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Recording LVLS and Corvids

(Session notes and musings)

BrunswickMillJust had a fantastic, exhausting, incredibly gratifying weekend recording two bands back-to-back at Brunswick Mill in Manchester using The Box; LVLS on Saturday, and Corvids on Sunday.

You couldn’t get two more different bands. LVLS make glorious stadium-sized epic pop music. Drums, Bass, three guitars, three vocalists, sequenced parts, drum pads… it’s a fairly astounding production when they’re just playing in the room, even before you get to recording.

Corvids, on the other hand, are a more stripped-down guitar / bass / drums / vocals act; abrasive, wiry, intense and a bit unhinged, frankly. So fairly different approaches were required.

The thing the two bands did have in common was this: they really had their shit together. Songs and arrangements were complete, well-rehearsed, and performed with authority and commitment. Which is really where a good 85% of making good records resides.

Bands take note: In the year 2013, we have amazing tools and tech for manipulating sound. Tone, timing, tuning, no problem, we can fix anything. And good engineers really can polish turds and make silk purses out of sows’ ears. So you really can turn up and half-ass it, and someone like me will grumble and complain, but in the end, they’ll take what you did and turn it into something that sounds like a record.

The thing is, though, for band music (as opposed to electronica, which is a whole ‘nother thing) that’s not how you make magic, and making magic is the business we’re in. Great ideas made into great songs, performed brilliantly with the microphones pointing the right way and the recording light on is how you make magic. And I think we made some this weekend.

A quick note to say thanks to both bands for their patience; I was fairly ill recovering from a gum infection, and was on such strong painkillers I couldn’t feel the ends of my fingers. So I spent the first couple of hours of each day a babbling, sweating, incoherent mess.

Also thanks to the lovely helpful people at EXR and Brunswick Mill, Manchester’s premier rehearsal rooms / haunted castle.

Anyway, here are some specifics, for the recording geeks out there.


LVLS Session Notes
(LVLS on Facebook)


The LVLS aesthetic, it seemed to me, required two things. On the one hand, this is a band that can really play, with a lot of feel and power. So I really wanted to get basic tracks down with the full band, rather than multi-tracking all the fire out of it.

Playing to a click was a given, since there are pre-sequenced synth parts, but I’d heard how they played at a rehearsal earlier in the week, and I knew they were good enough to play in and out of the click and not play robotically. I felt that if they played separately, we’d end up with a sort of dry perfect-ness, rather than the sheer ass-kickery I’d heard them achieve together.

This turned out to be the right call; there was no weeding out bad takes, it was more a question of picking out the stunning take from the merely excellent ones. We did quite a lot of takes of the first song, but only because the band decided to make a small arrangement change after a couple of attempts. The second song I think we did three takes of, and agreed that the second take nailed it.

We only had access to one room and no dividers, so we put the bass amp out in the corridor, to at least control the low end bleed. We positioned the guitar amps in the room to get the least amount of bleed into the drum mics.


Not a dream acoustic, but no guts, no glory

This worked out fine for all the close mics, in which you can barely hear the guitars. There’s a fair bit of spill into the drum overheads, but as I’m sat tinkering with it, I’m confident this will just help the mix to gel together, rather than cause any particular issues. I don’t fear bleed. I mean, if it helps the record, I’ll bleed.

As with any intelligent and capable band, a lot of the parts kind of mix themselves, or at least, tell you how they should be mixed. Jay plays kind of heavy grungy rhythm parts, Emily plays shimmery chimey stuff on a lovely Gretsch hollow-body guitar, and Paul does the effects-laden stuntman parts. And the whole band have incredibly tight timing. It all weaves together fairly magically before you even touch the EQ.

However, I also thought a bit of studio spectacle was going to really enhance things. And since everyone could be relied on to play accurately, once we had basic tracks, we layered on doubles of all the guitar parts. I also took split direct signals from every guitar, which may or may not get re-amped during the mixing phase; will have to see how dense we want to get with it.

Guitars were recorded using single SM57s per amp, apart from Paul’s. I wanted to make sure we could get some extra depth and presence for the lead parts, so when it came to his lead overdubs, I employed the time-honoured method of simply recording it as loud as possible. We had two SM57s close, one on each cone of his Vox amp, and an SE R1 ribbon mic picking up a more distant signal with more room sound. One-mic purists can bite me, it sounds amazing.

We’ve got another session to follow to record vocals, but listening back to the raw tracks, I’m extremely excited. It’s always best when, as a mix engineer, your job is just to not mess up what are already great sounds and performances. More to follow as this progresses.


Corvids Session Notes
(Corvids on Facebook)


I got a bit luckier on the Corvids session, as the room next door was also free. So we could put the guitar and bass amps in there, enabling us to get a drum recording with no bleed at all.

However, I still wanted the band to all play together with lots of eye contact, so I had everyone playing in the same room as the drum kit, with headphones on. This gave us the additional benefit of being able to turn the amps up ear-bleedingly loud without everyone getting massive listening fatigue straight away.

I opted not to use a click on this session. Some bands play with a kind of clipped timing that suits working to a click. Other bands play with a kind of loose swing that doesn’t. Corvids play like one of those cartoon dust-cloud fights:


… so there was no way a click track was going to do anything other than kill the bad-assery, which would have been very much the wrong move.

Bassist Sam plays through a guitar amp, which is a key part of the band’s jaggedey sound. But I felt there was a risk of a low end hole in the overall sound, so we took a split DI from the bass too. Even just raw coming back over the headphones, this added a satisfying weight to the bass sound, so I think this is going to be a great thing to have to play with at the mix stage.


We had originally intended to record four tracks, but we had killer takes of those within about an hour and a half of starting recording. Unlike LVLS, where we were aiming for more of a grand production, the desired approach here was a Steve Albini-style vérité recording. So with a couple of hours left before Joe (the drummer) had to leave, and a couple more hours after that for vocals and overdubs, we just kept going.

Interestingly, as the day wore on, each song took fewer and fewer takes, and the best take came earlier and earlier. One song, we didn’t even bother to do a second take of, as everyone agreed the odds of it getting any better were vanishingly small. It’s great when you get a flow going like that.

In the end, we put down ten tracks, only one of which everyone felt wasn’t working. So yeah, we essentially tracked an LP in a day, suckers. See note above about having one’s shit together.

We had also planned to lay on guitar doubles, but listening back, we decided that it wasn’t really required; Alex is a bit of genius with his pedal-board, and the array of tones he gets out of a single guitar in a single take is pretty astonishing. And I took DI splits of the guitar anyway, so if we need any extra tones at mix time, we can re-amp that.

At which point, it came to Bob’s vocals. I often worry about making things comfortable for vocalists, as standing on your own in a room singing with a bunch of people watching can be a bit of a self-conscious experience. But what transpired was extraordinary. As soon as the recording light went on, this softly-spoken friendly chap, who’d been giving slaps on the back and ego-bolstering encouragement to his bandmates all day became a screaming, snarling, howling ball of fury. Then at the end of the take, he’d change back and ask “How was that, ok?”. More than once, myself and the rest of the band were sat with our jaws hanging open; I don’t think even they were expecting it. Suffice to say, I’ve rarely seen a more immediately committed performance in a studio in my life.

Of course, the day at this point was wearing on, and about six songs in, Bob was pretty much ready for an ambulance. So we called it a day, and we’re going to finish up vocal tracking at my home. Neighbours are going to love it, I’m sure.



Free Recording Time Offer


Am looking for a Manchester-based band who have songs rehearsed and ready to record, and who can come and spend a day in Manchester city centre before the end of September (the sooner the better).

The purpose for me is to field test some new gear in a new location I’ve not recorded in before. The benefit to you is that you walk away with full ownership of whatever we produce.

Read on for more details, and contact me at

How to land yourself a freebie:
First off, this is not a talent contest. The decision on who to record will be more to do with fitting in with the kinds of tests I need to run on my gear than anything else. For this particular experiment, I’m looking for a pretty loud guitar band with a solid drummer.

I’ll need to hear what you sound like. Even if this is a scrappy recording of a rehearsal done on a phone, send it over. I’ll be listening to the songs and the performance, not the recording quality.

Alternatively, if you have a gig or you rehearse in the Manchester area, I can come over and see you play.

What we’ll be doing
We will be recording for a day in a venue I want to try out in Manchester City Centre. I’ll then be mixing the results and handing over complete ownership to you, to do with as you please.

What you get:

  • Planning session
    This is separate from the recording time and won’t intrude on it.  Ideally, this would be at a rehearsal so I can look at your gear and how you set up.
  • One day recording time
    This includes set-up, basic tracks and overdubs.  The number of songs that can be done in that time is dependent on the complexity of the material and desired production style, but two or three songs is entirely possible with a well-rehearsed band.
  • Transfer to mixing rig and initial draft mix
    This is done by me alone in my mixing room (it’s boring to watch, trust me).
  • Revised mix based on your feedback
    You are welcome to drop in on this session, or we can do revisions remotely based on notes.
  • Mix time is additional to the recording time and will not intrude on it.
  • Complete Ownership
    There are no strings attached. I don’t expect any kind of points or royalties or payment in kind whatsoever. This is a research and development expense for me.

What I get:

  • Permission to stream at least part of each final track as work samples on my website.
  • Your patience while I work out any issues with what I’m testing. If there are any substantial gear issues that prevent us getting stuff done, I’ll add the extra time in no problem.
  • You have to pay for the biscuits.


Recording sound effects at MOSI

Excellent day out at the Museum of Science and Industry recording sound effects for an upcoming project.

Needed a bunch of hissing and clanking of heavy machinery so asked the staff to direct us to “stuff that makes a lot of noise”. We were sent to “The Power Room”, which contains some of the most fantastically absurd-looking machines I’ve ever seen in my life.


This particular colossus, via a complex system of enormous gears and pulleys culminated in a small steel peg hammering up and down. Not quite sure what it does. My colleague speculated that it might be history’s most committed hole-punch.


I can’t begin to describe how happy this makes me

Awesome YouTube clip using one of the first ever Club Clique remixes. Some fantastic finger choreography in there.

Can’t remember the exact date, but I think we made this remix about two and a half years ago.

Studio maintenence in the 21st century

… is satisfyingly sci fi. Half expected it to start singing Daisy Daisy and throw me out of the airlock.

"Daisy, Daisy..."

Geek Life

Got home today and not only had my Palmer active signal splitters (with polarity inversion and ground lift switches) been delivered, but there was also an In Our Time about General Relativity queued up on iPlayer.

Dear reader, I PUNCHED THE AIR.

It was amazing. I finally truly understood the nature of curves in spacetime at the precise moment I first played the solo from Stairway to Heaven through two amps at once. Whatever you did tonight, I guarantee you didn’t get a head rush like that.


I Am Pumped to the Hilt About the Goldblade LP Reviews


I may have only been involved on two tracks, but I can’t deny that the universal praise for Goldblade’s ‘Terror Of Modern Life’ LP is giving me the warm fuzzies all over.

The band themselves are keeping a log of them here:

Here are some quotes about the tracks I worked on:

Mass Movement Magazine
“… the band explore something completely new in the eight minute title track which sounds like an out of control jam between PIL, Killing Joke and Sunn o)))”

Soundsphere Magazine
‘The Terror Of Modern Life’, is over eight minutes long, and it’s certainly not the average punk belter. It builds, motivating the listener before the spoken-word vocals kick in and a wall of immersive sound takes over”

Closewatch Music
“The end track… is 8 minutes of venom. A fitting end in my mind.”

Muso’s Guide
“a chugging, distorted fuck you to those uncomfortable with innovation in punk music.”

“… Serious Business, a welcome detour into dub-splashed ska-rock that makes like Ghost Town with enough unhinged charm to forgive the clear influence.”

“Serious Business is one of the highlights with its lairy Rastamouse vocals”

Pure Rawk
“Serious Business” sounds like something the Clash might have come up with”
“… the potential hit single, Serious Business… ”

… I could go on. Read more on Goldblade’s site.

Production and mix for Goldblade

I did vocal tracking, some arrangement and production, and mixes for two tracks on the new Goldblade LP, Terror Of Modern Life:


Excerpts below by kind permission of Goldblade:

The title track is a big, long, scary noise thing, with multiple tracks of atonal bass and guitar, and was frankly a bugger to mix. The other, Serious Business, is a sort of punk dub reggae thing, and myself and Brother John Robb had a good time aping Lee Scratch Perry and Prince Far I’s chaotic production trickery.

I can confirm that there is no sweeter revenge on noisy neighbours than having Mr Robb round screaming the word TERROR.

We improvised a vocal booth out of a guitar case, a couple of duvets and an SE Reflexion Filter. The mic used was the SE x1 condenser. John’s a pretty forceful singer, so I had to find a way to have him a bit off the mic, without letting room reflections colour the sound. Both songs were done in just a couple of takes, plus overdubs.


Cat Power – Manhattan – Club Clique remix

Something the Clique DJs and I knocked up for DJing purposes last year. As Ms Marshall was in the UK recently, we thought we’d stick it up on the internet.

Can’t remember all the details of the production now, but it features me on live bass and e-bow guitar.

The basic idea was that the original is a sort of reflective, contemplating the city on the train to work in the morning song.  So we thought it would be good to get that song really drunk and take it out on a Saturday night.

Also remixed the video for good measure:

John Foxx – Underpass – Oh The Gilt remix – released at last

Well, after sitting on the shelf for seven months, this is finally out at the end of May. Still really pleased with this one.

Limited edition, all stamped and numbered.


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