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.