8. May = Mixing
1. The Same Mistakes (Sanchez)
2. Green 17 (Langan)
3. Broken Glass Corner (Sanchez)
4. You Gotta Go Now (Sutliff)
5. Carefully Considered Answers (Langan-Sanchez)
6. Last Acid Riders (Sanchez)
7. After The Main Sequence (Sanchez)
8. Come For The Sun (Langan)
9. Wooden Horse (Sanchez)
10. I Saw Your Light (Langan)
11. Vanished (Tek-Sanchez-Masuak)
12. High Street Hitman (Sanchez – Sutliff)
13. Thinking About Neutrons (Sanchez-Tek)
May For Mixing
At the end of 2008, I worked out the schedule we needed to follow, in order to meet our release date. I booked the whole of May for mixing, which is pretty generous, but in my past experience, it always takes longer than it should. When I did the Man’s Call Down The Moon, there were only three days to mix a very long, and complicated record. It got done, but another day or two would have made a couple of songs better.
Here we are, Wednesday May 6th, and two songs are in the can, and the third one nearly done. I’ve put it away for the night, and will return to it in the morning to give it a fresh listen, and have a closer look at a couple of licks that needed some attention. This seems to be the routine. This morning I ran off an alternate mix of Carefully Considered Answers, with the snare pulled down a touch. Deniz had already given his approval, but I just wasn’t sure if I’d got that bit right. Easy enough to run it again with the change. We can choose later.
At the moment, I’m working on the songs Ron Craighead drummed on. Four of the five were Colter’s songs, which have all been completed. I Saw Your Light boasts the highest track count, but I had it pretty well worked out. The challenge was finding the right effects. I had some ideas to add delays on some of the complimentary parts. Pianos and guitars answer each other on the verse. In the end there are four piano tracks. Jason Lytle added a little flourish that answers the main piano. There are also two electric piano parts. As the day proceeded, I ran into a couple of annoying technical issues, that sidetracked me for two hours. Once that was solved, My 2 MXR Flangers decided to give me trouble. These haven’t been fired up for a while, so dirty contacts cause a fault. The distraction did give me time to listen to the song over and over, which will either drive you crazy or inspire a new idea. It was a bit of both today.
Thursday 7 May
I Saw Your Light was completed in the morning, then an afternoon vocal sessions with Lila. This will complete her work on the record. Colter had to postpone his scheduled session due to unforeseen circumstances. That just leaves one more vocal overdub on Wooden Horse, while we await files from Bob Sutliff and Tony Miller. At least seven of the songs are complete and ready to mix. At the moment it seems like it’s moving as fast as it’s gonna go. Jason Lytle dropped by for a few minutes and had a chance to listen to I Saw Your Light. He fully approved. His small contributions added just the glue needed. He had come around to drop off his Demeter Spring Reverb, which had been very helpful for the mix of Roy’s album. He left with some bits of the GLEA house drum kit which he would need for the West Coast leg of his May – June tour.
While talking to Jason, Deniz called to say his planned trip to Michigan had been pushed back, and wondered if he could return on the weekend to help mix his two songs on the album. This is an unexpected turn of events, and most welcomed. So far he’s been sent all the final mixes, and given his ok. In the case of his own songs, I’m sure he’d be much happier to have a hand in the effort. It makes it easier for me too. I don’t have to wait for emails to get instructions. Mixing is often a matter of details, not grand moves. Making decisions based on mp3s heard on computer speakers is not ideal.
Saturday 9 May
Deniz arrived late Friday, and we managed to stay up pretty late, talking and listening to music. By the time we dragged ourselves out of bed, it was late in the morning. Breakfast, coffee and a quick visit to the music shop preceded our start. The whole processes nearly came to a complete halt when an important piece of gear failed to turn on. When it became clear I was concerned about the fate of the day, Deniz decided a run would be a good idea. I’m not sure what the problem was, but a lot of swearing, and plugging the interface into a different power strip solved the problem.
First on the agenda was Thinking About Neutrons. This number is the odd one on the record. Several years ago, Deniz handed my a sheet of lyrics and asked if I could write some music. The song was inspired by a large Rick Griffin poster in the studio. The first attempt at a track was rejected, so I put it aside for a while. It looks like the second version was begun in May 2005, based on a series of drum loops extracted for the tracks recorded for the song Penny For Your Thoughts. The main theme was played on electric piano. Over time, bass, grand piano, and synths were added. Before Deniz returned to Australia at the end of last year, I suggested we put his vocals on the track. He also added electric and acoustic guitar and a load of percussion. As the album neared completion, I returned to this to see what else it might need. At one point I had tried to add a percussive synth track. The idea didn’t pan out, but the midi information remained. I decided to see what that info would do with different patches applied. I ran through a dozen possibilities, and found something that worked. Next was a bit of mellotron strings, which would echo the main melody. When Deniz did the guitar overdubs, we decided the track could end about 2.30 into the 4 minute long song. I added one chord that resolved the ending a little more clearly.
What we did with the mix was mostly Deniz ideas. I just made it happen. It didn’t take too much work to acquire the sound we were looking for. The results left us laughing. I think it’s the perfect epilogue for the the album.
Vanished is Deniz other contribution to the album. There were some technical considerations when mixing this. It’s stands apart from the others for several reasons: it was recorded at Bob Brown’s Dump, Tony Horton plays the drums, and it’s the hardest rocking song of the collection. I had done a rough mix of the track with all the overdubs, so I knew it was going to work, and the sound wouldn’t be radically different from the rest of the album. There was one issue we did have to deal with, but it was an easy fix. I had set up an amp to remic the snare if we would want. This is just sending the signal back out to an amp, and bringing back that signal into the mix. I put a noise gate on the returning signal, which gave us the necessary “crack” the original track was lacking. After this, it was a fairly simple matter of balancing the five guitar parts against the rest of the track. It took some delicate moves to get the power from the guitars, yet still make room for the three vocal tracks. After two hours of adjustments, we recorded a test mix and took it up to the sitting room for a listen. The results were surprisingly close to our goal. I suggested taking the guitars down a touch, and then add a little more bass as needed. Ten minutes later we had the final mix.
I’m sure we were both amazed that we had managed to complete what could have been two days work by 8pm. Six hours to mix two songs is very good by anyone’s standards. This gave us the freedom to have a long late dinner, and then stay up late with a stack of singles spinning on the turntable, and a nice bottle of vodka. I was relieved that we had even got started, with the near fatal equipment failure. The results were more than acceptable, and put us at the half way point in the mixing process.
Mixing is a mysterious process. Recording the parts is fun, and often a relaxed mood when it’s going well. When it comes time to mix, there is a lot more attention paid to every detail. There is often serious debate over small changes that most people wouldn’t even hear. Given the raw material you have to decide what to do with it. There is an arsenal of tools in the studio to enhance or radically alter the sounds. The processes is also subtractive. Some choices had already been made over the course of the sessions, but a lot is left to be decided at the mix session. The feel of this album has been dictated by the songs we chose to record. I tried to narrow down the song selection early on. There was only one spare song recorded, though a few others were on the original list. This made it easier to deal with the fact that there were four song writers, who all have very different styles. It also meant there would be some continuity and a unified sound across the album. Through the recording, I assigned the players some very specific tasks, but left it up to them to solve the problem. As a result, there weren’t a lot of extra notes played. There are a lot of guitars, and plenty of solos, but words George Harrison were often spoken. The challenge was to create a collection of songs that represented what Donovan’s Brain does best, and to not repeat ourselves.
The two days with Deniz left me pretty well wiped out. It was all I could do to sit down in front of the board and set up the the next songs. Last Acid Rider is the last of the six Ron Craighead played on. It seemed to make sense to mix all of them in order. This is also the first of my songs to be mixed. There is a lot happening on this song, so the first task was to see what might not be necessary for the final mix. Most of original guitar is now redundant, as Deniz and I have added some new parts that carry most of the weight. Bob Sutliff had recently completed the end solo, which changes the dynamics of the end section considerably. The new background vocals that Deniz and Lila added really help the chorus section. Now it is a matter of finding the right treatment for the lead vocals. I messed with the intro riff that is suppose to suggest the sound of racing down a dark desert highway. I don’t know if I succeeded, but it sounds good. I have some ideas for the ending, but I’ll need to get the overall mix sorted out before I can tackle the complex ending idea. Work will continue tomorrow.
Last Acid Rider proved to be as difficult as expected. Several days were spent trying to work out the proper sounds. Bobby’s guitar solo proved to be rather spectacular. Deniz takes the first solo and Bob does the end one. I think you’ll love this major blast of guitar. With this one in the can, it was now time to switch over to the Mike Musburger tracks. Mike used a smaller kit which required resetting the board. He also used three different snare drums on the six songs, and approached each song with a different style of playing. This will require some extra work to get the sounds for each song.
I chose to start with The Same Mistakes. Before I started mixing, I decided to add a tambourine. I thought doubling it might be clever, but in the end, I just used one track. The rest came together pretty quickly. The hardest part was blending my three vocal tracks with Colter and Lila’s background parts. There is also a complex string part that answers the vocal line in the verse. It was a trick to make sure it was heard clearly, but didn’t step on the vocal. With that one done, it was time to prepare for our trip to Seattle. This would be a good break from the studio, and give me a chance to hear the completed songs out side the studio.
I had hoped to return to work today, but an important piece of equipment had failed, leaving the process dead in the water until it can be repaired or replaced. This may upset the schedule, but we still have a few weeks before I have to change the plan.
A replacement for the crucial MOTU 24 i/o has been located, and should be installed later in the week. By coincidence, Bob Brown is preparing to reconfigure his studio and called asking about the gear necessary. This would mean we could easily move projects between his studio and GLEA.