Sneak Preview: Pronto & Allen Farmelo at The Farm
September 28, 2011 by Janice Brown
FORT GREENE, BROOKLYN: It was that bizarre week in August – somewhere between the earthquake and the hurricane – when we swung by The Farm, engineer/producer Allen Farmelo’s personal studio where he was deep into an album mix with experimental pop band, Pronto.
Though it may play side-project to frontman Mikael Jorgensen’s main gig as keyboardist in Wilco [see BTR: Wilco The Whole Love], Pronto hardly suffers from lack of attention. Lack of consistent, uninterrupted attention…perhaps. But this summer, Jorgensen and longtime collaborator/drummer Greg O’Keefe took big steps towards finalizing their long-labored-over album, handing folders of Pro Tools session files over to Farmelo, and letting him have at it.
“I feel like we’re putting the track down in front of the train,” said Jorgensen. “Like we’re not quite ready for everything to be mixed, and it’s kind of nice in a way to have that pressure. We have to make things happen, we have to make decisions.”
Garnering positive buzz off their recent appearance at the Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival at Mass MOCA, Pronto is eager to share their new work, the tentatively-titled Completed Porcupine.
A sonic departure from the group’s ’06 debut, All Is Golden, Pronto’s new material began in drum-n-synths jams captured at The Pronto Labs, then took shape as folk-rock numbers tracked as a trio at The Bunker, before landing somewhere else entirely. Drawing on the initial performances and melodic themes in his batch of songs, Jorgensen re-worked the album as an electronic pop record inspired by his ARP 2600, his own geometric, ‘everything-in-its-place’ nature and a total plunge into the unknown.
“I don’t know what this is,” he noted during our listening session at The Farm. “It’s not synth-rock, or dance music exactly… it’s songwriting-meets-synthesizers – electronic but almost like a response to a Trent Reznor sound: very positive and major chord oriented. But I feel confident about it, and that’s a really good place to be. Who doesn’t love a major third? Or, even worse, a major ninth? (laughs)”
As an engineer himself, honing his skills at SOMA Studios in Chicago (John McEntire, Tortoise), Jorgensen worked the album as much as he could between Wilco tours, meticulously recording and re-recording with O’Keefe, tweaking and re-tweaking. And then, meeting Farmelo and reading about his new custom API console, Jorgensen made a date to visit The Farm, conveniently just a few blocks from his place in Fort Greene.
“I thought it was awesome,” says Jorgensen of the console. “It seemed like a beacon – [in that] it’s not commercially available, and it’s not a home-brew.” Here O’Keefe chimes in, “It’s that whole maker mentality, which is about really learning how to properly do something because that’s the way it should be done. That’s something we strive for in our music.”
For Farmelo (Cinematic Orchestra, The Loom), the console stands as an expression of his sensibilities, so in that sense, this was a perfect connection – transmission received. Plus, he loved the music, felt the shared sensibilities and sonic aesthetic, and is also – in practice – meticulous, which would come in handy. Mixing the Pronto record, Farmelo says, has been a challenge and a delight.
“Some of the material has been a real puzzle, and the bar is really high,” Farmelo commented, about half-way through the album. “Mikael’s got so much experience and know-how that he’s taken the in-the-box mixes really far. But these are about as good as in-the-box mixes are going to get.
“It has to sound amazing and how to get that to happen is not always clear. So, I’ve also had my moments of spending hours trying 20 things that just did not do it. And then hitting these points of breakthrough, where I’m jumping out of bed at 4AM, mixing with the roosters. Something about this project forces you beyond what you know to a place where you really just have no idea, and then something will occur to you – something I haven’t tried in 10 years or something I’ve only heard about. And that may be just the thing.”
Look out for a more in-depth feature on the making of this record – how Allen brought depth and dimension to Jorgensen’s mixes through the highly creative application of his API Console and Studer Tape Machine – later this year. And in the meantime, head on over to the Prontosphere, and listen to a track from the forthcoming LP below…