When we were actually tracking, it was all the skeleton of things. I didn’t know what the songs were going to be. They had it in their heads, but a lot of the songs were arranged in editing. That’s one of the other brilliant things about Daft Punk – Thomas is a virtuoso in Pro Tools.
Was it disorienting at all for you to not know exactly where the songs were headed as you tracked them?
Not really, because we knew what the vibe was going to be.
After the basic tracks were recorded, they took the Pro Tools files back to France, started editing, and truly realized the songs’ structures. Then they came back to LA, we did a bunch of guitar, keyboard and percussion overdubs for about two weeks. From there they went back to France for months more of editing and recording, and then they came back to LA to mix.
They set up a separate Pro Tools room, editing the tracks as I was mixing them, and sort of finessing their parts – updating them as I was mixing. It was a very interactive process.
What did you like about Conway’s Studio C for mixing? Tell us about the board, monitors, layout – and anything you did to “personalize” it for yourself.
Well, we used my own monitors throughout this whole project, the Guzauski Swist GS-3a. We used those for tracking, then the Daft Punk guys bought a pair and they have them in Paris, so they did most of their work on them.
I brought them to the orchestra sessions, and then we also used them for the two weeks of overdubs. We also used them at Conway for mixing. Pretty much everything I was involved in and what Daft Punk did alone was monitored on those speakers.
You personally designed the GS-3a along with Larry Swist. After several years of working on your own monitors, what are your impressions of them now?
They’re small enough to be used as nearfields, and they also sound exciting during tracking. They have a very wide, flat response without having to use an additional subwoofer – they’re flat from 30 Hz on up, with very low distortion. Larry designed a decoupling mount for the midrange and high frequency drivers. This prevents the low frequency energy from the woofer from superimposing on the higher frequency waves, which lowers intermodulation distortion.
They’re a nice reference, and we didn’t use any larger or smaller speakers. We took the material out and listened on other things, but in the control room we didn’t use anything else as a reference.
What was the Neve 88R and outboard like for you in Conway’s Studio C?
The Neve 88R is Neve’s newest analog console. Conway was an early adopter of the VR consoles in the mid-80’s, and a tech there named John Musgrave did some nice upgrades on the VR. The 88R is a VR that includes those improvements, and also some others.
It’s a very nice-sounding console, and very versatile too. This console has a 4-band parametric EQ and dynamics section on every channel, and a nice center section. Everything sounds warm and very clean, and it’s a nice console to operate.
As far as outboard gear, this album was mostly analog. Other than recording digitally, most of the processing was analog, which was something specific they wanted and I think it really helped.
We got all sorts of different EQ’s and compressors, and auditioned all sorts of different pieces. We had a bunch of 1176’s which I used a lot, and I listened to specific ones for specific things. Neve 33609’s got used a lot, an API 2500, the Chandler EMI, and the Cranesong. As far as EQ, we had GML, Avalon, API, Neve. Most of our reverb was EMT 140 plates, real ones.
What’s special to you about a real plate reverb?
You have to find a good one first. They’re all different, but when you find a good one, they’re so warm, smooth and spacious sounding. The emulations are nice, and they’re always the same, but the real thing takes a little searching around for, and tweaking, but when you get it there’s nothing like it.
Plus, some of the reverb was Capitol’s live chamber, which is world-renowned. We recorded the orchestra there, and then they also brought some of the vocal tracks back there and recorded the chamber.
How did it inform your mixing to have done most of the basic tracking, and some of the overdubs?
That’s nice because I knew what was there, and it’s easy to treat something when I know what I went for. It speeds up the mixing considerably, since we discussed the sounds and actually got them to tape and Pro Tools.
We didn’t need a lot of drastic EQing. The thing is to do it with mic positioning, and to not do drastic EQs. That’s one of the reasons that people are really liking the sound of this album, because it’s very easy to listen to. Things aren’t twisted all over to work with each other.
I take it Daft Punk attended the mix sessions.
They were around the control room a lot of the time. They’d go into their Pro Tools room, I’d set up a mix, they’d comment on it, and we’d work on it. We would always leave it set up for the next day to finalize it. Some songs took a few days, some were quicker.
We didn’t do any recalls, we just worked on each one until it was right, which was a really nice luxury to have. Because to recall something like that…even though the board has recall, you’re twisting it back. And the outboard has a picture, but you never get it exactly right. So we got it exactly where we wanted. That spot.
We had a really good team, of course. Seth Waldman was our assistant – he was an excellent assistant, a really good engineer in his own right, very knowledgeable and helpful.