DIY Tutorial: Stereo Telescope, Three Studios, and the Recording of “Fires”

What’s your concept-to-completion workflow?

Stereo Telescope, Kurt Schneider and Nikki D, at Chillhouse Studios in Charlestown, MA.

Stereo Telescope, Kurt Schneider and Nikki Dessingue, at Chillhouse Studios in Charlestown, MA.

For the emerging pop synth duo Stereo Telescope, song creation comes via a complete 360 – part rehearsal space, part personal studio, part commercial facility. The single, “Fires”, from the Boston-based band’s new album On and Running is a perfect example of how everything comes together, contrasting a pushy minimalist beat with soaring guitars and a particularly lush vocal sound.

Stereo Telescope’s sound starts and ends with Kurt Schneider and Nikki Dessingue, who applied a range of tools, from strong to subtle, to track “Fires”. Listen in, and you’ll hear their copacetic duet backed by Ableton, live programming, a Juno 6, Moog Taurus ii, a Thingamagoop, Pocket Piano, glockenspiel, guitar, bass, MicroKorg, Theremin, and hand percussion. Yup, it’s all in there.

Schneider’s status as a freelance engineer at Chillhouse Studios in Charlestown, MA not only informs him in his personal studio, but gives him a bigger room to step up to when called for – a resource he definitely drew on for the making of On and Running.

Put together, “Fires” is a state-of-the-art DIY single — here’s how Stereo Telescope assembled their single, as told from Kurt’s perspective:

Kurt's personal studio rig gives us some setup ideas.

Kurt’s personal studio rig gives us some setup ideas.

 Building Blocks

“I actually used three different DAWs while writing and recording/mixing “Fires.” First, I started writing the drum and synth parts for ‘Fires’ using Pro Tools — I built the drum patterns using drum samples and placing them into the session in grid mode. For the most part they were Linn Drum samples, which I then went and manipulated to get a more unique sound.

“The main synth hook was made using an Oberheim Matrix 6R.  The initial patch sounds almost nothing like the loop you hear: I used a distortion pedal and various plugins in order to get the sound I had in my head.  The bass synth is my Moog Taurus ii, and the organ sound is Nikki playing her MicroKorg.

“Eventually, I picked up and began learning how to use Ableton Live.  So, I exported all of my audio files from Pro Tools, and imported them into Ableton Live.  At that point, I wrote my guitar parts and began working on the form of the song and writing vocal parts with Nikki.”

Shifting Studios to Track Vocals and Guitar

“Once the song was finished, it was time to go to the studio and track vocals and guitars, and get ready for mixing.  I recorded and mixed at Chillhouse Studio, in Charlestown, MA.  Chillhouse was set up best for Digital Performer at that time — I exported everything from Ableton Live for use in Digital Performer.

Headroom in the rehearsal space.

Headroom in the rehearsal space.

“I think I used an AKG tube mic and a Great River mic pre on Nikki’s vocal, and either a Shure SM7 or Neumann U87 and an API mic pre on mine. I can’t remember for certain! I did a shoot-out with a bunch of mics before I landed on one I liked for me, and I was using both of those mics for different songs on the record.

“I was using the mic and pre choice to thin out my low-mid heavy voice, and then smooth/soften the shriller elements of Nikki’s voice.  Also, I used Distressors to do some light compression on our vocals on the way in.

“I layered a number of different guitars on this song.  I used a Travis Bean with a vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb for the electric with a Royer ribbon mic and vintage SM57.  I can’t remember which acoustic guitar ended up on this track, I used several throughout recording the album.

“There are easily a dozen different reverb and delay plugins and out board effects used on the record.  Most of the vocals have reverbs from either a T.C. Electronic M3000 or a Lexicon PCM90.

“The console I used for tracking / mixing is a Yamaha DM2000.  However, I did all of my automation within Digital Performer.”

Lessons Learned

“I won’t be jumping through all of these hoops in the future with writing / recording / mixing as far as all the different software goes; I just had to because I was adapting while learning new software.

“In the future, I plan on writing with Ableton Live, tracking/editing takes with Pro Tools. Finally, I’ll be mixing back in Ableton Live.”

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