We write, record and produce at home. Our gear is not as ‘state of the art’ as it could be, but it suits our workflow and does what we need it to.
Like most musicians we are fully ‘digital’. There are no reel-to reel tape recorders; everything we record (Vocals, guitars, percussion, cello, bass guitar) goes straight into a Yamaha O2R Digital Mixing Desk where it is converted and routed into an Apple Mac Pro Computer running Apple ‘Logic’ recording software. Our desk is twelve years old would you believe – still works perfectly.
Most modern music is recorded at a sampling frequency of 96Khz – our old desk can only manage 48Khz. But actually CDs are recorded at 44.1Khz – so that’s the frequency we use.
On the screens we can see virtual tracks and instruments – both those recorded naturally, and others that come from banks of ‘virtual instruments’ stored inside the computer. Most of the sounds we use are from ‘Native Instruments Komplete’.
We have been careful to make sure that we have a great ‘front end’. It’s really important to have a great microphone and we normally use a Neumann TLM193 Condenser microphone to capture every nuance of Lindsey’s voice.
This is routed into a great TL Audio valve compressor – yes valve! A compressor literally ‘squashes’ any sound fed into it – particularly important for vocals that range from shout to whisper. The valve-based circuitry adds distinctive ‘warmth’ to the tones of anything routed through it, and helps to counteract the ‘clinical’ sound of digital.
Compressors are used extensively in all modern recording to help get control of the levels and give more ‘fullness’ to certain sounds. We also routinely use ‘software’ compressors built into the recording software.
If you will excuse the phrase, you also need a really good ‘back end’; reliable reference monitors (speakers) that help you to judge as objectively as possible how things are sounding. This is one of the hardest areas in recording – we all know that music sounds different on different systems and we need to produce something that will sound great on a small radio, laptop, or high-end music system.
Our speakers are by Dynaudio Acoustics – they are self-amplified – meaning that each speaker has two amplifiers internally, perfectly matching their tweeter (mid to high frequencies) and woofer (mid to low frequencies).
I also use a pair of Sennheiser HD650 reference headphones – they are of the ‘open’ type and are great to hear top-end detail like hi-hats and percussion.
Finally we have a pair of JBL ‘Control 1’ monitors. These are inexpensive speakers normally found playing ‘musak’ in café’s. But their limited frequency range helps us understand how a track may sound in such places.
Other bits of gear include a Boss GT-Pro guitar effects rack (Brilliant), an Alesis DM5 drum machine (Used on ‘Absolute Zero’) and some rarely-used Kurzweil Synth modules. (Kurzweil synth sounds are the best!)
Oh I love guitars – they are things of beauty and it really doesn’t matter if they are ‘big brand’ or not – as long as they sound good.
Of course I have too many – here they are:
Antoria Les Paul copy (Red). I have had this since 1977 and it has performed many a punk gig! It has a great slim (‘fast’) neck, and I have replaced the pickups and electrics so it sounds more like a USA instrument.
Casio Midi Guitar Stratocaster copy (black). We used to gig with a band called Rare/Naked (depending on the period) – and made extensive use of synths/pads, as you did in the 80’s. As our vocalist and front-person, Lindsey could not sit behind a bank of keyboards so it fell to me and my trusty Casio to ‘trigger’ those big sounds, in addition to playing more conventional guitar. Setting up was always a nightmare and there was something called ‘midi delay’ which meant I always had to play ahead of the beat for it to sound right. Anyway, as a standard guitar its fine – and that’s how I use it these days.
Gibson Les Paul Standard, Blue. I didn’t own a classic USA made guitar until 2013, and this is it! Sometimes I open the case and just look at it. I just love its warm, distinctive sound, which you can hear on the ‘Riverman’ solo and at the end of ‘This is the City’.
Takamine EG330 Acoustic (Natural). This is such a sweet-sounding guitar, Japanese, based on the Martin Dreadnought. I don’t think its sound can be bettered, and have used it extensively on ‘Leap’, typically double-tracked for a lovely full ringing sound.
Fairclough 12-string acoustic. Its Korean, its cheap, and not at all bad for around £200. Used occasionally.
Hohner ‘The Jack’ Bass Guitar. (sort of brown) I can’t remember how I acquired this but it’s a brilliant little bass guitar with active circuitry that gives it a wide range of sounds. Really badly uncool-looking. I once ‘snapped’ the truss rod in the neck and it was saved at a very fair cost by a cool guitar tech called Moon.
Our ‘Master Keyboard’ is a Yamaha CP1 Stage Piano. Although electronic, it features superbly natural sampled piano sounds. Great to simplify stage performance, although in the studio it is used as a ‘master keyboard’ to ‘play in’ the notes for computer based instruments.
We also have a Kemble upright acoustic piano. Sounds great in the room but is a devil to record, although we just about managed to get away with it for the track ‘Warrior Queen’ on Lindsey’s most recent album ‘Plaques & Tangles’.
Samantha brought her own Cello – just lovely. I couldn’t tell you much other than it was a) Expensive and b) Sounded lovely. I used a Peavey piezo mic near the head to capture the ‘top’ frequencies and mixed it with the Neumann sound to get just the tone we wanted….
We have a big box of percussion instruments – Tambourines, Cabassa, Shakers etc. – and for ‘Leap’ we made quite good use of kitchen equipment; listen out for the egg whisk and knife-sharpener in ‘Last Fish in the Sea’.
Drums are mostly ‘programmed’ – I tap them in and build them up using samples from within Logic, or Native Instruments. Really tough area – we love ‘real’ drummers and drums, but just could not find the right partners for this album. So next best was to do what we could to make the sounds as ‘real’ as we could, typically paired with naturally-played percussion to keep a sense of ‘flow and movement’.