Recording Mountain Song


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.”