I think for me, Mellon Collie, and
kept saying to Jimmy, Why is there no psychedelia on
Machina/The Machines of God, but also
Adore, and Machina capture that emotion perfectly
this record? Every time weve ever made a record,
made the decision to bring Jimmy
theyre just very, very different records.
theres been some psychedelia to it. Asking Roy to be
Chamberlin back into the fold. What
a part of that, the vocal production and wider vocal
made you feel his live sound was the way Billy, on your reunion record, Zeitgeist,
seemed to be the perfect complement to lets just say
to go after coming off a more
you enlisted an eclectic collection of
a simpler version of the bands music.
programmed drum sound?
co-producers, starting with the core of
y o u r s e l f a n d d r u m m e r J i m m y Where were you by the time of the
Billy Corgan: First off, Jimmy hadnt played drums a lot
Chamberlin, then the great Terry
for the three years he was out of the group, so it took
Teargarden by Kaleidyscope series? Its
Date and legendary Roy Thomas Baker.
a while for him to even find his chops. Because hed
by far one of the bands most vivid
What was the root of that decision?
broken the linear chain of us working together, it
expressions, both sonically and
wasnt like he just stepped back in and picked back up Billy Corgan: With Jimmy and I as the albums core
stylistically.
emotionally and musically where he left off. In fact, he
production team, I assumed that it would take us a Billy Corgan: The tonal aspect of music to me is a felt
missed the whole transition of Adore. The last record
while to form a new language. I was surprised once we
language, and its felt in such a particular way that I
hed played on was Mellon Collie, and now hes
got into it that the language seemed to want to steer
dont feel it any other way, which is strange. When Im
playing on Machina; where spontaneity, darkness, and
itself towards the primal and the elementary. It was
working on a musical track, and I feel it needs a certain
these weird undersea tones are prevailing. Were
almost like we got to start over. I know the audience
Strat sound, I cant hear another sound. Theres no
speeding up and slowing down drums, and doing
expectation was that we were going to pick up either
alternate in mind; I feel like I need this particular tone,
anything in our power to make every element of the
where we left off, or where Siamese Dream left off, if
in this particular color, to say what I want to say. I get
record sound different. So Jimmy was thrown into an
they got their wish. But for us, emotionally, it was
very focused in that way, and maybe it doesnt always
interesting fire. I found the most effective thing to do
almost like going back to the pre-metallic roots of Gish,
work, but thats just the way Ive always worked. I
with him, at that point, was just to say, Heres the
where it was all about the [guitar] riff, the drum riff,
decided to make Teargarden a public experiment, where
song. And we would go and record it.
and the interlocking of those things that created a
I was going take you into the bedroom and I was gonna
Jimmy Chamberlin: On Machina, I think we got in my
certain, impressive power.
say, Okay, heres my first song. Im going to be okay
opinion to where we always wanted to be sonically. Jimmy Chamberlin: We rented a house in North Scottsdale,
with letting you listen to me not at my best; not even
That record, for me drum-wise with the distortion and
[Arizona], and I think we were down there for maybe
trying to be my best. I did announce Teargarden as a
the [Eventide] Omnipressor on the snare drum, the
two or three months. The idea was: Before we start
public process of reclamation and rebuilding, and that
crispy-and-crunchiness of those drums, and how they
yakking about this, lets get in a room and see if theres
turned out to be true.
interface with the guitar dynamics from a production
anything there. It took a while for us both to wrap our On Monuments to an Elegy, you
standpoint, really is our crowning achievement.
heads around A.) Do we want to do this journey? and
broadened your collaborative
Howard Willing [engineer]: We recorded part of that
B.) Can we do this journey? Can we play music, just the
resume even wider, bringing in
album at the bands rehearsal complex, Pumpkinland,
two of us now, not in a room with James [Iha] and Darcy
Howard Willing as co-producer and
and it was wild. There was an API console up at the
[Wretzky], or Melissa [Auf der Maur] hashing out stuff?
Mtley Cre drummer Tommy Lee to
front, and it was like, Okay, this is where were
Were probably the two most opinionated ones, so just
sit behind the kit. What direction
recording. I said, What the fuck is this? This place was
us two in a room making value judgments about music
were you seeking to take the record
enormous. We had PAs set up. Thats how we would track
is what you hear on Zeitgeist. I think when he and I
sonically?
and rehearse, with the PAs going! So if Jimmy was
honestly challenge each other, thats when the good Billy Corgan: The biggest change was bringing in Tommy
playing drums, he was getting blasted with the PA and
stuff happens. Thats where songs like United States
Lee. What was exciting about it was there were
thats getting picked up by all the microphones. That
and Doomsday Clock came from. They were born of
moments on Monuments that, even though it sounds
became part of the sound of that record.
those challenges.
like the Smashing Pumpkins, it doesnt sound like any

28/Tape Op#115/the Smashing Pumpkins/(continued on page 30)

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Pumpkins that came before and it has everything to


do with Tommy. I think it was the combination of
Howard Willing and space. Howard was in the modern
world. I think his favorite artist is Taylor Swift, and so,
to Howard, production is always whatever people are
listening to, and that doesnt mean he has shitty taste.
He wants the best version of that. So there was a lot of
discussion of how to make rock music, but also how to
make rock music with space. Tommy is antithetical to
the way Jimmy plays in that way. Tommy is attracted to
space, where Jimmy is attracted to filling up the space,
but theres no loss of power.
Tommy Lee: Doing Billys record, for me, was such a cool
experience, because stylistically fuck man I put on
a couple different hats. All of a sudden Im playing this
crazy, prog rock that I dont typically play much of. It
was such a challenge for me to come up with some really
cool parts and make it Smashing Pumpkins, but also
leave my imprint. I love being challenged, so I want to
thank Billy for that. Hes a real stickler for not editing,
so we would go for the ultimate performance, from top
to bottom. There was nothing better than when I was
cutting drums. I could see Billy through the glass; Id
watch him jumping up and down, dancing around like a
little fucking kid when Id nail a track. Hed say, That is
fucking amazing! It doesnt get any better than that.

What can fans expect next along that


sonic journey?
Billy Corgan: Right now, there are two things that inspire
me. One is to explore this acoustic other thing; like if
Zwan had made an acoustic record. Ive never made a
record thats been built strictly around that style of
music, so it excites me to make that kind of record
with Smashing Pumpkins-themed tonalities and
approach. So my next record has some electronics but
is mostly an acoustic record; a different version of
Adore, without the ruinous need to dissolve everything
as [it] plays along. In that sense, as a producer, Im
more attracted to the pure and simplified statement
than ever before, because I know I can deliver the
most amount of information directly.

What do you hope speaks loudest as a


singer/songwriter, player, and
producer throughout this career?

Billy Corgan: I work to a symphony in my head. Its hard


to articulate that symphony, and it usually doesnt
come out the way I hear it in my head. Its a beautiful
thing if a person can step back and say, Even if I dont
like his voice or, Even if I dont like his songs, I can
appreciate that he set off on a journey thats quite
unique. So thats the one thing I feel proud of I was
willing to take that journey, and I found people who
were willing to take that journey with me. I picked up
the guitar for very specific reasons, and I said and did
everything I could have hoped to have done with that
and more. Its been a very crazy route. I never would
have guessed that I would have the influence I have
had. And I never would have guessed that having
accomplished as much as I did as a guitar player that I
would be ignored as much as a guitar player as I have
been. Part of that I really do think is, during those rosy
years, people didnt realize it was me doing the guitars.
I think many people assumed that it wasnt me. I think
they thought I was the songwriter and lead singer, but
they didnt realize I was the guy doing all the crazy
overdubs too it was almost too much for them to put
in one hat. When I tried to claim it later, they were like,
Yeah right, here he goes again As difficult as that
was, and as much stress as that put on us as a band,
there were some beautiful things that came out of it.
Im still hopeful that with things like this, and with
time, the other work that Ive done thats been
overlooked or discarded because it didnt fit in a
convenient narrative about me or my personality will
get its due. Then I think Ill find that position and that
place, hopefully before I die, where people will
understand what my point of view was, and how it was
different, and how it was special in that I was willing
to try something that no one had ever tried. r

gr

As someone who stays constantly on the


cutting edge in your record making
process, where do you think
technology is taking us?

but I think Ive shown many, many times that Im more


than willing to sacrifice my playing, or my guitar sound, or
whatever which is why Im willing to play guitars that
are out of tune, or you could even argue sound bad
because they add up to something in the track.

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Billy Corgan: The studio, as its been conceived for the last
50 years, doesnt really matter anymore. The studio is
how you use technology, and when I think of my
position visvis the studio today, I am an
anachronism. No matter how well I can do what I can
do in a studio setting, I still think it pales in comparison
to what somebody can do using technology in the way
I once used technology which was pushing it to its
seams. As a producer, if youre not taking it all the way
to the end of that particular rainbow whatever youre
into youre really not producing.

Do you have any ambitions to produce


another band that grabs your ear?

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Billy Corgan: I dont think Im a very good producer for


other people, because I have a very particular vision.
Invariably you run into the wall of their version versus
your version, and thats where I become the artist. The
artist has to have the superior vision, even if the artist
has the vision to say, Thats not for me. The artist has
to be the one who really knows.

hl

Where would you say feel youve been


most misunderstood throughout your
career as a producer?

Billy Corgan: Ive gotten a bad rep through the years of


people saying that I want to do it my way. Actually, I
dont want to do it my way. Im more than happy to have
a collective voice, if the collective voice adds up to a choir.
My argument and I guess it goes back to the Phil Spector
way of thinking is that the force of the track is ultimately <www.smashingpumpkinsnexus.com>
more important than any particular individual instrument.
That includes me, whether Im playing guitar or singing. Author Jake Brown has written over 35 books covering the
Now, obviously, my own predilections tend to come to world of music. <jakebrownbooks@gmail.com>
the fore. If I have to make a choice, the guitar wins;

30/Tape Op#115/the Smashing Pumpkins/(Fin.)

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Jack Shirley

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Remove the Middleman

Goddamn dude, you do a lot of records.


Yeah. The last four years, Ive done a hundred records a year. Thats
either mastering, mixing, or full production.

Over the past decade, Jack Shirley has recorded


what seems like every hardcore band in the Bay Area.
Ive wanted to interview Jack for years, so when he
walked by me at Timeless Coffee in Oakland a few
months ago, I introduced myself. Within 30 seconds
we were talking gain staging and graphic EQs
total nerds! A few weeks later I drove down to an
industrial park in East Palo Alto to check out
Jacks studio, The Atomic Garden,
and have this conversation.

I would say its a right place, right time type of scenario. Ive
been doing this in the area for over 12 years, and when I started
with a [Digidesign] Mbox and a PC in my parents garage the
peninsula between South San Francisco and Mountain View was
full of punk kids playing music, and there wasnt anyone doing
DIY recording. Maybe there were people doing what I do now, a
mid-level kind of studio, but there was nobody doing the real
low-level thing in their house. I was in a band that was part of
a bigger community, and I think it was just a no-brainer. Jacks
recording over at his house. Lets go there. Some of those
people who were part of that are still making music, and got
bigger. Bands like Loma Prieta or Deafheaven. They get some
recognition, and you just assume theyll go to the next step. But
a lot of those people have kept coming back.

Thats the best.

It is, because its always better the second time. Or the third or
fourth.

You do a lot of one-day sessions, right? Ive seen


a lot of recorded, mixed, and mastered by
Jack Shirley on... and a single calendar date.

Its never completed in one day. They might have just tracked in a
day, then I mixed and mastered later.

Its heartening to hear that! From a distance Im


like, What the fuck? How does he do this?

gr

interview and photo by Scott Evans

Thats insane. Youre one of the go-to recording


engineers for Bay Area punk and hardcore.
How did that evolve?

[laughs] Thats just the band glossing over credits. I almost never
mix the same day. Its very, very rare.

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Well, for short sessions say a band wants to


track eight or ten songs in a day, whats the
dynamic?
Almost every session that I do is live. Right there, that knocks off
tons of time and painful shit. The band loads in. We figure out
whether theyre all going to be in the live room with the amps,
or if it will be drums in the live room, amps in the iso booth,
and people in here [the control room]. Those are the main
choices. If it takes us two hours to set up and get mics checked,
and the band has a half-hour worth of material, and theyre well
practiced, its very conceivable that they could be done with
their live takes in a couple hours. Then the bulk of the recording
is done. Then we can do some vocals. Im very much for the
human error, the mistakes, and all that. I work quickly, but I
spend a fair amount of time getting tones right. And because
were going to tape, Im doing all my processing in the frontend. That speeds everything up.

I noticed you have mics on stands ready to go in


your live room. That kind of thing is very
different than working in someone elses
room, where everything gets put away at the
end of each session.

Every time Ive been to another studio it takes forever to do


anything, even with me engineering. Nothings in the same
room, none of the mics are around. Ive been told that I work
very quickly. There are things I just do to everything: I know
that when the drummer hits as hard as she can, I want to get a
couple of dB of compression. Theres stuff that I do as a default.
If, in the moment, it doesnt work Ill just bypass it. But, over
the years, when Im mixing similar styles of music, I find that
Im making a lot of the same moves.

Mr. Shirley/(continued on page 34)/Tape Op#115/33

Kind of. This board isnt inline, so I have to use it as a


split console. But I have enough inputs, so I can use
16 ins and monitor those 16 channels. And as soon
as the live takes are done, Ill usually break down
almost everything I set up. Then I have 24-channels
open for the tape returns so I can start mixing. Id
still say 80% of my processing is done on the frontend. I might get into some surgical EQ [while
mixing]. Thats another thing I have to buy analog
versions of now. I have two [Urei 565] Little Dippers
[equalizers] on the way.

Thats kind of funny, in the digital age.


Surgical EQ is so easy with a plug-in.

I know! I started out digital, and I totally appreciate


what its capable of. I use it to my full advantage
when the situation calls for it. But the more I use the
analog equipment, the more I love it. And the more
I understand what it must have been like for an allanalog guy in the 80s, when all this digital gear
showed up and he might have been, What the fuck
is this? This is the new way?

can clip the API console before the Pro Tools output
Oh, dude. Half the people who walk in here ask me what
will clip.
that is [points at tape deck], because theyve never
seen a tape machine. Admittedly, when I went to go Its kind of ironic to buy a world-class
console that was designed for wicked
pick that up from the guy I bought it from, I had
high headroom, then do your best to
never seen a tape machine in real life.

crush its inputs.

Really?

I mean, I had the little one [1/4-inch, 2-track]. But I [laughs] Not crushing. Just enough to round it off. And
I leave plenty of headroom on the master bus. But
had never seen a 2-inch tape machine. I went to get
Im pretty liberal when its time to go to the 2-track
it and its like, Whoa, this thing weighs 400
tape at the end. And anything that comes off of that
pounds! But thats how it is when you have your
is flat not in a brick wall way, but in the tape way.
own studio and all you ever do is work by yourself. If
When you look at digital [waveforms], there are
you want to learn how to use something, you have
spikes everywhere. Tracks that come off the tape
to go get one. Thats why a lot of gear went in and
machine, even if its moderately hitting tape its
out over the years I was figuring out my tastes.
flat, and thats a beautiful thing. Especially if youre
You also master a lot of your own
trying to do mastering. When I get music that I didnt
recordings.
mix, that machine [points at tape deck] is part of my
Probably ninety percent. Maybe more.
mastering chain, because it does the work of a limiter
Ive been getting more of that lately.
without sounding like it. Therere no stray transients
Can you master this too? I dont
anywhere. All I have to do is raise my fader and most
love it, but its increasingly common.
of my loudness is already handled. There were times
And its totally normal for you.
when I didnt have the gear to saturate sounds in a
It came out of necessity. When you work with punk rock
nice, musical way, and I didnt have the know-how to
kids theyre not going to spend $500 to master their
EQ something so it easily could be loud. And people
$500 recording. They may not even know what
were like, I want my recording to be louder than
mastering is. And, admittedly, I was really bad at it
Jane Doe, And Id say, Alright. Well try! Lets see
when I first started. I tried a lot of stupid techniques,
what happens! And those recordings sound fucking
mostly with my own band. But I feel like Ive gotten
terrible. But you know, you learn. [laughs] Ive found
pretty good at it, to the point now where I do a lot of
that the more analog my situation has gotten, the
just mastering. I say on my website, Im not a
easier it is it just does the sound that you are trying
mastering engineer, and this is not a mastering studio.
to do, all by itself. The same way that a film photo
And its cheap because of that. I just charge my regular
can get blown out, in a beautiful way. The tape is
hourly rate. I cant do the same kind of tricks that some
magic. Yes, I absolutely can emulate it in the
places do, because I dont have the equipment.
computer, but it takes ten steps to do what I can do,
Mastering is a fairly advanced art, at
just by pushing a fader up a little bit further.
this point.
Absolutely. But for my own recordings the mastering A lot of the people I know who have tape
decks, and who were tape proponents,
wont be anything more than a little bit of fine-tuning
have been slowly moving away from it.
EQ, and thats basically all Im doing. The bulk of the
A lot of them have been moving more
work is done in the mix. By the time its done it needs
and more into the box, even the ones
a few dB of volume and some surgical EQ to carve out
who have sick outboard gear. But tape
a couple of spots, and thats it. I run it through the
specifically is challenging in a bunch
Massey Limiter, or the UAD Cambridge EQ, or the UAD
of ways: cost, getting good tape stock,
Dangerous BAX EQ that things badass.

gr

Do you have to switch from tracking


mode to mixing mode?

These days a lot of people probably have Hell, yes. Its like tape. Not to the same extent, but, yes;
I have my Pro Tools outputs calibrated hot so that I
no idea what a plate reverb is!

ho
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Exactly. I love my [AKG] D12 on bass drum, but I know


that it needs to go through the Pultec set a certain
way for it to sound like I want. I want all this to go to
tape very well-EQd so that I dont have to raise my
noise floor. Thats how I like to work, but it does save
a bunch of time. When the band walks in to hear their
take I want it to sound like the records going to
sound. Anytime anybody says, But in the mix thatll
be different, right? I say, Dont assume anythings
going to be different. If it doesnt sound right to you
right this second, tell me and well fix that. But I work
fast, and I think musicians end up working fast as a
result. Everyones always surprised at how smooth and
quickly things go. I dont ever use the computer when
were tracking. I dont know if that speeds things up,
but it does give me great peace of mind, because I
know that everythings going to work. I know that
when I hit record on the tape machine that its going
to record without failure, unless the power goes out. I
wouldnt bet any amount of money that my high-end
Pro Tools system would do that.

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editing, commitment, and all that.


I can imagine looking at a little beige So youre not trying to be super
I
think
all those things are positives. Track limitation,
1988 Macintosh, then looking across
competitively loud?
editing limitation, and all that. To me it all filters
the room at your enormous, No. I try to keep it reasonable, depending on the
down to good.
beautiful, Swiss-made tape machine,
project. Kurt [Ballou, Tape Op #76]] ruined it for all
and saying, Oh, hell no.
of us with [Converges] Jane Doe. [laughs] But the You just have to find bands who...

hl

more I upgrade this gear, the easier it gets to make Yes, yes. You have to find bands who can make it
I had a MIDI controller propped up in the corner for ten
through a whole song. Which Im lucky enough to
loud recordings.
years. Nobody ever said, We should put keys on our
have found. But its still a hybrid situation; this place
record. The first week that my Hammond [organ] was Is that the gear, or is that you?
can also be a fully digital studio. All that means is
here, it made it onto three records. [laughs] When the Well, for instance I was passive summing for a really
well say, Oh, that drum take was alright. But one fill
piano showed up it was like, Oh dude! We should put
long time. When I got to active summing, it was like,
was bad, and that fill was good on the last take. So
piano on this record! Bands who would never want
Oh wow, this is great. Now Ive got amplifiers [on
lets bookmark that, and when we dump it all in the
spacey delay shit, they look at these tape echoes and
the] channel. So when I push my kick drum up, its
computer well just replace it. Its as simple as that.
they say, We should put that on the recording. Theres
getting saturated on its own. The passive summing is
However, there are bands like a Deafheaven kind of
something about it. They dont care where it came from
infinite headroom. It sounds cool, but its not doing
band those dudes can just play. Those songs are ten
if they want delay. They dont even understand how a
any squishiness.
minutes long. Those are live takes to tape, with no
tape delay works. But theyre excited by it. And when I So you feel like getting some saturation
editing. One of the songs on the new record is the
get my EMT plate reverb tomorrow, I can walk people
or compression on each individual
first take of the first day. All the way through, live to
into the kitchen and say, Thats a reverb.
channel is important.

34/Tape Op#115/Mr. Shirley/(continued on page 36)

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tape. A lot of bands that come here might not all be I assume a lot of your clients are on
virtuosos, but theyre all happy with what went down
tight budgets. I know mine are. Have
on a take. And thats great.
you found it hard to balance that

How hybrid are your sessions? A lot of


against things like the console, or
people track drums to tape, then do
Barefoot monitors, or what have you?
everything else in Pro Tools.
Nah. My overhead is really low. I live at the studio. When
Most sessions, its all tracking to tape. When the band
leaves, Ill dump to Pro Tools, through the console.
Thats when I do my pre-mix. Whatever needs EQing,
Ill do it then. By the time its in Pro Tools, the
multitrack is fully processed. Almost nothing else
needs to be done. Ill do some cleanup editing, some
tom gating, as well as parallel gates for kick and snare.
And then I sum through the console [for final mixing].

So its been through the console three


times, at that point.

Yeah. Thats my [Pro Tools] workflow. But people are


loving the full analog sessions, for the street cred or
whatever. [laughs] The manual mix is the other magic
side. Im new to the whole thing, but Im getting
better at it and its fun. Weve done it where we have
three people sitting here making moves. You have to
get it right, or you do it again.

Lets talk about your console. The first


time I saw your setup online, you had
a mastering-style desk with a bunch
of Shadow Hills gear, as well as three
Avid Artist Mixes across the front.
That was maybe four years ago.

crashes on the beginning of a part. And we added a


tambourine any time he would have played his hi-hat
open. So it filled that space, but in a much more
musical way. Because of those things, the record
[Comadre] ended up with a lot of space. The other
thing we did was incorporating alternate
instrumentation not in an extra layer way; in
more of an instead of way. So on a lot of songs
youll hear an organ or a piano, and its in place of a
guitar part. We wrote the songs like we normally
would, then we took them completely apart and
rearranged them.

I moved in and built the studio, the plan since day


one has been that I have to be able to pay for this
place with a part-time job, if I need to. Thats why
other people share the [living] space with me. When
I first moved in, there was a screen printing shop in
the front part of the unit. So the rents cheap. My gear
habit started out big, then everythings been traded So its very much a record that a recording
engineer lovingly made. Thats cool.
up in small steps. I didnt drop a hundred grand one
None of this is the way youd make a
day to buy a console; I sold a ton of gear. Everything
record, for most other bands.
has been like that. Its always been waves of, I have
all this shit and it doesnt feel right anymore. I have No, I dont think most bands would be open to that. Ive
toyed with the idea of Comadre producing a record
to get rid of all of it to try and get up to the next
for another band, because we did work well together
thing. The thing that got me into the Shadow Hills
as a group. I would love to do that, but I dont think
equipment I had some Chandler Abbey Road gear I
the opportunity exists.
had the mixer and a couple of the channels all that,
plus my [AKG] C24 got traded to Vintage King. That, We joke in our band, Preproduction? We
just did three years of preproduction.
and a little more money, and I had the full line of
But I think thats what its like to be in
Shadow Hills gear. Going from the Shadow Hills to the
a band with a recording engineer. For
API console wasnt like, This stuff sucks. I need to
other bands, Ive really been realizing
get rid of it. It was, I really like this. I want to take
the importance of demos, both for
it further. I learned that I didnt need Neve preamps
them and for me as the recordist. In
by having that flavor for a little bit. I am kind of
some
sessions, the first time you get to
bummed out that I didnt just buy an API to begin
hear the vocal is as youre recording it,
with, because I probably would have saved a lot of
which invariably is the last thing you
money. But thats not how it works.

rm

@y
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play the record like a set. I record it multitrack. I sit,


at the beginning and go through to the end, theres a
and listen, and really pick things out. There are
big dip. It starts with that thing where you dont know
records where weve changed the entire sound of the
enough to know what you dont know. The first record
record, based on that first day.
[The Youth] was us in my parents garage recording
live, band practice style all pointed at each other and I love that idea. I have to try it sometime.
Deafheavens Sunbather really blew
everything. The room was crazy dead and it worked out
up. Was that a big surprise for you?
fine. By the second record [Burn Your Bones] I knew
about half of what I needed to know and that other It was and it wasnt. They got a lot of attention from
their first record, which was done pretty quickly and
half was really important. So that record sounds like
casually. When it started getting attention, we all
shit. I think I remixed that record twice for two relooked
at each other like, Huh? We probably should
presses, because it was a total mess. Musically it was
have spent a little more time on that. So when
the best thing we had done, and for people who like
Sunbather rolled around we were said, Were going
that band, that was the record that stuck out to them.
to do the job we should have done the last time. We
By the time we got to the end, I knew how to record
didnt know it was going to be that big of a deal, but
it was probably the most producer Ive ever been
we at least knew that people were paying attention.
on a record. Its one of my favorite records that Ive
Theyd gotten Dan [Tracy], the current drummer, and
engineered because of that. It was a couple years
hes a fucking Jedi. It was Kerry [McCoy] and George
worth of preparation and deliberation. Im a big Tom
[Clarke] just the three of them for that record. So
Waits fan, and a big part of Tom Waits production is
Kerry played everything that wasnt drums or vocals.
theres no cymbals on anything. So theres this crazy
It was pretty intimate, and we took our time. But
amount of air and headroom. Trying to translate that
they played it live the first guitar got done live with
into a punk rock situation was a challenge.
the drums, and we layered the rest.
So you recorded drums with no cymbals?
No cymbals. Closed hi-hat only. Our drummer typically Its cool that they came back to you a
couple years later, when it was time
used a hi-hat and a crash/ride, which was just a
to record a follow up [New Bermuda].
general wash of noise. So instead of that crash, we
It
is.
I was surprised. They told me that they talked to
had him play his floor tom. Then, later, we
some producers, and laid out what they wanted to do
overdubbed single crash hits. We didnt try to make
workflow-wise they know that theyre fast, and they
it like he was playing everything normally just

ia
sa

The mastering-style desk was a product of having a big


control surface before that, as well as realizing that
I wasnt using it any more, other than [for] the
faders. Meanwhile all this outboard gear, which was
doing the bulk of my work, was on the sides. So that
desk was really my feeble attempt at trying to make
a console, and have it fit the workflow I was doing.
It was the same thing track to tape, use Pro Tools
as a monitor, dump it all, keep working. But there
was a seed in my brain of, I want to be able to make
a record without using a computer. So I explored all
these options for essentially a glorified summing
mixer with analog faders to see if I could somehow
hybridize all my mic preamps and EQs that I already
had, and liked, with some kind of back-end that was
more than just a summing mixer. Every single person
I talked to said, Nah, dude; youre crazy. The thing
you want is gonna cost twenty grand. Just buy a
console. I talked to Peter Reardon [Shadow Hills],
and I talked to Dave Marquette over at Mercury about
the idea of a custom line mixer. And it was like, No,
the thing you want doesnt exist.

ho
o.

gr

It looked classy, compact, and purposedesigned. But I looked at your website


track. Then its like, Oh, oh, oh.
a year ago; all that gear was gone and You did a lot of records with your own
you had an API 1608. Now, a year
band, Comadre, over almost ten years. Ive done a couple recordings where we demo the entire
later, the API is twice as big.
record live the first day. We just set them all up, and
The Comadre discography is a bit of a disaster. If you start

hl

Well, its called a mixing console!

[laughs] So I bit the bullet. I had all the EQs already, so I


got the API unloaded. I sold all my mic pres, and I sold
the summing mixer, and that paid for over half the
console. So it was more of a trade up than it was a crazy
purchase. And now Im at the point where Im starting to
make records without a computer, and I totally love it.

36/Tape Op#115/Mr. Shirley/(continued on page 38)

gr

ho
o.

@y
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rm

ia
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hl

that were not doing anything anymore just because


dont want to take forever. The dudes just laughed at
were supposed to. We worked on a record together
them. Theyd say, We want to track for about a week.
and sent it to a high-end mastering place, and it sucked.
I dont know who they talked to, but the guy was like,
But by the time we both got back to each other with
Sorry, I dont work on anything for less than a month.
our feedback, it was out of our hands, on its way to the
And the price was super high for that month. They
plant. And we realized were not doing that anymore.
examined some options, and then came back to me I
was stoked.
Its taken me a long time to realize that if

I imagine thats the biggest band and


record youve worked on. The
expectations of following up Sunbather
had to be palpable.

I want to tell the mastering engineer,


Put all that 150 Hz back thats fine. I
put it in there on purpose. Its really
liberating to realize I actually know
enough.

Yes, bigger label, following up this big record, and all that.
They werent done writing when we got to the studio. They I know enough to know what I want. Thats all it is. It
were under a little pressure. But thankfully it was more on
might not be the best way to do it, but its what we
them than me, because I dont have anything to do with
want. Thats really the bottom line to everything that
that part of it. Im not a producer; Im an engineer.
gets done here. r

I love that show up, put one foot in front <theatomicgarden.com>


of the other like usual attitude. But
Id still be a little anxious. You dont Scott Evans plays in Kowloon Walled City and records loud
bands in Oakland. <antisleep.com>
want to fuck it up.
You definitely dont want to fuck it up. But Sunbather was
received well on all sides, and I knew that Id gotten way
better since then. So I wasnt worried, like, Oh god, I
hope this sounds good. I knew it would sound good.

You recorded at 25th Street Recording in


Oakland, which is a damn nice studio.
No punk rock roots there. Its easy to
assume that someone at the label said,
You need to use a fancy studio.

@y
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ho
o.

gr

It was my choice. Mostly because I wanted to work there.


[laughs] 25th Street was rad. We got to use all this holy
grail equipment. We used an [AKG] C24 for the
overheads. For the room mics I got to use a Fairchild
670. I was actually a little bit disappointed by how not
live their live room is. Its really tuned. My live room
feels more live to me than that room does and that
room is humongous. Its 15 or 20 foot ceilings,
something like that. I mean, it sounded great. And their
gear setup is extremely similar to what I have here, so
I felt super comfortable. We only did three days there.
We did the live tracking. Then we did all the overdubs
and the mixing here.

So the New Bermuda drums were done in


three days?

rm

Two days. It probably would have been one day, but they
werent done writing. We did two days at first, and then
one song was done later. So four songs were done in
that first session, but Im pretty sure the drums were
done the first day.

hl

ia
sa

Awesome.

38/Tape Op#115/Mr. Shirley/(Fin.)

The second song on the record that was the first take,
on the first day. We spent maybe four hours setting
everything up, and then it was a test take. Luckily I
wasnt fucking with EQs, or levels, or anything. [laughs]
Dan came in after playing, listened to it, and was like,
Yeah, its cool. Lets go get lunch. That was the vibe
of the whole record.

And, by the way, you mastered it yourself.

I am really stoked that the Anti- [Records] folks were cool


about that. It wasnt even a conversation. It was like,
Hey, we want to do our own mastering. Is that cool?
Yep, thats cool. My friend, Jeff Rosenstock, is a very
talented musician and a producer, and he and I have
worked on a few records together. We decided recently

gr

ho
o.

@y
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rm

ia
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hl

Your path to production and engineering


was a little nontraditional.
It was never something I intended to do. To go way
back, the first time I really became aware of
production on records was when I stole my brothers
Queen records; A Day at the Races and A Night at the
Opera. I remember listening to those for the first
time. It was like, I dont understand this. How is this
coming out of the speakers? What is this? Then I
started reading liner notes and saw all these things,
like studios and peoples names. Produced by
[Reinhold] Mack [Tape Op #81]. What does that
mean? Oh, Glyn Johns [#109] is on this record, and
that record, and that record. That was probably the
first time I got really interested in the idea of record
making. It seemed like that would be like working on
the Manhattan Project. Theres no way a kid from
Kansas, in the middle of nowhere... I didnt even know
what a studio looked like or was, but I was sure there
were no studios around. It seemed as far off as trying
to be a pro basketball player.

How old were you?

started studying electrical engineering at DeVry


Institute of Technology because I wanted to learn
how to build computers. Denton was a real musical
hotbed. Matt Chamberlain, Edie Brickell, and Andy
Timmons were there the music scene was incredible.
I started hanging out with those guys and realized
that what I really loved was music. I dropped out of
DeVry and went to the University of North Texas to
study music theory, composition, and business
management. I was playing guitar, studying guitar,
trying to go to school, and working at Texas
Instruments, all at the same time. Andy Timmons
ended up as my roommate. Hes an amazing guitar
player and was my guitar teacher back in the day.
After a super long, convoluted story with car
accidents, medical bills, breaking both my hands, not
being able to play guitar anymore, and ending up
broke back in Kansas Andy got a gig as the guitar
player in a band called Danger Danger. He called me
up and said, I need a guitar tech. Youve always fixed
my stuff. You want to come on the road and make
some money? I needed an escape hatch, so I said,
Yeah, absolutely. Ill come and get paid $210 a week
to be your guitar tech. We were going to Europe! I
worked with him for a while, and then other bands
started calling me. What I thought would be a cool
way to spend a summer, and maybe a fall, ended up
with me basically not going home for the next six
years, touring with all kinds of bands. I started to get
a reputation for being able to deal with difficult
people, difficult situations, and complex guitar rigs. It
was all Bradshaw rigs, with racks and racks of
equipment, at that time. I was able to wrap my head
around how all that worked and program them.
Samplers started to come into vogue, keyboards
started coming in, and people were using backing
tracks. Id get a call and theyd say, Do you know how
to use a Kurzweil K2500? Id say, Yeah, absolutely.
I had no idea what the fuck it was. I learned early on
to say, Yes, and figure it out when I got there. I got
a reputation for being able to deal with really
complex situations.

1
gr

Billy Bush has made his love of music and


technological curiosity into an already storied
career. He has been a record thief, guitar tech,
Butch Vig [Tape Op #11] and Garbages utility
wizard, producer, engineer, and, more
recently, one of Rick Rubins first call mixers.
We sat down at his studio, Red Razor Sounds,
in Los Angeles to talk path, process,
production, and philosophy.

hl

ia
sa

rm

@y
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ho
o.

I was probably nine or ten when I stole those records. I


fell in love with music. Music was always a big part of
our familys life anyway. My dad had a reel-to-reel and
a Victrola. He and my mom really loved music. He
liked jazz, and my mom liked country western and
Elvis. My brother started buying records; I started
stealing them, and getting my ass kicked for doing so.
A couple of years later I was at school, around 1977
or 1978, and for show & tell a guy in class brought a
Les Paul. It was the first time Id ever seen a guitar.
Did you end up in the studio back then?
Id never seen an acoustic or electric guitar. I was like,
When I was working with Danger Danger I got a call to
What is that? Then I bought KISS Alive! I heard Ace
come help them out in the studio when they were
Frehley and was like, I want a guitar!
doing a record at what was Criteria Studios in Miami;
KISS Alive II was one of the first records
now its Hit Factory. They were working with Paul
that I bought.
Northfield [engineering]. This was the first time I had
Youre right. It was KISS Alive II and Cheap Trick at
managed to get into a proper studio. They said they
Budokan. The picture of Rick Nielsen with those
couldnt get anything to stay in tune, so I fixed all the
guitars and Ace Frehley with his Les Paul. After that
guitars. Touring is fun, but the studio was what I
I saved up money and bought my first guitar. I also
wanted to do. I was watching Paul Northfield creating
had this parallel interest of how things work. My dads
these guitar and drum sounds. Id hear it in the live
an engineer he worked at Boeing for decades,
room, then Id come back [into the control room] and
designing and building planes. When I got my first
it was something completely different.
guitar it was probably a week before I took it apart
How did you end up working with
on the kitchen table, to my mothers chagrin. I had
Garbage?
every part laid out and I was trying to figure out how
I was out on tour with Hole, and I spent a lot of time
it worked. About the same time the Apple II came
in Seattle and dealing with Eric Erlandsons guitar rig.
out, and my dad bought one. So I had a love of
I got a call from a tour manager Id worked with. He
computers, playing guitar, and trying to figure out
said he was going on tour with a band called Garbage
how things work. I graduated high school and had to
and they needed some help trying to figure out how
get out of Kansas. I moved to Denton, Texas, and I

to do live what theyd done on the record. Id fallen


in love with their record before the phone call came,
because Id heard Queer on the radio. I didnt know
how somebody made something that sounded like
that. I fell in love with her voice. I said, Butch Vigs
in the band. That would be amazing. There were
keyboards, guitars, lots of pedals, and playback gear.
That was 20 years ago. I was doing guitars, bass, and
keys on stage left. It became apparent to everybody
that I was the only person on the crew who really had
a grasp on how some of the studio gear worked. I
could also help with the computers this was the
first time some of them had taken laptops on the
road. I was only supposed to be there for six weeks,
but about nine months into the tour Butch took me
aside and said, Were going to start working on our
second record. He wanted me to find the best digital
recording mechanism, whatever it was, buy it, learn

00%
gr

Billy Bush

ho
o.

One Hundred Percent

by Geoff Stanfield

rm

to record. I was going to be there for two weeks, to


Harbor, Washington, at Jerry Mosss house. We set
show them how the Pro Tools system worked, and
up camp in his guesthouse. They didnt really know
then I was going to go back on tour with somebody
what to do, because they never planned on being
else. After two weeks I felt like they still hadnt
in a band and figuring out how to make a record.
quite figured out how to be efficient with it and use
They made a record and all of a sudden it blew up.
it really well. Back then it was a pain in the ass to
We had the Pro Tools rig and I was trying to show
use. We had to do shit that we shouldnt have had
them how to work it. They were coming straight
to do. Butch took me aside and said, I want you
from tape and an Akai sampler, which they hated.
to be the engineer. Ill teach you everything you
Theyd struggled with that so much, which is why
need to know about recording, and you teach me
they wanted a change. They didnt have any
everything I need to know about Pro Tools. I was
concept at the time of using Pro Tools as a
like, Holy shit. How did this happen? Im a kid
recording medium. Butch wanted to be able to do
from Kansas, and all of a sudden Butch Vig takes me
edits, vocal comps, and chop loops together so we
under his wing to teach me how to record.
could have them in sync. Then he started to see
what the possibilities were, and it really inspired Butch had a nontraditional path to
him. I think we were in Friday Harbor for a month,
recording as well. Its not like he did
writing a bunch of songs. Then we flew to Madison,
the hierarchical run of tea boy, to tape
Wisconsin, and I got the band all set up and ready
op, to second, to first, to producing.

hl

ia
sa

how to use it, and then come show them how to use
it. I studied all the different programs: Cubase, Sonic
Solutions, and Pro Tools. At the time, Pro Tools had
just become version 4.3 and the 888 interfaces had
come out. Somehow Id gotten ahold of Christopher
Bock, the Executive Vice President of Digidesign.
Sweetest dude on the planet, rest his soul. He said,
Come out to San Francisco. Ill blow your mind. I
flew out there and he had a studio setup in his
backyard. At the time, people were starting to use it;
but nobody was making major label, high-profile,
million dollar budget records on it. People were using
it carefully, like, Maybe well fly our drums into it, do
a little tweak, and fly them back to tape. Nobody
was saying, Im making the record on Pro Tools. I
bought the system, had it flown to Kansas, and I
learned how to use it over Christmas break. We
started working on writing the second record in Friday

@y
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photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Mr. Bush/(continued on page 42)/Tape Op#115/41

I always had a love of it and tried to figure out how to


record my bands when I was playing with 4-tracks and
bouncing tracks. The rudimentary recording process.
But the idea of, Butch is going to show me how to
record was an opportunity that just doesnt come
along. I think he related, because he comes from
Viroqua; an equally small town in the middle of
Wisconsin. To this day when I tell the story, Im like,
Did that actually happen to me?

How do you approach each job from


production, versus a mix mindset?

theyve done something. By nature Im a very


collaborative guy. I dont feel like my idea is the
definitive idea Im not a dictator in any way. What
I want to do is get to the point where were all really
happy with the end result. Not that Im happy and
you guys are pissed off about it, or you guys are
happy because its exactly how you envisioned it, but
Im pissed off because I feel like youre at first base
when you could be hitting a home run. I listen and
hear if theres anything that can be improved and, if
so, what? With Grizfolk the band had come together
in a way where they hadnt played that much yet. I
worked with them for quite a few months, and they
started to gel as a band in the process. Theyd go on
tour for a couple months and come back and do some
more songs. It was interesting to watch them evolve
as a band during that time. In that situation it was
very much like, Well, I think that the structure of the
songs could be better the arrangements could be
better. There are some things here and there caused
by the cut-and-paste process. It sounds good, but we
cant paste the same chorus in every time. Its not a
band, and you guys are a band. Were not making a
pop record where it doesnt matter if people can play
the songs straight through. Youre going to have to
play these songs and make it sound real, so lets get
performances. Lets not just fix it. Lets make it
happen. Part of that was getting them in the studio,
getting drum sounds that were unique and
interesting, and merging all of that with the
electronic elements that the dudes were bringing to
the equation. Making it all fit together in an organic
way. To me the biggest challenge was making it sound
organic and unique not just another bedroom
production. Once we started working on it, they got
that what I wanted to do was help them find their
voice what makes them sound unique and not
make them sound like every other band on the radio.
It was to make them sound unique, like who they are.

songwriter, and incredible lyricist [Shirley Manson],


but at the end of the day the story that Shirley, Adam,
or anybody is telling is the most important thing
about the song. The groove can be good, and
everybody can be dancing to it, or it could be a
cheesy pop song and still be great fun and enjoyable.
But I feel most people who sing want to convey an
emotion. Thats one of the really unique things about
being a front person and a singer. What are they
trying to convey? Ive worked with some singers and
songwriters who are vague about what it is theyre
trying to say. I can understand that. They want people
to have to think about it and put their opinion into
it. But are they getting away from actually saying
something? There are plenty of times when I think a
line doesnt make sense, sounds lazy, or is rather
pedestrian. Im being sensitive, because its
something that someone has put their lifeblood into.
Sometimes they might have put that line in there, it
worked, and they never really thought about it twice.
Or maybe they put a lot of thought into it. I might
ask, What are you trying to say here? I dont feel like
that comes across with this line. Do you have a
different line? Would you be opposed to changing it?
Sometimes the lyric will be something that doesnt
sing well. Its like, Is there a way you can phrase it
differently, or change a line a little bit in order to
make it so that it sings better? I have to be sensitive
about it, because Im critiquing one of the most
personal parts. But critiquing a lyric or a melody isnt
really any different than critiquing a drum fill or a
guitar part. At the end of the day they have to realize
that their best interests are my best interests. Im not
trying to do this to make them feel like they dont
know what theyre doing, or that I know better than
them. Im an impartial person telling them I think
they can do better. If I build up the confidence to
where someone feels like Im not judging them, or
trying to get some songwriting credit on it by
changing a word or two, they might feel that theyre
getting to the point where they can explore a little bit
deeper. It comes down to trust. Lets take the
opportunity while we have it to make it as great as
we possibly can. Explore every option and leave no
stone unturned. Question every line and every phrase.
Is it good enough? If the artist feels it is, Im down
with it. Just give me the killer performance.

hl

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rm

@y
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ho
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gr

The thing I really love about how my career ended up is


that Im viewed as a producer, an engineer, and a mixer.
Sometimes I do all three of those things on a project,
and sometimes only one. Theyre all different schools of
thoughts and mindsets, and its really easy for me to
compartmentalize. If you want me to engineer a record
for you, I love that. It takes all the pressure of
producing off. I dont have to worry about the song or
budget. All I have to do is explore whats sonically
available to me. Geeking out with musicians, producers,
and exploring sound is one of the things I really love
to do. Mixing is the most creative of the three
mindsets. It allows me to put my musicality into it and
to feel like Im a part of the process in a way that
engineering doesnt. Its a different part of the brain. I
can sit here by myself and suddenly go, What time is
it? Oh shit, its ten oclock. I can take a song and try
different approaches, what feels best, and explore what
I can do. I love production too, because that involves
working really intimately with musicians extending
trust and trying to figure out what it is that they want
to accomplish really deep down. A lot of times people
dont know, or theyre afraid to express what it is that
they really love to do. It gets to the point where I say,
I think weve got these songs in a place where theyre
good, and theyre cool, but what else can we bring?
How can you make this the defining record for you?
How can you make this elevate who you are as an
artist, who you are as a musician, who you are as a As you were making this Grizfolk record,
songwriter? Where do we go? Okay, lets go to the next
were you integrating electronics
level. Thats equally fun. When you have those
along the way?
relationships with people that bond you have in the I felt like the electronics and Swedish pop-production
studio with people who entrust you with their lifes
part of it was every bit as important as the organic,
work its really rewarding.
singer-songwriter part of it. When we would track
drums I wanted to have the electronic elements in
Lets talk about the Grizfolk record
there so I could see how it all fit together. If there are
[Waking Up the Giants] that you
electronic drums or synths, that is every bit as How do you approach a mix where you
recently produced. Im assuming you
important as making space in the arrangement for
engineered and mixed it?
were not involved with the
strings, horns, or something. Its got to be there in
production? Do you have someone
Yeah, portions. I mixed some that they produced, and I
order to make everything else fit together, so it
who comes in and sets it up for you?
think I did five or six that I produced, engineered,
doesnt feel like its piecemeal. I think they liked that No, man. I envy that! I cant remember who I was talking
and mixed for them. A couple I might have coI valued that as much as I valued the quality of Adam
produced. Thats a loose thing. Theyre really adept at
to. It might have been Dave Pensado [Tape Op #111]
[Roth]s lyrics and the realism of his delivery.
making things sound cool and having an idea of what
or Manny [Marroquin, #109] who said, My assistant
it is that they want to accomplish.
comes in and does this setup. When I get a track, Ill
From a producers role, how do you
easily spend the first two or three hours going through
approach the sensitive subject of
What was your role with the band if they
everything, cleaning tracks up, and putting them
lyrics with people? Is that something
already had a clear vision?
together in a way that makes sense so I can start
you roll up the sleeves on, or do you
When somebody like Grizfolk sends demos over, and they
mixing. Ill start with the rough mix, just seeing what
stay out of it?
sound really good, I have to honestly ask myself if I
it is they intended to do. But Im not really paying that
have anything to bring to the equation. What can I If I hear something I feel could be better, if I hear
much attention to it I dont want to copy it. If
do to make this be better, without my ego getting in
something that doesnt make sense or sound right, Ill
everybodys excited about the rough mix, Im not
the way of it? I know some people who feel like they
definitely have a conversation about it. This is
going to throw it out just because its not my mix.
really have to upset the apple cart in order to feel like
probably largely due to being married to a singer,

42/Tape Op#115/Mr. Bush/(continued on page 44)

gr

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rm

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hl

Yeah, a lot of times. Ive got a mono pedalboard and a Its a weird thing. Do you remember the Dolby A noise
stereo pedalboard. I can route music to the mono
reduction units? Youd use the Dolby to help control
pedalboard, or to the mono into the stereo, or to the
the noise levels. Somebody modded it so that it would
[Korg] MS-20 or the [Access Music] Virus TI. I can also
just do the height-y thing to the top end. It would
route to the Audio Kitchen spring reverb, which is
compress and boost the top end so you wouldnt lose
fucking badass.
it on tape, but if you didnt decode it on the way back
out youd get this incredible sheen to things. It would
Youre using the Little Labs PCP for your
really bring out the top end. Those things are fun if
routing, as well as to change the line
you find them; but the guys at Standard Audio have
level?
really copped it, and it does the same thing with the
Yeah.
low end. I put that on a stereo bus in Pro Tools. Ill
No patchbay?
send the vocals I want to be really prominent, or
No. Im averse to patchbays. Everybody comes in and asks
background vocals sometimes when I want a polished
where the patchbay is.
sheen to the top end, and blend it in. It adds a
You use the I/O on Pro Tools?
compressed top end thats really lovely. Thats been on
Yeah. Thats why Ive got four [Avid] HD I/Os, for 64 ins
a lot of my projects recently. The Bricasti reverb is on
and outs. Everything is directly patched to the I/O. Ive
something, always. I also have an old Studio
had too many times where its like, Print the mix. You
Technologies AN-2, which I use for widening.
get to the point where theres a tom fill, and its like,
Wheres the floor tom? Then you hit the patchbay and Where specifically do you use the AN-2?
theres the floor tom. What the fuck? I probably should Usually I use it on keyboards. The synths often take up a
have a patchbay, because I do like changing the
lot of space in my stereo image when mixing, so I try
routing; but for the most part I feel like Ill just add
to put them further out as wide as possible. It does an
another interface.
interesting widening thing and Im not really sure how.
Ill use it sometimes on vocals to create something
Are you doing analog summing?
thats less bone dry almost a doubling. You cant really
Yeah, I use [Shadow Hills] The Equinox. I have 30
hear it, but if you take it out its like, Wow. That gets
channels of that for summing. It comes out of that into
used a ton, and the Eventide gets used a ton. Then the
the Manley Massive Passive [EQ]. Sometimes the EQ is
rest is all plug-ins in the box.
on, and sometimes not. I use it mostly for the
transformers. Then the Shadow Hills Mastering One of my favorite things youve done is a
When you bring a session up, do you
Compressor into a Crane Song HEDD and back into Pro
have a standard template you import
track on the Fink record, Hard
Tools, at whatever the native session rate was.
where you always have your favorite
Believer, called Pilgrim. It has such

gr

Were all trying to get to a point where were really


stoked and excited. If they like the rough mix and want
it to be done better, I can use that as a jumping off
point to see where to go. If you dont like it, I can at
least hear what the arrangement is. I try to have
communication with who Im mixing with to see what
theyre trying to accomplish, where theyre falling short,
and what they really like about it. I spend a lot of time
messing around with the track, listening to things,
routing, and trying to get the basic session together to
a point where I feel like I can mix it. Then I usually start
with the drums. With most of the music, the groove I get
sent is one of the most important parts. Ill get that to
a point where it feels really good, cleaning up all the
noises, clearing up drum tracks, and making sure
samples are hitting at the right spot. Ill put the vocal in
and see where its at, making sure that Im not going to
have to come back and trim the drums back 10 dB when
everything else comes in. Then Ill start putting in
tracks. If its a more electronic-based track, Ill start with
electronics first. If its a rock-based track, Ill start with
the guitars. Ill start bringing the vocal in at different
times to see how it all works together and make sure Im
leaving space for the vocals. Theyll always be coming in
and out. The final thing Ill end up doing is finishing off
the vocal to make sure it sits on top consistently with
all the vocal rides, automation, EQ and whatnot to make
it really sit in the mix.

Yeah.

What pieces of gear are on everything,


other than the ones you mentioned?
The Roger Mayer RM57 [compressor] is my secret drum
weapon.

Not any longer.

It is, because youll never find one.

@y
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six months or so. Occasionally Ill get a vibe of the song


and think, This is more the Jake Bugg or an Angus &
Julia Stone vibe. Then Ill go to one of those sessions
and export out the effects sends. Ill use that as a
jumping off point. Because Ive got one of the Mac Pro
cylinders, it doesnt seem like it chokes at much. That
was one of the things before, where if sessions were
massive and I brought in all the effects I might want
to use, things would grind to a halt. Ive got a large
effects template now, with all the tracks inactive. I
start to think about what might be useful. Having
somebody coming in and set up a session for me; for
some reason my brain doesnt think I could really
convey what I want. In the same way, I cant really
predict what Ill want in a mix until Im into it. I want
to make every record and song sound different, not
cookie-cutter. I think thats why Ive been resistant in
the past to having set things. Granted, I have some of
the outboard gear here set where I know if I hit it the
right way, itll sound cool. The Summit [LTA-100A] is
set that way. Ill turn it on, hit it with vocals, print it,
and turn it back off again. I know what that does, what
the [Slate Pro Audio] Dragon does, what the Spectra
Sonics [Model 610] does. I have all these things set to
where I know theyre going to feel good. But the rest
of it, like the Bricasti [Design Model 7] preset and my
Eventide [H8000] settings, change from song to song.

ho
o.

go to aux channels and effects Youre bypassing the analog to digital


patience in the arrangement, and
available to you?
sonically its lovely.
conversion in the HD I/O and taking
AES digital audio out of the HEDD?
Ive got a template Ive only put it together in the last
I think that the mix exaggerated what we were trying to

I only know of a few folks that have one.

accomplish when we were tracking it. I had a vision for


that song when I first heard it, and Fin [Greenall] and
the band did as well. The original demo had elements
of that to it, and I thought we should really expand on
it. He has a tendency to write either on guitar or piano
in a very linear way. The thing Ive always tried to bring
to the equation with him is to talk about songs as a
journey. We start here, but where can we end up? How
do we get there musically? The way he writes songs
and lyrics, hes always telling a story. Lets not just tell
a story. Lets create this atmosphere thatll change
throughout. That song was a case of saying, Lets get
the basics down, and now how can we expand on it?
What can we do differently? That ones got a lot of
different drum kits and drum parts on it, plus a lot of
different guitar and keyboard parts. He had come up
with a way where his vocal worked with the chord
changes that I loved. Okay, now how can we make it
so that it changes again at some point, where the beat
can change or something else can change? We had it
pretty dialed in by the time we were done tracking it
over at [Sunset] Sound Factory. It was a matter of trying
to figure out how to make it the best it could possibly
be in the mix process.

hl

ia
sa

rm

Ive got a 57 and a RM 58. But this 57, I dont know


whats wrong with it, besides the fact that the meters
are totally broken. It sounds broken but, as Butch
says, it turns any drummer into Keith Moon. Kicks and
snares explode in a glorious, incredible way. Thats on
every session, without question. The Audio Kitchen
spring reverb is used a lot. I find that with spring
reverb, I can really control the tone of it. It makes a
vocal sit in the track in an incredible way without
sounding like theres a verb on it. It creates space.
When I was doing mixes with Rick Rubin [I learned
that] hes really effects averse. He doesnt like hearing
any reverb at all, but he likes space. That was one of
the few effects where I was able to get some space
around Jake Bugg or Angus & Julia Stones vocals. Ive
really gotten into these Standard Audio Stretch units.
They do the old Dolby A trick. I kept looking for the Theres so much space. I hear on a lot of
Dolby A [noise reduction units] to get that Mutt Lange
your records where the cymbals are
high-end sheen on vocals, so I use that to add a little
very controlled, but theres this mania
extra zip and bottom to vocals in parallel.
inside the containment. It sounds like
Do you use stompboxes when youre

mixing?

What are they?

44/Tape Op#115/Mr. Bush/(continued on page 46)

its blowing up, but with boundaries.

gr

ho
o.

@y
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rm

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hl

One of the things you hear a lot of people


talking about lately is clocking.
I approach a lot of that with a certain element of
skepticism. It really requires me spending time and
testing it, really seeing how it feels when Im
working. Even with the summing Butch doesnt
have a summing box at his house, and he can mix
projects that sound fucking amazing with nothing.
Its all in the box; nothing special, just his ability to
make something sound incredible. Analog summing,
maybe its not that important; but for me its how it
feels when Im mixing. I feel like I struggle more
when its all digital, especially when its organic rock
music something heavy where you feel like the most
legitimate version would be analog console or tape.
If I use The Equinox from the get go, it sounds great.
To me, clocking is a similar thing. I have the Antelope
[Audio Isochrone] Trinity and the 10M atomic clock.
I found when I had that on, mixes would come
together quick. I didnt have to fight a lot of stuff I
used to, and I didnt know why. Things would clear
up, like the stereo image was good and I could hear
details, like the reverb trails and delays. Id turn it off
and put it back on a normal clock, and it was a little
harder for me to get the mix to gel. Its not scientific
at all; its how it feels when youre actually in it.
Maybe its because I have so many interfaces. Ive
talked to them about it and its above my pay grade.
I tracked the Fink record with them; it always made it
easier to sound good from the get go. I have a natural
aversion, as one should, to buying expensive digital
gear that will end up being a paperweight in a couple
of years as opposed to something like a microphone
that you can use forever. But they really work for me.

hl

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rm

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gr

I have a love-hate relationship with cymbals; more hate All in parallel. That way I have some control over the
than love. A lot of the time theyre just white noise
balances. Ill have an idea in my head about what I
generators, depending on the drummer.
want the kit to sound like. At that point, Ill do
whatever it takes to get it to sound the way I hear it
How do you deal with that?
in my head. Sometimes I can leave it, and sometimes
I work with the drummer to control that [situation]. I
there will be all kinds of crazy shit I do just because
say, Lets talk about the dynamics and the sounds.
I hear something in my head. Whatever it takes to get
When I have the opportunity I work with a really
to that point. Ill be EQ-ing and compressing
good drum tech named Mike Fasano. Hes got an
incredible amount of drum gear and hes got a good
channels. It wouldnt be uncommon for me to route
ear. Ill explain to him, Im not hearing any definition
the kick in and the kick out and any samples to one
between the parts. In the chorus section that needs
aux for the kick drum. The same goes for the snare,
to be much different. Ill go through and hand pick
snare top, and snare bottom. I take many samples,
all the cymbals, all the hats, the rides, and the crashes
compress them, then route them together to the
in order to make sure that I can hear definition in
drum buses, and also send them through parallel
between parts. Thats one of the things I find most
compression buses. If I feel a clean drum bus is a
important about a drum kit. I need to hear the
little spikey I might have the UAD-2 Studer [A800
dynamics. Hes playing the verse on the hat and its
plug-in] on it to smooth it out, and the Roger Mayer,
grooving really well, and now hes going to go to the
which is on crush, to make everything explode. Then
ride because its the chorus. To me, a lot of the time,
Ill take another compressor, like the Vertigo [VSC-2]
its like, Whoa. Where did all the energy go?
or something like that for a more polite compression.
Then Ill balance those three to get to a point where
Right.
I feel like I have energy or vibe, but its not too blown
The ride can be way too dark, or too wash-y, or have
out. Ive got the ability to run something up if I need
nothing going on. All of a sudden your drums fall
a bit more height, or send something harder if I need
apart when it needs to elevate. With the Fink record,
to. Thats how I do the drums. The bass is a similar
Tim [Thornton]s a great drummer, and he has an
thing. Bass guitar will go to one bus, sub-bass will go
amazing ability to deconstruct his parts. Id say,
to another, and then Ill spend a lot of time figuring
Lets just do the kick drum. Hed play the kick
out how to get the sub-bass to work with the bass
drum, and we would record that. Then Id say, Okay,
and the kick drum, to control all the low-end
lets play the top kit. [Hed play] the snare, the alt
information, and how to get everything to sit. Maybe
snare, and the toms, with no cymbals. He had an
Ill do a sideband EQ on the bass and sub bass to duck
amazing ability to play all that and groove, because
down where the kick drums hitting. Not in a really
hed hit his thigh instead of hitting the hat. If you
disco-y or dance music kind of way.
listen really closely, youll hear a lot of him hitting
his thigh. Then Id say, Lets do the brass. Wed Not side-chaining heavily
layer it all in a way so that I had complete sonic Yeah, but for that moment when the spike of the kick
control over the different parts of the kit. I could get
drum hits, maybe it cuts out 100 cycles really super
the kick drum big and loud, he could be really
quick on the bass and the sub bass. You dont hear
graceful and play with brushes on the toms and the
that go away, but you hear the kick drum come
snare, and you can hear all the articulation of that
through for a nanosecond. To me thats the most
without it being washed out. I could really control
important thing to the groove. The groove is of
the cymbals that way. He was game for it. Its a
utmost importance to me. It has to feel really good,
challenge for him, and he loved the end result. Wed
energetic, vibey, or however the song is. That needs
do that and then have different drum kits for one
to come across first. Those items to me are the keys.
part of a song. Wed change things around.
Then Ill look at whether its keyboard-based or
guitar-based. Ill start breaking that up into different
When youre mixing, are you compressing
subgroups so I have a little control over the mix. All
and EQ-ing individually as well as in
the clean guitars to one bus, all the super-saturated
groups of low, mid, and high
guitars to another, all the riffs to another place, all
frequencies or instrument groups?
the percussive keyboards to one group, pads to
Yeah. Ill group items together in a way that makes
another group, noise tracks to another group. I have
sense for me to work on them, where they all have the
the ability to control the mix [with the buses] there.
same harmonic or percussive content. When I put a
A lot of the mix will be on aux groups. Its almost like
session together, Ill route things into certain groups.
live mixing at that point, where Ive got all the basic
Itll start out as basic as drums, percussion, music,
instruments. Ive got the drums, the bass, the keys,
and vocals. Itll start there. Ill route all the drums to
the guitars, and the vocals. Its all there and able to
a drum bus, all the music to a music bus, and all the
be blended and tweaked however I need. If necessary,
vocals to the vocal bus. I have a lot of control when
Ill do some group processing over everything to
Im mixing really quickly. Then Ill expand on that. If
control it all, or give it a vibe so it has some zip. For
Ive got the drums sounding good, Ill open up a
saturated guitar, it wouldnt be uncommon to run
couple of parallel drum buses. Maybe Ill route
them through a [Universal Audio] LA-3A or something
cymbals to the Roger Mayer [RM57], or maybe Ill
like that to get them to gel a little bit, if thats what
route tracks to another compressor.
they need. Sometimes they dont, but other times its
All in parallel?
good for them to be like a wall that comes in.

46/Tape Op#115/Mr. Bush/(continued on page 48)

How do you integrate new pieces of


hardware or plug-ins when you get
them? Is it something you do on your
own time or while youre on a mix?

Im always trying plug-ins. People send me equipment all


the time. Or Ill read about something. One of the most
important things to do is always keep learning and
keep up-to-date. Im always exploring other digital
audio workstations, plug-ins, or systems. I never know
what something could bring to the equation. Im
always checking out new plug-ins, probably to my own
detriment. If you look at my plug-in list, its ridiculous.
With hardware gear, its the same thing. If I find
something I think would be interesting, Ill swap out a
piece of gear. If its a stereo thing, Ill swap out stereo
gear with it and try it. If I really like it, Ill find a place
for it and route a few more cables to it. Or Ill get a new
interface and Ill think, Now I can add eight more
stereo items. Sometimes the compressors get swapped
out for other things. I change out preamps a lot. I try
to keep exploring. One thing I never want to do is get
to a point where I feel like Im running sound through
a cookie cutter. I dont want it to feel like a sausage
factory, where you spit it in and everything comes back
exactly the way its supposed to. I want everything to
be unique and different. I change my process up all the
time, partly out of my own boredom.

What are you listening to that we might


not expect?

gr

ho
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@y
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rm

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hl

And everything is getting mixed as its


going along?
Yeah.

By the time you get it, Im assuming the


architecture of the mix is already
there.
Yeah.

I guess that would be different than you


grabbing a session from someone who
sends it and asks you to mix the record.
How much is changing from inception?

Billy Bush is our secret weapon in all things Garbage.


Hes a masterful engineer, and a genius at helping us
translate our vision into a sonic reality. In both the studio
and the concert stage, Billys usually one step ahead of us,
figuring out what kind of sound were going for,
sometimes before we even know what that is. I really
appreciate the tech nerd in him; hes always up to date on
bringing us up to speed with new technology. I think he
stays up late at night reading tech manuals! Hes also one
of the nicest guys I know, and able to accommodate
everyones ideas in the studio, deal with tech meltdowns
onstage, and is often the voice of reason in the midst of
chaos. And he makes damn tasty cocktails!
Intro drums will be different from the verse, to the chorus,
to the bridge, or whatever. The drums could take up 60
tracks easily, but it all fits together. Once you wrap your
head around it, its balancing everything in sections and
making sure the sections are cohesive. Its the same with
the guitars. One thing Butch taught me early on was to
record things the way you want them to sound. Think of
it like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces have to work
together, so figure out how to make it work. If the guitars
in the way of the bass, cut out some low-end from the
guitar, or high-end off from the bass. It seems daunting,
at first. If we were sitting in a session with somebody, put
everything at zero, and just said, Good luck. Mix it, it
would take them a long time to wrap their head around
it. They would hopefully see that theres some method to
the madness of how it all works together. We re-released
the first record last year, and that required a lot of archival
work on my part. I had to go back to the original half- <www.globalpositioningservices.net>
inch tapes, which we hadnt seen in 20 years. They went
missing forever. I had to transfer them, get all the
multitracks, and load them into Pro Tools for posteritys
sake. When I did that, I listened to the tracks and would
be amazed how I could put everything at zero, like on
Stupid Girl, and that mix is almost there. To me, thats
engineering. Thats some fucking incredible skill at
recording everything and making it all work together.
Thats the key to how weve expanded. It was like that on
24-tracks, because those were the limitations. Now, with
an infinite number of tracks, we dont have to bounce
everything down. But the result is that when you put the
session up, it should sound like the song aside from
some basic ear candy if its put together well. The other
side of it is that when somebody sends me a mix session,
and I feel like everything theyve given me in that session
has intent to it, its my job to figure out how to find a
place for it. I think thats one reason people have
gravitated towards my mixing style. They know that Im
not going to make them sound like a kick-snare-guitarbass rock band. If you put ear candy in there, Im going
to find a place to put it, and hopefully you can hear
everything. Thats one thing I really like in mixing. The
creative thing I find about mixing is, How can I create a
mix where, every time you hear it, you hear something
different? I love people who send me tracks who have
that already embedded. Theres always something lurking
in there thats a little bonus.

gr

Yeah, absolutely.

hl

ia
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rm

The funny thing about the Garbage sessions is that it is an


evolving thing. Theyll start writing a bunch of songs and
getting a core idea of a song. It wouldnt be uncommon
for them to write 30, 40, or 50 songs in the process of
making a record. I think, in a very natural way, that they
start gravitating toward the ones they feel strongest
about and work on those. Well start building on them.
Part of the thing about the track count is that theyll try
every idea they can come up with and see what works.
We never throw anything away, because someone might
go back to an early rough mix and ask, What happened
to that guitar part? Ill have to go back and pull it out
if we change the tempo, fix it, redo it or whatever. I
never throw anything away until I get to mix mode, and
then Ill throw away all the inactive tracks, which
typically is two-thirds of the tracks. The sessions are still Its clear you enjoy this job. Where do you
massive, because we dont record anything in a really
find the inspiration on the days when
linear way. Its rarely the same drum kit through a song.
the mojo isnt there?

48/Tape Op#115/Mr. Bush/(Fin.)

Well, what inspires me is being married to an artist, and


knowing how hard it is for artists to make a living and to
be an artist. Its hard to be in a band, and be a musician.
Its basically taking a vow of poverty these days. The
economys so fucked for people in the creative arts. Im in
a really lucky position, in that I still get to do what I love
to do. When I feel frustrated with a track, or something
comes in not well-recorded, or Im not feeling the song
that much, I stop myself and think, You know, you need
to be a little humble and realize that right now youre the
caretaker of this persons life. This record might be the
most important record, or the last record, that he ever
does. I have a responsibility to that artist to give them
the best I possibly can. I could ruin someones career, end
someones career, or make it really hard for them. I try to
remind myself that none of this is about me, my genius,
or my talent. Its about their talent, their genius, making
sure that people can hear that, as well as making sure
they have an opportunity to continue being an artist and
grow as an artist and as a creative person. I feel like Im
more of a caretaker than anything else. When I have those
moments when I feel like, Fuck, Im really struggling, Ill
walk outside, go down to Starbucks, get a coffee, take the
dog for a walk for a minute, and come back. Then I think,
You have a responsibility to do a fucking good job.
Regardless of what the budget is, or who the band is. You
have to give everything a hundred percent. If you dont
feel like you can give a hundred percent, you should pass
and give it to somebody who will. There are plenty of
people out there willing to do good work. You have to do
your best work, all the time. r

ho
o.

Ive read often that the Garbage sessions


are massive, in terms of track count. Its
obviously something youve been able
to get your head around. I guess if they
had a purpose, then they need to make
the mix...

Butch Vig on Billy Bush

@y
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The Weeknd record [Beauty Behind the Madness]. They do


sub-basses and vocal treatments, and I always think
theyre really creative and interesting. Trying to do that
same thing in the music that I gravitate to, which is a
lot more dense and has a lot more instrumentation to it
usually, is something I find an interesting challenge to
try to accomplish. How can I make something have that
modern production feel, but put it in a context thats not
quite the same thing? Its super easy to get sub-bass. If
you have a really good sounding Moog bass, it sounds
fucking incredible. But try to put that in with a really
dense mix. Thats a challenge unto itself. The Weeknd
record is one record I thought was extraordinary
sounding. I listen to a lot of music. I find it hard to listen
to other things when Im mixing though. I find that I
dont really enjoy it that much. When Im mixing a record,
I have to be immersed in it. Occasionally, if theres a
specific vibe were going for, Ill use something for
reference and flip back and forth in Pro Tools. But
recreationally I wont really listen to much, for whatever
reason. Ill leave here, and whatever Im working on is
still going through my head. I dont want to derail it. Ill
come home and be talking to Shirley about the mix.
Shell have some notes, and Ill be lying in bed thinking
about it. Ill wake up in the middle of the night with an
idea to try. I want to stay in that mindset as much as I
can until the records mixed.

gr

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gr
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interview and photo by John Baccigaluppi

hl

Its hard to imagine that anyone under 30, who helmed a Grammy winning (four
awards!) record, might not let it go to their head. But Blake Mills, who produced the
Alabama Shakes Sound & Color (engineered by Shawn Everett, also in this issue), does
not fall into that stereotype in the least. In contrast, hes enthusiastic about making
music, quick to praise the people he collaborates with, and frequently mentions how
grateful he is to work with the people he has. After chatting with Blake during a short
break from a session(where he and his cousin, Jon Peter Lewis, were covering Bob
Dylans Not Dark Yet at Tony Bergs studio), its clear that the success that has come
Blakes way is in direct proportion to his enthusiasm for music, that hes easy to get
along with, and he can clearly communicate his ideas in a way that gets you excited
about them. And thats what a good producer does, right?

Id heard that your first solo LP, Break


Mirrors, was intended as a calling
card for session work. I guess that
worked out?
Yeah, it was an experiment. I had left the band Simon
Dawes, and I was continuing to write without a goal
of what to do with those songs. The obvious
conclusion was to make a record, but I had no
intention of performing that material. Being in a band
at such a young age, I was always struggling to
represent my artistic ideas over those of my
bandmates. I was in the studio constantly with the
engineer, Shawn Everett, during the making of the

Youre also well-known as a guitarist. Well, it really depends. Sometimes Shawns role is more
musical. Sometimes Shawns role is that he creates
Was this an attempt to get more
something, or that he has an idea on how to record
session work as a player, or was the
something, and it becomes a part of the music.
goal to get into production?
It was to get into production. It was me coming out of
a period of time where everything I did was
collaborative being a guitarist in a band [Simon
Dawes], and co-writing the songs with Taylor
[Goldsmith] so it was really a way to try to create
some record that felt inherently like me and my
sensibilities. It was a process for the songwriting, as
well as the sonics in the engineering, to sound the
way I had wanted my music to sound at that time. My
hopes were that someone would hear it and be aware
that this was a part of what I was interested in doing.
There wasnt that much focus on the guitar playing on
that record its serving the writing and production.

And you met Shawn around this time?

Sometimes he goes for a unique sound on something


basic; he makes it surreal and interesting on its own,
but perhaps theres no longer any high-end on it and
the track is just piano and vocal. I might need to get
technical with him in that sort of situation, to make
sure that our song doesnt sound like all of the air has
been sucked out. So it becomes a balancing act
were chasing our tails, in a fun way, and hopefully
arriving at something that feels like an interesting
and exciting new way to present a sound that weve
heard before. Im, perhaps, more critical that the
spectrum of sound isnt overtly low-fi, small, or
anything like that. He and I both like excitingsounding records, but Im never after zaniness.
Making a record with Shawn is unlike making a record
with anybody else. Hes truly one of a kind.

I met Shawn working on the Simon Dawes record,


Carnivore. I think that was around 2007 to 2008. A
couple of years after that we started working on Break You mentioned earlier that your
method is to react to what is
Mirrors together.

gr

happening in the studio. Is it purely


We interviewed Shawn for this issue as
reactionary, or when youre driving
well. How do you divvy up your
to the studio are you plotting out the
workload and responsibilities when
day in your head?
youre working on a record with him,
and youre either producing or co- Yeah, I am. I cant help but plot it out. But its like when
Im in my bedroom practicing guitar and I stumble upon
producing? Do you do some
something so beautiful and think to myself, Ive gotta
engineering yourself?
remember this! But I never do when Im responding to
other musicians onstage. I almost never remember to go
back to what I was thinking I could rely on. If I show
up and have this preconceived idea of what Im gonna
do that day in the studio, Im afraid of putting too much
faith in that idea and then having it disappear. I know
that if everybody is responding in the moment, and
everybodys listening with an open mind especially
myself that well have found something really special
and honest by the end of the day. I could be listening
to a Slim Harpo record on the drive in that day and
think, Oh my god, this arrangement is so brave, and
ballsy, and simple. Thats what this song were doing
needs to feel like that simplicity. Im gonna try to
apply that to this record. I have applied that approach
to working with everyone, from an artist like John
Legend to a band like Dawes, because its about
refinement. But trying to control too much before you
get a sense of the big picture is dangerous.

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I care a lot about how every sound is created and


captured. Im definitely more hands-on in that way
than many modern producers, but Im certainly not as
schooled in engineering techniques as most of the
traditional record producers were. Im catching up on
the jargon, and trying to remember the model name
of the microphone that I liked so much on the
guitarrn. When Im working with Shawn, he can
largely inform the process for the artist or the band
were working with. He is an engineer who, in a very
unique way, captures the essence and transforms it
without pretension. Traditionally it seems that greatsounding records were tracked in such a way that the
engineers were trying not to record anything
improperly. Maybe they would get clear sounds and
counteract some deficiencies in the equipment, but
the major sonic shaping was done during the mix. But
with Shawn, he alters some sounds in real time. He
reshapes the character of the sound, and it informs
the way someone will sing or play. It can inform me
too; like Ill build a record around how great the snare
drum or that guitar tone suddenly is. Its influential to
work with Shawn; its like hes a band member. Hes
certainly an artist in that way. I would say my
approach isnt something that Ive figured out,
beyond reacting to what I want out of the music
[which is] for the intent of the song to be clear, and
the performance to be inviting. It feels like thats the
only thing I can rely on being a constant in record
making, and to inspire that Im forced to react
spontaneously like a musician.

So theres a little bit of a plan, and a bit


of a framework, but then you
improvise from there?

hl

Simon Dawes record, Carnivore, stressing over all these


Yeah, its a conversation thats what I always say. Its
little parts that everyone played. Im sure that I was
like you have your vocabulary, and you have your point
such a pain in the ass for everybody. So when I made
of view; but when you go in to have a conversation
a solo record I had carte blanche to do all of those
with somebody, its really hard to plan it past the
kinds of things, without the stress. I went into a
opening statement. Youre at the whim of the flow.
friends house in Malibu with an engineer named Andy
How
do you pick a studio to work in?
Brohard. We did some live tracking and then brought
The
tracking
room is the main thing. If it feels like a
the record back here, to Tony Bergs studio in
record
where
theres going to be a lot of live tracking,
Brentwood, California, to finish it with Shawn. My
the
room
has
to be able to handle it. The control room
hope, at the time, was that people would hear it and
is important as well, knowing that what were hearing
go, Oh wow, what an interesting sounding record. We So is your role a little more musical, and
is accurate. In the case of the Alabama Shakes, I was
Shawns more technical? Is that a fair
should get these guys to work with us. We should
statement?
make all our records with them!
Mr. Mills/(continued on page 52)/Tape Op#115/51

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mixing session so that the band could come in, and we


looking for the closest major city to where everybody The Shakes and I met when they were on the road and
tracked the song at Ocean Way. It took much less time
lived in Alabama and Nashville, Tennessee, is about two
they were playing L.A. We got together and talked about
for us to get drum sounds at Ocean Way than at Sound
hours away. I called a friend in Nashville and asked,
their first record, and the differences between what the
Emporium. Although we were also learning how to mic
What are some rooms that we can go into, really get
collective tastes were like in the band now versus when
Steve [Johnson]s drums at Sound Emporium learning
some work done, and that sound good? Blackbird
they made Boys & Girls. They were wanting this record
what sounded good and what didnt. But by the time we
Studios obviously came up, but because the Shakes
to incorporate some of their more eclectic tastes in
were working at Ocean Way we threw some mics up
record was such an experimental process, and we didnt
style, music, and composition. So we talked a lot about
fairly quickly and it sounded good. There is something
know if wed be booking out a room for two months or
the records they love, like [The Beach Boys] Pet Sounds,
about that room, and it has a good console. The song
two weeks, there was a little less risk at Sound Emporium.
artists like David Axelrod and John Williams, and a lot
that we did at Ocean Way went by so quick, and it was
It also felt a little more like our home. Once we got in
of various influences. To be honest, it was really
very easy to mix. Theres something to be said for the
there [Studio A] and shut the door, it really felt like that
exciting, but also a little confusing because there wasnt
magic of those rooms, and how few of them there really
was our territory. We kept coming back to that room for
any material written at the time that seemed
are in the world. They do make life easier, and they can
consistency, and then we mixed at Ocean Way [now
appropriate or relevant to those influences. You cant
make records better.
known by the original United Recording name] because I
just plop that kind of musicality over a song that its not
had made my second solo record, Heigh Ho, there with
right for. They clearly understood that. A few months Was there conscious intent and effort to
Greg Koller. He suggested that room because of its
later, Brittany [Howard, vocals/guitar] sent me a bunch
not repeat the first record?
appropriateness for the music and the players on it: Jim
of ideas. A few were fully organized into song form; I think in the back of the bands minds they knew that
Keltner, Don Was [Tape Op # 113], and Mike Elizondo
verse-chorus-second verse-chorus-etc. Others were a
they wanted this second effort to challenge the world,
guys whove all worked in that room for years. Jim Keltner
guitar riff, a keyboard riff, a string chart, and various
or at least challenge the definition that was so easily
really knows how to use the sound of that room as part
odds and ends like a scrapbook of ideas. We went in
placed on them of this throwback Southern soul
of his playing how to get the walls to speak. There are
and blocked two weeks out at Sound Emporium with the
band. But I dont think there was ever a time when we
a few drummers who, if you can capture the size of the
intent of experimenting; basically to see if the
were all scratching our heads and necessarily thinking,
sound that they are actually making in there, its like one
collaborative process made sense and to see if we came
Now how are we gonna fuck every sound up beyond
of the biggest things you could ever hear on a record.
out of there with anything. And it went really well. It
recognition? I think that everybodys tastes were
Jims one of those guys, Ocean Way Studio B is one those
was clear that we could make something beautiful
naturally geared towards the slightly unusual. The way
rooms, and Greg is one of those engineers. By the time
together if we had enough time. Half of my time was
it would usually work out was they would all set up in
we mixed the Shakes record, I knew what I would be
spent in the live room working on arranging parts with
the live room, with all the amps in the room except the
hearing in that control room. Ive spent the last six or
the band, and the other half of the time was spent with
bass amp, and I would walk around and dial up a
eight months, off and on, at EastWest Studio 2, and thats
Brittany, delving into lyrics or developing the guitar riff
tone on each element. I loved working on parts with
another drum room I really like. You hear those clich
ideas a little further. Thats what I mean by
Steve, just him and me in the room. I put up this big
stories about how people spent four days on a kick drum
experimenting. It wasnt a record where we had the
32-inch orchestral kick drum that I was borrowing from
sound in the 1990s, when they had those kind of
material, the timeframe, and how we were gonna track
Flea, and we used that as a sympathetic kick. There are
budgets. But it probably wasnt always arbitrary. If you
it all figured out. It was like a clubhouse, where
no samples on the record, and were not chopping up
tap into a drum tone that defines the size and clarity of
everybody came in and we wouldnt leave til we felt like
his takes or looping one good bar; its all Steve, top to
the record, a lot of the other sounds fall into place. The
wed accomplished something exciting. One morning I
bottom. All of the drum sounds are the result of the
guitars can sound small, big, a little mid-rangy, or a little
came in and they had already been there for a few hours
mics that were there, the drums that were there, how
dark, if you have a base of comparison of reality in the
doing Santana covers with Zac [Cockrell], the bass
we tuned them, and how we treated them. I once got
drums. Whatever youre going after, if you get it with the
player, singing. It really felt like the parents were away
in trouble, actually. I got reprimanded by the studio
drums and the vocals, it defines the rest of the track. I
and we had free reign of the studio to make one of those
manager because we took the lid off their Wurlitzer and
think having a sense of what the drummer will sound like
records that doesnt feel professional, or uptight, but
put a piece of tape across the tines to try and get this
in a room will be the defining factor for where I choose
one thats beautifully loose.
unusual sound, and we left it like that overnight. Sure
to work for now.
enough, somebody came in and thought the Wurlitzer
So it was partially written as you all
was broken. We tried to cover our tracks if we got a
went along?
You also work at Shawns place too, right?
little too far out for Nashville. If Brittany wanted to
A little bit, yeah. He has this great building, but hes been Yeah. A lot was written in the studio, and a lot was
sing directly into the [echo] chambers, we did it
so busy that I dont know if hes been working out of
written when we would take breaks. We would record for
carefully and after hours. Even though The Beach Boys
there much.
two to four weeks and then we would take time off,
were doing that kind of thing on Pet Sounds in the 60s,
when they had to be on the road or we had addressed
Its an unusual room.
I guess its not the norm around there. It doesnt
everything that currently existed. But Brittany would
Shawns an unusual guy, so it makes sense for him, and
feel contrived to me, but it may be a little unusual
come up with three or four new ideas during those
thats all that matters. Sometimes I try to pull him out
given how easy it is to make a record without all of that
breaks. Sometimes fresh starts, sometimes more
of that territory to get something specific. It was
extra work or thinking outside the box. These days I
material on the songs we were already working on. It
interesting to witness his eccentric personality in an
encounter a lot of assistant engineers who are totally
was really productive, and being in the studio really
environment like Nashville. Its more exciting to me
psyched to see that Im even using the tracking room,
inspired everybody they got a new sense of what they
than doing it all in a place where he feels comfortable,
let alone asking to see the chambers. I guess they work
were capable of sounding like. It motivated us to finish
or I feel comfortable. If I were by myself in these rooms
so often with producers who make the whole record in
the record, to write boldly, and to make a record thats
that were talking about, I would not know how to get
the box with just a vocal mic. But thats not the way
not just about trying to sound different from before, but
the results that Im after. I really do rely on the
many of my favorite records sound, and its not the
to make a statement about who they are.
engineers I work with. I like them to be on their toes
studio environment I grew up in. Ive learned to have
as well, so I dont always feel like the dummy.
Do you remember how many sessions it was?
a lot of respect for the way great, contemporary,
You mentioned that Sound & Color was Maybe five or six sessions. I think the record was probably
modern records sound, and thats because there are
made over the course of four months total, including
going to be an experimental process.
very few that sound very good. Im trying to make
mixing. There was a song, Over My Head, that Brittany
From the minute you hear the
records with actual musicians sound as compelling as
had written just before the mixing had started. We
opening track with the vibraphone,
sample-based music.
ended up tacking on a few days at the beginning of the
you realize, This is different.

52/Tape Op#115/Mr. Mills/(continued on page 54)

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I really like the placement and depth of instruments in the


stereo field on records youve produced. You seem to place
sounds in a really interesting way within the stereo
field, in that theyre very self-contained, but they have
an ambience to them that is localized to that sound. Is
that a conscious thing youre working towards?
I think its from what Im used to hearing when I play live with people. Ive been
lucky enough to have played with some of the greatest musicians alive. You fall
in love with the feeling of being in a room with your dreams its an
unforgettable experience being in those situations. Maybe what Im trying to
recreate in arranging records is the sense of being in that environment with the
music. Creating the space that you want to transport the listener to the dream,
the stage, and the studio. Thats the environment Im trying to create. So the
stereo spectrum thing is informed by my desire to make the listening experience
feel immersive. It reminds me a lot of painting. It takes a lot of effort to try to
recreate realism, like with depth perception, perspective, and all of that. I think
panning, to me, is largely based around trying to create depth and perspective in
the aural field in a similar way. But you can run into problems with that if youre
making a dance record or a pop mix.

When you say you run into problems, do you mean youre
having to bring tracks more to the center?
If its supposed to be competitive with Rihanna, yeah. In that sense, the power of
mono is real.

Have you ever mixed in mono?

I havent had the opportunity to mix anything in mono, but Id be into it. Maybe
not for those reasons. We usually mono the bass, especially when mastering for
vinyl. A lot of the records I do are all built around drum kits and two guitars in
a band, so to give them separation is to give them a chance of being heard
theres only so much space available inside a speaker!

gr

Are you using additional reverb, like plates or chambers,


when youre mixing, or are you capturing the ambience
of the room when you track?

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Weve definitely added plate or chamber reverbs in some instances, but more as a
flavor or an effect. But to give an example of how Ive used it for stereo spectrum
purposes: when you put on an old record and mute one side, you hear the room
bleed of an instrument that was hard panned to the side thats been muted, and
you get a sense of how little separation there was in the room. So even though
it is supposedly relegated to that side, there is a bit of it bleeding. Not the same
as just panning 45 degrees, because the bleed is a diffuse sound and not close
micd. So one thing I started doing with Shawn was hard panning the close mic
on a guitar to one side, hard panning its room mic to the other side, and trying
to drop the room mic to a level that felt more like a mic in omni on some [other
instrument] thats over on that opposite side.

54/Tape Op#115/Mr. Mills/(Fin.)

So when youre tracking a guitar amp, youre using more


than one mic, as well as putting the room mic on a
separate track and making decisions later about where
those two mics get panned?
Yes, Im always taking room mics.

And when youre live tracking, youve got multiple room


mics and are using whatever mics are available to be
panned left and right when you mix?
Yes. Perspective relies on first deciding whats going to be the focal point the
place where the viewer is supposed to be listening from. Im trying to create some
realism by using whats there, but not adding any unnecessary reverb. Its about
using a combination that feels like everything plays together. Whether there are
overdubs or not, they cant sound like overdubs. For me, thats what ruins the
experience of being inside the dream of the song. r
<www.blakemillsonline.com>

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/55

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Appro

by Larry Crane and

hl

LC: Everyone has to have a place to work


Winning a Grammy for his engineering on This is a cool building.
these days, even if youre working out of
Alabama Shakes Sound & Color album might be a Theres so much extra space that, at some point, Id like
other studios a lot. Youve got to have
recent highlight of Shawn Everetts career, but hes to maybe make the live room the control room. Right
some place you can come back to.
had a hand in many albums over the years, working now Im renting out a spot to a yoga studio, but if they
with producers Tony Berg and Blake Mills [see his ever leave then this will be the control room. This Yeah. Ive been working at a bunch of other studios, but
interview this issue] , as well as helming his own building is pretty wild and big, but when youre in here I always keep ending up back here. Its cheaper for
productions. His sessions have included Lucius, you dont really realize where you are. Beyond the yoga everybodys budget. I kind of like working in here more
than most spaces anyway.
Weezer, The Growlers, Pete Yorn, and Julian place is my house.
LC:
In
the
same
building?
LC:
You get comfortable and work faster,
Casablancas from The Strokes. We met up with Shawn
right?
Yeah. I spend all my time in here, but my house is way
at his private studio and living space compound,
bigger. I dont know why I didnt switch it.
Plus I know what Im listening to.
Subtle McNugget, in L.A.s Downtown Arts District.

LC: Getting more atmospheric?

oaching Music Like Animating

Yeah. It was like, Oh, how do we do these kinds of


things? There was no way to figure out how to do it,
except maybe we needed some kind of recording
device. I convinced my dad to buy me one for
Christmas, one of those Roland machines, the VS1680. Right after that, I started recording our band. I
was already getting into more experimental music. I
stopped with all the metal and was listening to other
things. I remember hearing a Tom Waits record and
was like, Wow! The sounds were incredible. I wanted
to do something like that. I tried to figure it out.
When I was young, my dad had a burger restaurant
he wanted to create a chain, like McDonalds. He sold
the business, and they were going to destroy the
building so he moved the whole burger restaurant
onto our property, and that was my band rehearsal
room and studio for the whole time while I was a kid.
I was obsessively in that room.

LC: Were you working with friends?

was there had some kind of degree, or had done


something in recording and learned a lot. I was in over
my head, but I really took to it. They gave me keys to
the studios and I had access all night long. I just went
crazy. I was staying up all night long, every single
night, every single day. I also made my own studio in
the bathroom. If I couldnt get into one of the studios,
I was in my own. I was piping through all the
stairwells, using them as chambers. I was obsessively
there. Theres a real kind of ski culture in Banff, which
I dont relate to in any way at all. I didnt become
friends with anybody in the town at all. It was
completely different, culturally. Anyone who I made
friends with who was there would leave in three
months. It could be lonely, but I loved it because it
was kind of this solitary confinement for work, and I
could do it for that amount of time. They started
realizing that this was going to be my education. We
have a great relationship. Theresas like a second
mother to me. Because we became friends, she
allowed me to continue on so that it would become
my education.

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John Baccigaluppi
photo by John

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Yeah, my band, and then I started recording local bands


a bit. I was in there constantly. When I was right at the
end of high school, I started getting these crazy panic LC: Did they put you to work?
attacks. I finished high school and dont know where I Yeah, thats what they would do as well. Every Monday
they would have different projects come in, and
was going to end up in life. I couldnt go past certain
they would assign those things to different
parts of the city and problems like that. I was really
engineers that were there. It has a big classical
losing it. But for some reason the only thing that would
program, and 95 percent of the people there were
kind of calm me down was peppermint tea and
from a classical background. I wasnt, at all. Theyd
recording. I did that for a year and a half straight.
put me on classical things, so Id learn a lot, but
LC: Were people coming to you
that wasnt totally my interest. I always got the
commercially at any point back then,
weirder things. There are a lot of artists there who
or was it mostly friends and as a hobby?
made sound installations and such. I loved doing
People were coming. Nothing big at all. Local bands
that. People who werent even musicians, but
would come down and Id try to do something with
wanted music with balloons. I remembered
them. Thats how you learn best, by doing it.
recording a lady who collected rocks for 30 years and
LC: How did you end up studying
wanted to rub them all together. It took days and
recording at Banff?
they all sounded the same!
I grew up down the road, but didnt know about it early
LC:
Well, thats how you find out.
on. I lived about 45 minutes away from there, in a
smaller town. There was a guy who lived in my smaller There was a lady with bananas we were making music
with.
town who owned an all-analog studio in Calgary. He
was teaching me, and he would let my band record LC: What do you mean music with
bananas?
there all the time. He was like, Youre a weirdo.
Theres a place, Banff, and theyve always got these Peeling them and getting the sound, and then creating
synth tones. Whenever it was a weird one, theyd just
artists up there. I think youd like it. At that point I
say, Put Shawn on it.
had just finished high school. He said, Let me
LC:
Thats really good experience though.
introduce you to this lady who runs it, Theresa
Leonard. She had been the President of AES. He Yeah. There was this great guy, John Sorenson, who had
actually come from L.A. He was one of the elder
called her up and asked if I could come over and meet
statesmen of engineers and usually was the one who
her. I met with her that day, and we got along great.
taught everybody. I really got along great with him,
I still didnt understand if it was a school or what it
because he was the other kind of rock guy who would
was. She called me the next day and said somebody
show me techniques. He would always be pushing me
dropped out of the next semester that was starting.
in that way. But then Theresa would always be the yin
Did I want to come up, because I was close? I quit
to his yang and be like, Oh no, Shawn needs to learn
everything I was doing in my life, drove up there the
more about classical, so shed take me up there.
next day, and started.

LC: You came from Alberta, Canada? In


that area?
Yeah, Bragg Creek. A little outside of Calgary.

hl

LC: Right. I saw that you studied at Banff


[Centre for Arts and Creativity]. You had LC: How many years was the program for LC: I think they really want to make sure
a metal band in high school, right?
you dont come out of there with one
you there?
Yeah, it was fun. I guess thats how I started, with this It was supposed to be three months, but I was there for
focus. Thats a really important
metal band.
curriculum there.
four years.
LC: Were you trying to record that?
The other incredible thing that I really dont understand
LC: How did that happen?

Yeah. At first we were just trying to mimic Slayer, or I was super young, like 17. Everyone else there was way
is that there arent any classes. You dont go to class.
something like that. Then we started listening to Pink
You
just do sessions. The only classes we ever had were
older than me, at least 30. Pretty much everybody who
Floyd or Radiohead.
Mr. Everett/(continued on page 58)/Tape Op#115/57

bowling guy still wouldnt let me quit. So even if I didnt


get a job, I could be doing this bowling thing. Id be in
my friends apartment in Hollywood screaming into this
mic, and hed be covering me in blankets so the
neighbors wouldnt complain.

LC: Thats just surreal. When you started


working for Tony, did you get out of
that gig?

Well, now I know Tony enough to know that he would


have thought it was hilarious if I told him about it
and asked if I could do it in the corner. But at the
time, I was super nervous. He was a legendary music
man. I didnt want to ask him if I could do a
bowling show in the corner of his studio, so I had
to quit. I told the guy I wasnt going to be on the
air in two weeks time.

LC: Did you feel like all the skills you


built up applied when you started
doing something like the Pete Yorn
record? Were you well-equipped to do
a session like that?

gr

Yeah. I still felt like I was a little in over my head.


Because of my unique education, and the way I had
been brought up, no one was ever showing me the
way to do things properly. Everywhere I went,
people were into the approach I was taking, which
was a weirdo approach. I thought, when I went into
a session like that with a big album, I was just
supposed to put headphones nicely in front of the mic
and do it the way youre supposed to do a recording.
I did that and thought, Well, thats not really what I
do. The first day I was recording Pete, I thought, Let
me show them what I like to do. I asked if I could
try something. Tony said, All right, what do you want
to do? He had this chair, and I was dragging it across
the floor and made a horn part on the song out of this
chair. Tony said, Fantastic! Then I realized that Tony
was the kind of guy who would also be down with the
approach I had always been doing. I was there with
him for years. Hes still one of my best friends. Weve
done tons and tons of records together. He taught me
so much. He signed Beck, which is so cool. Thats the
kind of thing that hes into. He heard a song like
Loser, and thought, This is a huge song! He was
the perfect guy to work with in L.A.

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Bob Ludwig [Tape Op #105] would show up, or wed I had to pretend I was better, right away. The pressure
do a morning with Elliot Scheiner. The best class you
was on. I was doing that in Banff all night long as
could have, really.
well. Banff was into it. Wed gone on tour, and then I
came back to Banff after that fizzled out. I was there
LC: Yeah, someone with a lot of
again, and this guy who worked on Lord of the Rings,
experience.
Mark Willsher [scoring engineer and mixer], was there.
Yeah, it was really amazing.
I showed him some of the projects Id done. He said
LC: Do you still go back and do programs
he thought Id get along really well with a friend of
there now?
his, Eric Valentine [Tape Op #45]. I really loved that
Yes. Theyve been doing this indie rock program there for
Queens of the Stone Age record [Songs for the Deaf]
a while. It used to be just bands from Canada, but now
hed done. I took a trip down to L.A. and met with
I think its from America as well. They apply, and its
Eric. He said, Oh, if you ever get down to L.A., maybe
an amazing two weeks where everyone gets to write
you can come assist. I was still working at Banff, and
in these music cabins in the middle of the mountains.
I got it in my head that I was going to quit and go to
Broken Social Scene are running it now, so theyre all
L.A. Id been there long enough. I got in my dads old
up there writing songs with everybody. Im in the
van and drove down to L.A. I had maybe a few
studio the whole time and record whatever theyre
thousand dollars saved, so I got a crappy apartment
writing. Its really fun. Its like a vacation for me, even
in Hollywood, and then I called up Eric and said, Hey,
though its the hardest I work all year.
I moved! Do you still need an assistant or anything?
LC: Its nice to know you can give
Hes like, Oh no. No, I already got one, but let me call
something back to the place that
somebody. He called me back and said, Theres this
really informed your career.
guy named Tony. Go to his house tomorrow. I didnt
Yeah. I feel like Im taking [from them] when I go there,
even know his last name. [Berg] I just randomly
because Im still learning. Its fun, because I work
showed up at Tonys house. Tony brought me to his
with a different band every day.
living room and was asking me questions about music
JB: How long are you there for when you
I liked and whatnot. He asked me what Id done. He
do those?
said, Im starting a project tomorrow with Pete Yorn.
Two weeks. Its super intense. Its really fun.
I didnt hire an engineer, so can you just come here?
LC: Banff Centre seems to be all about
The next day I started that record. I was working with
throwing you into sessions.
him forever after that.
Its crazy. Youre recording projects immediately. I think
its unlike any other school Ive heard of ever. When LC: So he trusted you pretty quick?
you get there, you get an automatic tuition, and then Yeah. When I was touring with that band [The Boston
you get a weekly stipend. Then they pay for your food
Post]; we got stuck in some town in Canada for a
and your housing.
while and Id run out of money. Id seen that there
was a job opening at a radio station for a Pro Tools
JB: That never will happen in America.
engineer. I went to apply for this job and had this
When I left Banff, I had saved money. Thats how I
really weird interview. I realized halfway through the
moved to L.A. I was debt free.
interview that hed screwed up my resume and
LC: Was Tony Berg the first person you
thought I was interviewing to be the DJ. He was like,
hooked up with before you came
Lets check your voice. I went into the booth and I
down here?
did this crazy voice. He said, That sounds fantastic!
Yeah. I had actually taken a break from Banff. There was
Start on Friday. So I started this show that went to
a famous Canadian boy band called The Moffatts. They
like 6,000 bowling alleys across North America, as well
had moved to my original small town. They were
as all of Canada, the States, and Mexico.
breaking up, so they wanted to do this other thing
with the singer [Scott Moffatt]. They started this LC: A bowling alley show?
project, and I was drumming for this band [The Boston Yeah, it was broadcast to all the bowling alleys. It was
Post], which was a really weird experience. It was a
going for a while. I started going to these bowling
really dramatic and wild period where we toured across
conventions and signing autographs.
Canada. I was probably 19, and they still had this huge LC: Wait a minute! What?
fan base of young girls we were playing for at all these Wed go down to Miami and Id be at these bowling
shows. I was recording that band as well, up in Banff,
conventions. Theyd have these huge posters of my face
so those guys were living in my dorm room. At the
as this bowling DJ. When I went back to Banff, he
time, they were still really famous, so it was my first
wouldnt let me quit. He made me bring a computer that
experience on a big project, even though it was not
would send back the information to him and hed
the way a big project would normally come about. It
satellite it out. Id be doing a session, and every five
was really crazy. They had been famous in Canada since
minutes Id be like, Hold on! Id go in the corner and
they were children. It made me better, immediately,
have to announce a song. Then Id go back and keep the
because the record they recorded a year before
session going. When I was thinking of going to L.A., I
[Submodalities] was produced by Bob Rock. As much as
thought, Oh, Ill make a resume, but Ill be the DJ of my
Banff was doing for me, I had to immediately be way
own resume. So I was doing this voice! I brought it to
better in order to record these guys, because theyd
Tony Berg and he was like, Who the hell is this guy?
been dealing with top people since they were kids.
Now he loves the CD. He keeps it in a frame and shows
it to people when they come. When I came to L.A., the
LC: A super pro situation.

58/Tape Op#115/Mr. Everett/(continued on page 60)

LC: What kind of records, besides Pete


Yorns, did you work on with him
initially?
The other record we were working on right around that
time was this band, Simon Dawes, which then became
Dawes. Thats how I met the guitar player in that
band, Blake Mills, who I still work with as well. We did
the Alabama Shakes record [Sound & Color]. Tony and
I did tons of records, like Phantom Planet and Jakob
Dylan. We probably did 45 records.

LC: Thats a good crash course.

Yeah, it was crazy. I was there every single day, for years
and years.

LC: Were you working out of other


studios, or out of Tonys primarily?

Mostly out of his place. Hes got a great studio in the


back of his property. He did this soundtrack for this
film for Howard Zinn [The People Speak]. They got all

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they had a [hardware] Pultec at Ocean Way, I couldnt


just do the same setting I had in the plug-in because
it would be a different sound. But I could move the
settings visually so it would match almost perfectly
with what my plug-in had done. I was using the
analog gear, but it was exact settings, or as close as
I could get it.

LC: Wow. You probably ended up


learning quite a bit about what the
differences are.

Yeah, it was cool. I basically recreated the mix. I was


measuring every level. It was crazy. The mix was an
exact analog version of the in-the-box mix. It was as
close as I could possibly get.

JB: Was it worth it?

Yeah. For the song that was the single, Dont Wanna
Fight, I did this crazy thing. The mix thats on the
album is almost an exact replica of the rough mix, but
its an all-analog version. It really did help that one.
Then theres a song like the first song, Sound &
Color, where I did the same thing and it didnt help
at all.

LC: Did it get worse?

I think it got worse, yeah. I felt that and sent it to


Brittany, and she said, Yeah, go back.

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JB: I noticed on that record, and Blakes


record too, when I listen to your
mixes everything sounds really big,
but very localized, the way you pan
things and have the ambience
contained with the instrument.
Right. We were trying a lot of things with ambience. We
had recorded a lot of room mics. Beyond the room
mics, we were using a lot of simulated room mics.
Blake had started on his own using that [UAD-2]
Ocean Way Studios [room simulation] plug-in. We
were trying that, which was weird because we were in
the exact room that it was modeling.

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these famous people to play on it, so for a couple of LC: Were there discussions where any
weeks I got to record Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, and
band members felt marginalized by
more who were on that record. That was really fun.
the process?
LC: So now youve won a Grammy [Best No, I dont think anyone felt marginalized. I guess Id
Engineered Album, Non-Classical,
be speaking for them, but not that Im aware of. I
for Sound & Color]?
think maybe there was a little bit of nervousness, like,
Yeah! I dont know how that happened.
Maybe this is too much of a departure for some
LC: I thought that was such a coolpeople. Not that they didnt like it, but there were
sounding record. Its such a
concerns. I was blown away the whole time. I couldnt
departure from the first album.
believe we were getting away with it. We handed in
Yeah. I dont know; I wasnt really thinking much about
the album and it was mastered. I was like, Really?
that. I dont think anyone was. Brittany Howard
Were done?
[vocals, guitar] spearheaded that change. There were LC: Nobody said, Can you fix this for
songs she wrote, and thats what they were. Shes such
radio? Cmon.
a creative person. Shes never going to rest on one Yeah, I thought at some point someone would say,
thing. She could go in any direction. She just has a
Super mixer here is now going to do this thing.
unique, interesting, wild voice. I dont think she was JB: You mixed it all too?
even thinking about doing something like her first Yeah. I felt like I was renegade mixing or something the
record. Whatever she thinks is cool is what she
whole time. I sent in mixes and my teeth would be
wanted to do, which is also reflected in who she hired
chattering. Somehow I just kept getting away with
to do the record with her. Blake was a big name, as
everything.
far as guitar players, but as far as production, he LC: Were you and Blake conferring on
hadnt done a record of that size. The fact that she
ways to approach the mixes?
heard the music he had done, thought he was so cool, Yeah. When we were tracking, we had a pretty specific
and wanted to work with him, that speaks to what
idea of what it was going to sound like. The mixes
shes into as well.
werent a wild departure from what we were doing in
LC: Did Blake rope you in for the project?
the room. Im pretty much mixing the whole time Im
Yeah. Wed worked together tons. Wed done so many
recording. Its hard for me to actually work without it
albums together. He probably played guitar on 39 of
almost sounding like a done album. A lot of times Im
the 40 records I did with Tony. Wed become great
tracking with mastering compressors on my master
friends. I had done his solo record, Break Mirrors,
bus the whole time. Im constantly A/B-ing between
which Brittany had somehow heard. She liked that
other records. I want it to sound like another record
record, and I had done that, so thats how I ended up
the entire time Im working on it. Thats just how my
on Sound & Color.
brain works. By the time I left that studio, I wouldnt
LC: Were you guys dividing some of the
have been bummed if those were the mixes that had
work up, as far as production?
been on the record.
Blake and I? I guess weve been working together for so JB: Did any of the early rough mixes
long that we have our own roles that we play, as far
survive and end up on the record?
as how we work. We fall into that pattern. Its a great Yeah, there are probably about two mixes on the record
working relationship, because I fill in the technical
that are almost what we left the studio with.
areas when hes got his attention on some other part. LC: Where were you tracking the initial
Its a really fun relationship to have. Its like were two
sessions at?
different clouds that fill in each others spots.
We were at Sound Emporium in Nashville. We did it in
LC: You were given a lot of free rein to
chunks; work two weeks, take a break, two weeks,
really work and morph the tracks and
take a break.

LC: Im trying to imagine how strangely


ironic this is.
I was using it on different instruments all the time, like
putting a little on the snare drum and so on. Yeah, its
ridiculous. Im using the plug-in, and the room is there.

LC: I love that plug-in though. Its not


like just using reverb.

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the band.
LC: Then you had a month at Ocean Way No, its not a reverb. It sounds like a room. Its
incredible. Its hard to get a reverb plug-in to do what
Oh, yeah; completely. Total free rein to experiment. Its
[now United Recording, Tape Op
that plug-in does.
cool, because she was just down with anything that
#106], right? Holy shit.
sounds cool. So many people will think there are Yeah. I thought, This album could be done, but heres LC: I love reverbs that tail on for two and
certain things you have to do the professional way,
a half seconds and do weird shit, but
a month of studio time. This is the best record Ive
like, Now were going to mix it and make it punchier!
there are times when youve got that
ever worked on! I could experiment for a month.
She doesnt care about that, at all. Shell listen to
dry, dead tambourine track or
They had all this great gear. I was doing the mixes inrough mix one and say, I like that. Whatever is cool
something...
the-box, for the most part, while we were at Sound
is whats going to happen. We would be experimenting
Emporium, so I wanted to do a real console mix after You dont want a reverb. You dont want it to feel like
and trying anything. It was this perfect scenario where
its right in front of your ears. Im obsessed with it. I
that. I was trying to use all their analog gear to do
everyone was into doing it a unique way. Remarkably
was doing it before with re-amping, but Id always
the mix.
the label, their management, them [the band], Blake, LC: Replace the plug-ins?
end up with this re-amping effect. It can be harsh and
me we all were down with this. Therere so many Yeah. I would be doing all these weird experiments to
not really what I want. That plug-in seems to do
times you work on things and, at some point along the
another thing, which is put up a microphone that I
figure out how to get all these mixes to be exactly like
line, it gets compromised. For this record it seems like
forgot to put up while I was tracking. I had a lot of
what I had in-the-box, which was kind of fun. With
that never happened. It seemed like we were all on a
room mics wed recorded; then Id put it on the room
Waves Q-Clone [plug-in] you can visually measure EQ.
train and there was an endpoint, and we all were in it
mic, and the room mic would suddenly sound better.
If I had a Pultec plug-in on, I could see what the
together the entire time.
JB:
Is the plug-in set mono or stereo?
Pultec plug-in had done EQ-wise on the Q-Clone. If

60/Tape Op#115/Mr. Everett/(continued on page 62)

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Stereo, usually. I can set the mix however much I want Yeah, it seems like it went crazy all of a sudden.
Yeah. Its never when Im tracking. I feel like maybe its
of the fake room in there. On Brittanys vocals, I tried LC: Do you feel like people are
easier to get away with things when youre tracking,
to track with her in the large room. I was trying to do
because people havent lived with rough mixes. The
understanding why that record is a
that Bowie thing.
experimental approach when Im tracking something,
success?
people can get on board, because it amps up the
LC: Like Heroes?
Thats a good question. I dont know. On that record
creative flow in the room, and everybody can jump
there are so many reasons why I feel like it was a
Not as many mics. I wasnt doing that thing. Id have
on. That becomes what it sounds like. But [its more
success. Its her songwriting, and its their story. All of
the room mics, but there wouldnt be any compression
challenging] when somebody brings you a project and
those things lined up. It was all waiting to happen. I
on them. When she was quiet, they wouldnt really be
youre supposed to mix it, and theyve already been
could have recorded that record with an iPhone and it
doing anything, and when she was loud, they would
living with rough mixes and things like that. So then
could have done just as well. The fact that they had
trigger. I would only be sending the room mics to the
the experimental approach doesnt always work.
such ammunition behind them going into it, I think
chamber so that when she sang loud, the room mics
Youre battling what people are used to listening to.
that maybe it allowed me to get away with things
triggered the chamber. That way she doesnt have her
Then you can go way too deep. People can be like,
that you couldnt get away with on another record.
voice smothered in reverb the whole time, and when
What the hell are you doing?
LC: Obviously we have to look at every
shes loud it feels epic.

client situation that comes down the LC: Are you getting many projects that
pike as new to us. Clean the slate.
are just mixing lately?
Yeah, lots of mixing projects.

LC: Are you doing them in your space


here?
Yeah, a lot here. Ive become most used to listening in
here, somehow. Ill be working on a record somewhere
else, but if a mixing thing comes up I like to be able
to do it [here]. I like to have my personal space
available at all times.

LC: Its not a very big room, for a control


room.
No, its pretty small.

LC: And youre tracking full records in


here, in the live room?
Yeah. Im doing a Growlers record right now. We tracked
the whole thing live in here. It works great. People
come in and sometimes theyre nervous, like, Oh,
how are we going to do this? Im like, Well do it.
Itll be fine.

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Not really. I was trying to do it naturally by letting the Right. I was in New York, and this guy had this
room do that. It was just happening.
electronic project. He sent me files and said he loved
the sound of the Shakes record and asked me to mix
LC: Thankfully everyone stayed on the
it. It was full-on electronic music. I sent the mixes
same page making Sound & Color.
back to him, and hes like, This doesnt sound like the
I didnt actually realize how big Alabama Shakes were
Shakes record! I said, No, it doesnt at all. Of course
when I was doing the album. I didnt really feel that
not! He said, Do it again, and mix it like the Shakes
kind of pressure even though, at some point along the
record. Im like, What do you want me to do with
line, someone told me, Oh, their last album sold a
it? I actually had no idea how to make it sound like
million records. Thats a lot of records! Theyre so
the Shakes record. Do you want me to re-record it
down to earth that you dont feel that energy when
again with that band? There were definitely weird
youre with them. It didnt feel like I was working on
things that we were doing. A lot of the guitars arent
a record where it was like, This album has the
amped. Its just that Korg 4-track tape machine. The
potential to be very big, or this is a catastrophe.
drum tone on one of the songs is that.
Theyd have their friends come over and do some
cooking, or something like that. It felt very much like LC: Now we know the secret! Thats all
a family album. I never really felt the pressure, or was
you need. Not a great song or
worried about the album. It felt like one of the
performance. If you start looking at
smoothest, most natural recordings Ive ever worked
recording as having rules, youre
on. Drama-free, super easy, and no problems.
probably missing the point.
LC: Maybe theyre able to keep it at bay Yeah. If there were rules involved in recording, if I just
had to go set up a microphone, have it go directly to
for their own mental health.
Pro Tools, and then record that, I would hate this job.
Yeah. Maybe thats also why the people responded to the
That is completely not why Im interested in doing
record. I mean, it wasnt stress-free, but comparatively
this job. I would rather work at a grocery store. The
to most records I work on, it was very relaxing.
creative part of it is why Im into it.
LC: Like you say, it could have been

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LC: Do you ever do a bit of reverb


automation to get those same effects?

turned into a, You think thats good LC: Have you ever felt you have to be
enough? kind of scenario. Is that a
tempered a little bit with an artist or
million dollar vocal?
client, where youre trying to do
something and they say, No.?
Brittany was recording a lot of the record on these crappy

LC: You ask clients what they like, and


they say Motown, and Elvis, and all
these things. Then they walk into a
smaller studio space and say, How
are we going to make this work?
Guess what?

I was just working in EastWest, and behind us was the


Pet Sounds room. Its a small room. Its such an epic,
world-defining album, and its just this tiny little
room. It doesnt look like anything. I dont know what
people expect, really. Ill record a record in a closet.
That sounds fun to me. I feel like youre going to end
up with a more interesting product if you just try
something. I have no problem recording anywhere.
Anything that someone wants to throw my way, Im
stoked. I want to try it.

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microphones she got on eBay. I wasnt even recording No, I dont think really ever. It was these situations
her vocal well, or properly. And still people were like,
where all the people I met and worked with kept
The vocals are glorious. You realize that its not
evolving in that way. I never felt like I ended up on a
anything youre doing its the person youre recording.
project where it felt like it was this really conservative
Another recording engineer might have come in and
project. Thankfully it never happened. I accidentally
arrested me. She has a sacred voice. Theres no reason
stumbled into these situations with musicians I kept LC: Challenges.
you should be recording it like that, with a $10
meeting, and their friends were like-minded in a way Yeah. The Local Natives were here and were like, Are
microphone in the control room and the speakers
that it never really happened. Im borrowing from
you sure? We did a song, and it turned out great. We
blasting. Thats not the way to be recording her voice!
approaches Ive done on other records with every
got super experimental. We got a ladder and were
album I start. But all of a sudden, in a few days, Ive
tracking on the roof. Because its an industrial
LC: That freedom is so important.
figured out a new thing thats specific to this project
neighborhood there are no noise constraints, so we
Sessions can get too uptight, too
that I never really tried before. Whether its a piece of
set up drums on the road and were recording on the
scary, with too much fear.
gear, or a unique way of doing something. But as far
road. Then we had band members across the street
Yeah. Its amazing to work on a record where theres no
as people tempering me, that has happened, but
with microphones, moving them around, and holding
fear. She is fearless.
usually its with mixing.
them. We were trying everything.
LC: Thats good. After this record started

picking up steam, were you getting a LC: Really?


lot of queries for working with people?

62/Tape Op#115/Mr. Everett/(continued on page 64)

JB: Was that late at night, with minimal


traffic?

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Yeah, late at night. We took over the road. Then this ballerina showed up out of nowhere.
She was dancing. Then a rapper showed up, and he was rapping. I was recording and I
heard rapping. The guy was rapping in the middle of the take. It was amazing.

LC: Thats surreal. Are you sure David Lynch wasnt running
around out there somewhere?

Yeah, it felt like David Lynch! On their demo, they had this one song that had this filtered
effect. The drums kept weaving in and out of these filters. Instead of using filters, we
had all these water jugs. We filled them up with water and put [Shure SM]57s in condoms.
I micd the drums normally, and then put the water drums in all the same spots as where
the mics were. I had two different versions of the drum set, so when they wanted to do
their filtering effect that theyd done on their demo, Id bring up one kit or the other so
you could do it without using EQ.

LC: What did it sound like in the water?

It sounded so cool. It sounded like you filtered all the high-end off, just like you would
with an EQ, but it had this weird kind of reverberant water echo thing. It was like what
theyd done on their demo, but a more unique and interesting version. How many times
have you heard a drum get filtered? Boring. If you can do the same thing, but approach
it in an analog way, thats where its a real version of that. The Beatles could have done
the same effect. It sounded cool. It was fun.

LC: What informed some of the gear choices for your space? I
noticed the MCI 2-inch deck over there, and the small console.
Oh, yeah. Pretty much everything has a different reason. Theres a guy across the street who
sells gear, and we needed a 2-inch. That was the easiest way of getting one here, just
walk it across the street. I wanted some kind of console in here. Theyre selling these API
1608 consoles right now, so I bought one. Ive always loved the look of the white APIs
visually; the old ones.

LC: Like the one in Electric Lady?

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Yeah. I love the way they look. That is the coolest-looking console Ive ever seen, and I
love the sound of API as well. If I somehow expand this space, Ill see if theres someone
I can sell this one to and buy that one.

LC: Spray paint this one.


Yeah, just make that one white.

JB: Are you mixing through it, or using it for tracking, or both?

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Both.

LC: I was talking to the Lucius crew about working with you, and
I know you kept getting dragged away to work on Sound &
Color.
Yeah, we were in here doing Lucius Good Grief album. That was fun. Theyre starting to be
in-demand session singers, on top of their career [as a band].

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LC: They [Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig] sound great, right? Its a
special thing.

I dont know if Im supposed to say this on the interview, but Blake and I are doing a record
right now I dont think I can tell you who it is and we just brought them in for all
the background vocals. They sounded great.

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LC: What else is on the horizon for you?

64/Tape Op#115/Mr. Everett/

Im doing the Growlers album. Im working with Julian Casablancas, from The Strokes, on
his record. And Broken Social Scene, though I dont know if its going to work timingwise.

LC: Are you keeping enough time for yourself to stay sane?
Not really. Its been too crazy. I get locked in these rooms.

JB: Do you like living this close to the studio?


I do and I dont, because then I work more.

JB: I used to have a studio under my house. I loved it at first, but


then...
Is it because of noise?

JB: I was just always working. I couldnt stop. After dinner Id go


back downstairs and start working again.
Its so easy to fall back into it. My wife is back there [in the home part of the building],
but she doesnt even know if anyones in here. She sometimes thinks Im working in
Hollywood, and doesnt even realize Im in here. No one even bothers her. As far as
falling into work, its crazy. I was in here last night until three or something. Its like
how it was in Banff, when my room was 30-feet away from where the studio was.
Someday Ill divide it up better.

LC: If you werent recording, do you have any idea what youd
be doing?
Oh, yeah. Id probably be making movies, or animating, or painting. As soon as I
find a day of not working, which is never, I love doing anything creative. There
have been times when Ive found weeks where Ill start writing, or painting, or
making model trains. Id love to make movies. There are a million things. Id like
to live ten thousand years, because Id selfishly like to do it all. Recording is what
I fell into, and I absolutely love it; but I absolutely love everything. As soon as
I start listening to a podcast about something, Im fully invested. I love to learn
about everything, but I have to pick one thing or else itll be a disaster.

LC: Do you still play music at all?

A little bit. When people dont have somebody, Ill play. I have no idea how to play
guitar Im horrible. I love playing guitar on peoples records, but they have to
go away. Ill take an old African record, or something like that, and Ill find a
guitar moment. Then Ill put that in Pro Tools, and Ill Melodyne the part so it fits
the chords of the song Im working on. I know mathematically how a guitar works,
like where it all is. From the Melodyne Ill create a MIDI structure of the guitar
part I want, and then Ill loop bars and learn each, bar by bar, of the guitar part,
and then Ill go down the line on the whole song.

LC: Just playing the notes one by one?

No, not one by one. Ill try to learn the parts so it sounds like a human playing. Ill
record with DI and then spit that DI performance back out into an amp so it
sounds like one performance, not all edited. Then I have this wild, Africansounding guitar part that sounds really accomplished.

LC: That sounds like a process.

gr

Yeah, but when I was a kid I was really interested in animating. Ill watch behind
the scenes videos about people animating. I think thats so cool, frame-by-frame.
It makes my brain intrigued. Theres something about approaching music that
way, almost like animating, that I get off on. Even though I dont play guitar, Ill
make whole songs on guitar, or instruments that I dont know how to play, and
Ill animate my way through the whole song.
Ill make my own songs. Ill never release any of it its just experiments I dont get to try
with other people. Then I can bring them to other peoples records.

LC: I find if I get left with time like that I dont work
conventionally. Ill throw one mic on the drum kit and see
what happens.
Totally. Sometimes I just record with one mic to fuck with myself.

LC: To make yourself work harder.

ia
sa

rm

@y
a

Yeah. Ill have a cool sound in one mic, but if I record all the other mics, then Im
going to turn them on. If I dont have them... Years ago, some friends of mine
did this record with Mark Ronson [Tape Op #105]. They called me in to finish
engineering and mixing. He was there, and they had done the thing at the
Daptones studio. I opened up the session and there were four tracks: drums, bass,
guitar, and vocals. Mark was there, and I was like, Is this how you did the Amy
Winehouse record [Back to Black]? Mark said, Yeah. It was a big moment for
me. I remember hearing that Amy Winehouse record, and I couldnt believe how
good those drums sounded. I thought it was an old record. How did they do this?
After that, I was like, Fuck it. I dont need 16 microphones. Mark was showing
me. Hed say, We just EQd it like this. Hed crank one of the API EQs. You want
more kick drum? Just wildly aggressively EQ-ing. Oh yeah, theres the kick
drum. I love guys who are that successful, but so reckless. Theyre not thinking
about it in this mathematical cut-and-dry way of approaching something. He
didnt seem like he was working that way, at all. He seemed like he was a reckless,
wild man whos a cool dude. He has a pop sensibility that the world recognizes,
but hes not approaching it in any standard way at all.

ho
o.

LC: Every bit of the song is just a little tiny moment in time.

hl

LC: I assume that you have management for your jobs and your
work?

Yeah. Thats super helpful. I literally would not charge anybody for anything. Id say, Yes
to everything and do everything for free. I just get excited about sessions. Oh yeah, well
figure it out. r
<subtlemcnugget.com>

Mr. Everett/(Fin.)/Tape Op#115/65

Focusrite

Scarlett 2i4 USB interface


(2nd generation)

1073 DPX two-channel


preamp/EQ

gr

ia
sa

hl

66/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/

AMS Neve

The AMS Neve 1073 DPX is a dual-channel preamp/equalizer


in a 2RU-height rackmount chassis. With vintage Neve 1073
strips fetching more and more coin, and dependable techs
becoming harder to find, I was curious to see how a modern
(and presumably more reliable) alternative would hold up to the
original. Plenty has been written about the legendary 1073 and
its many clones here on the pages of Tape Op, as well as in
other publications and websites so for this review, Ill
concentrate on the 1073 DPXs many unique features.
At a glance, the 1073 DPX sports all the same mic preamp
gain and EQ frequency/gain settings youd expect on a 1073,
using Grayhill dual-concentric controls and pushbutton switches.
The control legends are identical but are rotated 90 to match
the 1073 DPXs horizontal, standard rackmount orientation.
Opening up the unit, youll find custom Neve Marinair
transformers manufactured to the original specification, at both
the input and the output stages very cool!
There are some differences on the inside. Like a lot of AMS
Neves current products, the 1073 DPX uses surface-mount
technology instead of point-to-point construction. The latter is
what youll find in original Neves as well as in some boutique
clones. Additionally, mic-gain switching relies on a relay system
instead of the original dual-zone gain switch. An external linelump PSU also seems a little bit curious at this price point. Its
safe to assume that all of these design choices contribute to
cost-effectiveness and overall reliability, and I discovered only
negligible sonic repercussions more on that in a second.
The real selling points of this box are all of its added features.
Each channel of the 1073 DPX sports a Neutrik Combo jack on
the front panel, for quickly plugging in an XLR mic or TRS
linelevel source, with a nearby switch to choose between front
or rear jacks. In the rear are separate XLR jacks for mic input, line
input, and line output, as well as send and return 1/4 TRS jacks
for a balanced insert loop, switchable pre or postEQ from the

ho
o.

@y
a

Cloudlifter CL-Z Mic Activator

The original Cloud Microphones CL-1 Mic Activator [Tape Op


#85] has been an indispensable tool for me ever since I first
discovered it (ironically enough, through a Tape Op review). The
Cloudlifter CL-Z is basically a CL-1 on steroids, and it solves the
one and only tiny gripe I had with the original.
Im a big fan of passive microphones. I really love how my
ribbons and dynamics sound, and the CL-1 allows me to get away
with using them on quiet voices and instruments where it just
wasnt possible before (like a quiet singer with a Shure SM7 [#36]
into an Avid Mbox [#81]). The only drawback I ever notice with
the CL-1 is the fixed input impedance. I love how passive mics can
change their tone based on which preamp I choose, and lot of that
is due to the differing input impedances of the preamps. Now, if
Im being honest, most of the time, the tone of the CL-1 feels just
right, but thats not always enough for me. Thankfully, the CL-Z
gives me these options back with even more flexibility to boot!
The main feature of the CL-Z is a great big Z knob that lets
you adjust its input impedance from 150 up to 15 k
thats like night and day and everything in between. Theres
also a gain switch with two settings standard (up to 25 dB
boost, depending on the load presented by the downstream mic
preamp, just like the CL-1) and more modest (up to 12 dB
boost). Considering how great the Z knob is, the lower boost
setting actually allows this box to be used in even more
situations, like a ribbon mic on a loud guitar amp. Theres also a
slightly complicated high-pass filter. Its marketed as sweepable by adjusting the Z knob, because its frequency is
dependent on the impedances of the mic and the Z circuit. The
HPF certainly does add more possibilities, but since that one
knob is effectively dual function now, you cant really use it the
same way as a typical filter. In practice, I like to run a short cable
from my mic to the Cloudlifter, and then another from there to
the wall panel (or my preamp). In the studio, this always means
that the Cloudlifter is in the room with the performer and not
where I can physically reach the box to adjust the setting. So it
becomes a team effort with an intern or the client turning the
knob slowly while singing (or playing their instrument). I sit inbetween my speakers, and while listening, give instructions into
the talkback. Turning the Z knob to the left gives a darker tone,
while turning to the right feels like opening up the top end.
Theres usually some sweet spot (often around 1 or 2 oclock),
but depending on where I want this source to sit in the mix, I
may go darker or brighter (to taste). The effect is different than
EQ, but when you dial it just right (which is easy to do), its like
hearing your mic exactly the way it was meant to sound!
Im not about to sell my CL-1 units, but I cant imagine doing
any future sessions without at least one of these CL-Z boxes
around. Plus, theyre built tough here in the USA!
($299 street, www.cloudmicrophones.com)
Scott McDowell <www.fadersolo.com>

rm

Cloud Microphones

Back in the day, when I was running a commercial recording


studio, my best front-end setup was a two-channel Gordon
Instruments preamp [Tape Op #67] to Lavry Engineering
LavryBlue A/D converters, and then out via S/PDIF to a Digi
002 [#33]. To get the sound to the musicians headphones, I
used a Coleman Audio M3PH for the cue mix. This system
yielded a nice clean sound, and we made a lot of recordings
using that setup all at a cost of around $7,000.
Man, have things changed. This summer, I got to spend time
with a new Focusrite product, the second-generation Scarlett
2i4 USB interface. It has two analog inputs and four analog
outputs, so you can run a cue mix straight from the interface
(no need for the Coleman M3PH). Its sound is nice and clean,
thanks to two Scarlett mic preamps (so long, Gordon preamps),
and you can run its updated converters at 24-bit, 192 kHz if
you want (bye-bye, LavryBlue). It even runs on USB bus power
(adios, wall-wart). And yes, you can make a record with this
setup, especially since it comes with a copy of Pro Tools | First
and all the plug-ins included with the Focusrite Creative Pack
(Eleven Lite and 12 plug-ins taken from Eleven Rack, as well as
a suite of software and samples from Focusrite, Ableton,
Softube, and Novation).
For my tests, I used the Scarlett 2i4 with Apple Logic, my
choice of DAW these days, running on my Mac Mini. What I love
about this Focusrite interface is the simplicity. Youve got two
analog gain controls for the preamps, and they glow green until
theyre overdriven, then they glow red. So you can dial in the
proper gain very easily. Theres another big knob for the monitor
level, and a separate headphone control as well. Also, the
preamps have Neutrik Combo connectors, so you can plug in a
mic with an XLR cable, or a guitar straight in with a 1/4 cable.
The most complicated thing on the interface is the Direct
Monitor Input/Playback knob. Turn it all the way to the left, and
you hear only the analog inputs through the headphones. Turn
it all the way to the right, and you just get the playback of the
DAW tracks. I pretty much left this knob in the middle for
hassle-free zero-latency monitoring while performing overdubs.
Also, you can choose to run Direct Monitor in mono or stereo
with a toggle switch. On the back of the unit, there are two
balanced TRS outputs, where I plugged in my Hafler TRM8
speakers. There are also four RCA line outputs (two of which are
just unbalanced versions of the aforementioned TRS outputs)
and full-size MIDI I/O jacks.
For my main test, I did a verse and chorus of Bob Dylans
Knockin on Heavens Door, so I could stack vocals, hear it on
acoustic and electric guitars, and throw in a MIDI keyboard as
well. As I said earlier, I ran this on Logic, and once I chose the
Scarlett 2i4 in both the system and Logic preferences, everything
ran smoothly without a hitch. I kept the buffer size and therefore
the latency very low 3 ms for the round trip and while I
didnt do an official test of latency performance, it just never was
a problem at all. Had there been a problem, I guess I would have
done a test, but it just wasnt a factor. [3 ms is about the time
it takes for sound to travel 3 ft through air, so a guitarist playing
a close-micd guitar amp or a DId guitar would hear the guitar
in the headphones before the natural sound. This means that you
can run plug-ins while tracking, or perform through virtual amps
and instruments, without concerning yourself with monitoring
delay. Likewise, creating a separate monitoring mix in a
dedicated interface/driver application is unnecessary. See
Focusrites website for detailed specifications on the Scarlett
lines class-leading roundtrip latency. AH]

The Scarlett 2i4 is the one recommended if youre recording


yourself, which is pretty much all I do these days. There are
larger versions of this second-generation Scarlett if you want
to record multiple musicians at the same time. Anyway, I
recorded all the tracks, including two tracks of Collings C10
acoustic guitar, and two tracks of a pawnshop Fender acoustic
guitar, all using an AKG C 414 B-ULS condenser mic powered
by the phantom power from the Scarlett 2i4. Then I recorded
a Fender Precision bass straight in, a Fernandes Stratocastor
with Kinman pickups straight in, Logics virtual Hammond B3
organ using my old Alesis keyboard for the MIDI controller,
and finally, a lead vocal and three double-tracked background
vocals, all using a Shure SM7B dynamic mic [Tape Op #36].
It sounds right. That is, it sounds like me. It sounds how I
meant the song to sound clean, tight, separated sound
with only the color I added using mics and effects. Does it
sound as good as my old $7,000 front end? I sure hope not.
You dont want to see a grown man cry, do you? But it
definitely sounds like the kind of 24-bit, 96 kHz mix I could
take into Terra Nova Mastering and say, Okay, Jerry, make me
a record out of this. For the price, its utterly amazing. Weve
come a long way in five years, no doubt about that. While
many competing units require a lot of digital trickery to use
effectively, analog knobs as well as seamless low-latency
performance make using the Scarlett 2i4 simple and easy,
which is exactly what you want when youre recording
yourself. ($199.99 street; www.focusrite.com)
Mike Eagan <themikeeagan@gmail.com>

hl

gr

Eris E66 active monitor

Over the years, PreSonus has impressed many of us with its


consistency in offering a wide range of essential products for the
price-conscious, and the Eris MTM Studio Monitor series
certainly follows in this tradition. The Eris E44 and the Eris E66
models, the latter of which Im evaluating here, mark PreSonuss
entry into MTM driver configuration at a price point thats
shockingly low. The E66 features a centrally located 1.25 silkdome tweeter bookended by dual 6.5 Kevlar midwoofers,
powered by Class A/B 60 W and 80 W drivers respectively. The
E66s impressive combination of build quality and feature set
just doesnt equate to its price at all, so I was expecting a big
tell on first listen. But the speaker immediately performed
above its price range.
Whats the big deal on MTM? Dr. Joseph DAppolito was the
first to study and utilize the midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer
layout in his speaker designs. MTM speakers are often
characterized by their smooth response at their crossover
frequencies, consistent dispersion across a greater range of
frequencies, and increased accuracy in time-domain response
all of which bring benefits to overall detail and imaging.
The E66s MTM configuration allows for vertical or horizontal
placement. Though I evaluated a pair of E66 monitors in both
positions with good results, vertical placement worked best for
my particular space. The E66s matte-black faceplate features
two slotted bass ports on the outside of the midwoofers, with
a pronounced, blue-backlit PreSonus logo that can be rotated
to match the monitors vertical/horizontal positioning. Rearpanel line-level inputs include RCA, 1/4 TRS, and XLR jacks

ia
sa

When Crane Song told me it had a new converter that was a


step up from the one that I raved about in my review of the Crane
Song Avocet II monitor controller [Tape Op #103], I was excited
and confused. How much better could it be? I love the sound of
the Avocet II and its ultra-low-jitter converter. The function-rich
Avocet II is a flexible monitor controller that has made my mixing
more efficient and effective. It is hands down a fantastic product.
And now its better with the new, fifth-generation Quantum DAC.
The Quantum DAC uses a 32-bit, 211 kHz converter with
asynchronous sample-rate conversion, using up-sampling to
reduce jitter. The reference clock has less than 1 ps of jitter.
(From 10 Hz to 20 kHz, the jitter is typically 0.05 ps.) A
proprietary reconstruction filter is employed for extremely
accurate time-domain response. But what does all this
meeeaaan? If you are moving from a subpar converter, its like
putting on a new pair of much needed glasses youll be able
to see with greater clarity and focus, and with fewer strain
headaches. In other words, you will hear things youve never
heard, while enjoying extended frequency response and depth.
And for me personally, the music I hear through the Quantum
DAC is far more spatial, and its presented with more dimension.

(wired together in parallel). Rotary 6 dB pots with center


detents are provided for input gain, HF adjustment, and MF
adjustment. A Low Cutoff switch can be used to roll off
frequencies below 80 or 100 Hz; and an Acoustic Space switch
allows for a gradual cut (2 dB or 4 dB) from 800 Hz down to
compensate for the effects of placing the speaker against a wall
or in a corner. Initially, I evaluated the monitors with all
acoustic adjustments off, before gradually tuning the
monitors to my liking.
Going through monitor placement and setup is beyond the
scope of this review. However, PreSonus smartly offers a
downloadable PDF entitled A Brief Tutorial on Studio Monitors
on its website. Its a great, educational read, and Im not too
proud to say that I picked up a few things myself!
Repeated evaluation with familiar source material revealed
these observations and opinions about the Eris E66: In
general, the E66 has a big, wide, powerful, loud sound with
a vibey and detailed midrange. PreSonus simply claims that
the E66s frequency response is 45 Hz 22 kHz, without any
statement on deviation. I found its low-midrange behavior to
be very well articulated and punchy, especially in the
200300 Hz range, though detail below 90 Hz drops off
quickly. The sound of the E66s tweeter reminds me of the
ever-popular KRK Rokit line of powered monitors [Tape Op
#103]. In my opinion, high-frequency detail from the E66s
tweeter is adequate, but a little hyped above 10 kHz. I found
that long listening sessions on the E66 can be fatiguing at
times, but attenuation of the E66s HF adjustment by 1 dB or
so offered better balance to my ears. Sitting in the sweetspot between the E66 pair, vocals are up front and center
where they should be. Snare drums really pop, and it feels
quite easy to adjust electric guitar levels when mixing.
Importantly, the E66 maintains its sound quality from quiet
to moderately loud listening levels. By the time the monitors
begin to noticeably distort (which is way too loud for real work),
your neighbors will have called the cops. All monitors require a
get to know ya or settling-in period. When working with the
E66 pair, I initially felt I was pushing the low end a bit in the
100 Hz range, but after a few days, I became more than
comfortable and acclimated with the speakers sonic character.
As I pack up the E66 monitors to ship back to PreSonus, I
am still stunned at the models quality versus cost ratio, and I
would have to rate them twice as nice for the price. But
before you pull out your credit card, lets have a quick chat
about budget-friendly monitoring. The benefit of living in this
age is that technology is appreciably affordable. The quality
difference between a $600 monitor and a $3000 monitor may
not seem as drastic as it did 15 years ago, but in this day,
differences between a $300 monitor and a $600 monitor can be
staggering, in my opinion. PreSonus has an experienced hand
exploiting and sourcing technology in order to design and
manufacture products that consistently deliver better
experiences than youd expect from budget-driven pricing. My
advice? Decide how much you can spend on monitoring,
research your choices, and demo what you can, because in the
end, its all about learning and getting better. So with that said,
if your monitoring budget is less than $600, I can
wholeheartedly recommend the Eris E66, whether as a first
investment for your home studio or as an upgrade for your
project studio. (Each $262.46 street; www.presonus.com)
SM <www.scottmcchane.com>

ho
o.

Quantum DAC for Solaris,


Avocet II & IIA

PreSonus

@y
a

Crane Song

I am spoiled because for the past couple of years, I have


been using Crane Songs converters (both older and updated
versions), and there is a great divide between where I started
with my previous, not to be named converters, and where I
am now with the Quantum DAC.
The Quantum DAC is included in the new Avocet IIA
controller, and for those of us with the older II model, the DAC
is offered as an upgrade. I sent my Avocet II to Crane Song for
the swap-out, but Crane Song explained to me that anyone who
is handy with a screwdriver can do the DAC replacement easily.
I wish I had a previous-generation unit so I could directly
A/B with the Quantum DAC, but I did notice a subtle
improvement in the low-mid and bass areas of the frequency
spectrum once I received my Avocet II back. The new DAC seems
to be a bit more three-dimensional in these areas, and it further
cemented my confidence in the Avocet II for all aspects of my
mix work. Moreover, I feel the Quantum DAC is most impactful
when I work for longer stretches of time, because I now have
increased focus, and I experience even less fatigue than before.
If you do not need all the functionality of an Avocet
controller, but still want killer D/A conversion, Crane Song
offers the standalone Solaris Quantum DAC ($1899 street),
which includes a straightforward source selector; a main
analog output with a stepped attenuator; a secondary, fixedlevel analog output; and a headphone amp, also with its
own stepped attenuator.
There are many shapes and sizes of conversion out there on
the market today, but Crane Song and company head Dave Hill
have been consistent leaders in the space, and they continue
to push the boundaries in terms of quality and sound. If you are
looking for a new converter or want to upgrade your Avocet II,
do yourself and your clients a favor, and give the Quantum DAC
from Crane Song a listen.
(Avocet IIA $2999 street; Avocet II upgrade $1899 direct;
www.cranesong.com) GS

rm

front panel. In addition, a hi-Z DI jack on the front panel


automatically takes over as the input source when you plug in a
1/4 instrument cable, and the DI has switches for ground lift
and 20 dB pad. These per-channel add-ons make the 1073 DPX
an excellent choice for fast-paced writing and production
sessions where speed and efficiency are as important as sound
quality and this box delivered on all counts. For example, it
was great for quickly auditioning keys or grabbing spur-of-the
moment scratch vocals, all without compromise.
Going even further, each channel has an LED peak meter that
you can easily switch to display signal level at pre-EQ, post-EQ,
or post-output stages, as well as an output-level knob that
functions as a channel fader. Theres even a built-in headphone
amp, with a jack and volume knob on the front panel, which
allows for direct monitoring of channel 1 to both ears, channel
2, or both channels simultaneously in stereo. An optional
digital I/O module is also planned, giving users both an ADC for
the inputs and a DAC assignable to the outputs. All of these
features are extremely convenient for getting in and out of the
1073 DPX, even without a patchbay.
As should be expected, the 1073 DPX held up really well
against a vintage 1073 module at normal gain settings. The two
sounded very similar, with the original having just a slightly
nicer lower-midrange action, at least to my ears. The only
obvious difference came when driving the mic preamps into
breakup. I found the distortion of the 1073 DPX a little thinner
and fizzier than that of the original, which retained more low
end and had a more usable overdrive. This could be a result of
a number of things, and is overall a minor consideration when
you look at everything else the 1073 DPX offers.
If I were in the market for a pair of affordable 1073
preamp/EQs (which seems like an oxymoron), Id absolutely
consider the AMS Neve 1073 DPX, especially for a
writing/production room. The extensive I/O alone made the
unit a go-to for me on multiple sessions. The 1073 DPX is
certainly not cheap, but compared to what youd pay for a
working pair of racked originals without any of the added
niceties, its price is very reasonable.
($4,749 street; www.ams-neve.com)
Dave Cerminara <davecerminara@gmail.com>

www.tapeop.com

bonus & archived reviews online!

Gear Reviews/(continued on page 68)/Tape Op#115/67

Universal Audio

Gear Geeking w/ Andy

Chandler Limited Curve Bender


Mastering EQ plug-in

ho
o.

@y
a

ia
sa

hl

ZAOR Studio Furniture


Miza D-Stand speaker stand

How about some sexy Italian desktop stands for your


sassy French monitors? Oui I mean s. In a previous
issue, I reported on Italian studio furniture manufacturer
ZAOR and its fabulous Miza Griprack [Tape Op #114]. Now
Im here to tell you about the Miza D-Stand. Decoupling the
monitor from the mixing desk or worksurface can reduce
the physical transmission of vibrations to your furniture
and room resonances that can cloud the details you
should be hearing from your speakers. There are more than
a few solutions if all you need is an inch or two of height
under your monitors, including the Primacoustic Recoil
Stabilizer [Tape Op #66] and Auralex MoPad [#30], but
there arent a ton of nearfield desktop stands available.
The little Miza D-Stand looks like a compact version of
a heavy-duty monitor stand, which is exactly what it is. I
think the D in D-Stand is short for Desktop meaning its
really designed to just plop right onto a desk. The D-Stand
is sturdy as hell. It seems to be made mostly of real wood,
and it does not tilt or articulate on eight different radiuses.
There is no serial number (or any information for that
matter) on the stand, because it will probably never break.
There is no glowing pink logo on the front. Actually, there
is no logo anywhere to be seen, which is really refreshing.
The D-Stand has a modern, chic look, and its available in
the standard Miza color schemes grey/oak, gray/weng,
and black/cherry which should match aesthetically with
most other studio furniture.
The stand is rated to hold 22 lb, but it bore the weight
of a 29 lb monitor without blinking. Like I said, this lil
dude is sturdy. There are 3/8 thick urethane pads
laminated to both the top and the bottom of the stand for
decoupling the speaker from the desktop. Throughout the
range of audible frequencies, I felt very little vibration on
the desktop from my pair of D-Stand mounted monitors,
and transients from the monitors were focused and clear.
The D-Stand can be height adjusted (by twisting the
opposing bases around an internal threaded rod) between
7.75 and 11.1, which sizes perfectly for most nearfield
monitors on average height desks and tables.
Being modular meaning the D-Stand is not
permanently attached to the desk or the monitor at any
time its easy to properly position a set of monitors on
just about any desk anywhere, which also makes the D-Stand
portable! I played a little game called lets see what it
would take to tip over my monitor. (I do live in earthquake
country.) With the D-Stand on the job, I found that Id have
to either intentionally push or fall on the monitor for it to
take a tumble. A simple bump wouldnt knock it over.
There are no instructions here. Intelligent design like this
assumes you are smart enough to figure it out for yourself.
I dont want to ruin the surprise, so Im not going to tell you
how to use speaker stands. Im convinced that the Miza
D-Stand will still look good in 20 years, and it will surely
outlast multiple sets of monitors. Its a smart, long-term buy.
($199 street per pair; zaorstudiofurniture.com)
SM <www.scottmcchane.com>

gr

The hardware Curve Bender from Chandler Limited is a


$5,590 two-channel EQ based on the circuitry of the historic
EMI TG12345 consoles. I had one and loved its sound quality.
Opening its chassis revealed hand wiring, custom transformers,
and premium components throughout. The deal-breaker for me
was the stock configurations 2 dB gain steps. Those jumps are
too coarse for mastering. After much deliberation, I reluctantly
returned the unit, but have often thought of ordering a custom
version from Chandler Limited.
Note that Chandler Limiteds hardware Curve Bender is not an
exact replica of the famous Abbey Road EMI circuitry. The brains
behind Chandler, Wade Goeke, made a number of alterations that,
from my perspective, make a great deal of sense. The original EMI
circuit had nine fixed-frequency selections. Goeke expanded the
options to 51 frequency points. He also added a multiply
switch on each band that increases the boost/cut amount and
sharpens the Q; high and lowpass filters; and bell/shelf
selections on the high and low bands. The Chandler Limited Curve
Bender plug-in for the UAD-2 family of DSP processors, developed
by Softube (the same group responsible for many other popular
titles for the UAD platform), builds upon Chandler Limiteds
hardware implementation by adding Mid/Side functionality,
channel-linking, artist presets (from Curve Bender users Howard
Willing, Kevin Kadish, and Tony Maserati), and of course, the
ability to instantiate as many instances of the plug-in as your
UAD-2 [Tape Op #67, #73, #76, #83] or Apollo [#95, #99, #101,
#111, #113] hardware can support. Importantly, the plug-in has
0.5 dB gain steps no more deal-breaker for me.
In use, the Chandler Limited Curve Bender plug-in is a
formidable tone-shaper. With most equalization, I normally do
more cutting than boosting, but the sky is the limit with this
guy. Simply instantiating the effect and enabling a band sends
your audio through virtual inductors and transformers
contributing to a glassy, finished sound. Although Universal
Audio lists this plug-in under the Mastering section of their store,
I recommend every engineer demo it to see what it can add to
individual tracks or to the stereo bus.
Being able to apply many channels of this EQ to your mix is a
luxury difficult to obtain in the real world. So dont be afraid to
try this plug-in on voice, bass guitar (especially Fender Jazz bass),
drums, and other tracks. I found that rack toms sing and floor
toms thunder when processed through this EQ. Moreover, the
virtual transformers of the Chandler Limited Curve Bender plug-in
can provide a subtle degree of compression, reducing the need for
downstream dynamics processing. In many cases, turning up
transformer saturation and turning down bus compression can
result in a more natural sound.
If you need a locked stereo image, the plug-ins channellinking makes it easy to get sounds fast. Once dialed in, simply
deselect the link should you decide to tweak the channels
separately. The built-in M/S matrix alleviates the need to
bookend the EQ with M/S encoder/decoders, and makes the
Chandler Limited Curve Bender an amazing genie on backing
vocals and synth tracks. Adjust the middle image to taste, and
then attack the side channel to help these tracks envelop the
central components of the mix.
There is very little downside to this plug-in. My only warning
is that its sound is very seductive, making it easy to overuse. I
suggest spending the first week or two in a honeymoon phase.
Put three on every channel. Use it on things that dont need
equalization. Go wild. Get it out of your system. That way, it
will be easier to show restraint going forward.

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JBs End Rant and RADAR studio review in this issue inspired me
to share with you a few of the software utilities I install whenever
I set up a new Windows computer. If youre a DAW user moving
between OS platforms, muscle-memory might lead you to type the
wrong keyboard shortcuts. Thankfully, there are many remapping
tools available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. On Windows, Ive
been using KeyTweak by Travis Krumsick (a free download from
<www.bleepingcomputer.com> and other sources) for as long as I
can remember. I use it to swap Caps Lock and Left Ctrl, but you
could also use it to swap Ctrl, Alt, and Windows keys to make a
Windows keyboard work more like a Mac one. (Likewise, if you have
an actual Mac keyboard connected to your PC, you could remap
accordingly.) KeyTweak writes your mapping to the Windows
Registry, so once youve saved your mapping, you can quit (or even
delete) the program, reboot the computer, and your mapping will
be live. This approach means that KeyTweak is limited to modifying
the global keyboard layout; therefore, if you want to do things like
fire off macros or handle combined keystrokes, youll need a
different program that runs as a background service, intercepting
and reprocessing your inputs. For that, I use AutoHotKey
<www.autohotkey.com>, a free macro creator/handler for
Windows. The system relies on scripts, so any keystrokes, mouse
buttons, or combinations thereof or even sequences of text
can trigger scripted actions. You can even do complex things, like
receive input, then analyze which window is active, and launch
commands specific to that window. On macOS, I use Karabiner
<www.pqrs.org> to remap keys and shortcuts. A text editor
(versus a word processor) is tremendously useful for modifying
preference files; EDL, marker, and cue files; and other XML and
XML-like resources. Ive been a GNU Emacs <www.gnu.org> user
since the mid-80s, when I worked as an undergrad researcher in
Richard Stallmans office at the MIT AI Lab. OS-integrated,
precompiled binaries of GNU Emacs are available for macOS and
Windows, but you can also download the source code and compile
it yourself. GNU Emacs includes a full programming environment
(with its own Turing-complete language, a dialect of Lisp), and
there are countless free extensions available that make it more
than just a text editor. Over the decades, Ive written thousands of
lines of Emacs Lisp to customize Emacs to my liking.
Scriptable, command-line interfaces are great for manipulating
groups of files; if you rely on the Terminal app in macOS, you know
what I mean. Windows 10 Anniversary Update includes an
installable Bash shell based on Ubuntu Linux. As a sandboxed app,
it has its pros and cons. An alternative is Red Hat Cygwin
<www.cygwin.com>, a natively-integrated, Linux-like environment
for Windows. POSIX compatibility for system calls means it can
interact directly with application, file, and system resources.
Within Cygwin (and in macOS too), I use SoX
<sox.sourceforge.net> to batch-process audio files, mostly for
transcoding, mono/stereo conversion, and polarity adjustment;
but its capable of all sorts of offline audio processing. The
default Windows and macOS backup solutions arent adequate for
implementing a trustworthy studio-backup scheme, especially
with multiple computers and even portable devices in use. Siber
Systems GoodSync <www.goodsync.com> is a comprehensive file
synchronization tool for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and
Android. I use it to back up all of my computers to my Synology
RAID servers, and for inter-device synchronization too. Moreover,
I also rely on GoodSync for cloud sync. On that front, GoodSync
is much more stable than Google Drive client software. Drive
crashes often, and it can sometimes prevent the computer from
shutting down or going to sleep bad for laptops. Ive lost work
due to Drive client software, but Ive never lost a file due to
GoodSync in the many years Ive been using it. AH

The Chandler Limited Curve Bender is my favorite color


EQ for the UAD-2 and Apollo platforms. Its a must-audition
plug-in for mixing or mastering. I will stop adding
superlatives now. Just try it. When you do, what Im
talking about will become obvious.
($299; www.uaudio.com)
Garrett Haines <www.treelady.com>

68/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 70)

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/69

The New MS47 Mark II

Halo reflection filter

Dont you just love things that are simple? Aston Microphones believes that reflection filters
should be simple easy to use, lightweight... and purple. Since the introduction of the SE
Electronics Reflexion Filter in 2006 [Tape Op #56], reflection filters have become more visible in
studios with all of their accessory arms, adapters, and various pieces that inevitably get piled
up in the corner behind the mic stands. Reflection filters are intended to absorb and diffuse some
of the sound energy that would otherwise enter the capsule uninhibited from the rear side of the
mic. Unlike any of the other reflection filters Ive seen on the market that primarily handle sounds
approaching along the horizontal plane, the hemispherical, bowl-like Aston Microphones Halo
filters sound approaching the rear of the mic from all angles, which is a significant advantage
over designs that fail to address reflections from low-ceilings in bedroom-sized spaces.
When I first pulled the 21 18 9 Halo from the box, I was not surprised that it was purple,
but I was surprised at its sturdy, yet low-mass form. Including the mounting hardware, the Halo
is lighter than a standard tripod mic stand, which makes it notably less clumsy than some of the
heavier reflection filters on the market if youve used these, you know what Im talking about!
The Halos purple colored, acoustically architected structure is molded from a felt-like material
made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) fibers manufactured from recycled plastic bottles.
The softly sculpted unit looks rather inviting and much less like some kind of Imperial weapon
from Star Wars, like others before it do. The mounting hardware is made of finely milled metal,
and its easily adjustable. The hardware allows you to use a single mic stand to hold the Halo and
the mic, or to use two separate stands, one each for the Halo and mic.
In use, the Halo attenuated the sound of the room in vocal tracks recorded with a largediaphragm condenser mic in cardioid mode the foundation for my evaluation. In addition to
using the Halo in standard studio scenarios, I really wanted to see what the reflection filter could
do in some of the worst rooms I could find at home. As to be expected, my kitchen and bathrooms
had the highest incidences of unwanted room reflections.
It wouldnt be my first choice to track vocals in a small, tiled, 25 sq ft bathroom, so this is
where I started. I should note here that the amount of filtering at the backside of the mic is
adjustable by sliding the mic closer to the inside of the Halos bowl shape. Because the width of
this bathroom is only 4 ft, and the corresponding reflections were so fast, I opted to slide the
mics back as close to the inside of the reflection filter as it would go (less than an inch) and
really get my head as far into the bowl of the Halo, without my mouth being too close to the
mic. The difference in these test vocals with and without the reflection filter (both recorded at
the same distance from the mic) was striking. The Halo really helped to mitigate the washy
character of the bathroom, and it sounded pretty damn close to an iso-booth!
Our large, open kitchen with 10.5 ft ceilings is dimensioned like a geometric cube also not
ideal for recording. Again, I played with the mic spacing within the reflection filter to tune how
much room sound I wanted to let in. And again, comparisons revealed an improvement in vocal
presence and clarity. Our back bedroom is low, with 7 ft ceilings a definite no-no for recording
a vocalist thats over 6 ft tall. I did it anyway, and it worked. Another note the Halos bowl-like
structure is wider than tall. It was interesting to experiment with rotating the filter 90 to get a
little more filtering on the ceiling/floor reflections than the wall reflections again, really helpful
results. In summary, I was able to capture forward-sounding vocal tracks in really bad rooms!
Back in a professional studio environment, the Halo performed well and was incredibly easy
to set up. At times, depending on the mic choice, I had to grab an extra stand for a pop filter
which is no big deal for me, because Ill often do that anyway. I prefer the sound of an openroomed vocal for some music genres, but hip hop artists, for example, typically like a very up
front and isolated vocal. In the past, the iso-booth was an absolute requirement for recording
vocals in this genre, but with the Halos filtering in our main live room, I feel like I can capture
a less boxy sound than tracks recorded in the iso-booth. Voiceover work in our smaller room
and in my project studio also benefitted from the Halo. Unfortunately, with both hip hop and
voice work, artists and voice talent often need to be able to read from portable devices and paper
scripts. Like all reflection filters that Ive used, the Halo obscures the field of vision somewhat,
which can be challenging at times.
A reflection filter can be a handy tool for partial isolation of a vocal mic when the singer is
tracking in the live room with the band. In other words, the filter can reduce the instrument bleed
making it into the vocal mic. But interestingly, it also works the other way around. On one
occasion, I was able to use the Halo on the singers mic to prevent extraneous bleed of the scratch
vocal into the drum overheads.
In addition to vocals, the Halo spent time on guitar amps, bass drums, room mics, and other
sources. On guitar amps, surrounding the backside of a (figure-8 pattern) ribbon mic with the
Halo made for some interesting results (both on and off-axis). An LDC in cardioid pulled deep
into the Halo and placed in front of the kick drum was punchier than sans filter, and even the
snare bleed was reduced. An omni room mic between the drum kit and a flat wall offered a bigger
feel with a nicely controlled cymbal wash.

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Hand built by the Mic Shop in Franklin TN

Aston Microphones

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$4700 Direct

Siegfried Thiersch M7 capsule


Custom Haufe BV8 output transformer
Siemens NOS E81CC tubes.
Hand built point to point construction

Nashvilles best vocal secret!


More info: www.micshop.com

70/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 72)

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/71

Hafler

HA15 & HA75 headphone amps

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These days, pro audios end products often live in the


Headphones World. The home stereos of the past have
been supplanted by the mobile devices of today. Fewer
listeners have full-size speaker systems, and much listening
is done through various grades of personal monitoring, be
it earbuds or headphones of varying quality levels. The key
takeaway for an audio professional: A final master needs to
sound good in the Headphones World. To accomplish this
goal, excellent headphone monitoring in the studio is key.
All too often, the headphone output on a recording
interface is an afterthought. And forget about plugging
phones into the mini-socket on your computer, because
then you are at the mercy of the built-to-dirt-cheap-price
sound interface on the motherboard. Some high-quality
DACs, like those from Benchmark Media Systems, have
superb and powerful headphone amps built in, but thats
somewhat rare. The common practice for a headphone
output on a USB interface, DAW, or analog mixer is to use a
pre-packaged Texas Instruments (or generic) headphone
amp chip. These can actually be useful because they are
about the quality level of better consumer-level headphone
drivers, but theyre not refined enough to trust for
recording, mixing, or mastering.
Radial Engineering, the Canadian company famous for its
direct boxes, 500-series modules and frames, and other
problem-solving products, bought the Hafler brand from
Rockford in 2013, and more recently acquired Dynaco, David
Haflers famous brand from the 1950s. Those who know
consumer audio history will recognize both names. David
Hafler (1919-2003) was a pioneering audio entrepreneur.
With partner Herb Keroes, Hafler started out in 1950 with
the Acrosound line of output transformers for tube
amplifiers, designed for the then-revolutionary Ultra-Linear
output circuit topology (Google that term for details). In
1955, Hafler partnered with engineer Ed Laurent to form the
Dyna Company to produce audio components (preamplifiers,
power amplifiers, and eventually tuners), sold assembled
and as kits. Many audiophiles of certain ages have had firsthand exposure to Dynaco Stereo 70 (ST-70) tube or Stereo
120 (ST-120) solid-state amps. To this day, Dynaco amps
retain value even wreckers with intact transformers.
Several companies still produce replacement circuit boards,
and a vintage ST-70 with intact iron can be made to sound
very clean and modern with an upgraded power supply and
driver circuit. The main knock on the original Dynaco was
that the products were built to a common mans price-point,
and thus the power supplies tended to be saggy and the
drive circuits tended to be more focused on a low partscount than such things as steady tube bias and optimal
drive of the output tubes and transformers. That said, Radial
Engineerings history of Dynaco included among the
documentation of its Hafler products claims more than
350,000 ST-70 amps were sold.

Dynaco was sold to Tyco in 1966. David Hafler continued on


briefly at Dynaco, and then worked for cartridge maker Ortofon
for a few years. In 1977, he founded the David Hafler Company,
which he sold to Rockford in 1987. Audio pros may recall the
Hafler 9505 power amp. Designed by Rockford engineer Jim
Strickland, it was a heavy-duty but musical amp favored for
driving big soffit-mounted monitors in the big-studio heyday.
Bringing history up to the present day, Radials relaunch of
the Hafler brand is through a line of heavy-duty small-profile
accessory devices for the pro and high-end consumer audio
markets four flavors of phono preamps and two headphone
amplifiers. The latter are the subject of this review.
Both of Haflers headphone amps include a feature that will be
very handy to some audio engineers, particularly for mixing and
live-recording using headphones. Called the Focus control, it is
described by Radial Engineering President Peter Janis this way:
The Focus is a matrix that blends the two inputs together and
then remixes them to the center. This creates a bigger middle,
which simulates listening to speakers in a room. By comparing
a mix, or even a two-mic live recording setup, with the Focus
control switched in and out, an engineer can optimize his or her
end product for both speakers and headphones. The control range,
to my ears, veers from a little more center to quasi-mono with
most of the sound energy in the middle. Because of the input and
output setup of both amps, its possible to take an unbalanced
feed from the headphone amps, with the focus control engaged,
and, for instance, run a separate 2-mix with a different-sized
center. Im not sure how useful that would be in the real world,
but the possibility is there to run a separate headphones-only mix
that moves some of the sound energy between the ears, and keep
the wider spread for a speakers-only mix.
I asked Janis about the target market for these amplifiers. He
said: Our primary target for these is the recording engineer.
Today, with the incredible proliferation of headphones, you can
no longer mix on speakers alone. You need to hear your mix
through headphones. And with so much production happening
in smaller home-based studios, being able to work quietly is a
necessity. This is why we developed the Focus control. This
matrix simulates the effect of listening to music in a room.
Haflers two headphone amps are very different circuits and
are aimed at different users. The HA15 is an all-discrete (no
integrated circuits) solid-state amp with what Radial calls
quasi-Class-A output. It produces 20 dB of gain, maximum
output power of 3 V RMS, and can drive headphone impedances
of 8400 . Janis says both amps can actually drive headphones
up to 1000 , but because different headphones have different
impedance curves, we find that headphones over 80 appear
to be the most linear and have the least listening artifacts. In
our testing, we have found that, quite often, headphones of
different brands that are rated at the same impedance will
produce dramatically different sound quality. Air and forwardness
seem to be better with most brands of higher impedance
headphones. We are still learning!
The HA75 is one of the more deluxe standalone headphone
amps in the market. Janis said, for the majority of the
voltage amplification, it uses a 12AX7 tube with B+ voltage of
150 V his point being that this isnt a starved tube circuit
intended only to add warmth through harmonic distortion.
The current amplification and output stage is all-discrete
solid-state. Maximum output is 5 V RMS, and gain is 30 dB.
Input is front-panel switchable between XLR (balanced) and
RCA (unbalanced), allowing for two sources. There is a frontpanel control for feedback around the tube stage. Keep it on
the left side of the knobs rotation, and there is more
distortion-controlling feedback, resulting in a cleaner sound.

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The Halo is a must for tracking vocals in project studios with


less than ideal room characteristics; and for day-to-day studio
use, its indispensable to have a lightweight, portable,
adjustable reflection filter that can be set up quickly during
hectic sessions. The only criticism I have is that the Halos
mount relies on 3/8 European threading, so us Yanks have to
buy a $5 adapter for our 5/8 mic stands. But the Halo is
purple a great color for sound treatment and artist vibe!
($299 street; astonmics.com) SM <www.scottmcchane.com>

72/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 74)

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especially for older stereo recordings where stuff is hardpanned right and left and can be unpleasant when heard
through headphones.
Compared to the headphone amp built into my Hilo, I much
preferred how both Hafler amps sounded driving my
headphones. I noticed a fuller sound at lower levels, and super
clear and clean sound as loud as I wanted to drive them. The
Hilo doesnt drive the Sennheiser HD-650 very well; its
designed for lower-impedance cans.
The built-in headphone amp of my Benchmark DAC2 HGC
converter [Tape Op #97, #111] gave the Haflers a run for the
money, sound-wise. But the Haflers, being purpose-built, win
on features. It was informative, though, to compare the
Benchmark when both Hafler amps had their Focus controls
(and Feedback on the HA75) bypassed via the front-panel
switches. It took some time to exactly adjust output levels for
what sounded like a proper A/B/C comparison, using the
Benchmark as the DAC and feeding the Haflers from the
Benchmarks two unbalanced outputs. But once I had what
sounded like the same levels driving the phones, no matter
what socket I plugged into, I heard a little bit of flavor from
each different amp not exactly the same sound qualities. I
would describe them this way: super-clean but thinnest out
of the Benchmark; clean and fast with a little meat out of
the HA15; and more colored but in a pleasing way, bigger
without annoying exaggeration out of the HA75. The
differences were more pronounced through the Sennheiser
HD-650, but I heard the same qualities through the AudioTechnica ATH-M50.

I think the HA15 hits the sweet spot for many pro-audio
uses. The Focus control is a useful innovation, and the Radialstyle build quality is tough enough for any situation where
youd dare take a microphone or computer. The high-quality,
clean and powererful amplifier will be a step up for most
setups, and you will likely get better mixes that play nicely in
a wider range of listening environments.
The HA75 is a really nice piece of gear. I think, at that price
point, and considering there is a semi-fragile tube inside, it
might not be ideal for live recording or other on-the-go uses
(its also about twice as large and twice as heavy as the HA15).
But as a headphone-playback system with sound-sculpting
controls to enhance listening enjoyment, its quite the thing.
The sound quality is clean enough when the feedback control
is bypassed to make it a reliable monitoring tool. I think the
version with the built-in DAC will find a wider market. That
said, I will miss listening to the review unit after its shipped
back to Radial. Its one of the nicest-sounding headphone
amps Ive ever heard.
One final note on the history of Hafler: Radial Engineering
recently showed a prototype of the Dynaco ST-70 tube
amplifier, a complete redesign that includes none of the
original built-to-low-cost compromises (but also features a
much higher price). Janis says more Dynaco-branded products
are in the pipeline. Its nice to see David Haflers legacy in
capable hands, and a familiar brand return to the world of pro
audio. (HA15 $449 street, HA75 $999; www.hafler.com)
Tom Fine <tom.fine@gmail.com>

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Turn it clockwise, and lower feedback results in varying levels


of warm, phat harmonic distortion. This may or may not
be desirable for a professional audio engineer, but remember
that Radial also aims the Hafler brand at audiophiles, with
Hafler advertisements becoming commonplace in high-end
audio magazines. In fact, Janis told me that a version of the
HA75 with a built-in DAC, called the HA75D, is headed for
production. Its worth noting that the HA75 also has
unbalanced line outputs, so one could use the feedback
control as a sound effect on the 2-bus or final mix, or on
individual tracks. As always, Radial cant help but design in
some hidden utility!
To check out both Hafler headphone amps, I drove their
balanced (XLR) inputs from my Lynx Hilo interface [Tape Op
#90] and listened to a variety of CD and high-resolution files.
I also drove the amps unbalanced inputs from a Cambridge
Audio DacMagic XS USB interface connected to my laptop. I
listened through both Audio-Technica ATH-M50 [#66, #113]
and Sennheiser HD-650 [#43] headphones. Both amps were
capable of driving the 600 HD-650 as loud as I wanted to
listen, but Ill say from the outset that the HA75 provided a
deeper and more detailed sound quality at both the lowest and
highest comfortable listening volumes. With the ATH-M50, the
sound quality was closer between the Hafler amps, particularly
when the feedback setting was switched out on the HA75. I
found the Focus controls to be pretty darn close. (In other
words, 10 oclock on both amps produced about the same
stereo image, with a slightly enhanced center.) For pure
listening pleasure, I liked customizing the Focus control,

iZ Technology

RADAR studio computer & HDR

The heart of RADAR studio is a rackmount PC that runs a


carefully optimized OEM version of Windows in our case,
Windows Embedded 8.1 Pro Multilanguage. (But iZ plans to
migrate to Windows 10 in the future when its been proven to be
as solid as Win 8.1.) Theres absolutely no bloatware on our
system, and all of the various OS, driver, power-management, and
background-service settings have been tweaked by iZ to
maximize stability and performance for recording music and
nothing else. With an SSD for its system drive, the machine boots
up in less than seven seconds, and applications launch quickly.
The processor is a Core i7 (a 3.6 GHz Core i7-4790 quad-core
Haswell in our case) with 16 GB of memory (upgradeable to
32 GB), which should yield a significant bump in performance
over a quad or 6core Mac Pro tower from 2012, and more speed
than the quad-core base model of the now-aging Mac Pro Darth
Vader (or Trashcan) that hasnt seen an update since 2013.
Despite having never used or even booted up a Windows PC in
my life, when our RADAR studio showed up with absolutely no
printed documentation of any kind I was able to power it up and
have Pro Tools running in a few minutes. (RADAR studio ships with
PT 12 installed, but you are responsible for an iLok and valid PT
License.) It turns out that documentation is available online and on
the system drive, but being a total PC idiot, I didnt think to check.
Ive been using our RADAR studio for about a week at the point
of writing this paragraph, and while Windows is still a bit foreign
to me, Ive been able to sort out most of the administrative tasks,
like moving files, creating folders, and installing software, pretty
easily. Id say that even the most die-hard Mac heads will be able
to figure out Windows on RADAR studio pretty quickly, Plus, if you

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The RADAR hard-disk recording system has been around for


longer than any other turnkey digital multitrack currently in
production, giving it the stability and pedigree that no other
HDR has. iZ Technology has always been RADARs developer and
manufacturer, but the product was originally sold under license
by Otari starting in 1994, before the rights reverted back to iZ
in 2000. For years, professionals like Daniel Lanois [Tape Op
#37] and Chris Walla [#19, #111] have given praise to RADAR
for its robust stability, the musical sound of its converters, and
the systems comprehensive remote control. (See also the Margo
Price review on page 94.) Engineers who have relied on the
platform swear by its tape-machinelike, mono-tasking
workflow with its focus on capturing great performances
instead of on endlessly editing takes.
But, for a lot of professionals and studio owners like myself,
RADAR was a non-starter, as my clients demanded Pro Tools and
other popular DAWs. Well, all this changed in 2015 when iZ
introduced RADAR studio, which at its core is a rackmount
Windows PC that can run Pro Tools or any other Windows DAW
for that matter. (Besides Pro Tools, we installed and ran some
basic tests on Ableton Live 9.5 with no issues.)
As a studio owner who has become increasingly weary and
wary of the constant DAW/computer/converter upgrade cycle,
RADAR studio was very attractive to me for several reasons. A
primary reason is the stability of a purposely configured system
thats been optimized for recording music, first and foremost

as opposed to a computer mainly designed for email, web


browsing, social-media interaction, and cloud-based storage,
with music recording as an afterthought. The Mac platform in
particular, with its inherent upgrade/update-triggered bugs
that wreak havoc on Pro Tools and other demanding audio
applications, was really starting to feel more like a hindrance
than Apples artist-friendly marketing led me to believe. While
RADAR studio is based on a Windows PC, it comes with 10 years
of tech support, and that was ultimately more meaningful to
me than the safety of sticking with Mac. When you connect
with technicians at iZ (which is easy, because they actually
answer the phone), the techs can remotely administer your
computer over an IP connection, diagnose any issues, and
install any recommended upgrades. All updates are vetted by
iZ, before theyre installed, so the days of wondering if Pro
Tools version 12.xx will work with the latest mountainous
version of macOS are gone.
Like a lot of people reading this, I felt that there were two
barriers that had me carefully considering my decision. One was
the price; RADAR studio is not inexpensive, but I hope that by the
end of this review, folks needing a solid professional system will
see the benefits of spending their money on a RADAR studio over
some comparable Mac or even PCbased solution. The other big
hurdle was leaving the Mac environment. Ive been using Macs
since System 6, so this was no small issue for me, but Ive found
macOS to be less and less professional with each new version.
Therefore, I felt that I needed to consider a Windows-based DAW
in order to minimize the problems I was encountering with
upgrades gone awry. (See my End Rant in this issue.)

Moreover, iZ hasnt stopped there, because the soon-to-bereleased RADAR Session app will give you multi-touch control
over Pro Tools using a standard (20 or larger) touchscreen
monitor. We have our RADAR studio set up with our main Apple
Cinema Display mounted behind the mixing console, and an
inexpensive ($200) touchscreen monitor attached to a rolling cart
for the Session Controller or Mac keyboard. This gives us multiple
control and viewing options when using Pro Tools (despite Pro
Tools only supporting single-touch while we await the release of
RADAR Session).
Two-channel AES3 and S/PDIF, along with SMPTE LTC and MIDI
I/O, are on every model above the base RADAR studio computer.
(SMPTE and MIDI only work in RADAR Mode.) There are lots of
multi-channel digital options, including MADI, AES3, TDIF, and
ADAT. Of course, with the reputation that iZ has built on its
converters, many users are going to want the Classic 96 or Ultra
Nyquist converters from iZ. Both versions come in banks of eight
channels, and a single RADAR studio maxes out at 24 channels of
iZ converters, but multiple RADAR studio computers can be
synched together for more channels. With that said, RADAR studio
being a PC opens up a lot more possibilities and can get you out
of the box, so to speak. Because it has PCIe slots, you can drop a
Pro Tools | HD Native card or any other Windows-compatible PCIe
card (from the likes of Avid, RME, Lynx, Focusrite, SSL, etc.) in the
system. A full-blown 24-channel RADAR studio system is close to
$10,000, but you can get a RADAR studio with no converters for
just under $3,000. You might ask, Why would I buy a RADAR
without converters? Well, if you are thinking you need a new Mac
for your Pro Tools rig, and then you realize that your HD Native
card wont work with the new Mac Pro computers, that cost much
more than a RADAR studio, unless you buy an expansion chassis
and that iZ offers 9 more years and 275 more days of free tech
support than Apple youd agree that RADAR studio is a very
cost-effective alternative to Mac-based systems.

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This review focuses primarily on how RADAR studio functions


in Workstation Mode, with third-party DAW software on
Windows, but note that RADAR studio can still be booted in
RADAR Mode to run the classic software discussed previously in
our reviews of the legacy hardware [Tape Op #24, #56]. In the
same reviews, we also covered iZs Nyquist and S-Nyquist
converters. So Im not going to retread old ground here. Also, I
wasnt able to do a comprehensive A/B test of the iZ converters
against our Apogee Symphony I/O [#87] and Burl Audio [#84]
converters, but I will say that after doing several album projects
on our RADAR studio, everybody involved remarked that the
system sounded great, and that the speed and usability of Pro
Tools running on RADAR studio was impressive. One producer in
particular texted me after a session, That RADAR system is
some next-level shit!
One obvious feature of RADAR studio is the optional Session
Controller (which can mate to an optional Meter Bridge). It
functions in the same way that a remote control for a tape
machine does, and iZ offers a mapping of all of its switches and
controls to Pro Tools. But to call it a tape-machine remote is
selling it short. Id say it falls somewhere between a multitrack
remote and an edit controller for video production. There are
transport controls, track-arming switches, a jog wheel, and many
other dedicated function buttons, along with a QWERTY
keyboard all in a package about the size of an Akai MPC. Longtime RADAR users swear by the Session Controller. It feels solid
and professional, and its one of the reasons the RADAR platform
is popular with folks who value the tactile interfaces of dedicated
multitrack recorders (digital or tape). In practice, while we really
liked the solid feel of the Session Controller, we often found
ourselves going back to the Mac keyboard, because we were so
used to the keyboard-based workflows in Pro Tools. Either way
Session Controller or Mac keyboard your productivity will not
be interrupted by a need to learn new software or hardware.

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have any questions, youll have a 10-year window to call iZ and ask
them how to delete files or unmount drives. Ive since made a cheat
sheet for the studio that explains the most common functions that
Mac users may need to know when working in Windows. But, its
important to point out that Pro Tools in Windows is pretty damn
close to Pro Tools in macOS. And iZ has gone one step further by
offering a keyboard setting that remaps the modifier keys to work
like a Mac. You can even plug in an actual Mac keyboard into RADAR
studio, and your Pro Tools (or other DAW) keyboard commands will
work as expected. In other words, there is almost no learning curve
with RADAR studio, Pro Tools, and a Mac keyboard.
Finally, when our RADAR studio arrived, I had a client in the
studio who had brought his own recording system (Samplitude
on a Windows PC, for what its worth), so I took advantage of
our studio computer being free and decided to upgrade our Mac
Pro tower to Pro Tools | HD 12. I also bought a Mac Mini to run
PT 12 to have a ready-to-go backup for our Mac Pro. I spent
several days installing software and plug-ins on all three
machines, and I would have to say that, despite having never
used a Windows PC, our RADAR studio was the easiest to deal
with. Ironically, the Mac Mini with the latest macOS (OS X El
Capitan) had the most issues and was the biggest headache. My
advice dont be scared of Windows, especially the superoptimized installation on RADAR studio.
Speaking of plug-ins, I quickly learned that most of the major
plug-in companies, like Sound Toys, UAD, Sonnox, Eventide,
Wave Arts, Waves, Valhalla, etc., support Windows. I lost more
plug-ins migrating from PT 10 to 12 than I did switching from
macOS to Windows. Sure, if youre still in PT 10 on a Mac, you
may lose a few RTAS plug-ins, or you might have to spend a
chunk of change updating them to 64-bit AAX versions from
vendors like Waves. But the bottom line is, if you have licenses
for 64-bit AAX plug-ins, you will most likely have download
access to Windows versions of those plug-ins.

Bock Audio
IFET condenser mic

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While there are more new microphone models being


manufactured now than ever before, most of them will never
attain the classic status (nor hold the resale value) of an
older Neumann U 47, AKG C 12, Telefunken Ela M 251, or RCA
Type 44. But, there are a number of companies, including
Bock Audio, who are building contemporary mics that easily
rival the classics that inspired them in build quality and
in sonic performance. With that said, if you were to put
together a list of mics that you and your engineering buddies
would consider essential and timeless, Id bet that very few
mics still in production would be on that list. The Royer
R-121 ribbon [Tape Op #19], for example, would be one of the
few new classics. But, Id argue that the under-appreciated
Bock Audio IFET should also be on that list.
At first glance, the IFET looks a lot like the familiar and
classic U 47 fet, a mic that Neumann manufactured from
1969 to 1986, and reintroduced in 2014 as a Collectors
Edition. The IFET has rock-solid build quality, and all of its
parts look and feel expensive; there is no mistaking the IFET
for a cheap Fet 47 knockoff. While the IFET does clearly
draw upon the sound and heritage of the U 47 fet, designer
David Bock [Tape Op #78] did make some improvements
along the way, and he even added a clever twist, as the IFET
is inspired by not one, but two classic mics! But first, let me
tell you a little bit about Mr. Bock.
While David Bock was working as the chief tech in
several classic and seminal studios, including Hyde Street in
San Francisco, Hit Factory in New York, and Ocean Way
[Tape Op #106] in Los Angeles, he developed a discerning
ear for the subtle but crucial differences between good and
truly exceptional microphones, as well as a deep

understanding of what made these mics sound the way they


did. With these decades of experience repairing mics under
his belt, Bock co-founded Soundelux Microphones in 1995
with one of the owners of Soundelux (the now defunct postproduction company) in order to manufacture new mic
designs as well as recreations of classics. He parted ways
with Soundelux in 2006, taking all of his work with him,
and formed Bock Audio, with the stated goal to design for
sound, not a price point.
In that way, the Bock Audio IFET is an updated and
improved reissue, so to speak, of the Soundelux ifet7,
which was first released in 2002. It uses a center-terminated,
single-backplate, dual-diaphragm K 47 capsule, just like the
U 47 fet. Bock carefully examined the multiple variants of the
U 47 fet, and he concluded that one version of the U 47 fets
electronics sounded the best to him (and to many other
U 47 fet owners too) the only difference being the amount
of negative feedback in the circuit, which was determined by
a single capacitor value. It was perhaps a change in one small
component, but it made an audible difference. Bock based
his electronics on that version, but he improved upon the
design by utilizing a higher-spec, larger-core transformer, and
by simplifying the circuit (something he could do because of
the consistency of modern electronic components).
But heres the clever twist. Bock didnt stop at just making
a higher performance Fet 47. As he explained to me, Not
everyone has a fortune to spend on a lot of microphones. I
was curious what would happen if I took the K 47 capsule
and married it to the U 87 amplifier. The Neumann U 87, as
we know, is Neumanns other classic phantom-powered LDC
mic. Unlike the amplification in the U 47 fet, which utilizes
an input FET and four other transistors operating together as
a discrete op-amp, the circuit in the U 87 relies on a single
FET driving the output transformer directly. Bock started to

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One promising piece of news from iZ concerns RADAR


Expander, a feature thats currently in beta testing, that will
allow you to use RADAR studio with multiple interfaces
simultaneously. Right now, any application running in
Workstation Mode can communicate with one ASIO driver at
a time. That means your DAW can use the iZ converters, or
PCIe or USBbased converters from another vendor but
not at the same time. (A popular workaround on Windows is
to use the free ASIO4ALL universal driver, which allows
aggregate I/O using multiple interfaces.) Note that Pro
Tools | HD has a maximum I/O count of 32 channels when
non-Avid I/O is in use. With any other DAW, like Harrison
Mixbus, which comes bundled with RADAR studio, when
RADAR Expander becomes available, well be able to use 24
channels of iZ conversion plus 32 channels of our Apogee
Symphony I/O.
Lastly, speaking of PCIe, we bought another UAD-2 Quad
processor card [Tape Op #67] to put in our RADAR studio for
our UAD plug-ins. Installation was super easy, and
integration with Pro Tools was seamless.
So in conclusion, if youre looking for a professional studio
computer, you should seriously consider a RADAR studio. And
in that last sentence, Im using the word professional in the
way you think of classic audio gear like a Studer tape machine
or an API console. When you buy professional gear, you expect
a level of reliability and support that you dont always see with
systems consisting of multiple components from different
manufacturers. With RADAR studio and iZ, you are dealing with
a small company dedicated to serving audio professionals, not
hobbyists. iZ is like a boutique audio company in that regard,
in contrast to some of the large, faceless corporations that
care more about their bottom lines than taking care of the
customers that initially put them on the map. (RADAR studio
$2,995; accessories & IO $79$7,495; www.izcorp.com) JB

Grove Hill Audio


Liverpool tube compressor

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When I plug in a piece of gear (or use a plug-in) I want to be


inspired. Sometimes all I need is a little mojo to pull me out of a stall
or tailspin. Phase-linear EQ and transparent gain are just fine and
of course play a role in music recording but at the end of the day,
I just dont want my hard-earned cash to be burned on boring. The
compressor about to be reviewed here is not boring, and its funny
how what was at one time created out of a need for utility is now
one of many desired colors in todays sonics paintbox.
By todays standards, the Fi of Beatles recordings wasnt the
most Hi, but man, listening to those recordings now, they
certainly have soul, and they express human spirit and innovation.
Part of the puzzle, from the bands first album on, was the gear. This
review is about a second-cousin-once-removed of an integral piece
of Beatles recording history.
The Liverpool from Grove Hill Audio is a hand-assembled, alltube compressor with a feedback-based topology. Its a take on
the Altec 436 compressor, several of which were modified and put
to use on many a classic album recorded at EMI / Abbey Road
Studios. The original 436 design went through three revisions,
and EMI purchased a number of B models and implemented a
series of modifications on them, naming their versions the RS124.
Joe Meek was also an early adopter of the 436, and he also
modified them, giving them much faster attack and release times,
leading to his signature heavy-pumping mix sounds. There is a
history lesson on the Altec 436 and RS124 in the Recording The
Beatles book [Tape Op #56]. (If you are interested in the history
of recording gear, this beautiful resource is a must have.)
Like the Altec 436, the Liverpool employs a variabletransconductance compression circuit utilizing a medium mu,
semi-remote cutoff, twin-triode tube as the gain-reduction
element. This tube is re-biased by a 6AL5 tuberectified sidechain control voltage which causes the mu tube to smoothly
change its mutual conductance, providing the change in gain.
There is no ratio control, but with circuits of this design, the ratio
is increased as input level goes up. Other well-known compressors
of this type are the Fairchild 660/670, the Manley Variable Mu,
the Pendulum Audio ES-8, and the classic Collins 26U-1.
The Liverpool is not a clone of the Altec 436 or EMI RS124, but
something of a hybrid that respectfully brings the spirit of the Altec
together with some modern design enhancements. Most notable is
the ability to push the unit harder on the front end for some
interesting tone-shaping options more on this later.
I asked Steve Palermo at Grove Hill Audio about the ideas and
impetus behind the Liverpool. Steve had an Altec 436C of his own
that was typically used for effect but not typical compressor duties.
After some mods and component upgrades, the unit had new life and
greater usefulness, which inspired him to dig deeper into the design
that would ultimately become the Liverpool. As he explained to me:
The criterion for the Liverpool design was that the sound had to
be right. It had to stand on its own, while complementing vintage
and modern recording gear alike. The quality had to meet professional
standards, with low noise and wide bandwidth, and it had to be
suitable for modern recording techniques. The final version became a
unique iteration of the original Altec 436 and the Abbey Road
compressor. Of equal importance, the street price had to be within
reach of the larger recording-arts community.
The front panel, layout, and design of the Liverpool is logical
and practical. Controls from left to right are Input, Threshold,
Attack, Recovery, and Output Attenuator. In the middle sits a
nicely sized and easy-to-read meter that displays gain-reduction.
Inside, the transformers are custom made, and the tubes are
6BC8/6BZ8, 6CG7, and 6AL5. The back of the unit sports
straightforward XLR I/O and a 1/4 stereo-link jack.

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wonder if it was possible to combine both amplification circuits


into one mic. Well, thats what happened (more or less). The IFET
(like its ifet7 predecessor) has a switch on it labeled I and V. In
I mode, you are listening to the discrete op-amp amplifier. In V
mode, the single FET. Keep in mind that an actual U 87 uses a
K 67 or K 87 dual-backplate capsule, not the K 47 capsule in the
IFET. Bock also modified the U 87 circuit, removing frequencyshaping elements that were necessary for the K 67 capsule (and
unnecessary for the K 47), and decreasing negative feedback
(ultimately making the IFETs V circuit more like the KM 84s).
What about improvements to the IFET over the ifet7? The
original Soundelux ifet7 suffers from two common problems:
eventual failure of the I/V switch, and stripping of the attached
mounts threading after years of use. Bock Audio has addressed
both of these issues, and owners of the Soundelux model can
contact Bock Audio to schedule service for switch and mount
replacement. Additionally, minor tweaks were made to the
electronics to improve reliability, and the material for the base
of the mic was changed from brass to aluminum, changing the
balance point of the mic so it holds its position better.
Weve had a Soundelux ifet7 at Panoramic House (and
previously The Hangar) for over a decade, and all of the engineers
at my studio use it on pretty much every session. Is it on the
kick drum 90% of the time? Is it on the bass cabinet the rest of
the time? Yes, to both questions, but weve also used the mic on
lead vocals, acoustic guitars, percussion, and just about
anything youd consider recording with a high-end LDC all
with great results. Its also a smart choice for remote sessions, as
the switchable amplification is like having two great mics in your
mic case, while only taking up the space of one.
Were fortunate to have a well-stocked mic locker at
Panoramic House, so when mics need fixing as mics occasionally
do, I rarely get complaints from engineers when I pull a mic to
get it serviced they just use something else. This is not the
case with the ifet7. When I sent it to Bock Audio to have them
replace the older Soundelux I/V switch, I was constantly being
asked, Dude is the ifet7 back yet? So, the next time it needed
servicing to replace the Soundelux mount, I asked Bock Audio for
a loan on an IFET, partially to keep the troops happy, but also so
we could evaluate the newer mic. We used the Bock Audio IFET
for several months, even after our repaired Soundelux ifet7 was
returned; and we all agreed, the newer mic sounds fantastic, just
like the older model. But in the end, we loved the patina that
had built up on the body of our ifet7, a testament to its decade
of constant use, so we returned the IFET. Im happy to say, our
ifet7 is back home at Panoramic House, where it will remain one
of our cherished classic mics for as long as I own my studio. I
believe that this mic whether in Soundelux ifet7 or Bock
Audio IFET attire belongs on the same list of timeless and
essential mics as the revered classics that we all know and love.
($2150 street; www.bockaudio.com) JB

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78/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 80)

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/79

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All controls are stepped for precise recall and have a nice feel when turned. On the Attack knob,
every other setting is Comp Off which allows the user to A/B between the desired attack setting
and the compressor bypassed, with one click of the knob and back. This control is similar (in how you
use it) to the Hold feature introduced by EMI in the RS124, which also makes an appearance on the
Liverpool. Every other setting of the Recovery knob is for Hold, which is effectively an infinite release
time. Hold was intended to prevent the RS124s output from recovering while compressing a mix. This
was primarily used to keep the quiet ending of a song (or the noise following the last note) from swelling
up in volume. As the song ends, the engineer would click the Recovery knob one position left or right
to engage Hold. Hold was also useful for the beginning of a song in a two-pass approach, especially if
the song had a strong initial transient. In the first pass, after the song kicked in, the engineer would
engage Hold and then stop the tape machine in a way, priming the RS124. On the second pass,
the engineer would start in Hold mode, then switch to the desired Recovery time after the songs first
notes came through. This technique was employed to prevent an audible thunk on the RS124s initial
clampdown of the signal, as the unit had a relatively slow attack time. However, as is the case with
much gear, you can use the Hold function in unintended ways with fun results. Examples of this use
can be heard on guitar tracks on The Beatles Let It Be (and I am sure on countless other recordings
made at Abbey Road Studios). It just locks the audio in place and holds it there with no pumping. Its
a cool feature both for effect and functional use in leveling as mentioned above.
I used the Liverpool on several sources and found it to be a nice tone-shaper, as well as a useful
compressor, and I tended to want to run guitars through it more than anything else. For example, you
can really cream an acoustic guitar and still have it sound just fantastic with the Liverpool. Even at
2030 dB of reduction, the result was still musical. I set the attack and release times to about medium,
and played with the input and threshold to achieve the right amount of tonal-shaping and squeeze. The
Liverpool imparted a nice, warm, roundness to the midrange, and it smoothed out any pokiness, helping
the processed track sink right into the mix. Clamping down on a fuzzed-out White Albumsounding
electric guitar track with the Hold function was a treat. It was that sound. In more gentle use, the
Liverpool did its job and added color and character to guitars if desired, and less so if backed off a bit.
If you have recorded a guitar sound that is similar to those that came out of Abbey Road in the 60s,
the Liverpool will take you that extra mile to get you to the finish line.
I also liked the Liverpool on bass. The tube-y vibe was big, fat, and warm, while definition was
still maintained. The ability to overdrive the input gain to achieve some harmonically pleasing dirt
was a nice bonus. Even at really high gain-reduction (with the meter being completely pegged), the
Liverpool sounded great. The Hold function was also cool used in this application for complete level
lock. Note that this was a specific and intentional choice for a bass tone, and one that was vintage
in effect. For a more pop or contemporary aesthetic, the Liverpool can achieve a nice, fat, sit-in-themix bass sound with plenty of character as well.
Does it do the Beatles drum thing? Yes depending on what you think the Beatles drum thing is.
You can get reasonably squishy-squashy with the Liverpool and dial in some sounds reminiscent of what
the Altec and Fairchild compressors will do when set to achieve such sounds. And remember, when you
are struggling to get that Ringo or John Bonham sound, it may simply be that Ringo or Bonham didnt
play drums on your song. Non-judgmentally, the Liverpool is far from the fastest compressor out there,
and even at extreme attack settings, the transient of a snare hit comes through, in my opinion to nice
effect. Situationally of course, I am confident you can find a use for the Liverpool on almost every mix.
The Liverpool does a nice smooth thing to a vocal, and dialing in useable settings was a snap. It
was very difficult to make this compressor sound bad. I also liked it paired in a double-compression
scenario with an Empirical Labs Distressor [Tape Op #32] for a real in-your-face intimacy. Again, the
ability to shape and add grit with the input stage to some degree was a great option, even when
the Liverpool wasnt employed for dynamic control.
I only had a single unit, so I couldnt use it on mix bus, or on a stereo drum bus, but I found it
flavorful on a mono drum overhead, especially when blended in with the rest of the drums. I also
played around with sending various elements of the kit to the Liverpool in a parallel-compression
scheme, and found that to be useful and fun when situationally appropriate.
Did I mention I liked the ability to drive the input into tube overdrive for character? Only about
a dozen times! Like many tube compressors, the Liverpool can be colorful, and thats a good thing.
If you need transparent utility, there are plenty of compressors that will do the trick and do it well.
The Liverpool delivers control over both dynamic-range and tone, with the ability to drive your signal
into fuzz land. So in many ways, you are getting yourself two boxes in one a compressor and a
color creation tool. I really liked adding some grit to a DI-recorded guitar with this unit, and without
obviously audible compression.
If you want to hear this compressor really working, you can certainly get there. When used tastefully,
it is smooth and a nice tonal addition to a mix. It has an ability to sweetly draw notes and tones out
of an instrument, especially in an open mix with just a few elements, so its effect can really be heard.
In summary, the Liverpool is a high-quality compressor that achieves the familiar compression
characteristics of its family lineage. It is easy to use and has a variety of applications not to
mention that, compared to a modified original Altec, it is very affordable. You know the sound. You
love the sound. Now its possible you can afford the sound.
($1295 street; www.grovehillaudio.com) GS

80/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 82)

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/81

Radial Engineering

Space Heater tube-drive & summing box


Space Heater 500 tube-drive module

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The multichannel Radial Engineering Space Heater rackmount mixer and single-channel Space
Heater 500 module (for 500-series frames) are analog distortion units that offer tube distortion
and transformer saturation from actual tubes and transformers.
The rackmount version is set up as four stereo channels of distortion, with a built-in summing
mixer and headphone amp as well. Inside the 1RU-height chassis are four 12AX7 tubes (each
dual-triode tube can handle two channels) and eight custom-wound Eclipse ET-LD2 transformers
(which are based on Deane Jensens original designs Radial Engineering acquired Jensen
Transformers in 2014). Jam-packed around these tubes and oversized transformers are standard
through-hole components: Burr-Brown line drivers and receivers; Analog Devices op-amps; EPCOS
metallized-polyester-film capacitors; and banks of individual metal-film resistors. Like all of
Radials products, the Space Heater has a chassis fashioned from cold-rolled steel, with a thick,
durable powder-coat finish. Not surprisingly, the unit is heavy 8.5 lb according to my postal
scale despite it being only 6 deep.
The front panel is divided into five sections. There are four sets of stereo channel controls,
and one master section for the summing bus and headphone amp. Each stereo channel includes
pushbuttons to relay-bypass the distortion circuit entirely, enable a 40 Hz high-pass filter, assign
the channel to the summing bus, and switch in Tube Drive. Tube Drive is further controlled with
a three-position Heat switch that chooses 35, 70, or 140 V for the plate voltage of the 12AX7
tube, as well as two concentric potentiometers (one each for odd and even sides of the stereo
channel), with an inner Drive knob for input level and an outer Level knob for output level of
the tube circuit.
The backside is incredibly dense with I/O. There are eight 1/4 TRS balanced inputs, two
balanced XLR outputs for the summing bus, and two 1/4 TRS stereo jacks for linking multiple
units together. Additionally, there are eight pairs of 1/4 TRS send and receive jacks for balanced
inserts. What about the individual channel outputs? These are on a DB-25 socket. The inputs also
show up on a second DB-25 socket (in parallel to the TRS jacks).
The Space Heater 500 module, which takes up one space in a 500-series frame, is similar in
internal componentry, except for a compact Jensen JT-11-YMPC transformer in place of the larger
Eclipse, and Panasonic aluminum electrolytic capacitors. Like its rackmount sibling, it has Drive
and Level knobs to vary the input and output levels of the tube circuit, as well as the same threeposition Heat switch for plate voltage. But unlike its sibling, the 500 modules HPF is sweepable
from 5500 Hz, and a sweepable 500 Hz 20 kHz LPF is also included. While the HPF of the
rackmount version is post-tube, the filters on the 500 module can be switched pre or posttube.
A single In switch bypasses the whole module, but theres no facility to bypass just the tube
circuit and leave in the transformer something the rackmount version can do.
Veteran reviewer Garrett Haines asked to test-drive the rackmount Space Heater in his studio.
I also received a rackmount unit to try in my personal studio, alongside the two Space Heater
500 modules that I had previously purchased. Our two perspectives follow.
AH
GH: Understanding the signal flow of the Space Heater is important. The inputs feed 12AX7
tubes, and each channel has a Heat switch for selecting the plate voltage of its tube. In plainspeak, and of course generalizing lower voltages starve the tube, increasing distortion. The
Drive and Level controls allow you to fine-tune the amount of distortion on each channel. The
high-pass filter affects the signal coming out of the tube circuit, before its fed into the
transformer. You can bypass the tube circuit and drive just the transformer. After the transformer
is the send/receive loop for inserting external processors before the Space Heaters summing bus.
When summing, there are no pan pots, so the left side of each stereo channel goes to the left
side of the summed output, and the right to the right. If four stereo channels (for four stems)
are not enough, the summing matrix can be expanded by adding additional Space Heater units
via the link jacks. Four units can be chained for a total of 16 stereo pairs (32 tracks) of summing.
I like that Radial prints the DB-25 pinout on the rear panel, which is a big deal since there
is not a single standard for DB-25 connectors. There are analog, digital, and even some more
variants from the likes of TASCAM, Yamaha, and Avid/Digidesign. Anyone who suggests this
isnt a big deal is welcome to find out what happens when you plug the wrong DB-25 cable into
a powered system. The Space Heater follows the TASCAM analog pinout.
AH: Personally, Im a big fan of D-sub connectors for multi-pair audio lines, as theyre cheaper
to manufacturer than individual cables and easier to handle. Plus, there are plenty of
multichannel converters and studio patchbays that rely on DB-25 so wiring can really be a
breeze. I havent had any personal mishaps due to misconnecting DB-25 cables, like Garrett has,
but all of my gear with DB-25 analog sockets from TASCAM, Radial Engineering, SSL, Harrison,
Antelope Audio, Dangerous Music, and Switchcraft follow the same TASCAM pinout, which is
now the AES59 standard.

82/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/

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By the way, if youd rather not use DB-25 snakes for the channel outputs of the Spacer Heater,
you can use the 1/4 TRS send jacks to simply output the individual post-transformer channels
to wherever. (The only caveat with this scheme is that the relay-bypass feature wont work; in
bypass mode, nothing comes out of the send jacks.)
GH: I only had one unit for this review, so its difficult to draw comprehensive conclusions
about summing. Personally, I prefer a summing mixer that accommodates at least 8 to 12 stereo
stems (16 to 24 tracks), so I would need two or more Space Heaters. However, if you plan to use
it in a variety of ways as a front-end processor, for a monitor mix, or in a live sound rig, for
example as well as for summing, then it begins to make more sense. It makes a great preamp
follower on occasions when the source tracks need just a little more more.
Because the Space Heater is only 1RU high, putting together a multi-unit mixer is entirely
feasible (as long as you leave space between the units for heat dissipation), and there is no
doubt that the transformers go a long way towards achieving a console sound when summing.
Furthermore, the tube drive does range from subtle to slightly overdriven.
For live sound, if you loaned a set of these to the FOH engineer, you wouldnt get them back,
because itd be like taking candy from a baby. Subtle tube distortion plus transformer saturation
would make for a happy audience experience. Furthermore, both features would come in handy
for monitoring. Whether on stage and in the studio, in-ear monitoring is becoming more
common. If you have ever tried IEMs, you can attest that they take some time getting used to,
and they often have a dry, almost sterile sound. Being able to add some drive to the monitoring
mix would be a plus. Thus, a Space Heater would be a killer submixer for foldback. By the way,
the rolled-steel chassis is not only durable, but its also ideal for shielding. This box should
certainly withstand the rigors of travel and professional use.
AH: Actually, I wouldnt recommend using the rackmount Space Heater as your only summing
mixer. Instead, Id suggest using it as a stem or track processor in conjunction with another
summing system. In my mixing workflow, I found the Space Heater was great at gluing things
together. Tiny bits of tube distortion and transformer saturation can go a long way in helping
you achieve the console sound, as Garrett explained already. So you could feed another
summing system into the Space Heater, using the latter to add glue; or you could take the
outputs of the Space Heater and feed a bigger summing system. You could even intermix the two
to create routings for parallel processing.
But with that said, you have to be diligent about polarity (what some people erroneously call
phase) when using the rackmount Space Heater for summing multi-micd instruments (like
drums) or for parallel processing. Each stage of its circuitry inverts the signal. Therefore, if youre
bypassing the tube stage and using only the transformer stage, the channels input and output
polarities will be opposite of each other. Or, if youre bypassing both the tube and transformer
stages on your channel, but still feeding the channel to the summing mixer, the signal from that
channel will be polarity reversed at the summing mixers output.
GH: To get the most out of the Space Heater, I suggest wiring it to an appropriate patchbay.
In addition to facilitating use of the unit with stereo-bus and insert devices, youll also be more
tempted to try it in other situations. As a front-end tone box, the Space Heater was impressive
on a wide variety of sources, especially keyboards and DId bass guitar. Since the controls are laid
out in stereo pairs, consider other stereo sources, such as room mics, synths, backing vocals,
brass sections, or even virtual instruments. Sometimes compressors dont offer the right
coloration (or you might not own enough of them), so the set of tube/transformer channels in
the Space Heater could be just the ticket for almost any musical genre.
AH: Ive used both Space Heater models on a variety of sources during tracking, using it as
Garrett suggests. Most of the time, I prefer 140 V operation. On snare drum, I like to set up just
enough Drive to bring out a tiny bit of thwack courtesy of tube-clipping, which is also a nice,
musical way of limiting the snare signal before it hits my converters. On floor and rack toms, a
bit more Drive adds a little more thwack, while turning up the Level knob adds transformer
resonance. In this manner, toms sound huge, and kick drum mics also respond in a similar way.
On electric guitar, I can add bite at 140 V Heat, or a ton of harmonics and grit at 35 V. On
bass, either micd or DId, careful placement of the Drive knob can make the performance more
lively and dynamic, as the tube-driven tone reacts to the volume. When I do this, I like
sandwiching -the Space Heater with compressors on both ends, so I have finer control of the
tube-distortion effect. On vocals, I can certainly add lots of hair at 35 or 70 V, but for the most
part, Im happy adding very subtle texture and sparkle with low Drive settings at 140 V. In all
of these instances, the 500 modules sweepable HPF and LPF come in very handy.
GH: Speaking of the Drive and Level controls, these knobs are full range, and theyre
difficult to recall. Therefore, if youre using the Space Heater as a summing box, printing test
tones for each channel might be the only way to match settings at a later time. I found the
Drive controls in particular to be very sensitive, with small adjustments resulting in large
changes. This could be due to variations in tube performance, the specific pots, or both. Once
you find the setting you like, it is easy to move the control a few degrees too far and end
up in a different sonic location.

Gear Reviews/(continued on page 84)/Tape Op#115/83

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AH: I agree that the Drive knob can be jumpy. In its first quarter turn, it seems to cover a
huge range, from zero to a heck of a lot. But I do like the fact that both knobs offer full range,
especially when using the Space Heater as a tracking effect. My vintage API 312 and BAE 312A
preamps [Tape Op #45] have input gain controls but lack output level. I almost always have to
put some device (like a compressor or EQ) immediately after them so I can be creative with
my gain structure. A Space Heater channel, especially the 500 version, is a great tool for
managing post-preamp levels, as well as for adding character to the signal. For example, I like
to track drums hot through API-style preamps, so that transients clip and saturate; the
resulting sound is usually punchy and huge. If I take the output of the preamp and then
immediately feed a Space Heater channel, I can use the Heat and Drive controls to add tube
clipping as I explained earlier sometimes a lot, sometimes a little bit, and sometimes none.
Then the Level knob allows me to manage the signal before its fed to another device, basically
using the knob as an output fader. Meanwhile, the HPF allows me to take out some of the
unneeded thump that might otherwise cause a downstream compressor to overreact or a
converter to clip prematurely. On the rackmount Space Heater, the post-tube Level control is
active even when the tube stage is bypassed, so I can still control the channels output level,
and concurrently, the amount of transformer saturation, with tube drive off.
I also love the Space Heater 500 for mixing, especially for parallel processing when its
mounted in my Radial Engineering Workhorse rack and mixer [Tape Op #85]. Using the Space
Heater 500s sweepable filters, Im able to focus what triggers the distortion (with the filters set
pre-tube) or focus the distorted output itself (filters set post-tube), and then add that distortion
back to the undistorted signal. This affords me very fine control over what portion of the signal
I want to distort, while still allowing the full spectrum of the signal to come through. Plus, the
immediacy of turning real knobs makes this setup a powerful and creative tone-shaping tool.
GH: During my time with the Space Heater, my only regret was that I did not have time to
experiment with different tubes. 12AX7s are affordable and can be found in a variety of color
flavors. (But dont try similar-looking 12AT7 or 12AU7 tubes. They operate at different voltages
and could damage the unit.)
AH: Speaking of color, if youre curious about how the Space Heater colors your signal, heres
what I learned from taking some measurements:
Frequency and phase response of the rackmount version, channel input to channel output, with
just the transformer stage active, is ruler flat from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. In fact, its only down by 0.2 dB
at 12 Hz and 48 kHz. With the tube stage active, the frequency-response graph follows a shallow
dropoff in the highs: 1 dB at 11 kHz, 2.5 dB at 20 kHz, and 6.5 dB at 40 kHz. The summing bus
(with tubes and transformers bypassed) is down by 0.5 dB at 20 Hz and 0.1 dB at 48 kHz.
The tube stage adds primarily whole-spectrum, second-order harmonic distortion as Drive is
turned up, as well as other even-orders (to a lesser degree, as expected). But once you hit a
certain point (say in the last 10% turn of the Drive knob with a high-level input), the post-tube
buffer can distort, and third-order harmonic distortion swamps the signal, adding a harsh
buzz good or bad, depending on what youre trying to distort.
As the Level is turned up, the transformer stage saturates, and third-order harmonic distortion
dominates, with the knee of the graph starting at 1 kHz and then sloping up significantly at
lower frequencies. The second and fourth-order harmonics start about one octave below at 400 Hz,
also climbing as the frequency goes down. I would characterize the resulting sound as lowfrequency resonance, versus the full-spectrum buzziness of the overloading post-tube buffer. This
resonance can add a rich bloom to heavier sounds, as well as density to mixes and stems.
The Space Heater 500 performed similarly with both of its stages active. I wasnt able to
measure its transformer stage separately (since theres no bypass facility for just the tube stage),
but with the Drive set very low, I could see that the smaller Jensen transformer generates thirdorder harmonics starting at roughly an octave lower than the bigger Eclipse, and it exhibits much
more odd-order harmonic distortion at lower frequencies. At 15 Hz, transformer resonance leads
to more distortion than fundamental.
Although I didnt measure signal-to-noise ratio, I will say that self-noise has yet to be a
problem when using either of the Space Heater models, even at extreme settings (like Drive
turned way down and Level turned far up or vice-versa).
Now that Ive bored you with these specs, let me end my portion of the review by saying that
I love what I can do with my Space Heater 500 modules, and I think the multichannel Space
Heater is a very cost-effective way to obtain eight channels of real tube and transformer
distortion for both track and stem processing. Plus, like all of Radial Engineerings products,
both models have great secondary features sweepable filters on the module, summing bus
and headphone output on the rackmount that add real value, truly making them multi-use
boxes. What does Garrett think?
GH: They sound good, are built like a tank, and are backed by a respected manufacturer.
(Rackmount $1699.99 street, 500 module $699.99; www.radialeng.com)
AH & Garrett Haines <www.treelady.com>

84/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/

Meris

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Mercury7 500-series reverb

Meris may not yet be a household name in pro audio, but its team of three have put in
plenty of time developing products and designs for companies like Strymon and Line 6, and
working creatively for companies like Disney and Sony Pictures. Currently, Meris produces a line
of 500-series modules, which include the 440 [Tape Op #103], a versatile mic preamp with
integral pedal effects loop; the Ottobit [#109], a bit-crushing, tone-mangling processor; and
the Mercury7, a vintage-inspired, DSP-based reverb processor. I spent some time with a pair
of Mercury7 reverbs in my API Lunchbox and discovered both conventional and otherworldly
applications for its reverbs.
The Mercury7 takes advantage of the Meris teams analog and digital design strengths and
employs high-quality AD/DA conversion and DSP processing, along with high-end analog
circuitry, to create unique and captivating reverb and ambience effects. The Mercury7 sports a
cheerfully blue, easy-to-maneuver front panel with an array of six knobs and three buttons.
Each of the knobs can adjust primary as well as secondary functions, allowing the user deep,
but intuitive, parameter control from a concise set of knobs.
In my studio projects, I rely heavily on plug-in reverbs for acoustic spaces, ambiences,
and sometimes far-out textures, but not one of my plug-in reverbs really sounds as rich
and organic as a Lexicon 480L or a Bricasti Design M7 [Tape Op #69], let alone an EMT
250 or AMS RMX 16. Think about this: Dedicated hardware reverbs take advantage of
purpose-built processors and circuits to execute one very complex reverb algorithm,
while plug-ins are limited to their meager share of your PCs overall CPU resources. Plugins have their place, but cant really compete with complex algorithms optimized to run
on dedicated, real-time chips. With that in mind, the Mercury7 utilizes a full DSP chip
for each channel of reverb. These mono modules may be individually controlled or
control-linked for stereo or surround use.
Setting up the Mercury7 begins with choosing one of two basic algorithms. Ultraplate
provides a typical dense plate, while Cathedra provides more ethereal, textured atmospheres.
Both algorithms may be modified with parameters such as decay time, high and lowfrequency
absorption, pre-delay, wet/dry mix, and a few not so standard parameters, like Modulate, Mod
Speed, Pitch Vector, Vibrato, and Swell.
Starting with Ultraplate, I easily dialed in a fat plate setting for some live horns in a very
busy pop/R&B mix. The Mercury7 imparted a dense ambience to the horns that was familiar
and kind of retro, but also blended well in a modern production and provided a nice sense of
front-to-back space. I used two Mercury7 modules linked with the supplied cable for stereo
control, so that any changes in the left channels controls are automatically mapped to the
right channel. Then, by slightly offsetting the right channel parameters from the left, I could
quickly and easily create a dramatic stereo reverb sound-field that would be quite difficult to
achieve without delving deep into the pages of the typical reverb units parameters. Although
not as natural or traditional sounding as, say, a Bricasti, the Mercury7 definitely holds its own
against high-end hardware reverb units.
The Cathedra algorithm provides a seemingly limitless playground of sound design
options, inspired by the shimmering, pitch-shifting ambiences used in the 1980s Vangelis
soundtracks for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. The reverb times can stretch for many
seconds, and the modulation and swell controls transform acoustic guitar or percussion
tracks into synthetic beds of pitch-shifting layers of sound. The Cathedra algorithm is a
sound designers dream synth, and the knobs can be played in real-time to create musical
and emotional orchestrations.
The Mercury7 proclaims to be the first algorithmic reverb in the 500-series format, and
it certainly breaks new ground as both a versatile, traditional plate reverb and also as a
sound-bending, ambience-generating hardware instrument. The wet/dry settings and zerolatency analog mixing prove useful when using the Mercury7 as an insert effect. Conversely,
setting up the reverb as a traditional aux send/return device works well in mix situations.
Moreover, if you have two Mercury7 modules, instead of just using them in stereo-control
mode, try patching the output of one unit into the input of the other unit to achieve even
more creative sounds.
On the Meris website is a video of DSP Engineer Angelo Mazzocco introducing some of
the sounds and capabilities of the Mercury7. Its nicely done and well worth watching.
While youre there, you can read about Angelos past accomplishments as a designer of
several now-iconic guitar-reverb effects, as well as the past experiences of Terry Burton and
Jinna Kim, all three of whom make up the Meris team. Meris proudly manufactures all of
its products in Los Angeles.
($549 street; www.meris.us)
Adam Kagan <www.mixer.ninja>

Gear Reviews/(continued on page 86)/Tape Op#115/85

Sam Phillips: The Man Who


Invented Rock n Roll (book)

acetate disc); Ampex tape machines; a custom-made, fast,


peak limiter; and RCA, Shure, and Altec microphones. And
most significantly, the groundbreaking use of tape echo that
he christened slapback the defining sonic element of the
Sun Records sound.
This book is a complex history lesson. Its a vast and
sometimes meandering exploration into every aspect of
Phillips deep and complicated psyche, and his dynamic
relationship with virtually every musician, family member, and
business associate that was part of his life or under his spell.
Its a lot of information to take in (often too much), but the
challenge has a rewarding payoff. Sam Phillips impact on
history deserves such a thorough and accurate
documentation a monumental task that Peter Guralnick
pulls off brilliantly. This book is a must-read.
($15$32; www.littlebrown.com)
John Noll <www.facebook.com/estudio.ensenada.PR>

Edwards Audio
Research
LE-10 Mono & Stereo
tube preamps

Paul Edwards of Edwards Audio Research came to be a


manufacturer the honest way. That is, he needed a good mic
preamp for his vintage Altec 639A dynamic/ribbon mic, so he
set about to build one with some help from several highly
qualified audio engineers. He asked Bill Bruins to design the
LE-10 preamp, and David Tosh was later asked to design the
LE-10 circuit board. The LE-10 circuit employs Jensen
transformers alongside EF86 and 12AX7 tubes a time-tested
recipe which can be found in various arrangements in many
great preamps, including the venerable Telefunken V72 and
Abbey Road REDD.47.

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According to Sam Phillips, if you werent doing something


different, you werent doing anything at all. When he opened
his Memphis Recording Service in 1950, Phillips was looking
for a higher ground, for what I knew existed in the soul of
mankind. He ultimately found it, but it was a long and
complicated journey. In his deep, detailed, and thoroughly
researched biography of The Man Who Invented Rock n Roll,
Peter Guralnick leaves no stone untouched, revealing the
fascinatingly complex man who had an incalculable influence
on the development of rock n roll.
With several years of experience in radio, Sam Phillips was
already an accomplished engineer. But his little studio
struggled at first, artistically and financially. His first
breakthrough came in 1951, with the discovery of Howlin
Wolf, one of the deepest human beings he had ever
encountered. That same year, he cut what some consider to
be the first rock n roll record Rocket 88 by Jackie
Brenston and his Delta Cats. (The band was actually Ike Turner
and his Kings of Rhythm.) There was something captivating in
the rubbing sound of the guitarists blown speaker cone that
got Sam excited: It got my ear right off... it had such a
contagious feel, it had a sound like you had not heard before.
The single became a big hit on Chess Records and put Sam
Phillips on the map.
But of course, it was the discovery and nurturing of a shy
but flamboyant kid named Elvis Presley in 1954 that forever
changed Sam Phillips world and everyone elses. Phillips
had an innate sense that the kid had something, but couldnt
quite bring it out. Guralnick brings the reader into Sams

studio for the historic session, as Presley, along with guitarist


Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, almost accidentally fall
into uncharted territory with Thats All Right: It was the
very essence of everything Sam had dreamt of but was never
able to fully imagine. When Sam played it back for them, We
couldnt believe it was us, said Black. Scotty Moore said, We
thought it was exciting, but what was it? It was just so
completely different. The night after the session, Memphis DJ
Dewey Phillips played it on the air over and over. The response
was instantaneous. It became the first big hit for Sun Records
and changed Sam Phillips life.
The author presents a clear and honest perspective on how
the success of Elvis Presley enabled Phillips to rescue his
teetering Sun Records label by selling Presleys contract to
RCA in 1955, for a then astronomical sum of $35,000
(equivalent to $310,000 in 2016, adjusted for inflation). The
much needed windfall enabled Phillips to pay off debt,
purchase equipment, and develop other Sun artists to
remarkable success Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee
Lewis, Charlie Rich, etc. This period is the apex of Sam Phillips
career and the most enjoyable part of the book.
Theres an interesting parallel to Guralnicks definitive, twovolume Elvis Presley biography, Last Train to Memphis and
Careless Love. Like Presleys, there are two distinct phases of Sam
Phillips life story: the struggle, rise, and ultimate success of his
studio years; followed by the next 25 years, as the author refers
to the completely reconfigured character in his later,
retrospective period the preacher-like supernova of free
expression in tinted glasses, dyed red hair, and wolf man beard.
Tape Op readers will enjoy the brief insights into the
technical aspects, studio construction, and the equipment
Phillips used: v-shaped acoustic panels; 3 and 6channel
mixers; Presto lathes (the earliest recordings were cut to

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Peter Guralnick

Ultimate Ears Pro


UE Pro Reference Remastered
& UE Pro Sound Guard

Five years ago, I reviewed the original UE Pro Reference


Monitors [Tape Op #83], in-ear monitors (IEM) that were codeveloped with Capitol Studios. I liked these a lot and
continued to use them for on-the-road reference listening.
Along the way, these IEMs apparently gained more acceptance
with audiophiles than with pro recording folks, which is sort
of a shame but understandable; how often have you seen an
engineer pull out a pair of IEMs and insert them in his or her
ears instead of grabbing headphones? Never? I thought so.
Nowadays, Ultimate Ears Pro utilizes advanced laserscanning and 3D-imaging software and hardware (eFit Station,
developed by United Sciences), so while I was at the NAMM
Show earlier this year, I got my ears digitized. In the past,
getting ear molds made was claustrophobic and kinda gross,
and the process always made me nervous about possible ear
damage (I know, Im paranoid). Now we can avoid this trauma.
Laser-scanning is quicker, and the scans are kept on file for
future use if needed. Way cool.
My set of UE Pro Reference Remastered showed up quickly
in the mail, but after wearing them for a few hours, I realized
that the shape was causing the plugs from the headphone
cable to dig into my earlobes, causing me pain. I took some
photos and discussed the issue with the team at Ultimate
Ears Pro before returning my new IEMs, and magically, they
came back to me with a slightly different form and no
earlobe pain. Nice.
The difference in sound between the original UE Pro
Reference Monitors and the UE Pro Reference Remastered
version is not subtle. Whereas the original was quite forward

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low harmonic distortion of the above list, but the Edwards


preamp delivers. On a horn section recording, the LE-10 easily
handled close mics and room mics during both extremely loud
and very soft passages, and it delivered a clear, even tone at
all gain settings. In fact, I never found a gain setting that
sounded pushed or harmonically rounded off, which many tube
preamps tend to do when overdriven. I would guess this clarity
has to do with the transparent, low-ratio Jensen input
transformer, clean tube-gain, and Jensen output transformer.
This sound reminded me of the John Hardy M-1 the most,
which also employs Jensen transformers and a similar gain
structure (but realized with solid-state components). I would
describe the LE-10s sound as well-balanced, clean, and inyour-face but not hyped in any perceivable way.
I put both the LE-10 Mono and LE-10 Stereo to use
recording grand piano, horns, vocals, and electric bass with
solid, well-balanced results. Vocals and piano sounded
especially focused and clean, with all the harmonics evenly
represented, and no strident ranges nor any harmonic
smearing. On Fender bass, the DI input suited this bass very
well, which speaks to the high input-impedance of the DI. The
LE-10 produced an extended, clean, and solid low end,
retaining the instruments dynamics and punch throughout its
entire range.
All in all, these Edwards preamps hold company with some
of my favorite clean mic preamp designs. The controls allow
for a wide range of gain settings, and the gentle high-pass
filter provides a useful rumble filter so that the downstream
compressor is not overworked on p-pops and other vocal
plosives. Pricewise, the Edwards Audio Research LE-10 falls
nicely in line with other products of the same caliber. (LE-10
Mono $1,795 street, Stereo $2,495; www.edwardspreamp.com)
Adam Kagan <www.mixer.ninja>

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Both of the LE-10 preamp models sport a wood-like Formica


front panel, which hosts the switches for phantom power,
polarity, pad, and high-pass filter, as well as knobs for trim
and gain, along with 1/4 instrument inputs and large VU
meters. The rear panel houses XLR input and output
connectors as well as the vacuum tubes, which are covered by
metal shields. Mounting the tubes on the outside of the
chassis solves the problem of heat buildup inside a metal
chassis, so this 2RU-height unit can safely be racked with
other pieces of gear directly above and below it. The LE-10
uses an external line-lump power adapter and then steps up
the voltage internally to power the tubes.
Spec-wise, the Edwards preamp design is very quiet,
providing up to 64 dB gain and +24 dBu output. On the front
panel, overall gain is adjusted with a variable 10 dB input trim,
a separate gain pot, a 20 dB pad, and a +6 dB high/low gain
switch. All these controls make proper gain setting a breeze,
while maintaining flexible operation. I found the trim knob to
be very useful for attenuating the input signal during loud
passages and smoothly returning to my original settings during
normal volumes. The high/low gain switch can be engaged to
add 6 dB more tube gain by varying the negative feedback of
the circuit, but in my use, the low setting provided enough
amplification for almost all the sources I threw at it.
Sound-wise, the LE-10 presents sources solidly and clearly!
The frequency response is extremely flat from 10 Hz 50 kHz,
and the transient response is excellent not just for a tube
preamp, but for any preamp. Sonically, it reminds me of the
most well-mannered preamps out there. Its clarity, even tone,
and punch remind me of the John Hardy M-1, Millennia Media
HV-3, Avalon Design AD2022 [Tape Op #27], and new Tree
Audio Roots preamps. Not many preamps, tube or solid state,
can compete with the clarity, transient response, and extremely

tied to the display have RGB LEDs which align to the color of
the parameter or instrument displayed, so you always know
what you are selecting at a glance. Additionally, the 64 pads
are also RGB-based and offer the same dynamic color feedback.
Even with the default color-coding in the Live interface, its
incredibly useful and reassuring to have all of that color
feedback below your fingertips.
As I type this on my computers keyboard, a clear analogy
emerges for me. I cannot imagine using Live without the
Push 2 the two have become that closely tied together in
my Ableton workflow. So, Push 2 + Live to me is as
functionally joined as my keyboard is to this computer. Push,
especially now with this incredibly mature and evolved
version 2 hardware, is a fundamental interface.
Ive been gigging with, and occasionally producing, a cool
Afro-Cuban/Brazilianinfluenced funk and soul band called The
Tender Cinders, and my role in the band is largely to be the
weirdo keyboard and beats guy kind of like the Dr. Fink to
their Revolution, if youll forgive the analogy. (RIP, Prince.)
With this gig, I challenged myself to put Push and Live 9.5
front and center in my setup. To that end, I got a study stand
and case (Push owners, check out the Pelican 1495 attachstyle hard case!), then built a stage rig that rapidly evolved
over the course of two months of testing. Although I use a few
analog synths patched into Live via a USB interface, the
majority of the sounds generated for this groups stage
performance was coming from Live. And the set itself was
entirely managed and performed on the Push, because part of
my self-challenge was to never touch the computer during a
performance. (The machine used for testing was a fairly new
Retina MacBook Pro running macOS 10.11.)
I have to say, despite a few early hiccups traced back to
a faulty USB cable, this rig performed flawlessly. Ultimately,
I was running five virtual instrument tracks (a combination
of Arturia VSTs, customized Max for Live [Tape Op #76]
instrument racks, and a variety of other plug-ins for
processing), as well as two input tracks for my analog synths,
three stem-bus tracks with dynamics processing, three stereo
effects sends, blah, blah, blah. It was a fair amount of stuff
that was deliberately kept modest in scale so as to encourage
actual performance with Push as the instrument almost no
clip triggering. The best thing about the Push 2 in this regard
is that (beyond my initial offline set construction), I never
look at the computer while on stage, and yet never feel
disconnected from my music-making gear and software. Nor
do I feel lost the color coordination, UX, and icon-rich
display all keep things moving fast and flow-worthy.
New to Push 2 and Live 9.5 is a redesigned sampling
workflow. It manages to feel both brand-new and somehow
comfortably familiar, especially if youre familiar with slicing up
samples on an Akai MPC. Dragging a sound file (pre-edited
sample, or really any audio file) to an empty MIDI track via the
browser (or, you can record a sound source via an input channel
in Live), calls up the freshly overhauled Simpler instrument
as if Live just knew that you were wanting to sample that file.
Simpler, by the way, is Lives default go-to plug-in for easy
sampling just drag a sample into its Drop zone, set sample
playback and looping boundaries as necessary, and start
playing. This simple workflow allows you to work with your
sample in one of three modes: Classic (basic looped sample,
useful for melodic instrument creation), 1-Shot (monophonic,
spread out over the entire grid as pitches), or Slice (optimized
for drums and breaks). Each mode serves up a detailed, zoomable, live-scrolling waveform to the TFT display, with all of the
parameters for sound design and refinement right there via the

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and brash in the high and midrange frequencies, the UE Pro


Reference Remastered initially sounded a bit dull in
comparison. But just like studio monitors, the UE Pro Reference
Remastered version is something I got used to and quickly
appreciated. Yes, they are less brash, but the low end is clearer
and deeper, while the high-frequency drivers apparently are
now a bit softer in tone, but not lacking in detail. Swapping
between the pairs while listening to the same 96 kHz master
mixes, I could hear a huge difference in how sharp transients
on acoustic instruments were being presented; on the old UE
Pro Reference Monitors, there was a harshness, and sounds
would poke out, while the new pair was quite forgiving and
much more pleasant to listen to. Keep in mind that this was
on unmastered mixes that I had signed off on at Jackpot!, and
the mixes were not harsh on my ATC SCM25A monitors [Tape
Op #101] or my other speakers.
UE says, Proprietary True Tone Drivers extend the
frequency range and deliver a flat response to 18 kHz. I
think they are telling the truth, and this bodes well for UE
Pro Reference Remastered if they are shooting for more of the
audiophile crowd, as these Remastered IEMs are a nice listen
without losing any clarity in the high end. Im also happier
with this new version because the low end is so improved
that I know it will help me make decisions when I need to
use these. The bonus is that casual listening on long flights
and train rides will be a better experience too. And note one
thing: In the five years since the originals debuted, the cost
has not increased for this new version.
A fancy round metal case, cleaning tool, and 1/4
adapter are included, as is a UE Buffer Jack, which is a short
1/8 cable that you can use with airline entertainment
systems and other sources that expect a higher-impedance
load than IEMs generally offer (35 at 1 kHz for the UE
Pro Reference Remastered).
Ultimate Ears Pro also makes the UE Pro Sound Guard, a
small, plastic, battery-powered box that gives the listener
limiting protection against accidental spikes and also helps
match impedance for balanced armature-type IEMs like this
one. I doubt any recording engineers would need this device,
but for musicians who are playing live or tracking in the studio
with IEMs of this type, it could be an ear-saver.
(UE Pro Reference Remastered $999, UE Pro Sound Guard
$199; pro.ultimateears.com) LC

Ableton

Push 2 USB controller/instrument

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Whoa. Ableton has delivered a major upgrade/revision to


their innovative Push controller [Tape Op #97]. This new
version sports a ton of new features, including a vastly
improved display with enhanced mixing feedback, stellar new
sampling workflows, and much better pads and buttons.
Additionally, version 9.5 of Ableton Live [#95] introduces
many new improvements to all Live users Push, Push 2, or
no. But for this review, well concentrate mostly on the new
hardware and its ties to the world of Live.
Push 2 and its older sibling Push are unique hardware USB
controllers for Live, which is a flexible DAW application with an
uncommon focus on performance and composition. Push 2 has
an 88 grid of performance pads, as well as a number of
dedicated and customizable rotary encoders and buttons all
of which offer immediate, tactile access to Lives features,
without having to mouse around or even look at the computer.
There are two rows of eight buttons above and below the new
color TFT display, for controlling whichever instrument or
parameter is currently in focus on the display. These 16 buttons

88/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 90)

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/89

CME

Xkey mobile USB MIDI keyboard

Im a big fan of the iPad for virtual instruments, especially


soft-synths, and I use my iPad in the studio much more than
instrument plug-ins within my DAW. I like the at-your-fingertips
interface of the iPad, as well as the affordability and stability of
the many great-sounding synths available for it. I also love the
fact that you can pass it around the studio for people to play and
audition sounds. I will often end up creating a MIDI track that
sends to the iPad, but sometimes, I prefer tracking straight into
my DAW using the iPads headphone jack.
I had a Line 6 Mobile Keys 49 keyboard for my first-generation
iPad, but that product has been discontinued, and it wont work
with newer iPads that have Lightning ports. Until recently, Id
been using an IK Multimedia keyboard. I disliked its miniature
keys, but I couldnt find any iOS-compatible keyboards with fullsize keys to replace it. And then I saw the Xkey line while
attending a NAMM show.
Xkey is a unique product in that its not an exact
emulation of the standard piano keyboard, but rather its an
evolution of that keyboard format aimed at modern, digital
music-making. You might want to refer to photos on the CME
website after reading the following explanation. The spacing
and depth of Xkeys keys mirror those of a piano, but the
height of each key is lower (meaning less travel too), and
there are gaps between the keys. The white keys are about
1/8 high, the black keys are about 1/8 higher, and the gaps
are about 1/8 too. At first, this scheme seemed like it would
take some getting used to, but I felt like it would be better
than the mini keys which I really dislike. In practice, once I
started using my Xkey37 model, I found that my Im not
really a great keyboardist playing actually improved! I had
some piano training many years ago, but Im a half-ass
keyboardist at best, and I will occasionally hit a bunk note
here and there, requiring another take or editing of the MIDI
track. But, with Xkey, I was surprised to find that I hit fewer
bad notes! As a result, Ive now been using my Xkey37 as my
main MIDI controller more than my expensive MIDI controller
with piano keys and fancy wood trim!
The look of Xkey is very Mac-like, as it uses the same brushed
aluminum as a MacBook. Because of the lowered height of the
keys, the entire unit is very compact, with its total height being
about 5/8. The depth is only about 1/2 deeper than the actual
keys themselves. I opted for the larger three-octave Xkey37, but
they also make the original, two-octave, 25-key Xkey, which
should fit in any gig bag, backpack, or courier bag.
Xkey relies on a Micro-USB port for both connectivity and
power, which is great if youre using it with a laptop. With an
iPad, you need either a Lightning to USB cable (like the Apple
Lightning to USB Camera Adapter), or the 30-pin USB adapter
from the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit depending on
your iPad model. When I initially connected my Xkey37
through my Camera Connection Kit adapter, there was not
enough power from the iPad to power the Xkey37. But I bought
an inexpensive Lightning to USB cable on eBay for $6, and the
Xkey37 worked fine with that. I tested my Xkey37 with all my
favorite iPad synths, like Animoog, SampleTank,
WaveGenerator, iVCS3, and several Arturia ones, and it worked
perfectly, with no discernible latency. Depending on the app
and how it implements MIDI, it was plug and play on most of
the apps, while the rest needed to see Xkey in some kind of
MIDI setup screen. Xkeys velocity sensitivity and polyphonic
aftertouch were very responsive and felt natural in the patches
that responded to them. The drain on the iPads battery
seemed very minimal, almost unnoticeable.

gr

Speaking of buttons, Push 2 has the best ones.


Thats it. Thats all. Ableton wins. At the Button Show,
they took First Big Super-Prize for Buttons. Seriously,
out of the many pad-based controllers Ive used, even
the Akai MPC controllers cant beat the new Push in
terms of pad sensitivity, response, and well, feel. The
new pads do not protrude as high as the old ones, and
despite the tight clearances, they dont feel restricted
whatsoever, just incredibly expressive. Additionally,
the RGB colors throughout the pads and buttons are
brighter and richer than on the original Push, with
each track color in Live corresponding to its respective
buttons and encoders across the interface. Alas, this
means youll really want to run the new unit with the
dedicated wall-wart power supply (included) plugged
in. Although Push 2 can conceivably be powered via
USB alone, in my testing, the screen and LEDs were so
dim when bus-powered that they were only visible
when all the lights were off in my studio.
So, should you upgrade? Well, this is a pricy bit of
kit, but for me, the creativity, expression, and endless
composition and performance possibilities all add up
to a firm, Hell yes! Its clear that this new Push 2
wasnt just a product of superficial renovation, or a
series of tacked-on features. This is a thorough and
careful redesign of an instrument that already was a
game-changer (and still has a lot of life in it, even in
its first iteration). Ableton has improved on an
already-irresistible instrument, and in doing so, has
made it an essential one. Im in.
($799; www.ableton.com)
Dana Gumbiner <www.danagumbiner.com>

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encoders. Its fast, fun, and (in keeping with most things
Ableton) cleanly designed.
Push 2s new, full-color, hi-res TFT display is beautiful,
and the mixing workflows it supports are stellar. Its a huge
step up from the dot-matrix LCD of the original Push, and
its capable of conveying information to a far clearer
depth. At any given point during a set or a sound-design
session, you can use it to gauge levels or adjust sends,
returns, solos, mutes, fades, etc. True, you could (rather,
can) do the same with the first-generation Push, but the
visual feedback presented on the new, bright and clear,
color display is indispensable.
Other changes to hardware are just as significant. Each
encoder is still touch-sensitive, but the tactile feedback
seems more refined, and the control layout has been tweaked
in thoughtful ways for improved ergonomics and ease of use.
One huge improvement tied to both the encoders and the
display is the new browser on Push you now have wellorganized and clear access to all of your sets, sounds, and
yes, third-party plug-ins and sample libraries too. Browsing,
instantiating, and controlling instruments and effects is
mostly an intuitive and logical sequence of actions, but I did
find that navigation through deeply-nested racks can get a
shade perplexing at times, at least until I got accustomed to
the new browsing paradigms. Understanding the relationship
between the upper and lower rows of color-coded displayselection buttons is key. Fortunately, the simple color cues
and consistent layout are, again, logical and helpful; and
colors correspond to tracks. A word about shortcuts there
are definitely many hidden gems involving the Shift and
Select buttons on Push as modifiers to other functions, so
occasional deep dives into the manual will perpetually reveal
new shortcuts available directly on the hardware.

90/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(continued on page 92)

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Profile

I gotta love it to work on it - life is


too short to mess with bad music.

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Last album listened to: Hard Luck Guy by Eddie Hinton


Last movie watched: The Wizard of Oz
Last book read: Koudelka: Gypsies
Best Studio Lunch: Bros Cajun Kitchen
My greatest accomplishment:
Staying married for 33 years
Most recent accomplishment:
Just played The Kennedy Center with
Robert Plant and Alison & Victor Krauss.
The Retro 176 is the ulitmate compressor
that had been living in my imagination.
It always stays patched in on the vocal chain.

-Buddy Miller (Robert Plant,


ABC Nashville, Patty Griffin)

www.retroinstruments.com

Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/91

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Note that the larger Xkey37 model, in addition to its Micro-USB port,
includes a proprietary Xport connector and a breakout cable, with 5-pin
DIN for MIDI output and two 1/4 cables for sustain and expression. CME
also makes 25 and 37key wireless Xkey Air Bluetooth versions. I did not
test these, but latency is claimed to be only a tad higher than the wired
versions. I should also note that Xkey not only works with macOS and
iOS apps, but Windows and Android are also supported. (Xkey Air requires
a WIDI BUD accessory for Windows and Android.) XKey Plus is a
configuration app that is available for macOS, iOS, and Windows. It can
change a whole bunch of internal settings, even allowing the velocity
curve to be redrawn, and it updates the firmware as needed.
The only downside to Xkey is that it lacks wheels for pitch-bend
and modulation, instead relying on switches for these functions.
Depending on the patch youre playing, and how the patch and Xkey
are set up, these buttons can work fine, but you just dont have the
same expressiveness that you do with a dedicated wheel or lever. But,
this feels like a very minor quibble for a keyboard that fits into any
backpack and is USB bus powered.
If all my talk about Xkeys compactness has you thinking it might be
kind of flimsy, youd be wrong. This keyboard feels very solid and wellbuilt, much more so than a lot of competitors products. My only slight
concern is for the long-term reliability of the Micro-USB sockets, but
those are an industry standard outside of Apple-land, and a necessary
evil in small form-factors. The upside is that no wall wart is needed!
Overall, Ive gotta give kudos to CME for rethinking the portable
MIDI controller and coming up with the best music keyboard for iOS
that Ive used to date. My other iOS-compatible keyboard is sadly
destined for eBay. Minor issues with the pitch-bend and modulation
switches aside, I dont think youll find a better keyboard for the iPad.
Moreover, the ease of accurately playing the low-profile keys makes
Xkey a serious contender for your main MIDI keyboard controller too!
(Xkey $99.99 street, Xkey37 $199.99; www.cme-pro.com) JB

92/Tape Op#115/Gear Reviews/(Fin.)

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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/93

Margo Price
Chris Staples Golden Age
Midwest Farmers Daughter The home studio can be a confusion of what ifs for many musicians. Should I try this virtual
string program? Maybe Ill layer tons of instruments to build this chorus up. Can I do 100
vocal takes? The options can seem endless in this digital age, and at times can become
pointless when the music doesnt hold up to some bedroom-style, kitchen sink production. But
records like Chris Staples Golden Age, made at home in a very simple manner, transcend any
recording scenario with great songs, performances, and arrangements. Instruments include a
nice variety, with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, piano, drums, strings, and keys. The
album is melancholy, yet positive, and feels like it looks forward to the future. As Chris has
stated, Its really easy to idealize an earlier time in your life, but its not useful. It can be a
trap that keeps you from finding new good things to live for. Golden Age is about that myth
we carry around. The myth of our past being idyllic. I dont want to waste any more time
dwelling on it. The album was written and recorded by Chris from November 2015 to February
2016 in Seattle, Washington, at his home setup known as Hot Tub Studios. During recording,
It rained nearly the entire time, he observes in the liner notes.

What do you record to?


Im currently using [Apple] Logic X on a nice big iMac. Ive been using a MOTU UltraLite
interface for years. I got it for $200 on Craigslist. MOTU keeps making legacy drivers for
these, so it keeps working flawlessly as I update my OS. I could get a nicer A/D converter,
but it seems to be doing the job well.

Where is your recording setup located?

What mics do you use?

gr

I have a garage that Ive turned into a personal studio. Its a cave-like place with no windows,
so its easy to lose track of time in there. Its not totally soundproof, so sometimes
environmental sounds can creep into the recordings. Ive recorded in so many alternative
spaces over the years that Ive come to embrace the random bird chip, someone doing
dishes, or a car going by. In mediums like film, the environmental sounds are crucial. I like
to think of song recording the same way. I have a good selection of acoustic instruments,
percussion, and an electric bass setup. I track most things myself, but occasionally Ill have
a friend over to play some parts. My friend, Stephen Baldock, is a great bass player; he came
over and did some stand-up and electric bass on this new record.

ho
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I have been using a pair of Shure KSM137s on acoustic guitars lately. I mostly use a Shure
KSM32 on vocals. I love this mic and Ive been using it for years. It has pretty smooth highend for a cheaper mic. Sometimes I record vocals and acoustic at the same time using
the KSM32. It takes a little time to get the vocals and guitar balanced, but what you wind
up with is a nice performance with no phase issues. I did most of the vocals and acoustics
together this way on my previous album, American Soft. I tend to use as few mics as
possible these days. I just got an Audio-Technica AT8004 dynamic, omnidirectional mic. It
has a low output, so when you crank it, it adds a little bit of noise, which I dont mind.
For vocals, with the low rolled off a bit, it has a really nice image that doesnt sound like
any mic Ive ever owned.

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This record has been getting a lot of press


and deservedly so. Its a great sounding LP
of timeless, classic country music. Released
on Jack Whites [Tape Op #82] Third Man
Records, much of the discussion about the
album has been around how engineer/producer
Matt Ross-Spang met Margo and invited her into
the studio and recorded the album in three days. We
all love a warm and fuzzy success story like this, so we
thought wed give Matt a call and find out more about how the album
was tracked and mixed.
We did the record back in 2014, at Sun Studios [in Memphis, TN], and did three
days of tracking. You cant start tracking at Sun until about 6:30 pm [as its open for
tours], so we didnt start set up til then. Wed go til about 2 or 2:30 in the morning
each day. I worked at Sun for 11 years, and I was always wanting to track live on the
floor with no headphones, which is what we did for Margos record. Looking back, that
record is one of my fondest memories from working there. You know how on any
session you might catch lightning in a bottle on one or two songs? On this record it
felt like we got that on every song.
The album was tracked onto a RADAR system at 96 kHz with their Classic 96
analogue I/O cards. The sound of the record defies the stereotype that digital
recording is sterile and harsh sounding.
Yeah its funny that we used RADAR, because people know me as The Tape Guy,
but RADAR sounds great. We only used about 12 tracks total for the live tracking. I
printed most of my effects like distortion, delay, and reverb to RADAR and just
committed to them.
The primary gear used for tracking the record was a solid-state Studer 904
broadcast console and a pair each of Spectra Sonics Model 610 and M-610
Complimiters.
I was just learning about the Spectra Sonics gear back then, so Id move the 610s
around and put them on my main tracks as needed. Since then, Ive been using Spectra
Sonics gear a lot, and I just bought the old 12 channel Ardent [Studios, Tape Op #58]
Spectra Sonics desk that Led Zeppelin III was mixed on, and all the Big Star records
were done on, as well as one of my all-time favorite songs, The Staple Singers, Ill Take
You There. The M-610s have so much gain that you can use them as mic preamps, so
those got used on some of the drums. The vocals were mostly tracked live on the floor,
with a Shure SM7, or an RCA 77, going into the Studer desk and then one of the 610s
or an [Urei] 1176 for compression. The drum mics were primarily an old Elvis Shure
Model 556s on the kick and an Altec M11 bottle mic on overhead, although I
occasionally added a spot mic on the snare or floor tom if the song needed it.
One of the things that struck me when I heard the album was the amazing
sounding string parts. Turns out these were a bit tricky to record.
That was the last day of tracking, and we had three string players. I made a stereo
bounce of the basic tracks and recorded two passes of the string players, one with
ribbon mics and one with condensers. I had a mic on each player, plus a stereo room
mic, so five tracks for each pass. Then I did a stereo submix of the string tracks and
imported that back into the main RADAR session.
After the sessions at Sun, Matt exported the tracks to wave files and gave a copy
to co-producer Alex Munoz, who did a few backing vocal and percussion overdubs
back in Nashville. The session re-convened in Memphis at Ardent, where Matt
transferred the files into Pro Tools and mixed the record in three days.
The mix was pretty straight ahead, but I did end up using the Ardent chambers
which sound great along with some plate reverbs. The delays were all from my Fulltone
Tube Tape Echo or an Ampex 350. I did a lot of automation in Pro Tools, to ride levels,
and also did some analog processing. Ardent had an SSL G and I wanted to use the bus
compressor, but it didnt sound quite right until I put the 610 before it. Then it hit the
sweet spot, as the SSL worked better with the 610 doing its thing first. I also ran the
bass through an Altec 436 and the strings through a Fairchild 670.
The final mix went back into Pro Tools, and mastering was done by John Baldwin
at John Baldwin Mastering. Nice work by all involved! <margoprice.net> -JB

94/Tape Op#115/Music Reviews/

If thats not a real piano, it sounds real


Well, the piano you are hearing is the Mellow Upright Bosendorfer from the Nord Piano Library.
My piano buddy, Daniel Walker, has several uprights. We tried them all, and that Nord patch
sounded so great that I chose it over real pianos.

Any special outboard gear?


I bought the Sytek MPX-4Aii (4-channel preamp) based on reviews I read on the Tape Op
message board years ago. Its hands down the most important piece of recording gear Ive
ever purchased. I love recording drums and guitars with it it is so realistic sounding. Also
I have a Universal Audio 6176 Vintage Channel Strip that I bought from Minus the Bear,
and its great too. I like having a pre with some EQ options on it its nice to roll some
low off before it hits the compressor.

How did you learn to self-record?


I got a Tascam cassette 4-track when I was 16 and started messing around with that. I grew
up going to a large, old Baptist church. They gave me keys to the building, so I was always
up there late at night recording music with my friends. Ive tried to get the most out of
simple gear while making full band productions with limited tracks. It taught me to use my
ears. I would say mic placement is the most important skill Ive developed over the years,
and its still an important aspect of my productions. In the last ten years Ive read a lot of
Tape Op and watched YouTube to get new ideas; there are so many resources now for the
young recordist.

Did you mix this on your own?


Yes, I mix all my own music. Im always doing subtractive EQ and adjustments in
the tracking phase, so when its time to mix its mostly already done. I usually
automate vocals to come up and down in the songs, and I automate reverbs to
come in and out.

Did you do the mastering?


This record was mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI Mastering in Seattle [Tape Op #39].
Hes since taken over that mastering house and its called Resonant Mastering
now. I was glad I passed this record off to him definitely worth it. He monitors
at such a low level, which is something I need to start doing. I have a bad habit
of monitoring really loud because its just so much fun. When he was mastering
I wanted him to crank it in that nice room with those big speakers, but I stayed
out of his way! Hes great, and I would use him again.

How do you budget time between a day job and making an


album?
It hasnt been easy. For the past year I started working for myself and thats made
it way more manageable. I build furniture and do carpentry-related projects in
Seattle. Its flexible, so I can take off to play a show or spend a few days
recording if I need to. I tend to take small carpentry projects I can finish in less
than a week, and I try to stay away from projects that will take weeks or months.

Do you generally record more songs than will fit on an


album, or is it a concise set of songs to begin with?
I start by making demos. I can tell which ones are weak, and which ones will be
worth recording. The not-so-good ideas never really get developed, and the ones
that make it through several iterations of recording are what become the album.
There are not any extras at the end of the album-making process.

ho
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Andrew Joslyn is a Seattle-based composer and string arranger. He does the


Passenger String Quartet, which writes and performs string arrangements for
artists like Dave Bazan and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I basically sent him the
vocal and guitar that I tracked, and he did his thing on it. I really didnt give
him any direction. He gave me some good advice for mixing it though. The string
section is 16 tracks, some violin and some viola. I took the first four tracks and
panned one hard left, one hard right, and two just off-center. I imagined four
violinists sitting in a semi-circle in front of me. I did the same panning scheme
for the next four tracks, but I took those four tracks and made them a tenth of
a second late. The idea is that the second set of four strings suggests a row of
chairs behind the first set. I followed this pattern for the rest of the tracks.
Although Andrew recorded all 16 of these tracks himself, I was able to represent
them as a string section in a more classic sense.

gr

The strings on the song Park Bench sound so good. How


did you approach recording them?

Is it easier to stay inside recording when it rains for


months on end?

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Yes, absolutely. I make records in the rainy season, and I cancel my Netflix
subscription during this time.
<www.chrisstaplesmusic.com> <www.barsuk.com> -LC

Music Reviews/(Fin.)/Tape Op#115/95

End Rant continued from page 98 >>>

ENAK MIC REPAIR. CLARENCE KANE.


RCA - 35 years, Enak Mic 24 years

856-589-6186 609-636-1789
WWW.ENAKMIC.COM ENAKMIC@COMCAST.NET

(7) Heres an open suggestion to Apple: Release a Pro version of macOS that caters to the people who helped
build the Apple brand before you made iPhones, and go back to allowing users some control over the OS, such as
deleting apps and choosing when, and if, they want to upgrade. According to Andy Hong: Windows 10 also forces
OS updates on you unless you have Windows 10 Professional. But thats the beauty of Windows there is a Pro
version, and you can set it up exactly how youd like. The built-in admin tools for the Pro version provide every bit
of tweaking that you could ever imagine, including how and when you want to receive updates (or not). And there

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MCI and MCI/Sony Analog Service


Subscription from Steve Sadler:
ex MCI/Sony Senior Service Eng.

gr

REPAIR AND REFURBISH ANY TYPE RIBBON


MICROPHONE. WE USE AUTHENTIC RCA RIBBON
MATERIAL.WE ALSO UPGRADE LESS EXPENSIVE
MICS WITH RCA RIBBON MATERIAL AND
LUNDAHL TRANSFORMERS.

ho
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RIBBON MICROPHONE REPAIRS

It pains me to write this, as I loved my old Macs. Apple has done some amazing industrial
design work, and made computers easy for people to use. At its peak, the Mac was brilliantly
easy to use, versatile, and able to adapt to different needs and workflows. Without Apple, I
probably would not have learned the graphic design skills I have. Mac was the computer for
creative professionals for many years. I feel like thats in the past now. Macs are clearly not
machines for professionals any longer, and are likely to become even less professional in the
coming years(7), which is why I hope to be Apple-free in two years time.(8)
When I wrote the Hammer editorial a few years ago, I briefly mentioned RADAR (from iZ
Technology) and how I was attracted to it for its focused simplicity. Since then, RADARs
capabilities have expanded, and you can now run most major DAWs on it, albeit in a Windows
environment. I ended up buying a RADAR Studio system, and I am currently running Pro Tools
on it. It is much, much faster than my Mac Pro and Mac Mini, and much more stable. Also, iZs
tech support is world class. In a word, the system is professional. Ive had to learn the Windows
environment, which was a bit intimidating at first, but I have to say, its not that difficult. Its
been far less frustrating to deal with my Windows move than my recent Mac issues. Our resident
Gear Geek, Andy Hong, has been singing the praises of PC-based DAWs for years now. Well Andy,
Im listening. You can put together a very fast and stable Windows recording setup for much
less money than a Mac system. With turnkey rigs like RADAR and Sweetwaters Creation Stations,
you have a customized platform for music recording thats still an off-the-shelf solution with
great tech support. Im sure Windows has issues too, but from what I can tell, you can choose
an earlier OS version, its easier to customize the OS, and you have more control over the
upgrade process. After multiple software installations in the past few months on both macOS
and Windows, I can attest that installations are much easier on Windows than on macOS.
Consider this a call to action for audio professionals and software developers. Lets
collectively support the alternatives to Mac by considering Windows, Linux, or other platforms.
Its the only way well be able to set up recording systems that work the way we want them to.
Most major DAWs will run on Windows, with the exception of Apple Logic (which has become
much less professional anyway(9)). My RADAR is running Pro Tools 12.4 and Ableton Live, with
plug-ins and virtual instruments from all major vendors, including UAD, Eventide, Soundtoys,
Sonnox, Valhalla, PSP, Audio Ease, and Arturia.
Bye bye, Apple. I really will miss you.
JB

rm

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on all MCI and MCI/Sony Product.
E-mail: mcijh@aol.com Phone: 615-242-0599

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New Subscribers: $200.00. Re-newal $150.00.


($25 discount for Tape-Op readers)

hl

Rainbow Electronics
5800 Madison Avenue, Ste. G
Sacramento, CA 95841
916-334-7277
www.rainbowelectronics.net

Specialists in repairs of professional and consumer audio equipment


from vintage tube to modern digital multi-track technology.

We service most major brands in or out of warranty.


Manufacturer of the Warmenfat Micro Amp.

96/Tape Op#115/Johns End Rant/(continued from page 98)

are several reputable online communities of actual IT professionals (not just genius iPhone jockeys) offering truly
useful guidance and advice.
(8) Except for my iPad. I love the iPad as a stable platfrom (despite the frustrating forced updates) for

consumption (Netflix, web browsing, etc.), and I love some of the software instruments (soft synths, drum machines)
for the iPad as well. I think computers need to be divided into two categories moving forward: computers for making
things (professionals), and computers for consuming content (consumers).
(9) Before you get mad at me for this statement, I think Logic is a great compositional tool, albeit one that
pushes users towards presets; but it is not as good as Ableton Live. I do have to give credit to Apple for making

such a deep, full-featured DAW available for $200.

gr
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The Panoramic House is the ultimate VRBO for musicians. A live-in residential studio in West Marin, CA
overlooking the Pacific Ocean with API & Neve consoles, 2 tape, Pro Tools HD, and an echo chamber.
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Please Support Our Advertisers/Tape Op#115/97

My most recent
(and hopefully last) Apple computer purchase was a
brand new Mac Mini, which I bought to have as a
backup machine in case our main Mac Pro tower
developed problems.(4) Out of the box, this machine
was running macOS 10.11 El Capitan. After I
installed new versions of the two DAWs we support,
a text message from my wife appeared on the Macs
screen, reminding me to pick up some avocados at
the market. This was after I had entered the
minimum amount of personal information possible
during the setup process, since this was a work machine that lots
of people coming through my studio would be using. I wanted my personal
info to be inaccessible, and for the system to be as stripped down as possible.
Id already deleted all the messaging, mail, photo, and social-networking apps
from the dock. After getting the text message, I figured Id better delete the
apps entirely. But upon trying to so, I got the message stating that the
application cant be modified or deleted because its required by OS X. What?
Why cant I delete an app I dont need or want? I called Apple, and they
confirmed you cannot delete the apps. (5)

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Eventually, I had to make the switch to OS X in order to collaborate with


the rest of the world, so I bought a new Mac that was supposedly four or five
times faster than my old dual-boot Mac on OS 9. Our layout software in OS X
was finally less buggy, and it ran at about the same speed as the OS 9 version.
Note that it was not running four or five times faster, nor were there any new
features. By buying a faster, brand new computer, I was finally acquiescing to
using Apples latest OS, yet achieving a net performance gain of zero.
Earlier this year, OS X was rebranded macOS (to better align with Apples
iWorld-centric vision). Im currently running four macOS versions 10.5,
10.8, 10.9, as well as the newest El Capitan 10.11 spread across six
different Macs. I need the older versions to open archived sessions, as well as
to ensure that I have a stable recording platform for my clients. During the
recent upgrade process mentioned earlier, our main DAW was repeatedly
getting error messages in the middle of recording, and we lost performances as
a result. This is clearly not a professional situation. Stability is of the utmost
importance in any professional recording environment.(2) Every time any
software changes, there is a risk of a once stable system no longer functioning
properly, no matter how carefully installations are performed, and no matter
what the various software vendors tell you.(3) Its important for professionals
to be able to choose when and how they upgrade their software tools. With
macOS, this is getting more and more difficult to do, and this is the main
reason I want to leave the Mac ecosystem.
Apples current business strategy seems to be based on iCloud integration
and near constant upgrades. This may work fine for iPhones, but its a recipe
for disaster when the one thing you need the most from your software
environment is stability. Im mostly addressing forced software upgrades, but
lets also consider cloud-based software. How many times a day does your
network connection slow down, disappear, or need the router unplugged and
reset? Granted, for some types of workflow (e.g., commercial production
studios with collaborators all over the world), cloud-based workflow is a
godsend but in these cases, business-class internet service with higher
speeds is usually in place. Being forced to utilize an internet connection is
certainly not a welcome or safe choice for the rest of us, who are simply
making records and capturing performances.

by John Baccigaluppi

gr

Several years ago, I wrote an End Rant [Tape Op #102] about my


frustration with software upgrades, and how I wanted a stable recording
platform. I received a surprising amount of positive emails from the piece and
even exchanged dialogue with a few music software developers. After
spending the last three months on an upgrade of my main DAW with
mixed results I feel like Im back inside the belly of the beast.
But while inside, I had a bit of an epiphany: I want to migrate
away from Apple Inc.s OS within the next two years.
Ive been a Mac user since I bought my first Macintosh
Plus in 1988. It ran on System 6. I recall the next System 7
being a great update. Im a bit hazy on 1997s rebranded
Mac OS 8, but Mac OS 9 was a very solid operating system.
I bought a new Mac right when OS X came out, and I
upgraded the software we use to do page layout for Tape Op. Doing
layout on OS X was so insanely buggy and slow, that I had to revert
back to OS 9. Luckily, my new Mac was a dual-boot system, and I more
or less stayed on OS 9 for three more years.(1)

ho
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Give Me A Hammer, Part 2

hl

(1) I actually still have that OS 9 machine, and I boot it up every few months, as it has a few
font and design apps that never made it to OS X.
(2) Keep in mind that most recording sessions start around noon and go to midnight or later,
and most studios work weekends. Tech support lines (if you even have a support option and can
reach a human being) tend to be open 9 to 5, weekdays only.
(3) I think that software environments have become so complex and intertwined that, no
matter how much beta testing is done, its impossible for any software company to ensure that
its new upgrade will work perfectly with your other existing software and hardware
components. I recently heard of a situation at a tech startup where two identical Mac laptops
were reacting differently to a piece of software, despite having the exact same hardware, OS,
and software installed.

98/Tape Op#115/Johns End Rant/(continued on page 96)

After this experience, and having several engineers I respect note that El
Capitan sucks for audio and that macOS 10.9 is the most stable for music, I
decided to take my Mac Mini into my third-party Apple repair shop, have them
delete El Capitan, install 10.9, and start over. But it turns out this an
impossibility, as the Mac Minis current firmware will not work with earlier
macOS versions, ensuring that you cannot make the choice of which OS youd
like to run.(6) I guess macOS is designed for one way of doing things: the way
that Apple wants you to. Get used to it, or get off their platform.

<<<Turn to the previous page


to finish this article

(4) My main studio is pretty remote and isolated; I need an immediate backup if something
goes wrong.
(5) I realize I needed to create a separate user-account, and did end up doing this, but my
preference would be to delete the apps I dont need and not have the computer automatically tap
into my phone and contacts.
(6) If youre reading this and wondering what you can do if you want to run an earlier version
of OS X on a Mac Mini, you should consider finding an older quad-core Mac Mini, and verify that it
will run the OS you need. The newer Mac Mini models do not have a quad-core option.

gr

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The Creative Music Recording Magazine

Extra Bonus
Articles:

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Rob Chiarelli &


Chandler Bridges
Behind the Gear at Gauge

Bradley Studios
& The Nashville Sound

Bob Ferbrache

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Denvers Denizen

Bonus

No.

Sept/Oct

115

2016

Behind
The
Gear
This Issues Masters of Mics

Rob Chiarelli & Chandler Bridges


of Gauge Precision Instruments by Larry Crane

CB: Imagine a huge table, just covered in mics. Thats


just too fun.

You had to listen to every one?

CB: Yes. That was part of our plan. We didnt want to


sell a mic that didnt sound great.
RC: Every one of our mics is still checked by a platinum
engineer. Not the ECM-80 handheld live mic, but all
our studio mics. It makes it more expensive, but we
feel like its worth it.

I think the business model is really


interesting. Its still not distributed
through typical routes; its just
direct.

CB: When someone asks to distribute our mics, they


always want to double the price. They want us to
raise the price to $300 to give them some room to
make more money on it, which is the opposite of
why we started the company. We still sell the ECM87 for $149. I think its our home run mic, and its
just a hair over our actual cost. I think its one of
the most incredible mics you will ever hear.

RC: So we ordered a dozen of these mics. Some of them


For years Rob Chiarelli and
sounded good and some of them didnt. We just had
Chandler Bridges have worked,
to figure out why.
together and separately, producing
and engineering records for the likes CB: Yeah, the first mic that we made was the Gauge
ECM-87. We put a lot of thought into how we could
of Will Smith, Madonna, Pink, Janet
make a great mic at a good price, bring it to market,
Jackson, J-Lo, Christina Aguilera, Pand who we were making it for. As the idea started
Diddy (Puff Daddy), Aaliyah, and
Large-diaphragm condenser, I assume?
to develop, we realized that people have a horrible
Johnny Mathis. Along the way they
CB: Large-diaphragm condenser, and transformer-less.
selection of mics at home, or they have a [Shure
decided to start selling microphones
Weve got samples on our website where you can
SM]57 and use it for everything. Im not saying to
and more. Why? We had to know!
compare microphones, and we include information

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them, we had to sort out what the problems were.


We changed components, wanted a different
capsule design...
CB: And we also incorporated everything anybody was
upgrading through forums and do-it-yourself mod
kits into our plan. That was an interesting process.
RC: It did take a while. And once we got objective
feedback from friends, we decided to order a few
more. We sold a few, and then gave a few more away.
CB: Rob is good friends with Michael Laskow, from
TAXI.com. They have that incredible, once a year,
Road Rally conference. Its fantastic, with all these
breakout classes and lots of information. My wife,
Tara, and I set up a booth, and thats when we
started selling the microphones.

Selling direct?

rm

CB: We sold them, at our cost, to any of the TAXI


members, as a perk. It was fun. Tara and I were
If theyre buying mics to use, just for
looking for something exciting and new to do. I
lead vocals or drum overheads, how
dont know how many we ordered on the first run...
many times are they going to use it
RC: They were gone, and quick.
in a year compared to a commercial
CB: We sold out the first or second day and took some
facility?
pre-orders. It started from there. Those were the
CB: Thats exactly why we started with the largefirst sales we made. Weve never sold through stores.
diaphragm condenser. We wanted to offer
RC: Its all been word of mouth. About a year ago we
something that was versatile. I dont know about
sent a survey to all of our clients. One of the
you, but if I only had one or two microphones in my
questions was, How did you hear about us? About
collection I would want something I could put on
80 percent was word-of-mouth. That really said a
an acoustic guitar, percussion, overheads, piano,
lot. I think one of the things that helped, when we
and definitely use on vocals.
first started, is that Chandler and I listened to every
RC: Yeah. Dont get me wrong. I love a [Neumann] U
mic that came in, testing them. Were like, This one
47 tube, a [AKG] C12, [Telefunken ELA M] 251s, and
sucks. Send it back. This ones great. This ones
[Neumann] U 67 mics as much as the next guy. But
good. It was actually fun to do.
not everybody can shell out that kind of dough.

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RC: My son was about ten years old and he started


playing the drums. I figured Id put his drums in the
garage, get some mics, and mic it up in case I
wanted to do some demos at home. I didnt want to
spend $10,000 on mics, so I went to a well-known
music store and asked the opinion of the
salespeople. I spent a couple of grand, and the mics
sounded horrible. I took them back and tried a
different brand. Horrible again. I couldnt believe
what they were selling, and couldnt believe how
much they cost. Just by chance I was in the studio
with a producer friend of mine; he was using this
unknown microphone, and it sounded really great. I
wrote down the name of it and told Chandler about
it.
CB: Rob and I had been working together for about ten
years, at this point. We were in studios about 300
days a year and had access to world-class
microphones. We had bought a matched pair of very
expensive mics from a well-known manufacturer, but
they didnt sound all that great. We had this idea
that we would share our mics with each other when
we recorded at home.
RC: Which we never did, by the way.
CB: Well, no, because the mics didnt sound all that
great. Then we heard these mics and they totally
beat the thousand-dollar mics we had bought. I
tracked down the manufacturer and found out they
were manufactured in China. I thought, My iPhone
and my Mac are made in China, so I figured that
not all Chinese products are bad. But it was more a
matter of better quality control, which company is
making it, and how you handle your business.

about how those tests were run. In blind tests,


again and again, people pick our mics over some
well-known brands. When its $150, compared to
$1,000 or $2,000 Rob used to say, Save your
money and take your family on a vacation.
RC: I remember when I was 21. I still remember scraping
together a few dollars to buy a set of strings. I
remember those days well. And today, musicians are
getting killed. They [often] have to pay to play, and
its getting harder and harder to find venues that will
pay a decent fee for a band. Here you are, you want
to make a good demo and record your songs. In the
end, youre looking at spending a couple of grand for
a mic while youre scraping to pay rent. Thats a hard
decision, and I remember those days. With all the
technology thats available today, with Pro Tools,
Logic, millions of plug-ins, and tons of different mics
to choose from theres so much. A lot of the gear is
really good these days, but I think it must be hard for
someone to make that choice to spend $1,500 on a
mic when they need the money for rent.

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get rid of that; but it would also be nice to have a

mic that sounds incredible, that sounds like a


Rob, youve got a career as an engineer
thousand dollar mic.
and producer. How did you get
RC:
That came later though. First, when we got
involved in a microphone company?

102/Tape Op#115/Mr. Chiarelli & Mr. Bridges/

And theres no way to even replicate Do you offer money back if


those without spending a lot of
purchasers dont like the mics for
money in manufacturing.
some reason?
RC: Right. I do a lot of seminars every year. The truth
is my voice through a U 47 is not going to sell as
many records as Paul McCartneys voice through an
SM57. Theres this balance that I think gets lost in
the sales talk and the amount of misinformation
that people get these days. Its hard to see through
the fog sometimes.
CB: In the record business, the whole art is about using
your ears and listening. Its tough to balance. For
example, how do you record an acoustic guitar?
People will give you their opinions, but really its a
combination of the acoustics, mic, the type of the
guitar, and so on.
RC: The style of playing, the player, the instrument.

RC: Thirty days. If you dont like it, send it back. Just
make sure its not banged up or dented.
CB: Over the last eight years weve only had one ECM47 returned, and only a few ECM-87s.

What was the next product? Did you go


to a small-diaphragm, at that point?

in about four hours. Since then, its been


backordered. The family is still trying to fill orders and
keep up. And we also have the ECM-80 handheld,
dynamic live vocal mic, which is awesome.
CB: Wed done a live mic, the ECM-58, before. Then
we thought, You know, were really studio guys,
so we discontinued the 58. We thought we could
make something better. Thats why the ECM-80
came out.

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CB: Everybody wanted it, so we went through the same What kind of ideas went into the
making of that?
process with our ECM-84 kit.
RC: We wanted to offer it with omni and cardioid RC: We wanted very low handling noise, better
feedback rejection, and a clearer sound. Those were
patterns, so we spent a lot of time designing the
the three big challenges.
capsule housing as well as the electronics.
CB: People wanted a small diaphragm condenser, and CB: I really like it because it is transformer-less. Im
sure you know about people advising to take your
we take peoples advice. Theres the MP-1073
SM57s and gut those. We figure if it sounds better,
preamp. That was the next thing everybody wanted,
its the way to go.
because every mic needs a preamp.
You put something up, and change it if
RC: The handheld mic is as good, or better, than
you dont like it.
Did you do a transistor-based design?
anything out there. It feels nice; a heavy, solid, and
CB: Yeah, the biggest mistake people make in home CB: Yes. And it has the largest transformer we could fit
beautiful mic.
recordings is they start recording before they listen.
in there! It has a huge, thick, creamy sound. Its
incredible. At the moment there is a 70-day waiting What new products are on the way?
What have been the reactions of your
RC: Were coming out with a killer drum mic kit, and we
list for the MP-1073!
pro colleagues that have received a
have a 251/C12 style mic coming out.
$150 mic?
One channel?
RC: There are classic microphones that have been CB: One channel. Its a desktop unit because the CB: Thats a really amazing mic, and we will be offering
it at an incredible price. Great sound, at a great
around for years. Theyre pleasing, well-designed,
transformer we put in was so huge that it would
price. Thats been our goal from the day we started
great microphones. My biggest clients have those
need to be a two-space rack. We plan to offer a twoGauge Precision Instruments. r
microphones, and they tend to use them. I dont
channel version of the MP-1073 in early 2017.
think either one of us would say, Get rid of your RC: We offered the MP-1073 in advance and it sold out <gauge-usa.com>
$15,000 mic and go for one of ours. Thats not the
idea. But clients of ours that have those classic mics
use ours also, because its a different sound. Its a
different color that can be used in a different
application. Thats a valuable thing; to be able to
have a selection of microphones and choices. But I
think most of our Gauge clients are singers,
songwriters, and young producers. They want a good
microphone, at an affordable price. They want it to
sound good, and they want it to be reliable.

How do you run the company?

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RC: Its a family-run business.


CB: With Robs wife, my wife, and our kids.
RC: We dont want to expand, hire a bunch of people,
and raise prices. Even though we sell out every
month, we want to stay small and keep it fun.

rm

RC: Yes, and its not like were getting rich on selling
microphones. That was never the idea. Chandler is
finishing his doctorate degree, and Im mixing and
producing every day. We still work together, but
Gauge Microphones is really a way for us to give
back, and we enjoy doing it.

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Is Gauge a side project to your other


careers?

What has the product line expanded


to be?

hl

RC: The second mic we did was the ECM-47. We cant


keep those in stock.
CB: They sell out instantly. Its a tube condenser
with a nine-way variable pattern. We use a 6072
[vacuum] tube with a very unique transformer
design. That mic sounds great, and at $479 its a
no-brainer.

Mr. Chiarelli & Mr. Bridges/(Fin.)/Tape Op#115/103

LUKE GILFEATHER
Studio Manager
How long have you been working
here?
Ive been here just over a year.

I heard that this is the original


archway of the Quonset Hut, and that
the rest was built around this studio.
Well, there was initially a house on 17th Avenue here.
This was a residential area, and two brothers, Owen
and Harold Bradley, bought the house in the mid-50s
with the idea of starting to record people here in
Nashville. They took the first floor out so it went
straight down into the basement to give a bigger
recording area. They started turning hits out of there
almost immediately. They were running out of room,
and looking to expand into making short motion
pictures, like variety TV shows. They went out and
bought an Army Quonset hut for $7800, and attached
it to the back of the house. The house then got torn
down when Columbia Records came in and built Thats interesting! What console are you
running for the Quonset Hut?
Columbia Studio A around it. Thats why its so
Thats a 24 channel Neve VR. It doesnt have
convoluted getting around in the hallways.
automation; thats been stripped out of there. We use
it for teaching inline consoles. That was actually a
project from the Belmont maintenance class. They
found that thing on the floor of a warehouse just
stacked in pieces, and they reversed engineered the
metering and some of the center section. There are
student signatures on the back from those who helped
put it back together. Its a good teaching tool.

Bradley Studios Quonset


Hut and the Nashville Sound

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What about this place do you think


made the Nashville Sound? This is
kind of where it started; here and
The Mike Curb Family Foundation owns it, and he lets
the studio in the original house.
Belmont use it. Mike Curb actually owns a lot of the
And now Belmont University owns it?

rm

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buildings around Music Row. He owns this one, RCA I think it was kind of a concurrent development between
the Bradley brothers and the RCA studios across the
Studio B, and the Masterfonics building. Hes letting
street. They were trying to compete with rockabilly
Belmont use this one for, I think, the next 50 years.
and rock n roll music. They had a bunch of country
What about the gear thats used here? Is
artists signed to these labels, who were selling in the
any of it from way back when?
thousands. Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers were
Not here, unfortunately. All the stuff is more modern. Theres
selling close to a million copies. Owen and Harold
nothing from that era. There kinda is, but it came from
Bradley and Chet Atkins across the way started
Bradleys Barn [Studio] and the RCA complex. The Mike
thinking of ways to attract a broader audience. What
Curb Family Foundation bought a collection of microphones
they ended up doing was taking the fiddles and the
from the Bradley family, and they are all classic.
steel guitars and downplaying them. They started
Like 50s and 60s microphones?
using things like grand piano, which had never been
Yep. Theres a pair of Telefunken 251s and four Neumann
used on country records, and background singers and
M 49s. Ten RCA 77s and three RCA 44s came from the
lush string arrangements. I think it was a formula to
RCA studios but are here now. Thats the only thing that
survive, and it really worked like a charm. What made
really comes close to the era. We really dont have
it come about was this need to survive, and also this
anything from the Columbia Studios era. Supposedly,
handful of players working together in all of these
the fuzz tone was invented in the Quonset Hut. They
studios called the Nashville A-Team. They had this
were using a tube console, and Glenn Snoddy who was
formula down in this sound and in this groove.
an engineer here in the early days noticed that a grid
in the console had fused together, and somebody was Was the system set about like it is now,
where there three three-hour
playing a guitar through that channel. The guitar player
blocks?
wanted to fix it, but the producer told them to wait, and
ran the solo through it. Glenn Snoddy reverse Yes, but unlike today the expectation was that they
would have three or four songs done in one of those
engineered it, and found out what happened. He ended
session blocks. These guys were laying down these
up developing [what became] the [Maestro FZ-1] Fuzztunes that were essentially the first or second takes,
Tone pedal, and sold them the license. It was on the
then moving on to the next song. Part of what made
Marty Robbins tune, Dont Worry.

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Nashville has long been considered the


capital of country music. Owen and Harold
Bradley helped make that possible when
they opened the Bradley Studios in the 50s,
in the heart of Music Row. After adding on
the Quonset Hut Studio, they ushered in a
style of country music that crossed over in
the pop markets, with songs like Patsy
Clines Crazy, Brenda Lees Im Sorry,
and Bobby Vintons Blue Velvet. When
Columbia Records bought the studio in the
1962, the hits continued with artists like
Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
I had the opportunity to talk with the
current studio manager, Luke Gilfeather, as
well as drummer Kenny Malone, bassist
and producer Norbert Putnam, and
engineer Lou Bradley, to discuss the history
of the studios and the Nashville music
business in general. Kenny Malone has
been a session drummer since the 70s and
continues performing and recording today.
Norbert Putnam was a member of the
original Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, as
well as the Nashville A-Team, before
switching to producing acts like Joan Baez
and Jimmy Buffett. Lou Bradley started
working at the old Columbia Studios in the
late-60s until they closed in 1982.

104/Tape Op#115/Bradley Studios/

gr

interview and photos


by Stephen Allbritten

that possible was another development, that was kind


of invented at these studios, called the Nashville
Number System. It was a way of writing the charts
without specifying a key. So you can say, This chart
is for whatever key you want it in.

So if your key is in D, D would be your 1


chord. Then if you switch the key to
E, then E is now the 1?

Yes, exactly. That enabled guys to chart tunes very


quickly, so they could sit and listen to song once and
chart. Ive seen guys drinking a cup of coffee, carrying
on a conversation, and charting the song with their
other hand; then they sit down and play it. It was part
of the Nashville machine, allowing them to churn out
so much music. It still is today, actually.

What about this place would have artists


like Bob Dylan decide to come to
Nashville?

echo chambers above this control room. And then How do you feel Nashville has changed
there are two plates up in the [Studio A] machine
through the years?
room that is connected to a central patch. We run Technology changed. We did the first direct-to-disc
both studios side-by-side, and halfway through the
albums here to eliminate tape hiss. Digital came in,
semester they switch studios.
and we also did the first digital recordings in
Do they understand where theyre
Nashville. I remember saying that the cymbals
standing?
sounded like glass. It changed the sound. They have
Some of them appreciate it. I try to tell them. To some
better digital machines now, but back then you
it doesnt mean that much, but others will try to seek
couldnt get the sounds you wanted out of digital
it out and record whenever they can.
machines. Now you go through noise gates,
harmonizers, Auto-Tune, and click tracks. I dont use
KENNY MALONE
click tracks; I never will. The band has to feel the
Drummer
time, and you have to play your time according to the
lyrics. When youre playing with a click track, and you
hit it right on that bick, you spend your time
chasing where the next bick is gonna be. Youre not
listening or paying attention to any music. Its like
painting by numbers.

What brought you to Nashville in the


first place?

I wanted to play, and I didnt want to raise my kids in


New York, L.A., Chicago, or Miami. Those were the
places I thought were happening musically, and I
figured Nashville was like a small town. I didnt know
anything about it. Theyre tearing down all the old
buildings and studios. Its just a bunch of high rises
now. And the music and the recording, a little bit goes
on but nothing like it was.

I heard there was a stack of CDs you had


played on that you received and you
had never heard them.

gr

The story I heard from Charlie McCoy hes one of those


Nashville A-Team playing harmonica, guitar, and
singing was Bob Dylan was recording in New York
and some of the Nashville producers were trying to
attract him down here. They sent Charlie McCoy up,
who was in the groove of playing tunes down sight
unseen. He was sent to New York and sat in on a Bob
Dylan session, and Bob is looking at him like, Oh
yeah, whats this? Then McCoy just rips out an
improvised part without looking at the chart, and
Dylan was like, Wow, you guys work pretty fast down
there in Nashville. Then McCoy was like, Yeah, thats
just what we do. We feel the tune out, play through
it, and thats it. We move on to the next tune. Dylan
ended up coming down, and worked on Blonde on
Blonde in Studio A. It was the way they were able to
get more creative, and get results quicker than up in
New York at the time. After that, that opened the
floodgates of folks coming down here. [See Bob You came from a jazz background. Is
Johnston in Tape Op #80]
that correct?
What kind of console are they running Well, I had studied classical when I was a kid, but my
first love was jazz. When I heard Dixieland music, I
over in Studio A right now?
knew I wanted to play drums. I realized it when I was
Thats an API 2098 an awesome console. It was over
five. I had one drum until I was 15 and could buy my
at RCA Studio B and was moved over here. It was
own set. I learned how to get every sound I could out
onboard a Wally Heider remote truck. It recorded
of that one drum.
portions of Frampton Comes Alive!, some of U2s Rattle
and Hum, some classic television, and a bunch of You do a lot of hand percussion. Was that
Frank Zappa live. The Bands Last Waltz was recorded
your start?
on it. Phil Ramone [Tape Op #50] was in RCA B, saw I really started hand percussion when I started playing
that console through the glass across the room, and
with Don Williams. We were after different sounds,
said, I know that console! He ran up and looked at
and those sounds found us as a band. I really
it and was like, Yeah man! I recorded Neil Diamond
developed my own style. Its not the authentic Latin
in Central Park! I went back and found a picture of
sounds, but I can play it with any kind of music.
him sitting at the console. I was like, How do you Because of your love of jazz, how were
remember that console? I think the track assign
you applying that to country
buttons are different than other API consoles, with
sessions?
big, lit numbers. The reason was because they would Jazz, to me, is spontaneous improvising, and it involves
change acts and need to reassign stuff quickly, and
more than just me. Jazz can be in any song. Jazz gets
those little API buttons just werent cutting it.
a bad name; theres so much bad jazz out there. It
isnt about how fast you can play; its about making it
So this is a classroom now?
music. With country sessions, this is where I really
Yeah, whats taught in here, and simultaneously in
found that music plays us. You get your conscious
Studio A, is the [Audio Engineering Technology] Audio
mind out of the way, and go with it at the moment.
1 course. These are the first classes where they do
Thats when you can really live the emotions of the
their own sessions. The only way we do echo in here
lyrics as you are going along.
is tape echo. The only way we do reverb are the two

Yeah for 32 years! And there were Ray Charles tracks.

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You had to live in the moment. Record


the song, then youre on to the next
song.
Yeah, and you have to forget the last song. Thats
why I cant remember the things Ive done. Its
been an education.

NORBERT PUTNAM
Producer & Bassist

You are from the Muscle Shoals area


originally, correct?
Yeah I was in the first rhythm section. As a matter of
fact, we didnt have a name, but when we were
written about, they called us the Muscle Shoals
Rhythm Section. This was early 1961. When I was 15
years old I started to play bass in a local rockabilly
band, playing Sun Records stuff. The reason I was
playing was because my father had played acoustic
bass in country bands and still had the bass. Some of
the kids in my neighborhood remembered seeing it,
and they were putting a band together and said, You
have to play bass. No one else has one. So I went to
my father, and he said, Do whatever you want to do,
but I never want you to be in the music business. I
did that when I was younger and couldnt succeed at
it. Theres drinking, gambling, prostitution, and drugs.
Theres nothing conducive for a normal, happy life.
Well, that was the first time I really wanted to get out
and play! So I joined this band at school, and the
guitar player was a guy named Danny Cross. I asked

Bradley Studios/(continued on page 106)/Tape Op#115/105

hl

106/Tape Op#115/Bradley Studios/

So it was almost by accident.

Owen Bradley was thinking broadly. I think Owen was


making records that he liked. He wasnt so concerned
about whether they got it onstage at the Opry. He
wasnt thinking about Hank Williams fans adapting to
it. He wanted it to appeal to people who listened to
pop, a little country, and a little classical. It was that
vision that helped create the Nashville Sound.

When you think Nashville, you think


country music. But it sounds like it
never was intended for that. It was an
approach to make pop music in
Nashville so people didnt go
somewhere else.

gr

ho
o.

transition?
When did you decide to stay in
Nashville?
Well, I came to [Columbia Studios] one time to play bass
About 63 or 64. We had a lot of clients coming down
through Felton Jarvis, Elvis producer. We had been
getting $5 an hour from Rick. One day Felton brought
an arranger with him, by the name of Ray Stevens,
and they told us wed be making $20 an hour in
Nashville. Felton and Ray both said they would have
work for us if we came to Nashville, so before we got
here we knew we could make a living. The interesting
thing was we were hardly ever hired together [as the
Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section]. Owen Bradley would
use me, and Chet Atkins loved Carrigan. Fred Foster
from Monument would use three of us.

The Nashville Sound is described as


more of a pop sound than a country
sound, and it was developed at
[Bradley Studios] and RCA. What was
the inspiration behind that?

ia
sa

No. What happened was I started in that little rockabilly


band, and it warped into an R&B band. I meet a
young drummer named Jerry Carrigan, who was
putting together a band to play the frat parties at
University of Alabama, Ole Miss, and Auburn. Young
kids didnt dance to Presley; they danced to James
Brown. So we put together a new band. About that
time we met a guy in Florence, Alabama, named Tom
Stafford, and Toms father owned the corner drug
store. Upstairs were some vacant offices. Toms father
said he could use it if he wanted to. Tom grabbed
David Briggs and I as we were coming out of a movie
Tom was also the manager of local theater. Tom said,
I was wondering if you boys would play on some
demos for me. Im starting a publishing company. We
asked, What will you pay us? He said, I cant pay
you, but I can get you into the movies for free. And
we said, Well do it! The guys he was signing to his
publishing company were awful, and we had been
doing it for about a year when Arthur Alexander, a
bellhop at the Sheffield Hotel, came in and sang some
of his songs. He was a great singer, and we started
demoing with him. One day I come up the steps, and
there are two guys I had never met before; Billy
Sherrill and Rick Hall. About three months later I hear
Rick Hall is building a studio, and hes going to
produce Arthur. He wants our band to play on it. He
has four mics, a Shure mixer, and a playback speaker
that was Ricks Fender Bassman amp. Arthur came in,
and it probably took us like 40 or 50 takes to get the
first song. Rick had one good mic, a used [Neumann]
U 47. The other three mics were cheapo dynamics.
Terry Thompson, the guitar player, and I put our amps
together in a V with one Electro-Voice mic in the

@y
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Now were you brought up to play


specifically to play with Elvis?

music people would come up to promote their product


[at the Opry]. Someone had the idea for Chet and
Owen to start producing the country acts here. It
made all the sense in the world; they were coming up
for the Opry, Lets record them! Thats how Nashville
began as a country center. So you heard these country
records, and they had these influences of rock and big
band in them.

Country music is not the music that Nashville people


listen to, and theres more country music now than
there ever was before. I remember being at the Pink
Poodle one night, and a young band was playing
called the Allman Joys; it was the Allman Brothers
before they were the Allman Brothers. I thought it
sounded pretty average until a soldier from Fort
Campbell, Kentucky, walks onstage and starts
How did your dad take that?
shredding. It was Private Jimi Hendrix.
[laughs] Well my father had given up music and gotten
into the insurance business. His dream was for me get A lot of the records you produced have
a business degree so we could start an insurance
like a country twang to them but are
agency. He couldnt have been more disappointed; it
geared more towards pop and rock.
was years before he was proud of what I did.
When did you start making that

rm

Danny, What makes you think that overnight I am


going to be proficient at this instrument? And he
said, Well, all of this stuff only has three chords.
Surely to god you can find three notes. I was 15
years old fast forward 13 years later, and I was
telling this story to Elvis.

middle. As we would play, Rick would look at me and


[motion up or down], and thats how we got the
balance between the guitar and the bass. Another
dynamic was stuffed in the upright piano, and one
overhead on the drums. He had two mono Berlant
Concertone tape machines. Peanut Montgomery was
going to play acoustic guitar, but there was no mic for
him. Rick had him stand on a wooden box on the
other side of the U 47, which was in omni, and thats
how the first hit record was made, You Better Move
On. Theres a hi-hat sound on that record that we
think had more to do with the cheap mic; some mic
that didnt have full range. I remember Rick getting
some phone calls from Nashville studios wanting to
know how he got the hi-hat sound. I dont think he
had the guts to tell them it was just a $10
microphone. But thats how Muscle Shoals began. Rick
Hall came to Nashville with a tape and ran it past
Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins, and they said, This is
too pop, too R&B. We dont have a promotion staff to
work those kinds of stations. But he found a disc
jockey, Noel Ball, who took the tape to Dot Records.
Dot had one big artist; Pat Boone. They made a deal
to put out the first Arthur Alexander record, and that
was the last time we recorded with Arthur. Noel Ball
stole him and brought him to Nashville. But the
money Rick got for that first recording he used to
build the FAME Studios. I dropped out of college,
along with David Briggs, to become the staff band.

Well, there was a bit of collusion between Chet and


Owen and the other founding fathers. I dont think it
happens now. All the label guys were having dinner
once every six weeks, talking about, How can we
make the city more appealing to the world? There
were pop and big band records being made here, but
the Ryman Auditorium brought in the Grand Ole Opry.
WSM was a clear-channel, AM station that, on a clear
night, broadcasted from Mexico to Canada. Country

in 67 or 68. This guy walks up to me, and hes


shabbily dressed. He says to me, Youre Putt, right?
My name is Kris Kristofferson. He had started working
for the maintenance department sweeping floors. I
would see him quite a bit, and he eventually
convinced me to play on a session for him. I,
begrudgingly, show up to this session on a Saturday
morning, and when Kris walks in at 9:45 in the
morning, he says, I know you guys work with great
singers. Im not a great singer, and Im a little
paranoid, so Im gonna have a little something to
relax my nerves. He takes a big swig off a pint of
something, and he gets his guitar and starts playing
the first tune. We got the first one recorded and went
to have a listen. David Briggs, who was also on this
session, leans over and says, God, hes worse than
Dylan. But I thought the lyrics were really good! I
think we did five songs in two hours. Kris knew that
if he hung around the studio long enough, hed run
into Johnny Cash. He met Johnny and got him a tape
with the songs on it. He got a lot of cuts with Johnny,
and one of his songs was a country standard within a
year. I got a call one day to lead a session for Joan
Baez. Kris and Joan had been in California writing
songs, and he was going to produce a record for her.
I hired a band of more rock players, and I came in the

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gr

first day. Kris is slumped over; I thought, My god. I LOU BRADLEY


Like now, tracks are endless, so its
think hes totally inebriated. I walked over and ask, Engineer
overdub after overdub.
Kris, you okay? No. I said, Well, we need to get How did you get into recording?
Heres how Ill describe whats going on now. We used to
some coffee in you so you can produce this record. I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and went to work in
record offensively. Everybody in the room was going for
He quips back, Im not producing the record. Ive
it. Now they record so they can replace it all. Thats
radio right out of high school in 57. In 1958, this
been talking to Joanie, and I think you should do it.
defensive. I think it influences how you play. We used
radio station had a gutted TV station, and I was able
We cut 24 sides in five days, and when it came out
to make decisions. I started with mono, and you lived
to use that space as a recording studio. I wound up
[Blessed Are...], it was promoted to pop radio. We sold
with what you had. When multitrack came along people
in Atlanta after the army, in 1965, and worked at
1.5 million copies, and thats how I became a
would postpone the moment of decision. Also, absentee
Master Sound Recording Studios. The people we
producer. I was sent Dan Fogelberg and Jimmy Buffet.
producers; people would come and go, because
worked on there were acts you never heard of at the
I was lucky, but I was looking at some of the older
decisions could be made later. But the days of George
time, but would later go on to be big stars, like Mac
members of the [Nashville] A-Team and thinking, Do
Jones and Tammy Wynette, theyd do a live vocal. We
Davis and Ed Bruce. Then, in 69, Columbia Records
I really want to be playing into my 40s?
might do another and use part of it, but they knew those
hired me, and I worked here until they closed in 82.
Do you recognize Nashville anymore?
songs. Pro Tools would be put out of business if singers
Which room did you prefer?
You know when I was driving up from Muscle Shoals way Studio B [the Quonset hut]. It was just a good room; neutral
would just learn the melody.
back when, the Life and Casualty tower stood out
Whats
the biggest difference between
acoustically. They built a room inside a room. Just wood
above the rest. All the other buildings were four
working
now and back then?
and acoustical tile for walls, and old theater curtains on
floors. I called my wife today and told her, Im in this
Everybody
wants
to manipulate the sound. Theyve taken
top. You have problem with the [round] shape of that
maze of giant buildings! Nashville is just growing so
it from the players side of the glass thinking they can
building wanting to reflect the sound back down, and the
quickly. The interesting thing is there are no players
solve every problem with equipment in the control
curtains defeated that. It wasnt fancy, but players loved
here playing 600 record dates a year; a top player
room. You cant. When I first came here, someone would
to play in there. If you put a singer on a mic and have
might play 100. As a kid growing up in Alabama, if I
either sing and play the song or wed listen to a demo.
them step back, you can really hear it if its a bad room.
wanted to be part of a really professional record, I
Everybody wrote their own chart, and there would be a
I wasnt doing anything different from the way they were
needed to go to a great studio with a great engineer.
ten-minute window of the players working it up.
doing things before I got there. I made tweaks here and
Of course today with a laptop and an interface, a
Somebody out on the floor might hear it different than
there. They talk about the Nashville Sound, but I think it
smart, talented kid can produce something that
somebody else. It might be better so everyone adjusted.
was the Nashville Way of making records. You could walk
sounds like a major record. So much of film work is
Then in the late 70s, the producer started getting with
in the back door for a 2 oclock session with three or four
done in a room with a great keyboard guy. The thing
the band leader and wrote the charts to save time. Well,
ideas and walk out with three or four hits.
that us old guys miss is coming together as a cluster What was it like working at that kind
that took away the ten-minute window of each song
of guys and playing this new song that we had just
that, to me, was magic. I noticed stiffness started to
of speed?
heard; playing off each others vibe. I was told by It was intense. Many times take one was the take. They
come into a lot of the music. That window gave the
some the great, old producers, Were selling
players a chance to really learn the song and explore. r
would start working it up, and 10 or 15 minutes later
emotion. When I stopped working in music, I made
you had to roll tape.
friends that hadnt worked in the music industry. We Did you find that you had time to Stephen co-owns Best Friend Studio in Nashville, TN.
would listen to records, and I would evaluate the band
make each session unique, or was
in comparison with the vocal. All they heard was a
it pretty set?
great voice. None of them remembered anything Well, I looked at each song as a new game. Every time is a
about the backing music. See, Owen [Bradley] had it
new time. Theres no gimmes. So many times Id see
right; he would run a song until the singer got it. Now
somebody come in, and on their first record theyre singing
we have Pro Tools, and theyre doing all of this shit,
like they have nothing to lose. Success comes, and all of a
then have the singer come in after a month of working
sudden theres a different animal standing in front of the
on the tracks and sing the song four times and then
microphone. Now they have everything to lose.
its comped. The singer is having to sing to some mix, What kind of gear were you guys
and they may not be moved emotionally to do
working with at that point?
anything with it.
The console that I worked on was built by Eric Porterfield,

hl

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rm

head of the CBSs research and development


department, and his crew in New York. That console and
I arrived on the same day, and my first job was wiring
the mic lines in. That console was 24 in and 16 out. If
we had an orchestra in here, Id add a little Ampex mixer
sidecar. I did quite a few orchestra dates; 39 or 40
pieces. It was a room full of people. [laughs]

They dont make records like that


anymore. When you think of the classic
way of recording of everybody going
down at the same time with limited
mics were you still using the same
mentality even with more inputs?
Oh yeah. Youd still go for it. Before that console, I think
they had a 12 input setup. Well, we started using more
mics on the drums, for one thing. When they were using
the 12, they usually only had one rhythm guitar; we
always used two. Still you were going for the record.

Bradley Studios/(Fin.)/Tape Op#115/107

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Bob Ferbrache
Denvers Denizen
interview and photo by Larry Crane

records sounded, and I liked the way that people made


Denver, Colorado, is a better place for the
records and layered them. Pink Floyd didnt make a record
tireless audio work of Bob Ferbrache. I
where they were necessarily just sitting there consciously
tracked him down in 2012 at his home/studio
saying, Oh, we cant do this, because we cant play this
to learn more about his history. Bob worked
live! They just made records.
on records by Blood Axis, Human Head
Well
figure that out later. [laughs] No,
Transplant, Wovenhand, 16 Horsepower,
thats
true. I love Yes, and you hear that
Soul Merchants, Changes, The Czars, and
stuff and are just like, How did they
Slim Cessnas Auto Club. Soon after our talk
build that?
Bob left the music industry, closed his
Absinthe Studio, and left Colorado for New Well, if youre a Yes fan, I can tell you the funny thing. The
first time I saw them, they were the opening act for The
England. Bobs mark on Denvers music
Allman Brothers, so you can imagine. I think they actually
scene should not be forgotten.

Yeah. Punk rock bands; the local crews. A couple of those


albums even came out later. Revolver distributes them.
If you know any of the Revolver guys, one of them was
the guy who runs Revolver, his band in the eighties.

Bob [McDonald]?
Yeah.

Yeah, I know Bob from the Bay Area when


he moved out there. Who was he singing
for?
It was a band called Bum Kon. The album came out, so it
was 4-track recordings.

I met Bob when he moved out there,

won the crowd over, despite the capes and the knee-high
because I had friends that worked at
gold
boots.
They
could
play.
I
think
that
everybody
in
the
Systematic Distribution before that.
I know you were in The Healers with Jello
audience recognized, These guys can rip!
Joe Pope [Systematics owner, member of Angst]. Hes one
[Biafra, Dead Kennedys] way back.
of my best friends.
I was in The Healers. Not concurrently with Jello, but Jello So you continued to play in bands in the
area, but what led you to recording?
I havent seen him for decades. I think the
was my friend. He was with The Healers, and a newfound
last time I saw him was at a party at
punk rock god, but the guy who co-wrote California 4-track cassette, when that popped up. I got my first 4Systematic in like 85 or something. And
track in 81, a Studiomaster, so I had a 6-channel mixer
ber Alles, John Greenway, hes The Healers.
Jello was there.
on it, where you could patch any of the channels.
Hes the main focus of that?
Well, they were friends too.
Yeah. I was a friend of his too, and Jello goes, Get him out Is that the rack mount one?
Yeah,
its
a
rack
one.
Where
they from out here?
of his basement! He wont get out of his basement.
My
friend
bought
one
of
those
at
the
same
Yeah,
Boulder.
Oh, like playing shows and stuff?
Yeah. I did, and he writes brilliant stuff; rock operas. We did
instrumentals mostly.

time. He was obsessed, and he was a coke I forgot all about that. This is dredging up my
dealer or something, so he had some
past too. When did you move into sessions
extra money.
where you went to an outside studio?

That sounds fun. Was that out of Boulder,


I was a geophysicist at the time. There was a big boom in I went all the time when I was doing that, even in the 80s,
Colorado?
the oil industry.

Yeah, Boulder.

Were you living in Boulder at the time?

to 8-track or even 16-track studios that were in town. Id


go with other people, usually as help. Like the first Fluid
album [Punch N Judy], they got me to sort of coordinate
the recording. I found the studio for them, and we went
into an 8-track studio and recorded their first album.

What did you start recording?

ho
o.

gr

I was probably living here at that time. I remember My bands at the time. Ive actually got a whole stack of CDs
and stuff for you. Heres a CD of a band that I was in
practicing around town with them too. They had a B&O
during the 80s that was recorded on 4-track cassette.
turntable, a giant Crown amp, and two big Klipsch PA
Where were you working out of?
Were you officially like a producer or
speakers. Id play albums as loud as possible.
something at that point? What would
People were saying that you were doing a That 4-track cassette was recorded in that room in there.

you call your role?


lot of photography and recording live Really, in your basement?
Yeah. I remember when we recorded the drums for one session Associate engineer, or associate producer if theres anything
shows early on, right?

Did you run into the typical catastrophes


of the bounce not holding up once you
got further down?

ia
sa

Tommy Bolin recordings, and stuff like that. Then as time went
on, I was a photographer and I hung out with people. Id
always collect board tapes from sound guys and get board
tapes that Id listen to. I was really obsessed. I was really
into live recordings quality live recordings. Especially when
artists in that time did things that werent so calculated, or
timed to click tracks or whatever, like they do now.

@y
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So no one

of that on the 4-track cassette. A friend of mine, the


drummer, had a big house with a huge room in it. We set
up in there for a couple weeks and just did all the basic
tracks. I would get another Yamaha mixer in line with the
six-track mixer, and I would do a sub-mix of the drums on
tracks 1 and 2, in stereo, and then the bass, or guitar and
keyboards, whatever drove the song. So Id make a stereo
mix of the drums, guitar and bass, and while I bounced it
to the two tracks, me and the other guitar player would play
live to the bounce. That basically was the music, and then
wed have two tracks for solos or vocals.

rm

Yep. I was mostly skewed to photography. The live shows


came because of my interest. I got into cassettes real
early; I got a really early cassette deck. It was a little
console from Japan, through the military. This was before
cassettes even started coming here. It actually took a
year before I could even get cassettes. I would record live
radio shows for myself. As it turned out, I was one of the
only people who had a record of those kinds of things,
on normal-biased cassettes, from 71.

I was pretty lucky.

Careful?
Yeah.

in the middle! So as an engineer, I could say, Turn that


knob. Or as a producer, sit there and say, That needs to
be turned! We need the engineer. I dont know.

Did you feel like you sort of gradually pulled


the skills together that let you step into a
studio, or take over a session producing?
Definitely. Yeah. But I guess throughout this whole time
starting with that band Ive had unbelievable
misfortune when it comes to corporate people.

Well, I think we all have! In what ways?

Well, that band was lined up to be signed on Geffen, and


somehow the bottom fell out of that. That was more from
egos in the band. Later on, it was 16 Horsepower, when they
were signed with A&M, and A&M was like, Whos this
wildcard? The stories just go on and on! It always circulates
around some major thing, so I never involved myself with
that whatsoever. Thats why Ive always been self-contained.

Do you feel like thats carried over into I always felt like that was so dangerous. I Youve moved to other places too, but youre
was doing a lot of that too.
seen regionally as someone whos been in
other fields, into helping people to
and helped a lot of these bands progress.
Well, I could always go back. I had the original, so the only
make records?

hl

thing that would be a problem was the drum mix that I Yeah, Ive done restoration, engineering, mastering, producing,
Were talking about the 70s. 70s records are amazing, like
initially did in stereo from like five or six mics.
and mixing. I just mixed an album for some guy in Canada.
Queen and The Beatles, anything that sounded like that.
The tracks were recorded well, so I mixed this whole album.
I love garage bands and stuff, especially some 60s ones, What kind of mics were you amassing at
that time?
You said you feel like you have this
and all the big hits that youve heard in the past that are
opposition with the corporate world. Was
garage bands, I loved that too. But I was into prog music. Shures.
it
something that just sort of randomly
Did
you
start
working
with
other
people
So, Gentle Giant, and The Strawbs, or folk prog more, too.
happened that way?
once they heard the results of your 4I was into European folk, and I loved the ways those

track stuff?

Mr. Ferbrache/(continued on page 110)/Tape Op#115/109

and the singer had a child that needed dental work really bad,
and we were barely getting by. So my suggestion was, This
is a multinational corporation, and they have interests in
bomb factories in South Africa. Lets get health insurance,
and pay for unemployment insurance, and make sure. So we
came and met, and we sat down, and they were like, Okay,
what do you want to do? We said, Lets talk about
producers. They said, Well get T Bone Burnett [Tape Op
#67]. I go, Well, I know Steve Fisk [Tape Op #3]. They say,
Oh, no, well get somebody bigger than Steve Fisk. I go, I
know him, and hes a great producer. No, well get you Dan
Lanois [Tape Op #37]. So thats where it went. Then it came
down to healthcare, and they were like, What? They flipped
on that, the same way the rednecks at the Tea Party flipped
on it. We were like, Its just a suggestion. And that was my
suggestion. I wasnt the one who was like, T Bone Burnett?
Really? Youre just going to call him up and get him in the
studio to produce us, just like that?

The whole budgets going to go away.

They dropped $250,000 on their first record. And then they


shelved it $250,000 on the record, $100,000 on the video
that the Brothers Quay did. MTV passed on the video, and
that was the end of their interest in the band. They didnt
even promote the album.

Everybody else gets paid. Not the artist.

Yeah. The band technically owes A&M millions of dollars, and


A&M released them.

So they just let them go? But the record was


in the can did it ever come out?

They made a second record, and they had an option for a third
album. The whole shit hit the fan when A&M got bought up.
The head of A&M, Al [Cafaro], used to drive a Porsche and
wear black karate outfits. He was a huge fan of the band,
because he actually saw them play live. He always let the
A&R guys do the work. Hed never listen to bands. So if his
A&R guy said youre great, hed trust them. But he actually
went and saw the CD release show for the first album, and
the band blew him away. Theyre a fantastic live band. They
had an option for a third album, and that got picked up,
despite the fact that they owed A&M over a million dollars.
They had an option that they were to be paid $50,000 if
they werent able to do their third album. So then their
contract got sold, but he picked up the option before he got
fired. So he signed off on the option, he got fired, Universal,
or whoever, took the label over, looked at the contract,
dismissed the $2 million or whatever they owed them, and
gave them the $50,000, because of that option. So then we
had $50,000, and they came to me, and they recorded their
best record [Secret South]. And its their best-selling record.

Yeah, exactly!

That makes total sense.

ho
o.

gr

Maybe its my indecision with the corporate world in general, Youre using Soundscape [DAW]. Thats far
and thats just a little harsher than the music world, with
more well known in Europe for
what theyre judging, especially with what theyre putting
recording stuff.
out now. Thats the only benefit for guys like you and I Yeah, its SSL now.
them putting out such crap.
What drew you to that?
The worse the mainstream is
Id moved to Seattle, and then I came back here, and I was
A guy like M. Ward can really rise among these ashes to
just here for a few months, and I moved to Cairo. My friend
become a prominent artist.
said, Nothing costs anything; we can live like kings, so I
Its true. Remember how the 80s were?
went there for a year, and yeah, I didnt do anything. When
There was a lot of crap on the surface, but
I came back to Denver, that was the beginning of this
then there was a lot of amazing stuff in
studio as it is. The day I came back, I went and saw 16
the early 80s that there was just no
Horsepower play. It was shocking how original and good
chance in hell of getting on the radio.
they were. I actually sort of knew those guys, and I went
But it was good music.
and said, Man, this is the best thing Ive ever heard. They
Yeah, a lot of good music!
said, We need a keyboard player. Do you want to play in
Describe the evolution of your space and the
the band? I was going, Okay, well, Ill play some bits. So
house here.
I was in 16 Horsepower the day I got back from Cairo. Then
Well, the 4-track, and then the next thing that came along was
we started doing some stuff.
that I had to go to the next realm outside of that. That was Had they recorded at that point?
to get out of going to 8- and 16-track studios. I wanted to Yeah, they had a demo. Ill tell you the story. They had an 8 track
do that here, so I went into 8-track. Tascam made a great
cassette, and a live cassette, which is fantastic. Later I rething. When I saw the unit, I said Im getting it. It was a
mastered all of that stuff, and its an album called Olden now.
built-in, 1/4-inch, 8-track with dbx.
We made a demo tape with the band and me on a 24-track
The 388?
at a big pro studio that just seemed to make demo tapes or
The 388? Is that what its called?
something. Mercury Records was jumping on it, and I had
The 388, with a little mixer.
done this thing where I had committed to a tour to go to
Yeah. So I bought it, and I got a couple more mics and a
Europe with this band, before I was in 16 Horsepower. I had
couple compressors.
all these people, Karl Blake, and these brothers who played
At the time, what kinds of studios were
percussion. It was kind of like a Crash Worship style of band,
open?
but we were set up to go on a four-month tour of Europe. I
8-track and 16-track studios with, I was almost going to say
went on that tour, and I kept checking in to see whats going
Trident boards, but I think that might have been excessive.
on. Oh, Mercurys really interested. I came back up and got
I cant even tell you what kind of board. Now, it wouldnt
back in the band again. We hooked up with Morphine. They
be the same, because you can buy a Trident for $1,000 now.
saw us play. We played our first shows with Morphine.

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But that was what it seemed like. This was pre-Mackie. When We got really friendly with Morphine. Then the Mercury thing
Mackie first put out their mixers, to me, that changed
didnt happen, and then this guy I knew who worked at
everything. To be able to get a desk like that...
Slash Records came and visited here. He went, Oh, Im
Yeah. I had the 32x8.
really interested in your band. I had the demo tape when
Yeah, the 32x8. Thats what I got.
I came back they had mixed the new demo tape, and it was
No polarity buttons! The worst thing in the
awful. I re-EQd it and ran it through a BBE and did all sorts
world. How long did you work with the
of crap to do something to it. Later I found out that they
Mackie?
made it sound really bad on purpose, because if the label
I had that one here for a couple years. I went to 16-track. The
was interested in them, theyd see through that. The
8-track ended abruptly, and I sold everything for a girl. I
drummer told me that they had this idea that if it were too
moved to Seattle in 90 and 91, and particularly two or three
polished, the label wouldnt be interested.
albums I had recorded on that 8-track, they were playing the [laughs] I dont know if that always works!
fuck out of them on the radio in Seattle. Im sitting here Yeah. But I made this tape, and I played it for him, and he said,
working in a kitchen! I was an outsider, so the only job I
This tape hit my desk six months ago and I threw it in the
could get was as a prep cook in a kitchen. I jammed with a
trash can. This is fucking amazing! He goes home the next
couple people, and that was sort of fun, but nothing. So like
day, and an A&R guy from A&M calls me up and says,
the Human Head Transplant stuff that I did, the Boyd Rice
When are you playing next? I tell him that were playing
album that I did, I did Crash Worship here on 8-track
tomorrow, and he says, Well, what about after that? A few
Was that done here?
days later, A&M flew out and saw us, and bam were on the
Yeah, that was done here on 8-track, and they were playing it
label. Just like that. And then Im out of the band.
there on the radio every time I got into the car. The Boyd What year was that?
Rice album came out while I was living there, and they That would have been 94.
played it every hour for three months.
Why were you out of the band?
Crash Worship was really big for a while. Corporate. When the band got together the day before we flew
What gear do you have now?
out to see A&M they were like, Lets get our interests in
Thats a further evolution. I have a laptop, and Ive been
order. What do we want from this label? Okay, we want to
experimenting with that. I got the PreSonus. I tried to find
get an equipment budget. We want the recording budget. We
16-channels of input for the Mac, and I wanted it to be small.
want to find producers. Everybody was barely working on
minimum wage with their other job, if they had another job,
110/Tape Op#115/Mr. Ferbrache/

And you werent involved in the records


before that at all?

Not the label albums. We rented a cabin in the mountains for a


month. Well, more than a cabin. It was a lodge. It had 15
bedrooms in there, and there were mountains in front of us
out the window. I took my whole studio with me. At that time
I had a Mackie 32x8 and we just tracked to the Soundscape.
After we got everything tracked, I transferred everything to
DA-78 tape, the 24-bit. Then they took them to Hansa Studio
[Tape Op #95] in Germany and mixed it there.

Who did the mixing on that?

The guy who did the Nick Cave albums at the time [Paul
Corkett]. Then they got it mastered. So they got to spend
$30,000 on the album. I think their best album is the next
one [Folklore], which the label said, You owe us a record,

and they made them do it. They said, Theres $5,000. We


recorded it in here for $5,000 $1,000 for each of us, and
$1,000 for expenses for a month to record the album here.
Thats when I had gotten my Sony DMX-100. It was written,
performed, recorded, mixed and mastered here in 21 days. We
would sort of take Sundays off for the three weeks.

Did you find that interesting that someone


could spend so much time and money on
those other records, with less results?
Well, Ive always felt that. Since 4-track days, even.

When youre producing, what are the


things that youre looking out for?
Well, if Im capable of it, I learn all the music. I learn how to play
all the songs, even if only in a rudimentary form, on keyboards
or guitar most of the time. Not all of the time, and especially
when I can see that I dont need it; when I can see that the
performers well-advanced so that its not even within my
limits to figure that out. I think everything I do gets centered
around vocals. Theyre the most important things. I like to get
a performance. That goes into the realm of click tracks, you
know? All the Wovenhand albums that Id done Id done six
or seven of them were all done to click tracks. Those were a
construction process. He [David Eugene Edwards] comes out
here with ideas, and thats it. Then the records get made.

just whatever becomes. The last album we did, I think, is one


of our best records. Im really happy with it. That was done
to click tracks, because of the drummer on the record. He
created the click tracks, and he created click tracks that
slowed up and sped down. The Auto Club is not a click track
band. They never have been, even when we first started
recording stuff. Before Soundscape I had DA-88s, and we
were doing some stuff with click tracks, because one of those
guys was like, We have to record with a click track. So Slim,
who plays guitar, all of a sudden sounds like reggae with a
click track! Were like, Play like youre supposed to play. He
goes, I am, I am! We turn the click off, and its strum,
strum, strum. Turn the click track back on, and its reggae.
Ker-chick, ker-chick, ker-chick! So the click track actually
influences the way you play, especially in a case like that.

Do you get requests for people to work on


stuff where you end up passing?

On occasion, but maybe less now. There are less people out
there. Everybodys got a PreSonus interface, a Mac,
GarageBand, and a [Shure SM]58, and youre a studio.

Are there places you can go in Denver if you


want to get out and do something a little
different than just working here?

Right, and he was in prison!


If you ever play a [Korg] M1 or a Kurzweil, chances are he
programmed that sound in prison. He was the programmer for
that.

Its a crazy story.

And through the prison stuff, he works in the audiovisual


department. He sort of runs it, and he sometimes gets
access to that gear. Theyve got a whole Pro Tools rig, but
he cant really use it for his own stuff.

Blood Axis I know people probably want to


know about.

Well, thats when the studio started. This realm of the studio
started when Michael [Moynihan], who does Blood Axis, was
a friend of mine. Id done that Boyd Rice & Friends album
[Music, Martinis and Misanthropy], and Id done some Boyd
Rice albums in the past few years. After I wasnt in 16
Horsepower anymore, he finally goes, Okay, well its time we
made up. Wed dabbled together, I mean wed played music
together before, and I didnt have anything, and he goes, I
can get an advance from two or three different labels in
Europe. Ill get the advance and give you the equipment, and
then we can just start recording. So thats what it was. In
94, he got a couple thousand dollars, and I got a Mackie 32,
a Tascam 16-track reel-to-reel

Yeah, there are a couple of places where Ill think about doing
drum tracks. But the last drum tracks that I recorded here MSR-16?
were the best drum tracks that Ive ever made.
Yeah. And we recorded that album, The Gospel of Inhumanity.
That was written here. He had a couple Arabic instruments Have you ever done them upstairs? Does it
Thats where the name of the studio came from, Absinthe.
that were given to him, and he had licks. Okay, lets make
get a little loud outside?
We were drinking a lot of absinthe, and we wrote a song
a lick, and get a click track. Okay, I like this measure. I like The neighbors are completely copacetic with me.
called Absinthe.
these four parts. I like this part. Construct a song, verses Thats convenient.
Its kind of a notorious record. How was that
and choruses, and then re-do it to the verse and chorus. I Yeah. I recorded this metal album for Kingdom of Magic, and I
created? Were you guys just bouncing
had 48-tracks up, and were sitting there going, Id really
couldnt have the bass player in my house. He had a Mesa
ideas around?
like that chorus to come here instead of there.
Boogie and an Ampeg stack, a thousand watts! Its part of Yeah. We had a couple song ideas, but a lot of its
his sound. We literally had to go to an airplane hangar to
In that sort of scenario, youre more of a
soundscape stuff. We made samples and collaged stuff. I
record it. I took my Mac, and I set up four mics on the bass
collaborator than an engineer and
did most of the music.
cabinets and just let him have at it. The bass sound is Was your mom living at the house at the time?
producer in helping the process along.
awesome! I actually had to use dynamic mics on the distant Yeah.
But dont you feel a huge amount of that
mics, because I took my Crowley and Tripps, but I wasnt even Was she ever like, Whats going on down
is based on the trust that you guys have?
going to take them out of the box in that room.
Yeah. I only work on a half-dozen records a year at most,
there?
because I take a couple months to record a record, or a Blow em up?
No. She loved it. One time when we were doing the Blood Axis
year! I record records simultaneously, and Ill spend a year Yeah, or get dirt in them.
album, its five in the morning, and theres two bottles of
on them, when people arent on tour.
Where do you see things going for you, like
unopened wine. I go, Hey Michael, watch this. I can juggle!
more of the same?
Is it kind of a nice situation to be in here?
And I cant juggle. I threw both bottles up in the air, and they
I assume that equipments paid for, Well, I dont know. Im probably a bit confused on that. Ive
crashed and broke and fell all over. I was like, Oh shit! So
the house is your house, theres no
been doing stuff just to sort of make ends meet. I devote
I got a Shop-Vac and started vacuuming everything up, and
extra overhead
myself to these projects. One thing that I do is that lots of
my Mom came in and was like, What are you doing?
people who do their own demo recordings or make their Wait that might be enough. But the
Yeah, and theres no worry about time, other than the labels.
records in other studios and stuff offer people cut-rate
Yeah, someone might be waiting for it! Say
music and the noise and stuff?
mastering. I could do something thats worthy of their Yeah, only on a couple of occasions did she ever comment. She
youre working on a Woven Hand record,
project really well, and do it for a couple hundred bucks.
and you guys are in here. When do you
liked most of the noise. She loves David and Slim. Michael
Then you just spend one afternoon on something.
say its done?
and Annabel [Lee], who are Blood Axis, are her best friends.
He knows. When hes doing stuff, he knows. With the Slim Yeah. Do some of the tricks come from the
They were here when she had her stroke.
Cessnas Auto Club records, I do those, and they dont really
restoration work as well and stuff?
One of the things that we constantly see is
even come here. If I send them a demo or a mix, they tell Yeah. I do stuff with this guy, Bobby Beausoleil. I just did a
that sustaining longevity in this
me if its wrong, but thats about it. I have total freedom.
restoration on all the tapes that he recorded, about 20
business is difficult, and when you can
I throw Theremins on stuff, and backward guitar solos,
tapes. He sent me all the reels and I transferred them. I
come up with scenarios when youre not
backward masking whatever!
rented reel-to-reel players, transferred them all digitally,
in a desperate financial position, it
and restored them. There have been a few records done.
These are a lot of people that youve had
helps to keep a sort of stability.
Weve got about four or five out. The Lucifer Rising box set, I have many, many a time when I was here with my mom
connections with for a long time, too. I
I dont know if youve seen that.
guess everyone kind of knows how their
in particular, Id always tell her, Oh, this is temporary. Im
roles interact at that point.
Ive heard of it. Weve had someone who was
gonna move out, and Ill keep an eye on you. I never did,
going to interview Bobby a while back.
Especially with the Auto Club. I mean, Im in the band, and Ive
but I thought I was going to get a space, because Id
been touring with them for two years, off and on again. He would be an amazing interview. To start off with, the stuff
looked at spaces. But then it was like, You know that
Weve just had our twentieth anniversary this year! So yeah,
he did in the 80s.
Mr. Ferbrache/(continued on page 112)/Tape Op#115/111

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ho
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gr

The Threshingfloor is beautiful. Its spacious,


and theres a lot of cool shit going on.

record by that band that I didnt want you ever to listen No. Our interests are 60s French girl pop groups and things Their albums are fantastic, but the one I worked on didnt
to? I couldnt even think of the idea that Id have to
like that, or television. If I talk to him on the phone its
sound any good. They recorded it on ADATs with a rented
listen to them 3,000 times, over and over again.
like, Did you see that episode of Mission Impossible last
mic and then brought it to me. Then we re-tracked the
night? Yeah, hes really into things like that.
vocals and I tried to mix it. Its okay. Some people love it.
Like doing something just to pay the rent?
I think its really good, but its not like their other records.
Yeah. Ive done it before. Im have some projects coming up Wheres he living these days?
where Im doing that too.
He lives in downtown Denver.
I feel like we kind of organically go

What kind of restoration work have you I saw a NON performance a long time ago.
been doing?
It was pretty fun, but his persona is
like
I went to thousands of concerts in my day, and I even worked

through that process where you buy a


mic, try it on different things, and
then know what you like about it.

gr

for concert promoters. I worked at this venue, Ebbets Field, It supersedes him. They made that four-hour movie and it Its actually a disease. Microphones are a disease. When I
where I took photographs and stuff, and I saw bands like
still didnt defer his persona at all! And his book, he just
look at a magazine, it raises my blood pressure. Its just,
Lynyrd Skynyrd, the first time they left Kingsville, you
put a book out, NO; its really good. Its just his
Oh, I want this! I want a [Neumann M] 149 tube mic
know? I saw Leonard Cohen, in a 250-seat club. I have a
thoughts. Just to perpetuate his myth even further.
for my house!
whole bunch of CDs Ive done [Live From Ebbets Field] of Theres a bit of myth about you, too. To What kind of stuff have you purchased
restoration stuff, and those are from that club that I was
people in town youre just this
lately microphone-wise?
just telling you about. Thats from 73 to 76, and theres
legendary guy, or youre Big Bad Bob or Well, the last thing I got was some cheap mics. I got those
Robin Trower, Peter Frampton, Gene Clark
something. Do you think thats part of
Cascade Fat Heads out of your magazine for next to
the success of things?
nothing. Okay! Ive been using them! I love ribbon
Were these all shows you taped?
mics. I always get mics in pairs, so I have a pair of
I helped tape some of it. The tapes came around. Like the Oh, probably. Yeah.
Royers. Ive got an interesting mic. I had $4,000, and I
Peter Frampton thing on this, for some reason sometime in Theres something that seems a little
wanted to buy a microphone. I decided that I wanted
the 80s, they got copied onto DAT, and they werent done
larger than life.
something different. Im not sure if this was the right
well. Whoever did the copy actually put reverb on them!
I dont know, I always thought that it was just because,
choice or not, but I got one of these InnerTUBE mics
like I said, I only make two or three albums a year or
Oh, come on.
[MM-2000 MAG MIC]. Yeah.
something. Then if its a local thing, that album sort of
80s reverb! So the Peter Frampton one on this, that was
transcends it. Its done on a level thats more than a What do you think of the sound of that?
found online. It was like the Peter Frampton thing was a
demo tape-sounding album. Thats the problem with I like it. Its sort of bright. Its really powerful.
cassette that I had thats great. Peter Frampton heard it,
everything that comes out of Denver they sound like It looks crazy! Thats an actual Maglite?
and he flipped out over it. The guy who arranged to put
demo tapes to me.
them out did it all for charity. Thats how they could get
Yeah, it uses actual Maglites. So I could sit there and tell
everybody to agree to it. Theres like 2,500 copies of each Like not finished, so to speak?
the vocalist, Okay, yeah, so this mic serves two
made. Ive got Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf sets, and I Yeah. Theres a really lo-fi ethic coming out here, like this
functions. Its an excellent vocal mic, and if Im not
better restore them for their archives.
getting the best vocal take, I can just whip the Maglite
band Tennis and other people have kind of broken out.
part and beat you over the head with it!
How are you mixing here these days?
What did you think when The Apples in
Stereo [Tape Op #2] and The Minders Yeah, or if we get lost on the way out. You
I do analog mixes, because I use an SPL summing mixer.

were doing records here? Did you

ho
o.

Whats that? Oh, the SPL.

certainly know that the choices for

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notice some of that too?


recording equipment, not even ten or
I use that. Most albums are done in the box in Pro Tools now,
fifteen years ago, were so much
so lets say your kick drum, to get it in the mix, if you have Yeah, I know those guys too. Robert Schneiders a really
different.
your master at zero, then your kick drum is at -20. But thats
great guy. I think actually some of that stuff that they
20 frames of bit-depth or whatever, so thats half the bit
recorded was on my old 16-track reel-to-reel. I sold it to Thats why everythings at home. Like I said, I think maybe
depth, so its probably 8 bits at that point. Using the
a friend of mine and Robert used it and did all the stuff.
it started really big-time at home when Mackie boards
summing mixer, I put the kick on track one and two. Im
I think that they eventually ended up with that for a
came out. It started with the 4-tracks and stuff, but
using all 24 bits, so I put the kick, and the snare, and the
while.
seriously when they had Alesis ADATs and the Mackie
toms, and then the rest of the percussion and drums in those Oh, thats funny. Do you think that we
boards Fortunately I went towards the DA-88s.
four channels. Then I do equally with the other four channels,
always go through like cycles of Yeah, the tapes take up less room.
and that sums them. But Im using the output at zero.
younger groups being like, The Yeah. I did this whole series of recordings at the Bluebird
studios going to ruin my music, or
Theater; we set up a recording setup. We had the
Had you tried mixing in the box without an
something, or, We dont need a
[Yamaha] 02R, two DA-88s, and powered speakers.
external mixer before that, too?
stinkin producer?
Yeah, I do that as a final thing for overdubbing and tracking.
Was it off in its own little room, upstairs
Im mixing in the box.
somewhere?
Well, thats what Im talking about. Because, I mean,
people can just get there, maybe thats Trent Reznor Yeah, it was upstairs off in a booth. I multitracked and did
Did you feel like there was something
damage they can record their album on GarageBand
recordings up there. Theres a live 16 Horsepower album.
missing when you werent going into
with a 58 and a PreSonus interface, or an M-Audio So you did a lot of other shows and stuff
the external summer?
interface. Ive heard some good demo tapes with that!
there too?
On certain things. Like on the Blood Axis album, theres a
couple things that I mixed in the box where I was so used Yeah, but its hard to take it to another Yeah, part of that Built to Spill live album [Live]. Bush and
to the mixes I had going. I had 44 compressors on 66
Cake put out songs as B-sides and stuff like that. Bow
level you think? Or flesh it out more?
tracks. On that I probably used outside reverbs and The rhythm sections and stuff get a little muted. But like
Wow Wow I worked for a lot of video shoots where I
compressors. There were at least two tracks on that that
mixed stuff that was shot. That again started coming
I said, I like to do big productions, too. I dont mind
I spent hours trying to make a new mix, and then I went
having ten overdubs of vocals on that one word for the
around to dealing with people in suits and offices.
back and listened to the old mix, and I dont know the
sake of that or whatever.
Image Entertainment I dont know if youve ever heard
mix I was using just attracted me.
of them. Theyre like the Columbia Records or Epic
Are there any albums you didnt feel
Records of video companies at the time. They cant sit
worked out well?
Youve worked with Boyd Rice on NON
there and think that they could make money off a band
releases and more. Hes known as a I guess one to my credit is that I worked on DeVotchKas
that plays five hundred seat arenas, or clubs, and makes
pretty intense character. Is that for real
first record [SuperMelodrama], but its not very good.
an album for ten grand. r
in the studio?
Its not?

112/Tape Op#115/Mr. Ferbrache/(Fin.)

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