How does a producer get to grow along with an artist, when they work together on consecutive albums? As it turns out, the return experience can be enormously enlightening for parties on both sides of the glass. That’s certainly true of NYC’s The NowhereNauts, which have blasted off 2013 with their intense sophomore release on Club Rock Records, Warned You.
It’s equally valid for producer Kevin March, who made his name drumming for the likes of Guided By Voices, Shudder to Think, The Dambuilders, A Camp, The Rentals, and many more. March has been along for the ride with the NYC four piece – vocalist Sofie Kapur, bassist/vocalist Anders Kapur, guitarist Hunter Lombard, and drummer Tony Franco — since the start, helping to form the band of NYU students as part of an academic experiment gone terribly right.
After producing the band’s 2011 self-titled debut in bang-bang fashion from the drum throne, March was able to take time with his young charges for Warned You. Pre-production, tracking, and mixing took place over the course of several weeks at Stratosphere Studios (RIP) and Avatar, instead of just a few days. Just as importantly, two-time GRAMMY-winning engineer Carl Glanville
(U2, Billy Joel, Jason Mraz, Counting Crows) came on to co-produce, bringing a wealth of experience to the art of bringing the band’s best out.
As a result the band’s distinct rock sound — a soaring attack of gorgeous vocals and harmonies, driving guitars, and ballistic drums – come rushing out of the speakers on Warned You. It’s a major evolution from the relatively raw record that precedes it, and stands to win the young band a much wider audience if it can break through.
To understand the benefits that unfold when a producer and band maintain continuity — and learn a huge boatload of studio techniques that you’ll want to apply to your next production – do NOT miss this in-depth interview with March and Glanville. Read the whole thing, or if your time is short, jump to your top topics.
Take a look and listen to the title track:
PRODUCER AND ARTIST: ESTABLISHING A RELATIONSHIP
Kevin, how did you originally get introduced to the NowhereNauts, and why were they a band you wanted to work with?
KM: I first met Anders, Hunter and Sofie in 2006 at a music school in NYC that I was running, and later left. Then in 2008 I was given an amazing opportunity to bring them together to take part in a music educational experiment to see what would happen if musicians were given an authentic, professional, original band experience by writing, recording, rehearsing and performing together as a band in professional recording studios, professional rehearsal studios, venues, etc…
Well, it worked! So we kept going and The NowhereNauts were formed through that experience and turned into a full-on ROCK band. So, in short I brought them together and introduced them to their own talents by producing, co-writing, mentoring, educating and really pushing them to be the best professional musicians they could possibly be.
I really wanted to work with them because Sofie has an amazing, reedy, dynamic, expressive voice, and the band started writing these really great songs, plus they have a unique original sound, especially Hunter’s guitar sounds, which really stand out on this album. Tony was brought in after Album one (The NowhereNauts, 2011) was recorded and the band chemistry was complete! He has known Sofie and Anders most of his life, and he is a great drummer and prolific songwriter.
They embody everything I love about playing music and why I wanted to be a musician, especially when I was drumming for Guided By Voices, Shudder To Think and The Dambuilders. I really wanted to pass along my experiences and also share the mistakes I made, so they could hopefully avoid them and allow for an open road to success. And that is where The NowhereNauts are headed.
Kevin, what did you learn about the NowhereNauts in the course of making Album 1 – what did you see were there strengths as a band?
KM: I learned that when a band is prepared and rehearsed prior to entering a studio, as The NowhereNauts were, they can record and album really fast!
We recorded and mixed Album 1 (the self-titled debut) over two weekends; four days! That’s about four hours per song including mixing– crazy! The great, very patient and enthusiastic Ted Young was the engineer at The Magic Shop for these sessions — he made the sessions enjoyable and spirited. I played drums on the album out of necessity and for efficiency, so I essentially produced the basic tracks from the drum stool.
Their strengths were writing great songs, with great melodies and hooks, with my assistance co-writing the songs and bringing them into fruition as fully-realized pop songs.
One thing I want to point out is that they all play very well and naturally to click tracks; this skill was developed through many, many hours rehearsing live during the educational early days working with them to prepare going into the studio for the first time, which was at The Magic Shop with Ted Young engineering then too.
KEYS TO WORKING WITH CLICK TRACKS
Why is it so important that they work well with a click track?
KM: I believe everyone in a band, including the lead vocalist, need to understand the relationship to time — exact time that is — by rehearsing and recording with click tracks, so when you’re in the recording studio it is not a foreign sound or distraction-creating anxiety: It is your “friend” just hanging out telling you exactly where the pulse is, allowing for a great band track with a solid great “feel”-not stiff and uninspired.
Album 1 was recorded live with very few overdubs. A lot of the lead vocals were from the basic track recordings, because Sofie is that good, and those were the most inspired and “in the pocket”!
Also, what did you about the band that they could improve on for Warned You?
KM: Areas of improvement I would say: back up vocals from Hunter and Anders, a better understanding of how the instruments are played and attacked to give more character to their individual overall sound and to produce more mature sounding performances.
Learning to play TO the microphones is something that they all needed work on so we focused on that too, and that comes from a better understanding of how the different microphones all work. It is really important to record rehearsals and listen back with a critical, objective ear to what can be improved upon. We’ve been doing that since the beginning.
THE BENEFITS OF CONTINUITY: KEEPING THE PRODUCER AND ARTIST TOGETHER ALBUM-TO-ALBUM
Kevin, how was the decision arrived at that you would also produce Warned You? What was the creative opportunity you saw by returning as producer?
KM: Because I have worked with the band since its inception there was never any question that I would produce Album Two; I’m not finished with them just yet, so not so fast!
The creative opportunity I saw was to encourage them to write better songs, capture better performances, to produce better sounds. I really wanted to fully realize their potential, and I don’t think any other producer would have that ability, especially at this point in their development. I’m the only one who could do that. Warned You is really a culmination of five years of working very closely together, educating, producing, and knowing everyone’s personalities, and knowing how to efficiently and effectively push them to get great performances, and at the same time knowing when to pull back and let them shine.
I also wanted to produce an album that could compete with the mainstream music market to prove to all of us The NowhereNauts were capable, and that I could produce an album that I could step back from and say “It can’t get any better than that. There is nothing I want to change.” Warned You is THAT album to me. I’m not sure I can say that about a lot of the records I’ve made in the past.
ADDING A CO-PRODUCER
That’s a great place to be with your latest work. So how did you start to map out a plan that would ensure the band took things to the next level with this record?
KM: I’m very proud to have produced this album along with Carl Glanville, with a band who’s individuals’ potential I saw many years prior, and I have to say, reaching the goal of what Warned You is –eleven great, original songs that capture a moment in time and five years of hard, hard work — has to be one of my all-time greatest achievements.
I wanted to produce this album with Carl Glanville to take things to the next level. Carl and I have known each other for almost twenty years — he first recorded me drumming on Nathan Larson’s song “I Want Someone Badly” that the late Jeff Buckley sang. We also co-produced, along with Craig Wedren, Craig Wedren’s solo album Lapland. We have a great working relationship and mutual respect for each other’s talents, and he’s a phenomenal engineer!
I wanted to capture the best performances with the best possible sounds. We also brought in Nathan Larson, a great friend, amazing guitarists, and an expert guitar tone wizard to help Hunter and Anders get unique, proper recordable tones. We supplied Hunter with a ton of pedals, and had a pedal board built to allow us to really shape her tones and get those awesome sounds on Warned You.
We worked closely with Sofie on how best to get her completely comfortable in the studio environment so we could produce her vocals, not just record a performance. So we had to figure out how to make the studio environment a pleasant one: Do we dim lights? Light candles? Build a room so no one can see her?
None of the above, it was to record her in the control room, directly behind Carl and me, singing while listening to the band mixes coming through the speakers — the same mix Carl and I were hearing. It was so easy to communicate amongst the three of us allowing Sofie to confidently record the best possible performances. No one from the band was allowed in the control room or even at the studio for that matter.
Sometimes it can be very challenging to communicate through thick glass wall using mics and headphones, so we removed those somewhat distracting elements to record Sofie’s vocals.
Carl, what made you feel this was a project that would be a good fit for you?
CG: Kevin introduced me to the band four or more years ago, around the start of 2009 I think, when they were very young. We did a one-day recording session at Sear Sound – Kevin wanted them to experience a professional session with top-notch gear, facility, and engineer etc.., so I attended pre-recording rehearsal sessions at SIR, then we did the actual session one weekend day. I was very impressed with the potential the band had, and Kevin just kept me in the loop with their development over the years: I would go to shows and see them get better and better.
I mixed some singles for them after their first album, the recording of which was done very quickly and not by myself, and with I suppose you could say a less-sophisticated approach to the production.
After that we started talking about the possibility of a second album that would have both myself and Kevin producing, and take on a much higher-end approach to the production and recording, with a proper amount of time being made available to allow us to achieve that goal. We did a quick demo recording at a non-air conditioned, extremely humid, middle of the New York summer, ridiculously hot, rehearsal space out in Brooklyn, just to see what the dynamic of the band was like and how well they worked to a click etc… which also gave me a chance to record the band’s new drummer, Tony.
That turned out well, so I think we moved forward with the idea to do the album at that point. The “good fit” kind of just naturally emerged out of previous experiences, and my being so encouraged to see how fast and how much the band was maturing, both in their playing abilities and their song writing.
MAKING BETTER DEMOS IN PRE PRODUCTION
Why was it particularly important for you to take the additional time for “proper demos” on Warned You?
CG: As I mentioned earlier, we had very quickly recorded two songs as demos out in Brooklyn in the summer prior to the Album’s recording, and then Kevin made a point of recording all of the SIR rehearsal sessions, with just a single mic in the room. He also recorded live shows, but again just with a room mic or board mix, no multitracks. Kevin’s recordings essentially made up the first set of demos, and they become our reference point.
Because of everyone’s schedules we had originally planned on recording two songs (including the overdubs) per weekend for six weekends, with rehearsal sessions in the evenings prior to the recordings where pre-production work would take place. So the idea was that we would basically “demo” and make ready two songs during the week, then record them at the weekend. But our initial schedule for recording suddenly changed after our first “proper album session” and we had to totally rethink our plan for the recording.
During this time I found myself wanting to have more sophisticated demos to work with so that I could, if I wanted to, take multitracks into my studio prior to the actual recording and work on the songs, maybe trying out edits or re-arranging parts etc…
I needed a multitrack so I could mute vocals and/or extend musical sections. Having multitrack demos meant that we could also immediately record basic overdub ideas, so Hunter could do an entire track of rhythm guitar, then add a solo or counter part that would allow me and the rest of us to get a much clearer sense of where the song was headed, and at least get fundamental parts down in demo form.
Backing vocals and harmonies were also added to help flesh out the song more, so we could get a sense of its production potential. I haven’t really worked on an album before where there weren’t demos that had at least a couple of overdubs on them, so one can see where things are headed musically, so I felt it was a necessity.
Because the band was so well-rehearsed at this point, we recorded demos for 13 or 14 songs in two days over a weekend, overdubs included. Among other things, we were able to sort out tempos and which songs worked best with a click track and which worked without. The demos turned out really great, and really helped give a clear picture of where we were headed.
KM: Because we were going to be recording in expensive recording studios I did not want to waste time while in the studio — we wanted everyone in the band to know exactly what they were going to play so they/we could properly prepare prior to going into the studio.
We recorded the whole album in demo form over three days at SIR studios where the band rehearses, overdubbing guitar parts, vocals, percussion, everything. It was really a quick runthrough of exactly what we were going to record. After the demos were recorded we knew we were ready to go record the album.
We did have a false start with the first studio we entered due to some technical problems, and we weren’t satisfied with the drum sounds. So Carl and I had an emergency discussion with my partner, Paul Kerwin, at Club Rock Records and it was decided that we would go to world-renowned Avatar Studios to record the basics in the legendary Studio A. Over a very cold, two-day weekend session last February, we recorded the basic tracks to thirteen songs with Sofie singing on every take!
You referred to that as a “Magical Weekend”…
Everything sounded great and the band was on fire, and that’s why Warned Youis such a great, dynamic album! I know it was because of recording the demos that we were able to capture The NowhereNauts performing fully focused on these songs.
I also conducted the band while in the live room with them and with Carl in the control room, and it worked great! Being in the live room is how I prefer to produce so I can feel the band vibe of the takes, and that’s also the perspective I’m used to from being a recording session drummer.
Can you point to a song on the album that really grew and improved as a result of the thorough demo process this time around?
KM: I would say “Warned You” and “Wave Me Out” are the two songs that really improved after the demo process. I was really looking forward to using the studio to magnify the space and sonic density I heard in the demos in both of those songs. Carl did an amazing job putting all of those sonic pieces together once in the studio. Because we properly demoed them beforehand I was able to really hear how to approach them in the studio.
Carl then totally took “Warned You” to a whole other level during the mixing process. I actually got quite emotional the first time I heard the final mix of the song — I couldn’t turn around to look at Carl until I composed myself…it was that good and after all this time preparing it was kind of overwhelming to listen to and digest.
DRUM PRE PRODUCTION, MIKING, AND MIXING
The drums sound outstanding on Warned You. What gave you increased confidence this time around to use band member Tony Franco in the studio? Kevin, how did you use your experience to coach him and get maximum results?
CG: Tony is a relatively new addition to the band and I had not worked with him before, so there was no “this time around” as far as I was concerned.
Both Kevin and I discussed very early on the fact that we would have to have Kevin play drums for the album if Tony couldn’t cut it. But I am very happy to report that Tony blew us all away with his great playing – he is totally rock solid and plays to a click like a total pro. When we did the hot summer demos, that was the first time I recorded Tony to a click and I was concerned as to how it was going to turn out, but within 16 bars of him playing I turned to Kevin and smiled because I knew we weren’t going to have any problems in that department. In fact, the drum takes on this album have little or no edits in them at all.
With the band so well-rehearsed and so familiar with what they were playing, we were able to go into the studio and record all the basic tracks for the entire album, plus a couple of extra songs, in just two days. The basic tracks of drums, bass and guitars for many of the songs are exactly what was played live in the studio. It was really pretty thrilling to record basic tracks for a whole album that quickly, the performances were so solid and one really feels it in the finished versions of the songs – the band’s chemistry is cemented in the basic tracks, then the overdubs hang off of that foundation.
KM: Well, Tony is The NowhereNauts drummer so I really wanted him to be the drummer on the album. I knew it was going to be a lot of work to get him up to the performance level necessary for what we wanted from this album.
So I started working with Tony in my rehearsal space in Williamsburg teaching him technique — Joe Morello’s natural technique to be exact — playing to click tracks and solidifying his parts, and most of all pushing him to deliver the best-sounding, dynamic, performance he was capable of recording. I discussed with Tony that “I will be ready and prepared to play the drums on this album, but our goal is for you to play drums on the album, and in order to do that you are going to have to perform in the studio at a much higher level than you are right now during the rehearsals.”
In other words I wanted to push him to be the best drummer to record these songs, if I had to threaten to take away recording drums on the album to get a better drummer, well, that’s what had to be done.
In the end he worked really, really hard and recorded some of the most solid, inspired drum tracks I’ve heard in a long time. He delivered! He is an incredible drummer and one to keep an eye and ear on in the future.
The drums also sound amazing on this album because we used a Craviotto drum set made out of walnut. It is one of the most amazing drum kits I ever recorded!!
Geek out! Give us some pointers on how the drums were miked/and or mixed.
CG: The basic tracks were recorded in Avatar Studio A — without a doubt, one of the best-sounding rooms for drums in the world. So right off the bat we had a great acoustic space to work with.
We found the sweet spot in the room and then set up the kit and miked it in a relatively traditional way: D112/47 on the Kick, 57/441 on the snare, 421 on the toms. I used KM86 mics for the overheads – those were new to me – Avatar has tons of them and they sounded great. Then, because of the room being what it is, I really wanted some extra coverage, so I set up three pairs of room mics at various distances and heights, plus the stereo pair that Avatar has mounted in the ceiling.
It’s a little overkill, but I really wanted the option to increase the size and depth of the room in the mix later, should the song benefit from it. Plus, recording to Pro Tools meant we didn’t have to worry about track counts. During the mix I played with various combinations of all the mics, ultimately using whichever best suited the song.
VOCAL PRODUCTION PROBLEM-SOLVING, TRACKING, AND MIXING
On that tip, please tell us how you approached arranging and recording the vocals – they really soar on Warned You.
CG: Recording the final vocals was interesting. We had a guide vocal for each song and used that during overdubs, then when each song was ready for the final vocal Sofie would come in, usually in the early evening, we would choose two or three songs to work on and record a complete vocal take three to six times, and maybe do a few punch ins for certain phrases.
We wanted to keep the flow going, so didn’t really interrupt her too much and I knew it would be much easier for me to just make sure I had all that I needed performance-wise, then comp between the takes later.
Interestingly, we found that Sofie was far more comfortable singing in the control room rather than out in the studio. Before recording, we would listen back to the song with just Sofie, Kevin and myself in the room and Sofie would sing along as we were listening, and she sounded great — very natural and comfortable — but then when she went into the studio and put the headphones on, something changed. She didn’t seem as comfortable, the performance wasn’t quite as engaging, almost like she was overthinking it perhaps.
Behind-the-scenes video of the recording of “Insomnia” at Avatar:
So as a test we had her come back into the control room, asked how she felt about singing in here without headphones, just like the run-through. She was totally up for the idea, so we set up the mic and recorded using the U 47 and the control room speakers for monitors — no headphones.
I rode the control room speaker level for when the song got really loud or quiet to minimize leakage in to the 47. This method worked out great for us and all the lead vocals were recorded that way. The background vocals were done in the usual way. We double tracked the lead vocal for almost every song as Sofie tracks herself so well, but then during the mix I would work out exactly where it should be used, if at all. Because Hunter and Anders supply a lot of background harmonies and parts (which we would also double track) it was sometimes unnecessary to have the double tracked lead vocal in there as well.
I spent a fair amount of time working on a sound for the lead vocal, not because there was anything wrong with what had been recorded, I just wanted to give it something extra; a special character. I recorded it with a great vintage U 47 and through the Neve 8078 desk at Stratosphere Studios with a Blue Stripe Urei 1176. Then for the mix I used the UAD 1176AE plugin from the Universal Audio Classic Limiter plugin collection to give me the special character I was looking for.
KM: We took a lot more time recording the vocals on Warned You than we did on the first album. Sofie had about 30 minutes per song on album 1 to record a vocal and she had several hours per song on Warned You. Plus, Sofie was much more comfortable and experienced on Warned You than on the first record.
Carl, you mixed the album at your midtown facility, Radio City Music Studios: What was your mixing approach?
CG: The source material was very different from anything I have had from NowhereNauts before, in that I was the one recording the band this time, so I was able to get the sound I wanted coming out of the speakers at the moment it was being recorded.
I EQ’d and compressed things as they went down, so the sound of the vintage gear was locked into the recording of each track.
I have always recorded using EQ and processing, so that when it comes to mixing the sounds are already 90% of the way there (hopefully!). Why miss the opportunity of recording through all the great analogue gear that was at our disposal?!
When it came to mixing I already had great-sounding tracks to start with, and then it was just a case of sonically shaping things and being creative rather than having to “fix” bad-sounding things. Mixing is a lot easier if the mix is being built as the overdubs are being recorded — that’s something else I tend to do — I want the song to sound as finished as possible as we are recording it.
Then as each overdub gets added, it finds its place in the mix automatically, and if the overdub doesn’t seem to be working then it probably shouldn’t be there, or else something else has be taken away. Making decisions along the way while recording makes mixing a whole lot easier.
That was something Kevin and I were able to do: Prior to the final mix I would work on a few songs by myself, maybe add a keyboard part, or mute some guitars to create a dynamic build etc…, and then ask Kevin in to get his thoughts on the options I presented him, then we’d decide what was working and what was not, and move on.
That’s a sharp workflow. What’s the setup you use at Radio City to mix with?
For the final mix I mixed in Pro Tools using my C24 controller, monitoring through my Adam S3X-H and mainly used my Universal Audio UAD 2 plugins. I have loved their plugins since the UAD 1, and with the UAD 2 things really stepped up several notches — I find myself being able to emulate the signal path and effects I grew up with back in the all-analog days: EMT Plate reverbs, 224 reverbs, tape delays, mixing to an ATR tape machine, SSL mix bus compression, Neve compressors, DBX 160 etc…, plus being able to access the 8068 EQ that I recorded the album through, in plugin format, so I can keep the continuity where needed.
I actually did a little test where I recorded the drum overheads through the Avatar 33609 and then also recorded them simultaneously without compression on different tracks. Once back at my studio I used the UAD 33609 on the unprocessed tracks and A/B’d between the original and the plugin — I was stunned how close they were. So the UAD plugins have become my first choice when mixing, and I think really helped keep the organic sound of this NowhereNauts album.
MASTERING WITH GREG CALBI
CG: I have worked with Greg since the 1990′s and I love his approach to modern mastering issues, such as how loud mastered material should be.
I absolutely hate how loud most things are. It’s so fatiguing to listen to and just makes me want to turn things off — I just don’t get any enjoyment out of the overloud mastering that has progressively poisoned audio over the last 15 years or so. Greg has a very musical way of getting a very contemporary sound without compromising the integrity of the mix or reducing dynamic range to the point of fatigue. So he was my first choice, and we were lucky to get him.
KM: We used Greg Calbi because he is one of the best mastering engineers in the world, especially for this type of dynamic rock music. We wanted his touch on this album and he delivered, we couldn’t be happier with the results.
I also worked with Greg when he mastered a band called Death of Fashion I produced with John Agnello, and he did a superb job!
This has been an incredible amount of useful information about the recording process. Pulling back, why do you feel it’s beneficial for artists and producers to do multiple album projects together — how do these pairings know when its right to do a return trip together, and how do they know when it’s time to move on?
CG: In some respects making an album is a bit of a strange experience: You have a band, a producer and an engineer, and all these people need to almost become an instant family and get along very well, very quickly. You are all working together for maybe 50 days or so and are expected to produce something at that end of that time that represents everything the band is trying to say as an artist, to make it accessible and appreciated by as many people as possible and have it be a success.
If after the first album together you succeed at that, and the process was enjoyable for all, it seems logical that if the opportunity to work together again arises, then it would make sense to give it another go and see what happens. The second time around everyone already knows each other, so things can often move a lot more swiftly and creatively as one can bypass the “treading carefully” part of working with someone new, and just get down to the business of making a great album.
Some artists like to change things up with each and every album, working on purpose with different producers and engineers so things don’t get stale. Some artists respond well to that challenge, but others love the comfort of knowing that their producer and engineer knows what they do and don’t like and that their aesthetic does not need explaining — the artist can sometimes feel more free to experiment with new ideas comfortable with the knowledge that their tried-and-tested team has got their back in the way they want, without having to say anything. Again, you can just get on with it and have a good time.
It’s time to move on when the fun has stopped entirely!
KM: I think it’s beneficial for artists and producers to work on multiple albums because only over time do the artists and producers really learn and understand how to communicate to create and produce great music. Those relationships take time, sometimes years to develop, and when they work great it only makes sense to continue working together.
I think of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanios working with U2. They developed a sound together that has worked over many albums, and that is what I have created with The NowherNauts over multiple recordings and the writing of many songs together.
I think it’s time to move on when great music is not being created and no one is pushing to make it better. Or when the pairing becomes complacent, or when the band and support to make great music comes to an end.
Those are some great insights. Lastly, let’s put the spotlight on what the producer/engineer gets out of it — how did your personal growth as producers intersect with the band’s growth as artists on this project?
CG: I think that Kevin had spent such a long time – years — developing the band and did their first album by himself, but realized that to take it to the next level for the second album, he was going to need the help of someone like me who with my experience could help facilitate the vision he had.
I don’t have the same experience that Kevin has when it comes to songwriting and band development, so for me to sit in on pre production rehearsals and learn things from him was as rewarding as him watching what I do in the studio — it was a very complementary growth for us both, I think.
That it added to the band’s growth as artists was great — they were starting to write more and more sophisticated songs, becoming better and better musicians and even during the recording of the album I could see them becoming interested in new things, exposed to new instruments and techniques which I’m sure will make themselves evident in future songs and recordings. The timing of us all coming together could not have been better.
KM: My personal growth as a producer developed alongside the band’s growth as songwriters and performers, beginning when we initially brought them together five years ago. Our knowledge and abilities grew together over the many recording sessions, rehearsals, shows, and songwriting we have done together over the last five years.
– David Weiss
Kevin March, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carl Glanville, email@example.com
SoHo/WEST SIDE, MANHATTAN: Why record your debut album at one slammin’ NYC studio when a dozen would do? That’s what the NYC rock three-piece The NowhereNauts thought as they attacked the making of their stirring, wise-beyond-their-years self-titled release that came out this week.
As it turns out, a dozen studios would have been nuts (and over budget), but two was certainly feasible. Ergo, producer Kevin March (drummer for Guided by Voices, the Dambuilders) and the band – vocalist Sofie Kapur, guitarist Hunter Lombard, and bassist Anders Kapur (Sofie’s bro) — split the spunky collection up between downtown contenders The Magic Shop and Stratosphere Sound.
The result is a record that’s absolutely worth a listen: The group has been together since their early teens, and their songwriting chemistry here is sharp, deep, advanced and still jarringly raw – articulate emotions, insistent guitars and jamming breaks come through loud and clear. Kevin March’s rhythms rock, but bring an intelligent twist to each section. These are songs that keep you guessing, in a most welcome way.
At SonicScoop’s behest, March and his charges pitted The Magic Shop against Stratosphere: The winner in this epic indie rock recording cage match is YOU.
Kevin, why do you think The NowhereNauts chose you to produce their upcoming eponymous record?
Kevin: I had already been working and recording with The NowhereNauts the past few years as part of an original music education program I was developing. That trial program introduced them to writing original music and then recording it all in a studio, so it was natural for me to continue developing and producing them.
I noticed in each of them a creative spark that reminded me of the many great musicians and songwriters I’ve been fortunate enough to create music with over the years. Also, their work ethic and drive reminded me a little bit of myself as a young musician. As a result, I had my eye/ear on them and, when an opportunity came up, I approached them because I thought that they would be great to work with – and I was right! I love their unique sound and the energy that they bring to making and creating music.
Bands obviously work in multiple studios all the time — in this case, why did The Nauts record in two NYC studios instead of one? How did you finally decide on The Magic Shop and Stratosphere?
Kevin: I chose Stratosphere and The Magic Shop because I had done extensive, spectacular-sounding recordings at both studios in the past. I also felt that my pre-existing relationships with the owners and engineers would allow me to successfully produce a complete album with a band new to the professional recording environment.
Almost all of The NowhereNauts’ debut album was recorded at The Magic Shop in 2010. The band recorded a different album as another band with Geoff Sanoff at Stratosphere in 2009. But, due to some unfortunate and unforeseen events, the album was shelved, the band dissolved and — the good part — The NowhereNauts were created.
Hunter: We chose the Magic Shop because our first recordings, ever, were made there and we really like the sound that we can get out of that studio. Stratosphere was chosen because of Kevin’s connection to Geoff Sanoff.
Fair enough! Which songs did you do at Magic Shop? What were the best things about recording there?
Kevin: The songs that we recorded and mixed at The Magic Shop (over two weekends) with the amazing house engineer, Ted Young, were “Rather Be Haunted,” “Try to Light My Fuse,” “I’m Unlucky,” “We Got the Message,” “Heat Stroke,” “Over and Over Again, “ “Newspaper Today,” “Delightfully Distracted” and “In the City.” Basically it was the entire album except “Where Is My Mind?”
The best thing about recording at The Magic Shop is the Neve console they have. It just sounds amazing, and it looks really cool too! The live room is not too big, but it has a nice, controlled, accurate sound. I love the vibe of the studio. Also, their 2″ Studer A827 tape machine, which we used to record all of the basic tracks, is in great working condition.
Anders: We powered through all the songs. It was insane how little time we had to record everything and how fast we got it done. Ted was so efficient; he got our recordings on to tape and, somehow, retained the rich, vintage-y vibe we were going for. His work in the studio is one of the reasons this album sounds so great.
Sofie: I loved the vibe at The Magic Shop, and the opportunity I got to experiment a little with mics. We also really got comfortable with Ted. Of course, his mixing is great too. We recorded on tape there, which really captured the sound we wanted.
Moving across town, why did “Where Is My Mind?” emerge at Stratosphere?
Kevin: The best thing about recording at Stratosphere Sound is that the live room sounds amazing! And I can’t neglect to mention that all of the house amps and guitars that James Iha and Adam Schlesinger have there are in top working condition and sound incredible; but, of course, only with the help and knowledge of Geoff. Geoff is a fantastic engineer with a musician’s ear and brain. He knows how to capture the audio of a great performance and, just as important, he knows how to create a comfortable, productive working environment.
Hunter: At Stratosphere you can get the HUGE guitar sounds that I really, really love. Also, our first time recording to tape was there and that was a very cool experience. I don’t think we could ever go back to recording digitally after that.
Anders: We tracked two other songs that aren’t on the record as well. I really love the atmosphere there. And, by the end of our recording sessions, I personally felt really comfortable and at home in the studio. Geoff was instrumental in getting the recordings we made there to sound as rich as they do. He had a lot of great input on our guitar and bass tones and the methods we used to achieve them. Having him there was almost like having a second producer.
Sofie: For my vocals, I recorded in the room with Geoff. It was a much more direct approach. I could have recorded in a booth, but I liked that I could see him and the band while I was recording. Also, the space is amazing — which I know isn’t exactly sound-related but, still, I’d live there if I could.
OK, most important: Who would win in an Ultimate Fighting match: Stratosphere’s people or the Magic Shop staff?
Kevin: The Magic Shop’s people! They have a lot more heavy vintage gear to throw around. Also, Stratosphere’s people are just so nice and easy-going that they wouldn’t want to fight.
Hunter: Tie! We really love the people that work at both studios. The workflow is really different for each of them, but the end result is always what we want.
Sofie: I’d have to put my money on Stratosphere, mostly because of Atsuo, the assistant engineer. He’s quiet, but something about him makes me think he’s secretly a superhero or a ninja or something. The Magic Shop would have a chance if they could bring all their action figures to life though!
– David Weiss
NORTH BROOKLYN: Our neighborhood studio tour continues with four more decidedly uncommon studios in North Brooklyn. We talked to the owners of Strange Weather, Headgear, Metrosonic, and the Fort about sessions, toys, and building an active niche in this teeming slice of the city.
Room Rate: $450/day
Those familiar with the SonicScoop blog-roll may recognize the name of Marc Alan Goodman, who’s been recounting the saga of building Strange Weather’s new, full-service tracking studio on the Greenpoint/East Williamsburg border. In the meantime, it’s a small secret that his current location already hosts one of the most impressive collections of hand-picked ear candy in the city.
More than anything, this is a studio for artists and engineers with boutique tastes. No summary can do justice to the extensive selection of gear that includes names like Neve, API, Purple, Gates, Federal, ADL, Neumann, Coles, dbx, RCA, and Bricasti. Strange Weather is also home to a startling collection of guitars, drums, and keyboards at the ready for capturing any sound musicians can imagine.
Most surprising of all, according to Goodman, is the price, and the fact that all his vintage treasures are in prime working condition.
“I wanted to build a studio where people can walk in and use world-class gear at an affordable price in a functioning atmosphere,” Goodman says. “There’s nothing worse than booking a day at a studio where nothing works. I feel like that’s the rule rather than the exception in the commercial studios I’ve worked in.”
In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter has recently been in for some sessions at Strange Weather, and this kind of attention to detail has it fast-becoming one of my favorite places to work. Owning a studio has begun to turn Goodman into a capable tech in his own right: his racks are over-stuffed with impeccably maintained vintage gear, and handmade re-creations of studio classics like the LA2A, LA3A and 1176.
Built around a new 32-channel API 1608 console brimming with the choicest EQs, Strange Weather turns out to be an ideal room for overdubs, mixing, or any sessions that don’t require a cavernous live room.
When asked about his niche in the studio scene Goodman says: “Ideally everyone would complete their records from start to finish in a studio, but today it seems more common for musicians to combine studios with smaller at-home or portable rigs. We’re focused on making that process as seamless as possible; to give musicians and engineers used to working at home a place they can walk in and use great, often rare equipment in a functioning environment.”
Rates: Click for Room + Engineer Rates
Room Rate: $600/day; $550/day for blocks of 3 days or more.
If there’s any truth behind the idea that Williamsburg is a great place to make music, a lot of responsibility for that would have to fall on studios like Headgear Recording. Since opening in 1998, Headgear has been the birthplace of seminal records from TV On The Radio, Massive Attack, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Animal Collective, CocoRosie, Nada Surf, My Morning Jacket, Son Volt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Moby and Santigold.
Although the “Room For Rent” model of studio has waned as competent owner-operators create their own personal oases of sound in every corner of the city, Headgear remains one of the most accessible and freelance-engineer-friendly studios in New York.
In addition to house engineers Alex Lipsen, Scott Norton, and Dan Long, Headgear has been home to projects from a who’s who of hip and distinctive producers and engineers, including John Agnello, Peter Katis, Dave Sitek, John Hill, Chris Moore Gordon Raphael, TJ Doherty, and Chris Coady.
Headgear is also no stranger to Film and Television Post. Recent clients include “Grey’s Anatomy,” MTV’s “Skins,” “CSI: Miami” and the Columbia Pictures comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
According to studio manager Jackie Lin Werner, the studio’s appeal is personal as much as it is technical: “ We’re not stiff or pretentious. We’re down to earth and like to be helpful. Beyond the gear and the size of our rooms, I believe people trust Headgear as an established studio with a respectable client list. Headgear probably appeals most to indie bands and major label bands looking for an affordable, high quality studio in a space that has a creative vibe. “
Headgear’s A-room houses an automated Trident 80C console and offers a choice of Pro Tools HD and 24-track 2-inch tape. A well-equipped B room is also available for mixing and overdubs.
Contact for rates.
Neve Console. Pro Tools HD. Ampex 2”. Engineers who know what they’re doing. What more could you need to know?
According to Metrosonic’s Pete Mignola, it’s the people who make a studio: “The people who built it, the people who run it, the people who use it,” he tells us.
“Everyone who comes to Metrosonic talks about the vibe. Of course they like the great gear, the affordable rates, the windows & city views, but they always say that they love the vibe here. There’s human element to this that makes each studio unique and special in its own way.”
Metrosonic has always had a large, comfortable control room. More recently, the studio’s originally modest live room underwent significant renovations in 2008, and now, Pete and the crew are excited to bring a new 850 square-foot live room into the fold.
Rates: $40/hr, including Jim Bentley as Engineer.
Over the past decade, North Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood has filled up with enough small private studios to fill an area twice its size. In that time, Jim Bentley’s studio The Fort has stood as one of the neighborhood’s active mainstays.
Persevering in this competitive new territory since 2003, owner/operator Bentley has hosted noteworthy clients including Brit Daniel of Spoon, Doug Gillard and Kevin March of Guided by Voices, James McNew of Yo La Tengo, Jennifer O’Connor, John Agnello and Jemina Pearl.
This especially affordable studio is equipped for both analog and digital sessions, offering a Neotek Elan console, Tascam 1” 16-track, and a 24-channel MOTU/Apogee system. The studio bills at $30/hr on weekdays from noon to 6pm and at $40/hr 6pm-midnight or weekends, and includes Bentley’s services as engineer.
Bentley is most proud of his live room, a large, vibey space with vaulted, heavy-timber ceilings: “I love to track full bands in the room live for feel and then sauce it up and make it sound supernatural from there,” he says.
Bentley’s down-to-earth approach is made clear in his parting words to us. The Fort, he says, “appeals to the clients who realize making records is more about the man and the performance than the machine or the media buzz behind it.”
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.
It’s been a minute since we checked in with The Magic Shop, one of NYC’s favorite, longest-standing recording studios. Here’s what’s been happening:
Legendary engineer Ken Thomas (David Bowie, Public Image Ltd., Sigur Ros) mixed Moby’s new, largely acoustic/orchestral album, with Ted Young assisting. (Click for some words from Thomas on the Moby record.)
Lenny Kravitz was in this past fall tracking for his upcoming album with engineer Tom “T-Bone” Edmonds, assisted by Ted Young.
A few Grammy-nominated records were also recorded at The Magic Shop last year, including Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and Norah Jones’ song “Chasing Pirates,” and the “Best Historical Album” nominated “Alan Lomax in Haiti” 10 CD box set was mastered in the Blue Room — an audio restoration, archiving and mastering suite — by Warren Russell Smith and Magic Shop owner Steve Rosenthal.
Also in the Blue Room, Russell-Smith continued audio restoration work for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and mastered albums for Melody Kills, On The Brink Recordings, Oh Whitney, Glass Rifle and These People. He also worked on mastering Rockstar Games’ “Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmares Original Soundtrack,” and continued his work mastering and restoration of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival.
In the “Red Room,” also dedicated to restoration and mastering, engineer Jessica Thompson mastered Ryat‘s Avant Gold, Jenna Nicholls‘ In The Blooming Hours, The Nowherenauts‘ Delightfully Distracted, produced by Kevin March, Mitten‘s debut EP, John Holk and the Sequins‘ If You See Her, and continued working on concerts from the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival archive.
Visit The Magic Shop at www.magicshopny.com.
Loads of great music being made at Stratosphere Studios this Fall. Fountains of Wayne tracked their fifth record in Studio A with Stratosphere’s chief engineer, Geoff Sanoff. The band’s currently adding finishing touches in Studio B.
Singer Lucy Woodward‘s been at Stratosphere with producer Tony Visconti and engineer Mario McNulty, tracking and mixing a new record for Verve. And actor-comedian Dan Fogler recorded an album with his band 2nd Rate; Arjun Agerwala engineered and mixed the record in Studios A and B.
Shudder to Think drummer Kevin March has been producing an interesting project called Blame The Patient, a band of high school students who recorded a 10-song record over a weekend at Stratosphere with Sanoff engineering.
“I put together [this group of 15-18 year olds] to mentor, produce, and most of all educate them about music and the [music] business,” March explained. “It stared out as an experiment to see what would happen if I gave them real experiences writing, recording, and performing as an education. Well, after almost two years they became a real band and wrote some great songs. The album will most likely be released in early 2010, and was privately funded through Club Rock LLC.”
Seminal NYC rock band The Brats, started by New York Dolls’ Rick Rivets, recorded five tracks in a two-day session in Studio A last month with producer (and Fountains of Wayne drummer) Brian Young, and Sanoff at the controls. According to Young, the band hopes this to be the first batch of songs for a new full-length LP.
Argentinean musician and composer Maximiliano Gerscovich also recorded tracks in Studio A with engineer Rudyard Lee Cullers and British artist Lester Woodward and his band came to New York to record their debut album at Stratosphere with Sanoff engineering.
Creative studio Exopolis has been booking Stratosphere for various recording projects for their clients, including — most recently — a series of Rhapsody commercials, for which Sanoff produced voice-over sessions.
MALMO, SWEDEN; HARLEM, MANHATTAN: We caught up with Nathan Larson, rock guitarist and bassist (Shudder To Think, A Camp, Hot One), film score composer and record producer/engineer, just after he’d touched down in Sweden for A Camp’s European tour in the Spring. Before its U.S. release, A Camp’s new record, Colonia, had already gone Gold in Sweden, the native country of lead singer Nina Persson and singer/songwriter/guitarist Niclas Frisk.
“The record’s huge in Scandanavia,” Larson qualifies, when asked about the scale of A Camp’s tour. “It’s also doing really well in Europe, getting a lot of radio play.”
Generating at least some of the immediate buzz overseas is Persson’s pop-star status for fronting The Cardigans and Frisk’s popularity from his days with rock band Atomic Swing, but Colonia is also a legitimately long-awaited record. It’s the follow-up to A Camp’s critically acclaimed ‘01 self-titled debut, which was never released stateside, though at the time and ever since, Larson and Persson — who are also married — have resided right here in NYC.
Frisk joined them in NYC last winter to make Colonia, which Larson produced. They recorded it with Geoff Sanoff in a few NYC studios including Stratosphere, Loho (now closed) and Magic Shop as well as Mission Sound and Larson’s own studio in Williamsburg, mixed it with Alan Weatherhead at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, and released it in the U.S. on Nettwerk. And, A Camp finally toured America in May and June, performing Colonia‘s exalting glam-pop melodrama to still-relatively virgin ears. We recently chatted with Larson about A Camp and other musical pursuits:
Q: So this is A Camp’s first U.S. release. Tell me about how you’re getting Colonia out there?
A: All you really want out of a label is for them to get your record into stores, put up some money for marketing, and allow you to work with your own connections (i.e. publicists). It’s all about drawing from all your past experiences and pulling a great team together, which we were able to do. It’s a real positive for us, as a band, that there are all these really experienced people, former employees of record labels, who are floating around working as freelancers now. You can hire these amazingly experienced people to work your project. You create a virtual record company around the record company, to sort of augment it. And then you dissolve it once the project is launched and out there.
What about your tour? Do you have a drastically different touring band for the big shows in Europe, as opposed to the ballroom venues in the States?
Yes! In Scandanavia, we’re bringing a gospel-style choir with us, and we’ll have keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, vocals. It will be a relatively stripped down tour in the States. We’ve never toured the States, much less put out a record.
The goal is to get over the hump and get to the festivals, which is where you make your money. You end up losing money doing these tours, but you have to get out and play to hone what you do, make contact with your fans and the people, and then you do these festivals and they pay really well, especially in Europe. You can recoup the money playing one festival in Europe. So, we’re doing those many weekends this summer and that’s going to be the way we support ourselves.
And have you scored any films lately? How do you integrate that work with being a rock star?
My favorite recent film scoring project was for a movie called The Messenger, which is coming out this summer. I also did a big Hollywood movie and a couple documentaries, which were pretty cool. I squeezed as much work as possible in to that period of time between finishing Colonia and getting ready to head out on tour.
Where do you do the majority of your film scoring work?
For the most part, I work in my studio in Williamsburg, which is really like a punk rock rehearsal space. It has no proper acoustics and there’s like metal bands playing next door. But we’ve been renovating our house up in Harlem and I soundproofed one of the rooms there to be used as a studio, which will up my game a bit. Nina and I were really too concerned with the aesthetics to make it a truly professional studio though (laughs) — it’s a turn-of-the-century brownstone and we really didn’t want to mess it up!
I consulted with some people, including Geoff Sanoff, who recommended the best materials for sound-proofing, and we put it in the ceilings and the floors and between the walls.
How do you typically compose and record?
I really like working in Pro Tools, because I can be mobile. For example, I finished these last few movie projects on the road, working in hotel rooms on my Mbox while we were off doing promo for this record.
So, I’d recorded everything in Brooklyn, but in terms of editing and moving things around for soundtrack work — honestly, you can do so much with just recording a whole bunch of material in the same key. My formula, which seems to work well, is that I do three pieces of music. Once I’ve locked in one piece of music, I do three variations on that and then I just stack as many different instruments as I think might work on top of each other. I record as much as I’ll possibly use and then move things around and edit from there. Like, one cue in the movie will be a cello solo’d with some kind of pad, but those two elements are taken from a 32-track session.
So you record tons of stuff and then pare down?
Well, I do try to stick to the methods I developed in the earlier part of my career that was spent working to analog tape. I really do try to keep myself to 24-tracks at the most, and preferably 16.
Any other essential tools or methods to your film scoring work?
I read something Brian Eno wrote about standing up while you’re working, which I’ve noticed is actually big in Scandanavia too. Eno’s theory is that you do less and therefore you do less bullshit. So, I started doing that — I raised all of my stuff up to chest height and it does seem to do something. You work faster.
Also, as far as making a commitment to sounds, I don’t like recording MIDI information and then changing sounds later on. I think it’s nice to commit to something from the beginning: I like this sound so I’m going to record it. I think it’s better to make decisions as you go.
So, is there any particular style of film you’re drawn to or prefer to work on?
Apparently there is, because the stuff I generally work on is either super political and there’s some sort of a dark or violent undercurrent. There was a point in my life where I’d decided I was going to do movie scores. I had some friends who were doing it and they encouraged me to move out to LA, and so we did it. My wife and I rented a place out there, and I was really open to it. But then you realize when you get there that there’s a very clear track you can get on, this track that’s wide open to you once you’ve done a successful movie.
Like, I did Boys Don’t Cry in 1999, and for three or four years after that, there was this whole track of mainstream Hollywood work that was open to me. And, it’s a track that leads to all of these really mediocre but very, very high grossing, high-paying jobs like American Pie 3 or Halloween 6 or whatever. Some of these movies do have their own merit, so, I gave it a shot — I did this big-budget Hollywood movie.
What was that like?
It was a funny experience — I realized pretty quickly that the director and I lived in two completely different worlds. The film involved the Vietnam War, and they wanted something that sounded “Asian,” which is ridiculous and unoriginal at best.
I’d remembered hearing this dude playing the Erhu down in the NYC Subway. I rode around looking for him and found him on the N/R platform at 34th Street. I tried to talk to him but he couldn’t speak English. But there was a Village Voice, and Boys Don’t Cry was still playing, so I was pointing at the movie ad and saying, “I do music for films.” Eventually, some people came along who were from this guy’s part of China and they translated. And so he ended up coming with his nephew to my studio in Williamsburg.
So, this is my big Hollywood film score: this guy comes in and I decide the best way to do it is to have him play everything in D. He’d never worn headphones and his nephew’s like ‘no, don’t worry, he has perfect pitch.’ Turned out this dude had played with the Beijing Opera. So, I just sang these melodies and the guy did his thing and we recorded a whole bunch of stuff into Pro Tools.
So, they went for it?
Totally! I had to present it to this whole committee of people. And typically, you’d present a demo and then do a big, orchestral recording at the stage. But I’d never done that, and I’ve yet to do that. So, I played the director a scene with the music I’d recorded. He liked it and said, “Oh, it’s going to be great once you’ve recorded it.” And I was like, “No, this is it. This is the recording.” And he sat there for a few minutes, and finally said, “Great!”
Visit A Camp at www.acamp.net and to get in touch with Nathan Larson, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.