Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Take One

The big day had arrived and we were off to the city to start the production of our first real studio recording. The van was packed with our gear, the sun was shining, and the tunes were blaring on the radio. We made it to Toronto without incident and pulled over on a sketchy side street close to Bloor street. We met up with Dummy, who instructed us where to park and load our gear in. The studio was called Halla Music and it was ran by a fellow named Pete Hudson, who is somewhat legendary as a producer in the Toronto Indy music scene. 

We parked the van beside a fence on the side of the road and proceeded to lug the gear through a yard area and into the house, which had been converted into a recording facility. The house was in a bit of a shambles. There were organized messes all about and cats wandering around. Pete himself was also a bit disheveled. He looked like he'd just crawled out of bed, hair in a tangled mess and dressed in comfy clothing. Pete was a quiet man and he was hard to get a read on, but when things started rolling there was no denying his production abilities. 

Pete started off by setting the drums up and getting the microphones properly placed around them. The entire first day was practically spent achieving the drum sound he wanted, which in turn meant me sitting there all day hitting one piece over and over until we were ready to move onto the next piece. It was a bit of a grueling experience, but by the end of it my drums sounded larger than life. We still had time left, so Pete got the guitar and bass rigs set up to boot, and we were ready to roll tape the following morning.

When it came time to record I was up first. It was odd to be playing the song alone, but apparently this was how the process worked. I hammered out the first track in a couple of takes, and then it was Mike's turn. Being the pro that he was, he laid his bass track down on the first take. Next up was Derek, the less experienced musician of the group. Derek had a really hard time recording alone and he couldn't quite seem to nail down the feeling he was hoping to achieve. He wasn't happy with the way the first completed song sounded. It felt forced to him and didn't sound natural to his ear. Derek went onto insist that we record the songs collectively, all three of us playing live on the floor. After much debate and discussion Pete agreed, and the three of us headed back into the sound booth. 

We replayed the first song we had previously recorded individually, and we nailed it on the first go. It totally captured the feel and sound of the band and represented us the way we wanted it to. The second song went just as well, if I remember correctly we nailed it on the second take. When we got to the song "Heshien" that's when the trouble started. Most of my beats were straight up jacks of beats from oldschool rap songs. Most of our tunes were slower, so timing was never an issue. The beat to Heshien however was a bit more complex, as I used a singe kick drum in the fashion of a double bass drum. The song always felt good when we played it live, but due to our loose, sloppy groove, the timing was now an issue for recording purposes. We played the song over and over but I was just slightly lagging behind my two band mates. Ultimately Pete and Dummy instructed me to simplify the beat a bit, and it worked. 

It was a bit humbling to experience this, as I always thought my timing was impeccable. I was slightly embarrassed and obviously getting frustrated at the amount of botched takes we did. The finished product sounded great, but to this day it still doesn't sit right with me, as I feel it wasn't a proper representation of the song.

We brought a camcorder with us to document the process, although we probably wasted more film on me skateboarding in the concrete yard of the property. Whenever I had some downtime I was out in the sun shredding on my deck. Mike C brought his skateboard too and joined me on occasion. After a few days of hard work we had all of our tracks laid down, and it was time for Derek to record his vocals. 

As Mike and I sat in the sound booth with Pete and Dummy, they began to roll tape. Once again Derek found it odd and difficult to be singing by himself, no guitar in hand and no rhythm section to back him up. He did his best and things were coming together. Once in awhile Pete would mute out the music in the sound booth with the exception of Derek's voice. We'd all cringe upon hearing him solo, his voice cracking, screeching, and off key, but when the music became un muted it all sounded great together. Derek eventually made it through the songs, painstakingly as it was, and we were finally finished.

Pete and Dummy wanted to try out a few studio tricks on a few songs and we were open to their suggestions. Some of them we liked and some of them we didn't, but we felt if it improved the overall vibe of the song we should roll with it despite our personal preferences. Derek was a bit more up in arms over this, as he wanted everything to sound natural, and he was worried about having studio tricks on the recording that we couldn't pull off performing live. All in all it was an amazing experience and I learned quite a lot about the inner workings of the studio recurring process. 

We left there with our songs mastered on a DAT tape, smiles on our faces, and a feeling of accomplishment. Now we would just have to come up with the money to have the recording duplicated in mass quantities on proper cassettes with a cover to boot... 

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