PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN ‚ÄĒ We recently caught up with Brooklyn-based producer/engineer Phil Palazzolo who‚Äôs been working on the new Nicole Atkins record. ‚ÄúI think this is her time,‚ÄĚ he says of the New Jersey songstress and her new material. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôs definitely due.‚ÄĚ
The same could be said of Palazzolo. He‚Äôs been in-the-trenches working with bands for over a decade ‚ÄĒ producing, engineering, playing guitar/bass, touring, mixing FOH, etc ‚ÄĒ most notably engineering on Radio 4‚Äôs Gotham, Stealing of a Nation and Enemies Like This. And over the last few years, his star‚Äôs been rising.
He produced/engineered on The New Pornographers Challengers and A.C. Newman‚Äôs Get Guilty, and has been working through a whirlwind of back-to-back projects ever since, with Neko Case, Okkervil River, The Bogmen, Bird of Youth, Ted Leo and the new New Pornographers.
Early in 2010, Palazzolo started sessions with the newly formed Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea at Seaside Lounge Recording in Park Slope to make the full-length follow-up her ‚Äô07 debut LP, Neptune City. Atkins has a new band in the Black Sea, a new producer in Palazzolo, and a new sound is emerging. Read all about it:
So, how did you and Nicole Atkins come to work together?
About two years ago, she sang with a choir that backed up Feist on David Letterman. A.C. Newman from The New Pornographers was also part of that choir and got to talking to Nicole Atkins and had her come sing on the sessions for what would become his solo album, which I produced. Then, I played guitar in the A.C. Newman band and Nicole came and did backup vocals live, so I got to know her even better.
We‚Äôve been talking about working together for a while now. She got a ton of songs together, and called me saying she wanted to get going right away. I‚Äôd just finished the Ted Leo record, and was just wrapping up mixes for the next New Pornographers record, so it was perfect timing to do the record in January and February.
How‚Äôd you get started and where are you working?
We did a week of pre-production in Seaside Lounge‚Äôs B Room. Pre-production involved finding the strongest parts of the songs and bringing them out. Sometimes that meant changing the feel and the pace of things. Then we started on basic tracks in Seaside‚Äôs A room. We just finished four days of basics and actually got to some overdubs and vocals. It‚Äôs starting to really sound like a record ‚ÄĒ we‚Äôre in that exciting phase where you can really hear it coming together.
Her last record was really lush and orchestrated, and kind of dark/melancholy. How does this record compare to that, and what would you say she‚Äôs trying to accomplish in the studio?
After getting a chance to live with her other record, I thought ‚ÄĒ yes, it is lush and it‚Äôs beautiful, but it‚Äôs also a bit disjointed. It kind of feels like it took two years to make, maybe with a little too much time passing between sessions. The new record is a little bit more fun in spots. There are some lighter and more upbeat numbers that she didn‚Äôt really have on the last record. I really want to showcase what she can do beyond the brooding Dusty Springfield-revamp type of sound.
So, is it more of a band record?
Yes, I‚Äôd say so. And she has a new band. Most of the guys are from New Jersey and play together in this other band [Sikamor Rooney]. They‚Äôre hometown guys and they‚Äôve all known each other for a long time, whereas her other record was largely session players. Working with session players can be awesome, and we‚Äôre definitely going to bring in guests for specialty parts, but on the whole, there‚Äôs a real band making up the foundation.
So how would you say you‚Äôre working with her to realize the sound / direction for this album. Are you trying different things to figure out what it is?
Well, first I tried to get a sense of what she didn‚Äôt like about the last record and the recording experience overall. And then I listened to the songs, which were largely just fairly simple demos, some of them were actually produced in a way that sounded like a band, but not exactly what she was after.
In listening to the demos, I tried to find what I thought would tie them together and how to make them feel more like a whole record rather than a year and a half‚Äôs worth of writing and demoing in different places.
Is there anything different or noteworthy about how you‚Äôre recording any of the elements ‚ÄĒ vocals, drums, etc‚Ä¶?
Well, I‚Äôm using a lot of different approaches, song by song. I think it‚Äôs so easy to make someone like her sound incredible that sometimes you just have to have the balls to say ‚ÄėI‚Äôm going to put this through a bullhorn.‚ÄĚ No matter what you do, she‚Äôs this incredible singer, and it doesn‚Äôt always have to be pretty. There are moments on this record where her vocal will be totally brash, like Karen O, but she‚Äôs still this amazing singer underneath and it sounds really cool.
So, you‚Äôre gritting up the sound a bit, cool. And how have you been recording her vocals?
We‚Äôve recorded her in the booth on some songs, but on others, I plan on using the big live room space a lot more. On some tracks, you‚Äôll picture a girl standing on a stage in a huge room when you hear her vocal.
So far I‚Äôve been using what I call the Motown mic on her, which is a Neumann KM 86. In the first few years of Motown‚Äôs existence, they only owned KM86s because Berry Gordy got a deal on them, so everything you hear ‚ÄĒ drums, bass, vocals, guitars, strings, etc‚Ä¶ ‚ÄĒ all were recorded with the same type of microphone.
Sidenote: All of Motown‚Äôs KM86s are now at Avatar. When they dismantled the first facility and built the ‚Äúreal Motown studio,‚ÄĚ the guy who built Power Station bought everything from Motown and stored it until he built Power Station. He also faithfully recreated (in dimensions and materials) the Motown studio in one of their upstairs rooms.
That‚Äôs awesome, I didn‚Äôt realize they had all the original Motown mics. Now, will you produce this entire record at Seaside? Or will you go elsewhere for mixing?
We‚Äôll do all the recording at Seaside and then I think we‚Äôll mix at The Carriage House in Stamford, CT. That place has a great history [The Pixies‚Äô Doolittle was made there] and the SSL (4048 E/G) is a great mix disk. Plus, you live there for the duration, so you‚Äôre not chained to a console thinking of all the work you have to get done in the next 10 hours, because you‚Äôre not leaving. You have time to walk away and come back with fresh ears. That‚Äôs really helpful.
If I was working in a comparably-equipped room in NYC, it would be very expensive and so we‚Äôd be pressed for time. In the last few months, I mixed The New Pornographers and the Ted Leo records at The Carriage House.