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Recording 2012 Style

25 September 2012 | 5:44 pm | Greg Phillips

Yeah. He hadn’t done much stuff like us and when it came to mixing, he kind of blew it.

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Melbourne based rockers Redcoats created a wave of curiosity with their 2011 EP release and will follow up with an up-sized, retro-tinged, progadelic self- titled album in mid October. Five years after they released their debut album, 80s-flavoured, 2012-valid electro-pop outfit Expatriate have finally released their second record, Hyper/Hearts and have been recently road testing it live in Melbourne, Sydney and Indonesia. The Amity Affliction have just released an album too. It's a massive sounding metal-core record called 'Chasing Ghosts', complete with much-talked about album art which has gone straight to the top of the album charts.

Muso: All three albums are excellent modern day music productions with so much in them. Did you all have specific sonic goals for the albums prior or was it a matter of recording the bunch of songs you had at the time?

Neil: Yeah I suppose so. I think a lot of it came into context in the studio. The goal for us was to portray our live sound as honestly as possible. We weren't trying to build sounds which would be more than the stage sound, so it was an honesty thing more than a sonic thing.

Ben: We were the opposite of that. We wanted a record that was very textured and layered. A couple of us in the band are well into the production world and do stuff outside of music. We wanted to get a great band energy in the studio and then take that away, which we did ... 4 weeks in the studio, then took it to our home set up and kind of went up our own arse in a way! (laughs all round). We were taking guitar sounds and putting them through weird filters in Ableton or whatever else and just getting a bit more adventurous than we did on the first album.

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Was it difficult to know when the new album was finished?

Ben: It was really hard, terrible at certain points. It was like, when is this going to end? When is life going to resume? It's still rewarding because you have control over what you are doing. You can take something right to the end and see if it is worth keeping or not, you have that time.

What about Amity, Ahren?

Ahren: I guess we just wanted to do something that was on a par with our peers. We made all the demos as good as we could possibly make them. Troy, our guitarist is into all of that stuff as well and we tried to polish it as much as possible before we went into the studio. It was like, OK, now we've got to better this and it all worked out well.

How important was the choice of studio?

Ahren: We wanted the guy who did out previous album but he wasn't available so we had to get someone else. We didn't really know who he was but Roadrunner said you can do it with this guy (Michael Baskette), he's free. We didn't really know who he was or what he'd done.

He'd worked with Incubus?

Ahren: Yeah. He hadn't done much stuff like us and when it came to mixing, he kind of blew it. It was all recorded on an analogue desk, which kind of got lost in what we wanted. It was all too warm so we got another guy to mix it. But combined, both of them created a pretty good sound.

Ben, Expatriate recorded in Berlin where some classic rock albums were produced. Can a town ever influence a recording?

Ben: It's obviously steeped in a lineage of great artists who have gone there and made great records but it is also full of really crap bands and shit art! There are so many people living there and it is cheap. I mean you could fart and have an exhibition! It's inspiring there but it's like, everyone is doing this. We actually made half of the record in Wales. We had intended to make the whole record there but the truth is that we didn't come out with something that we wanted. We thought it wasn't good enough. We're quite skilled at bedroom studios and we have a bit of gear, so we took it all back to Berlin and put the cream on top of the cake kind of thing.

And where did Redcoats record?

Neil: We recorded in Byron Bay at 301.

Ben: What's that like?

Neil: It's great, very comfortable… relaxing. You can live on site which is great. We were there for three and a half weeks. You had been all together somewhere with the writing too?

Neil: Yeah we had been writing it over the last year at a house near Daylesford (Victoria). There's a house on a bunch of land and there is no one around. There's a deaf farmer in a dairy just over the hill and that's it. We'd set up in the kitchen and do most of it there. Did a week of pre-production at Bakehouse in Melbourne and then went up to Byron and did it all mostly live.The producer Redcoats used, David Schiffman has worked with Nine Inch Nails. How did you find his style of production?

Neil: Great. He is all about getting the most sincere sound throughout the whole record. It just sounds so much like us ... really quite straight up. The sound of the guitar amps, it's just there. It's not really effected or anything. Our EP was more 'produced' in a sense with effects on vocals and snare drum, reverbs and swirling shit. This is a lot more dry but the sounds are really honest.

With Redcoats and also Expatriate. there's an element of retro in your music. I can hear 80s, Simple Minds-era music in Expatriate and the ghosts of 70s rock in Redcoats. Is there ever a discussion about how far you go with the homage to old school sounds? Is there a line you have to draw in the sand?

Ben: We don't have a discussion about it. I guess it's just the way things evolve when the writing process takes place and also the choice of sounds and instruments. Yeah, we love that era of music but also a lot of other genres too. I guess because I write the music and I gravitate to that way of music, it's how I want to say it. Luckily we are pretty much all on the same page so with Damien's keyboard sounds for instance, there's never any of that, 'no you can't do that' type of thing.

Was it the same for Redcoats?

Neil: Yeah, it's never really intentional. It's just what we have grown up listening to and letting in. It's a combination of all those influences, a subliminal thing.

Both Redcoats and Amity's bass mixes are interesting on your albums, it's not overpowering, it's mixed back. Was there much discussion about where bass would sit in the mix?

Ahren: Yeah it just makes it sound heavier I feel. Based on all metal-core records, it's pretty hard to find. It takes away from the entirety a bit and makes it a bit too wide, where as you want it hard hitting. In certain parts it's there fairly prominent though.

And that's similar with your band Neil?

Neil: Yeah it moves around more on this record than other stuff we've done, where it comes in and out and moves around a bit. It accentuates different parts and pulls back in other parts to sit with drums or when the guitars go up with the vocals but there are moments where it's really in there.

With the mixing process, there's a lot of good work which is often resigned to the background. Is that a bummer sometimes for a musician?

Ahren: A little bit. It's like, why would I waste so much time making this perfect when you can barely hear it. You can just turn up the kick drum and it will make the sound like it is perfectly in time anyway.

Ben: It's interesting when you hand a piece of work over to a mixer and then they hand it back. That exchange takes place and sometimes you think, why did you do that?

Ahren: Everything louder than everything else and you can't hear anything!

Ben: Something that can be so obvious to you, it's striking that it's not to someone else but that's the exchange that happens and you might compromise. Sometimes they'll come back with something amazing.

Ahren: And other times it can be like, how can you not see that? (laughs)

But you'd all have final say anyway wouldn't you?

Ben: Definitely. To be honest we really had a lot of toing and froing on this record. There were like 4 or 5 mixes of songs going on.

Because there is such a gap between albums, was it difficult to know which way to go musically this time?

Ben: It was and we had so many songs. The thing is, when we write together in a room, it is very different to when I bring songs to the band. We end up writing really cool, spacey dub music. It's another side of the band which happens when we get in a room, we're not thinking, just playing. We had it set up so that we could record everything and multi track demos. So we had a huge amount of material and then through a process of elimination, we got it down. Yeah it was quite nerve-racking. We put that first record out in 2007, then put it out in Europe in 2009 and toured it, so it was nerve-racking to go back in and do something new. We were really gagging for it obviously because it had been so long in between.

Ahren, I read that you have an electro side project?

Ahren: Oh no, not anymore. I did for a bit. It was a pop thing which was pretty funny. I always used to muck around in Garageband and stuff.

Ben: What happened to it?

Ahren: It was with our ex-keyboard player, who we are not on good terms with at all. That's the reason. Otherwise I may have been into but I'd much rather just focus on one band.

Do you guys have side projects?

Ben: Yeah I do. I have a solo thing that is happening at the moment called Lakes of Light, it's a lot more pop ... very much a work in progress. It's not pop in a Top 40 way but colourful, positive, pop music.

What about you Neil?

Neil: I do some acoustic shows but it's not really a 'thing'. It's just a bunch of songs which aren't rock songs. If someone asks me to play after a gig at dinner for fifty bucks, I'll be there!

Let's talk about the gear you guys play.

Neil: My main stage rig is a Fender Jazzmaster. I used to play a Jaguar, since High school ... just that guitar shape, it became my guitar. I stepped up to a Jazzmaster a year or so ago. I use an Orange amp, a Retro 50 head which is beautiful.

A lot of guitarists are doing that now, playing Fenders through Orange amps.

Ben: I did last night and it sounded really good.

Neil: Yeah they play really well together and it is something I have done. I see no reason to change. It sounds great


Neil: Not a lot. I use a couple of fuzz pedals. In the studio I just use what I do live but obviously with more time to pull up sounds between takes. It's pretty straight forward. A lot of it is just overdriven amp tones. For the heavier sounds, I'll just put a fuzz pedal in. Not really a lot of trickery on the album really. There's a few really nice Leslie tracks which is great to just slip under stuff. Just a lot of hot valves and dying fuzz pedals.

Ben, is the gear you used in the studio pretty much what you use on stage?

Ben: Pretty much but we borrowed some gear from friends over there. My main instrument is a late seventies Tele. It's just a beautiful sounding thing. I like a really clean tone that has body to it and the Tele seems to give it to me without being muddy or scratchy in the top end, through a Vox AC30 or Fender Bassman. I'll drive it through a Tube Screamer or something like that but mainly I use Boss pedals. I haven't gone down that path of buying obscure gear.

Neil: It's a can of worms!

And you like to keep the guitars clean because of the keyboards, Ben?

Ben: Damian who plays the keys but also guitar… he tends to play all the colourful, weirder stuff and he has quite an arsenal of pedals which he shares around with people. My role is just to keep it solid and keep the bed there, which sounds simple but it is hard to get it just right. The clean full bodied thing with a bit of break up is … I'm still on that journey!

Ahren, what's your rig?

Ahren: Just a MusicMan. I used a five string in the studio. I played a bunch of guitar as well. I used Troy's Maton and a couple of Les Pauls he had there. I play my bass through an Ampeg classic and an 8x10 Ampeg cab with a SansAmp.

Is there an element of triggering with Amity on stage?

Ahren: Ryan our drummer will have in-ears with a click and the track playing.

Ben: Same with us… just to fill it out.

Ahren: Just to make it perfectly in time. Even when our keyboard player was in the band we still had exactly the same backing track with all the keys because he couldn't play it in the time. God knows how he lasted so long.

And Redcoats are much more straight forward than that?

Neil: Yeah, we don't use any samples or clicks or anything live. We have done in rehearsal leading up to the album ... a click just for the first half of a song or even just listening to it before the intro so you can shift a bit.

How much of a culture shock is it going from your first recording experience, an EP compared to your first album?

Ahren: It's huge! You've got to write three times as many songs. It's hard.

Ben: I definitely agree with that. Particularly for us because we made that first EP in-house. Damian had a studio in Sydney where we rehearsed, wrote and recorded on a 001 Pro Tools thing. We took our time and built it up, mixed it ourselves and luckily our record label let us put it out. Then when it came to making the album, we went into studio world and that was a bit of a shock… actually being in a room which is built for making records.

Neil, this is probably fresher for you because you've just finished the album?

Neil: Yeah our album isn't even out yet. It's just a lot bigger project with a lot more people and songs involved. Which is great, we loved doing it.

Ben: See I suck at doing vocals in a studio. I have to work twice as hard in a proper studio as opposed to being in a bedroom. I guess instead of putting money into heaps of pedals, I have set myself up with a decent home recording set up. I tend to do my own vocals in a walk in wardrobe, which I have made into a vocal booth. I am far more relaxed and get far better results that way.

Because there is so much production in your albums, how difficult will it be playing these tracks live?

Ahren: Well it is easy with the backing track! Honestly, with the backing track, all of the keys we don't have to worry about. There is nothing that strange on the record that we can't pull off live. It's just guitar, bass, drums and singing. As long as we don't get too drunk, we keep in key.

Ben: Definitely very hard for us as a result of doing all of that stuff we did in Berlin and all the samples, layers of things. We run Ableton live, our drummer plays off a click to that. There's not a lot of backing track stuff but there's enough. We have pulled stuff out so it doesn't sound too weird but he's also triggering a few things to keep that live element ... we just wanted to replicate it live. Luckily our drummer survived death by click! He got through that whole stage of rejecting the click and thanks to him we can put on a show.

What about Redcoats getting the album down live, I guess it's easier for you guys?

Neil: It's not really an issue because we kind of worked backwards in that respect, taking what we do live and trying to capture it in the studio, with the exception of instead of kicking in a new pedal, you just set up a new tone. Consciously as well, we didn't really want to go out and put all this shit on a track that makes the song and think, yeah that's great, but then hang on, how are we going to do that live.

Ben: It's weird, I went to see a band a couple of weeks ago, and I swear it just sounded like a CD and I think he was even miming. It was their single, it's on Triple J and I swear he was miming this single. It was an indie electronic band who will remain nameless but it was weird. It's like, why? You can all play! Maybe it's an insecurity thing maybe?

You're all musicians and you love to play music but because you're in professional bands you have to worry about other stuff like interviews ... and cover art. I wonder how much discussion there is about album art. I know Amity Affliction have copped a bit of flack about your cover (picturing a guy hanging himself). How much discussion was there Ahren about that cover?

Ahren: It was only really between me and Joel. We sort out all the merch and stuff and he's an artist and came up with that. I thought, yep good idea and that was it.

And Expatriate?

Ben: Damian our keyboardist came up with the art for this one. We take a lot of pride and put a lot of effort into the art. We went through so many different ideas to get this one where we got it to. It was a shit fight actually. I found all these photos of amazing natural formations and I had this whole thing in my head how it all made sense with the music. I was just kind of wafty crap! Then I'd engaged these people with the photos and they totally dicked me around for two months with licences and fees and had to scrap it right on deadline. Art is super important …videos.

Redcoats have completed the cover art?

Neil: Yes we have reached a conclusion. We work with artists who we know so they understand our vibe and we understand how they work. it can be hard though because obviously it is a representation of what is inside the record. Film clips are a shit fight. It's a brain strain because it is such a big thing. So many people are going to see it on the internet.

Ahren: So many people talk shit about it. That's what YouTube is for… talking shit!

What are you most proud of with the album?

Neil: That's a hard one. Probably the structuring of the songs and how we have moved along as writers. We are really proud of that. The songs we had for this record compared to the songs we had for the EP, it's a real progression for us as writers… and as players too because we have been playing for a lot longer now.

What about you Ben?

Ben: Probably just getting it done, to put it simply. Having five years between records it was a relief to get it finished. Once something is completed you can then focus on something else, the next batch of writing .. which we already are. It's not a very interesting answer but it's the most honest answer I can give… just finishing it.


Ahren: Probably just what people might take away from it, the message through the lyrics. We get messages from kids saying we saved their life all the time, it is amazing.