WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: Late last year, the Ann Arbor-based electro-rock band known as Ella Riot loaded into Mission Sound in Williamsburg for three days of tracking sessions with Oliver Straus. Wanting to capture some muscular rock rhythms to punch up their electronic production, Ella Riot tracked live band takes through Mission’s mighty Neve 8026.
“We wanted to do live tracking of the rhythm section to reflect the intensity of our live show,” says Ella Riot guitarist Bob Lester. “The last record we did was very multitrack, done piece by piece in our home studios. And it was a bit sterile and less in-your-face than what we do live.”
The band had been introduced to Straus over CMJ 2010 when they recorded a song at Mission with producers Patrick Ermlich and Eshy Gazit of NYC-based Modern Vintage Recordings.
At the time Ella Riot was still known as My Dear Disco, the name adopted when the band formed at the University of Michigan in 2007. As they conceived of their new record, Love Child, and planned to make a more “live” than electronic record to reflect an evolution in their sound, they finalized the name change and immediately made plans to return to NYC to record.
Still very much electro-based, Love Child adds a harder-edged pop-rock punch born out of a new production process that merges Ella Riot’s studio wizardry with live performances on drums, bass, guitars, keys and bagpipes. Coming into the studio with fully fleshed-out electronic versions of the tunes, they were able to infuse the productions with the energy and immediacy of these live performances.
“Mission Sound was a great studio for us because you get the space, the technology and Oliver’s ears,” says Lester. “He can hear what you’re going for, reach into the equipment and pull the nastiness right out of it. It was the first time we’ve been in a studio where without having to force the thing to sound how we wanted, it was just immediately way better than I could have imagined as soon as he pulled it up in the monitors.”
At Mission, it was all about capturing the moment. The band worked fast with Strauss as their guide. “Ollie’s sound is really built into the record in a lot of ways because we committed so many things to “tape” in those sessions that there’s really no undoing,” says keyboardist, bagpiper and vocalist Tyler Duncan. “And that was a really fun part of the process – allowing it have that spontaneity. So this recording is really a true snapshot of those three days.”
As such a beat-driven band, drums were a main focus of these recording sessions, and they are all psyched on the outcome. Says drummer Mike Shea: “The drums sound huge. I brought in my acrylic drum set – a giant bass drum and two floor toms – and it sounds super beefy and raw and the room compliments it really well.”
Back in Ann Arbor in his home studio, Duncan mixed the record, merging the live band tracks with their programmed sounds. The result is a modern-electro-pop collage primed as much for the dance floor as the rock venue as the synch license, punctuated by revving stutter edits, catchy pop synth riffs and rock drums and guitars of varying grit and heft.
Meanwhile all the lead vocals were recorded and edited by Ella Riot singer Michelle Chamuel and Duncan back in their bedroom studios in Logic. “I think of vocals the way an electric guitarist approaches their instrument,” says Chamuel. “With no effects, it can sound bland, but with effects, you get a whole different tone. Singing dry vs. effected is like the difference between a screaming guitar solo with distortion vs. without.
“For me, it’s so much easier to record while I can hear the effect – it’s like I’m synthesizing my voice to get the tone that will best express the emotional content. So I do it on my own rather than wasting the studio time having to ask for more reverb or feedback, etc.”