Anchor Blog Series: Entry #3
This one began with the drums, of course. I was determined to have at least one track on the album feature Sean Dixon’s monstrous abilities in an unabashed way. Sometimes I feel like bands, in an effort to maintain ‘coolness’, end up becoming the sum of their inhibitions. We have no claim to coolness, and thus we fearlessly tackle the unrecommended.
I asked Sean what a punk beat would sound like in 3/4 (instead of 4/4) and he said “Oh, like this…” and I pressed record. Then after a while exploring the double-time beat he said, “But the really cool thing is that you can go here…” and he proceeded to drop into a 3/4 break without missing a beat. It was a MOMENT. I’d never heard a 3/4 breakbeat, and I don’t know why!? They sound great, especially after a 3/4 punk freakout.
After we recorded the drums I got stuck for a while…Where could one possible go from here? Louder? If we did distorted guitars and picked bass it could get unwieldy, so punk instrumentation was out. I sat on it for a couple months while working on other stuff, and it finally hit me that the drums are so vertical and busy that I needed the other elements to be more horizontal, spacious and minimalistic to ground the drums. Daniela Gesundheit was traveling to a wedding nearby and was available to stop by the studio in August 2013 and I thought her voice could work wonders on this track. I scrambled to write a melody worthy of her voice. I ended up using the automatic harmony generators in the TC Helicon Voice-live 2 (the vocal processor I used a lot on the first Zammuto record) to sketch out a 4 part harmony. She’s got a great ear for harmony and we were able to record the 4 layers in an afternoon. It was a hot day and we needed to keep the door to the studio open, which explains all the bird sounds buried in this track.
Hegemony. I don’t know why this word popped into my head, but it’s one that I truly love. I have a passionate interest in things that are ubiquitous but go largely unnoticed… the giant forces in our lives that hold the fabric of everything together but fall so completely into the background that we don’t see them. This covers everything from the laws of physics to corporate dominance to politics to dynamics in intimate relationships. It’s EVERYWHERE once you start looking for it. (Here’s a great example of 'situational blindness'). Also, the fact that the word ‘Hegemony’ has two widely accepted pronunciations seems important, in a strangely poetic way. So the lyrics became (in a pseudo-palindromic form):
Try to make it look like an accident,
Cold wind blows all around a magic ball,
When you looked down,
You made it look just like you’d gone away,
But I can feel it all,
Yeah, you looked down,
You made it look just like you’d gone away,
I can feel it all,
Hegemony x42 (3 x 14)
Repeat verse 1
Sometimes I think of language as an uninvited guest in an otherwise perfect mind. So, It’s a great exercise to concentrate so intensely on the sound of a word that the meaning of it disappears. It illustrates an important property of language. Repeating a word many times has a way of undoing it’s meaning. The sound of the word becomes more and more abstract as the signifier becomes divorced from the signified. I think hegemonies arise by the reverse process: an abstraction is repeated to the point where it becomes accepted as fact. ‘Consent is manufactured’. Things we never needed before become necessities. This is how tools, in the form of objects and people, are made. Personally, I want to use tools without becoming a tool. But, it’s hard to find a perspective that unveils the hegemony most of the time. Usually it requires taking several steps back, and outside of one’s comfort zone. But hard work is rewarding.
After mixing the harmonies (both Daniela’s and mine) I sent the vocals through the Vermona Retroverb all together to unify them into a mono track and give them a bit of vintage spring flavor. Then I started looking for supporting elements and once again I found them within the Nord Electro 3. Another great thing about Nord is that they provide a vast library of vintage keyboard samples that you can download directly to the keyboard, including the original Mellotron and Chamberlain tapes, and classic patches from early synthesizers. I spent several days going through them all and compiled my favorites in a library of my own. They come in very handy. I processed most of them through the outboard gear as I tracked them. Then Mikey, my brother, came in and recorded the slinky bass line that pulls it all together. The crazy distorted organ sound at the beginning and end of the track is the Farfisa organ from the Nord, through its onboard amp-modeler and a Moog Cluster-Flux, which the kind folks at Moog let me borrow while it was in the prototype phase.
For those of you who are interested in the technical aspects of drum recording: We recorded the drums with 5 microphones: D6 on the kick, two 414’s for overheads in ‘recorderman' configuration as close as possible, and e604 on the snare top, an Audix I5 on the snare bottom (sort of pointed towards the kick point) and an e604 on the big floor tom recorded through a UA 710d preamp with a touch of '1176' compression on the takes. (plus an art tube pre on the tom). I wanted stereo drums as quickly as possible (since they are easier to work with) so I roughly EQ'd them using Izotope alloy. One AMAZING trick I discovered is that if you record snare top and bottom, EQ them so they sound as alike as possible and pan them hard right and left, the snare becomes incredibly vivid (without a volume boost!). The overheads are panned hard as well, the kick in the center, and the tom a bit to the right, then bounced it all to stereo. This sounded ok, but too 'clean'. So I sent it OUTBOARD. I sent a stereo analog signal through the R.K Butler tube spring reverb, only used a tiny touch of reverb, but drove the tubes pretty hard to distort the transients a touch. Then I used the VLA2 compressor, set to a slow attack and fast release to bring out a lot of detail in the ringing of the drums that you couldn't hear in the digital mix. Finally, I used the Kush Electra EQ to find the sweet-spots in the drum sound and lift them. The sweepable mids on the Electra are very unique, and if you eq the left and right slightly differently you can widen the stereo image in a very compelling way. The mind behind this EQ is Gregory Scott, and he has an extremely useful web presence that I’ve learned a lot of tricks from.
OK! Tomorrow: Track 4 – Our version of an old murder ballad called ‘Henry Lee’.
1). Pick up something from our online store where you’ll find:(zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture)
3). Most importantly! SPREAD THE WORD. We need to grow a bit more to survive. Share this post, tweet, facebook, whatever. If all of you turned just one person on to our music, we’d be golden, totally independent and in the black.
Starting on Oct 26 we’ll be heading through New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA (a special home town finale). We hope to see you out there.