They asked him for an engineer that was familiar with all types of music – basically an old fart like me that had worked with bands and studio players, as well as modern stuff. They Googled me and said, “Yeah let’s get this guy!” So that’s what happened.
What was your reaction when you got the call from Daft Punk?
I had heard what their other albums were like, and I thought, “This is really cool, but why are they calling me?” I didn’t have a lot of experience in electronica. Then we talked, and they said they wanted a retro album going back to ‘70’s disco, with all live players. The idea was electronica based on live performances. I thought, “This is going to be great,” and I got excited.
What impressions of Daft Punk did you form while you were preparing to do the engineering for the album – how did that inform your plan?
I really didn’t try to preconceive any ideas about it, because I knew this one was going to be different from anything they had done before.
How long did the recording take, and where was it done?
We had a meeting first, and they had what they wanted to do sketched out. The songs weren’t fully realized, but they had a lot of ideas down in Pro Tools, ideas for the band to play with.
Then we went into Conway Recording’s Studio C, and we were there for two weeks tracking drums, bass, percussion and keyboards. We had two rhythm sections: one with John “JR” Robinson on drums and Nathan East on bass for a lot of songs, and then Omar Hakim on drums and James Genus from the Saturday Night Live band. The percussion player, Quinn, was incredible, and Chris Caswell was on keyboards (see the complete list of players here). Then we went to Capitol Studios and recorded the orchestra for two days.
How was Conway Recording selected — what was right about tracking Random Access Memories there?
That’s where I did most of my work mixing and tracking in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s when I lived in LA. Daft Punk had some specific things they wanted to do, include using a Neve console, which I love. They have a newer one, an 88R in Studio C, and we also went for C because it was a bigger room, with more space to spread out. The guys fell in love with Studio C, which is where we did all the basic tracks, and mixed too.
Studio C is also really nice because they have two nice-sized ISO booths – we could do acoustic piano and drums at the same time, for example, with no leakage. It gave us a lot of flexibility.
What were the specific instruments you tracked, and overdubbed?
We tracked drums, bass, Fender Rhodes, acoustic piano where that was used, and sometimes some synths live. The overdubs in Conway were mostly percussion. Quinn has a lot of self-built drums and instruments – all that psychedelic stuff you hear in the beginning of the song “Motherboard,” for instance, is actually all percussion. This guy had an amazing sound. We worked with him for three or four days in Studio C which I’d say is 28 feet wide by almost 50 feet long, and it was completely filled with his percussion stuff.
How did the band direct you through the tracking? What kind of sounds were you going for?
They just wanted the sound to be very natural. Think 1970’s when things were not very processed, but think hi-fi too – modern quality, but natural sounds. The drums we tracked were baffled off. Studio C is fairly live, but we also had room mics. We could get tight sounds if we wanted, but also use the room.
At this point in the project, I didn’t know what was going where, so I wanted to track with the flexibility of using different acoustic perspectives later on. Most of the drums are dry and tight for the dance songs, but for parts of “Touch” it’s almost all room. We tried to record with versatility in mind.
What were some of the mic choices you made on the drums?
The kick drum we used an AKG D112 and Sony C500 right next to each other inside the drum, with a Neumann U 47 FET outside of the drum, and a Yamaha NS10 woofer as a sub. Those four mics were on four separate tracks, so we could dial in the kick drum sound that we wanted.
The snare was a Shure SM57 on top, AKG C451 on the snare bottom, AKG C451 on high hat, Sennheiser MD421’s on toms, the overhead was a pair of Schoeps CM5U’s, and we used a pair of Neumann U 87’s for the room.
We always went for positioning. We didn’t use a tremendous amount of EQ, but really tried to get most of the sound with mic placement.
When it came to piano, what was your miking approach?
On Conway’s nine-foot Yamaha, we used a pair of DPA’s over and a bit behind the hammers – dividing the keyboards into thirds – at about 15-inch height, and a U 67 back over where the bass strings cross. The DPA’s were mixed left and right, the U 67 filled in the center.
How about vocals?
I didn’t record a lot of the vocals – the band mostly went to where the singers were and recorded them there. I did record Paul Williams for “Touch” using a U 67, and for “Fragments of Time” I recorded Todd Edwards with a U 47. On both of those vocals I used a Neve 1073 preamp/EQ, and an LA 2A compressor.
Everything on this album was recorded to Pro Tools running at 96 kHz, with Lynx Aurora converters and Antelope clock.
We simultaneously recorded the basic tracks – drums, bass, and keyboards – to an A827 Studer tape machine with Dolby SR running at 15 inches per second (ips), and then we transferred that to Pro Tools. So we had tracks that were recorded directly to Pro Tools, and tracks to analog tape, which meant that we had choices on a song by song or part by part basis. Usually for the dance stuff they went with the digital because it was punchier, but in other places they wanted a warmer, less transient sound, so there we would use the analog recordings.