Altar Flowers

DENA

NYPC

The Heartbreaks

John Foxx

Bombay Bicycle Club

Charlotte OC

The Yossarians

Locean

Mountain Song

ILL

MiSTOA POLTSA

The Happy Soul

Goldblade

Saint Etienne

English Heretic

Ten Mouth Electron

Lana Del Rey

East India Youth

Holly Johnson

The Lone Taxidermist

Erasure

Mobile Studio

Black Helicopters – Diagonal Science LP

Really proud to have worked on this marvellous record by Mancunian enigma Black Helicopters.

https://www.facebook.com/blackhelicoptersmcr/?fref=ts

Mostly recorded by the band themselves, and mainly a mix / master job for me. I recorded live drums on about half the tracks with percussive man-machine Luca Corda from local noise legends Locean, and I think we re-tracked a couple of small vocal parts.

Couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out. Thing sounds like it’s carved out of diamonds.

 

 

 

ILL’s ‘Slithering Lizards’ listed as one of The Skinny NW’s tracks of the year

An honour and a privilege to be mentioned in The Skinny’s roundup of the year’s best tracks from the North West.

http://www.theskinny.co.uk/music/opinion/2015-sounds-from-the-northwest

More to follow from the mighty ILL. In the meantime, go and show em some love over here: https://www.facebook.com/weareill

… and then show em some money over here: http://www.weareill.com/

ILL Song cover

ILL – The Ill Song (video)

I really should update this blog a lot more frequently. But busy times for the Box mean quiet times on the website.

I’ll endeavour to share more tales of daring adventures in audio soon. In the meantime, check out this slice of fried gold I got to work on with the mighty ILL.

https://www.facebook.com/weareill

https://twitter.com/we_are_ill

 

The Box Presents…. (7th March, The Star and Garter, Manchester)

eventcover

https://www.facebook.com/events/1546224752301261/?fref=ts

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed in the last year or so of running The Box Mobile Studio is simply getting to spend a lot of time watching my favourite bands play.

However, I’m also always engineering and producing at the time, so I’ve decided to arrange some events where I get to watch my favourite bands play with a drink in my hand and no work to do. And I’d like you – yes YOU – to join me.

There’ll be a number of these shows this year, as there are now quite a lot of acts to get through. All killer, of course; much to my bank manager’s dismay, I’ve not, to date, recorded a band I didn’t already rate highly.

For the first show, prepare to have your joy-lobes vibrated by:

The bracing improvised psych(iatry) rock of LOCEAN

The lubricious bassy twang of TEN MOUTH ELECTRON

The majestic Brechtian sleaze of THE YOSSARIANS

… and further fine attractions and entertainments to be announced.

Bands will be playing upstairs in the club room. Downstairs in the bar, we’ll be doing an exclusive preview playback of the upcoming Yossarians LP, and a selection of Box-recorded tracks from TME, Locean, Altar Flowers, Mountain Song, The Last Roundup and many more.

£5 entry. Join up and invite on the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1546224752301261/?fref=ts

Recording Mountain Song

MountainSong

There are lots of ways recording jobs come my way. Sometimes I pester people until they let me record them. Other times, I pester people til they tell me to go away, and I continue to pester them until they let me record them so I’ll go away.

What’s always most gratifying, though, is when someone comes to you because a previous client recommended you to them. This is the one and only thing that means you definitely didn’t suck. You can get paid and still suck. You can have stuff on release and still suck. But only if your bands aren’t saying “Oh man, that dude is a NIGHTMARE and the record sounds HORRIBLE”, only then do you Definitely Not Suck.

Anyway, Mountain Song mailed me out of the blue, saying they rehearsed in the same place as another band I do stuff with, and I’d come highly recommended and all that kind of head-swelling stuff. So I arranged to go and hear a rehearsal and do a bit of pre-production planning (which I always do for free, potential customers note).

By the second verse of the first song, I was already thinking “this is going to be easy”. There’s the recording task, which is one thing, but there’s making sure stuff is ready to record, and with this band, there was just nothing to fix. Great gear, great players, great tones on the amps, great sounding kit and the thing that all that’s worthless without; great songs, rehearsed to a point beyond perfection. As in, they didn’t just have the songs nailed, they had them so nailed, they could make them groove like a bastard.

The room itself is an acoustic horror-show, really, but I’ve done a number of sessions in there now, and I know how to work it pretty well. I did a bit of wandering around while they played working out how I was going to set up, and then I was out of there in less than an hour.

Come the day, I tracked the full band live with bass through DI and the two scratch guitars though the Pod X3 Pro. Fairly crappy fake amp tones, but I captured the DI output of the guitars in case we wanted to keep anything, and then re-tracked the guitars properly though the amps.

Went out for a coffee and left the bass DI re-amping through the bass rig, recorded using an SE Electronics R1 ribbon mic. Overdubbed the slide guitar part on Silo (actually a Pepsi can, not a slide). Four songs (apart from vocals) done and dusted in about six hours. I don’t think we went over two takes on anything.

There was some later tidy up – I ended up using a re-amped DI of one of the scratch guitars for the intro of “Brave”, and we did a day of vocal recording. But 80% of what you hear was laid down in the one day.

Mix went incredibly smoothly too. There’s a thing lots of bands don’t work enough on, which is: what does your gear actually sound like? Is your amp set up right? When you rehearse, can you even hear the other players?

The two guitar tones were already really balanced; Rob’s tone is kind of tight and modern sounding, Dan’s has a more valve-y bark to it. Nothing fancy about the recording method, just your standard SM57 at the edge of the speaker cone. They blended and separated really well according to the song arrangements as soon as I pushed the faders up. Bass was a beastly subby throb with just enough mid-range bite to bring out the notes clearly. And the drums were played with superb dynamic control; no weird popping out snare hits, no flailing cutlery-drawer clatter on the cymbals, just nothing to fix.

This can’t be overstated; if your mixer doesn’t have to burn time and energy fixing stuff, they can focus fully on enhancing. Some of this is to do with playing ability, but probably more of it is to do with just spending the odd hour thinking about it and turning the knobs on the gear.

To put it another way: if you sound terrible, I can make you sound good. If you sound good, I can make you sound great. If you sound great, I can make you sound like gods.

So yeah, technically, I’m very proud of this one. But I have to be honest; this is basically what the band sound like. So when they introduce a Grammy Award for “Not Fucking Stuff Up”, I reckon I’m in with a shot.

I want that on my grave actually: “Here lies John. He didn’t actively ruin things.”

Recording Ten Mouth Electron’s “Brite Lites’ EP

TMErecording

I first saw Ten Mouth Electron about a year ago in Gulliver’s in Manchester, and it absolutely pinned me to the wall. Brutal, brilliant, and synapse-janglingly strange. I then spent the next few months completely failing to find out anything about them or who they were, until, when attempting to describe them to a chap I’d just met, was informed “Ah, that’s my band”.

I first realised that I really had to record them at a later gig where they played this EP’s opening track Brite Lites. For one thing, I simply could not work out how the sounds I was hearing were being summoned from a guitar, and as a guitar player, I thought getting them into a recording situation would be my best shot at figuring out how to rip it off.

Numerous tracking and overdub sessions later, I still have absolutely no idea how it’s done. We used two amps running in parallel, and I used multiple mics around the room to capture it, but what goes on between fingers and amp remains fairly opaque to me.

Basic tracking was done in the band’s rehearsal room, in a fairly chaotic session that ran til around 3am. We then did some overdubs both in the rehearsal room and in my mix room.

Coming to mix the tracks later, we realised that the cider level had been way too high on Hate Week At The Coven, so we re-tracked that at the end of a session for the Minor Characters project at Parr Street Studios. Hate Week works best wonky, I think, but there is such a thing as too much wonky.

 

For anyone interested n the technical stuff:

Only had the one room to work with, so we put the bass amp out in the corridor, and ran the two guitars through both channels of a Pod X3 Pro. This is the rack version, that handily lets you run two guitars through two completely seperate amp and effect chains at once. We only used the amp sims for monitoring, as we wanted to get the tone of the band’s really rather nice valve amps. I did, however, record the straight-through DI sgnal of the guitars.

So once we had the bass and drum parts down, with no spill from anywhere, we had the choice of re-tracking the guitars as overdubs, or re-amping the DI guitars. In the end, I used a blend of the two on Cut Up Technique, and exclusively the re-tracked stuff on Brite Lites.

Bass is a combination of a DI signal and the amp. Amp for all the grit, DI to add some low end pulse. If I recall correctly, the DI signal is cut off completely from about 200 hz, so it’s really just providing some thump.

Recording LVLS – the making of ‘R.I.P. Joey Fritz’

Just out this week, another EP I worked on for Manchester Band LVLS, ‘R.I.P. Joey Fritz’:

 

This project was a shining example of the value of pre-production. Firstly, due to already knowing the band, I’d been able to follow the development of the songs through being sent home demos, seeing a couple of gigs and getting along to a rehearsal. This kind of thing is always highly beneficial. Not so I can interfere in any way, but so I can wrap my head around what a band’s intentions are, and work out how best to deliver a good result for them.

I’d also not been quite happy with the drum sound I’d got in their rehearsal room last time we recorded. This time around, I’d had a chance to re-think how to approach it. The principal difference was simply using better, less trebly overhead mics. I also made a little cloud of acoustic shielding above the overhead mics out of a bunch of SE Instrument Reflexion Filters and a load of gaffer tape. Didn’t look especially pretty, but made a hell of a difference, by mostly taking sound bouncing off the ceiling out of the equation.

The other thing I really wanted to improve on was controlling spill from the other instruments. All working in one room without isolation can be tricky, so I gave everyone headphones, stuck the bass amp out in the corridor and turned down the guitar amps to near inaudibility. These were then cranked up again in the headphones, so the band could perform as a unit. This is no way to get good guitar tones, but we knew they were only scratch tracks, so no problem. The goal at this stage was just to get good drum and bass takes.

The day went in two halves; first getting strong takes down, then later replacing all the guitar parts individually with the most optimal set-up for each.

The exception to this was Blood Dance, for which we only recorded drums. The rest of that was put together in my home, with vocals, a guitar part, and a bunch of synth parts the band had already put together.

Also done at my home were all the vocals for the other tracks. For vocal tracking, I like to have people somewhere comfortable where they don’t have to watch the clock too much. Which happened to be ideal for this project, as we ended up trying out a lot of different things with the vocal arrangements; it wasn’t simply a case of banging down parts that everyone already knew.

To me, the vocal arrangement stuff is one of the most striking things about LVLS. It’s very rarely straight harmony stuff; more often there are interlocking and call-and-response parts. It’s incredibly clever stuff that manages to sound effortless, which I really love. So I made sure to allow time to try out different things. The second part of ‘Joey Fritz…’ where Emily takes the lead vocal arose from these sessions, based around an idea she had of making the song like a conversation between two people. That wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s a magical moment in the finished track. You should always allow enough space and time for some magic to occur.

After getting everything down, we went through a fairly protracted mix process. Not in terms of hours spent tweaking, but in terms of taking time to think things over carefully and work out a  considered plan. Again, this is enormously valuable. The only real way to assess a mix is to live with it for a while, so you can start listening like a regular listener, and stop agonising about half a dB on the hi-hat or whatever.

I did make something of a howler on the mix process at one point, in that I mixed the title track as if it was a guitar song with synths, rather than a synth song with guitars, which turned out to be an extremely subtle but profound difference in how the thing feels. But we got there in the end.

I’m very proud of having been involved in this. It’s incredibly diverse, stylistically, but still coherent. There’s an inherent LVLS-ness to everything they do, whether that’s minimal electro or jangling power pop or a moody goth-tinged synth epic. Which is something I felt I had to step up to and match with the mixing.

All in all, I think the final result sounds like the first quarter of a great, great LP. I’m always a bit surprised when it ends after three songs.

New LVLS preview track ‘Blood Dance’

Been working with the mighty LVLS on another EP, for release at the end of the month. Another huge leap forward from a great band. They’ve got a preview stream of the song Blood Dance up here:

Too busy to blog more right now! Another three stone cold killer songs coming soon.

 

The Last Roundup EP on Bandcamp

Recorded with the Box Mobile Studio on a frosty day upstairs at Kraak Gallery, Manchester:

I’m especially proud of this one, as – with no desire to offend the good people at Kraak – the room was pretty shocking, acoustically speaking. Much voodoo was employed in getting nice fat drum sounds. Of course, it always helps when the drummer is as good as this one.

Really impressive bunch of songs from a really great band. Go and look them up:

https://twitter.com/the_lastroundup

There’s also a video to my favourite track, “Widescreen Introduction” here:

Corvids album ‘Itch’ on Bandcamp

All killer, no filler. Turn it up:

Really enjoyed working on this. Nine songs in 29 minutes. Short, sharp, and vicious. I listen to it a lot, which is unusual for things I’ve spent a lot of time working on. Usually takes me a few months after finishing before I can properly enjoy things as a listener.

The whole thing was recorded in a single day, apart from three of the vocals. A couple of the songs are first take, even.

We recorded where the band usually rehearse at Brunswick Mill in Manchester. We had the whole band in the same room as the drums, with headphones on and guitar and bass amps out in the corridor for separation. Worked out amazingly well. Lots of interaction and eye contact for the players, but really good separation of the instruments.

There’s nothing special about the rooms at the Mill, acoustically, and there was a ridiculously loud sludge metal band grinding away in the room opposite, too, but it’s amazing what you can achieve when you point the microphones the right way and spend a bit of time getting your sounds lined up right. And the band were so well-rehearsed and clear about what they were doing, it was almost perversely easy.

 

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