First You Get the Sugar is an exciting young band from Montreal who are building an impressive career through sheer hard work, talent and positive energy. Their first, self-titled album was mastered here at Masterdisk by Andy VanDette last year, and it’s a powerful, polished statement of power-pop and classic rock intent. Not “classic rock” so much in terms of the genre, but “classic” in terms of offering those key elements we all look for in great rock: excitement, hooks, and maybe a touch of danger. The band made a big impression on us here at the studio not only through their music, but by their friendliness and positive attitude. Since that first album, First You Get the Sugar recorded three songs at the Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn and brought them to Andy for mastering — all in a whirlwind three-day period. One of those songs is attached below. I hooked up with the band’s drummer, Daniel Moscovitch, on Facebook to discuss the band’s career so far. If you’re in Toronto for NXNE you can catch the band tonight at the Wrongbar.
Dan, thanks for taking some time for the Masterdisk blog. OK, let’s go through some basic dates… when did the band form & how did you meet?
Adam [Kagan] and Mick [Mendelsohn] formed the band in 2007. I answered a Craigslist ad, and it turned out that it was posted by their temporary lead guitarist at the time who I was actually good friends with, so I went to see them play at a club here in Montreal. By the end of the next week, I still had some of the hooks stuck in my head, so I went in for a meeting and right away we all knew it was a great fit. We spent the next year or so honing our sound and looking for a permanent lead guitarist, and that is where Alex [Silver] came in. He was actually a fan of ours, who we hung out with. We brought him in for an audition in January ’09, and we’ve been family ever since.
When did you make your first recordings?
Right after Alex joined us we knew it was time to make an album. One of my closest friends and long-time musical colleague of mine, Adam Stotland, came on as co-producer. He had just finished building a studio in his house, so the timing was perfect, and in April 09 we settled into his studio and hit the ground running.
What was the studio setup?
It was very simple. Good mics, through a very transparent Allen & Heath board into Samplitude. Most of the guitars were amped with a Fender Concert 4×10 cranked for natural breakup, and we also experimented a lot with a sweet vintage Leslie cab. We did a lot of layering, and luckily had all the time we needed to develop parts and build the songs from the ground up.
How long did you take to record?
Recording went through until about January 2010. At that point, we spent a lot of time making sure every second of every song was arranged the way we wanted it, and were looking for someone to do the mix. We finally decided on Glen Robinson, who splits his time between Montreal and NYC. He’s a truly amazing engineer with a custom gear list that is basically staggering. Fully customized old-school Neve comps and EQ’s, UA limiters, basically a dream setup. We had done zero mixing on our own before Glen got his hands on our work, so when we got the first ‘balances,’ our minds were blown by how much life Glen was able to breathe into the recording with his skill and gear.
With the mix in hand, I consulted a heavyweight producer in L.A. who I had become friends with over the internet. He was the one who recommended Andy VanDette for the mastering of the album. This was a no-brainer, and in August 2010 our debut album entered Masterdisk for 5 hours, and left ready for the world.
What kind of pre-production did you do, if any?
For our first album, pre-production was really centered around arrangement. We worked at our rehearsal space to get everything tightened up so we could be super-efficient when we were recording later. We did that for the Rubber Tracks recording as well, and it was even more important because of the way we recorded there compared to our first album. I have a nice little project setup at home with an M-Audio Profire 2626 and we laid down the tunes with a drum machine and recorded all the parts one by one into Ableton Live on my computer. It was very bare-bones. From a personal standpoint, it was that pre-production process at my house in 2009 that really gave me the bug to want to learn all I can about mixing, mastering and production in general.
How did you guys hook up with Converse?
When we released our album, we did all we could to publicize it. Converse Music Blog heard our album and decided to do a writeup on it and an interview with Mick from the band. When it was published, and I went to read it, I noticed on their site all the ads for their brand new recording program at Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn. I clicked the links and ended up signing us up an a whim. I specifically remember saying to the guys that I signed us up for this thing that would be amazing, but it’s probably a massive long-shot. Which it was, because a TON of artists signed up for it. When the email came in saying we were accepted, we just could not believe it. We’re always working on new stuff, so we had great material ready to go, And not only that, they were bringing in CNN and MTV to follow us through our 2-day session at the studio. [Check out the Converse video story at CNN/Money.]
What was the recording experience like there?
As far as approaches to recording goes, this experience at Rubber Tracks was a complete 180 degree turn from how we recorded our debut album. Our album took about a year-and-a-half to track, mix and master. At rubber tracks we had 2 days to record and mix 3 full songs. An ambitious endeavor to say the least! We put most of the music down live off the floor on the first day, and got all the vocals, guitar solos, and mixing finished on day two. This studio that Converse has is as world-class as it gets. Brand new API console, Fairchilds, Neves and all the goodies anyone could ever dream of. Tons of incredible instruments to choose from thanks to Guitar Center. Our engineer was Grammy-winning Geoff Sanoff, a real heavy hitter, and he is someone we would want to work with again any day. He really understood what we were going for and has the coolest and calmest demeanor, absolutely necessary for the pressure cooker we had been thrown into. Aaron Bastinelli is Rubber Tracks’ in-house engineer and a genius in his own right, and he acted as Mr. Sanoff’s right hand the entire time. Between him and Mr. Sanoff, we were in insanely capable hands, and we could really just focus on performance and leave the production to the masters. We left Rubber Tracks and came straight across town the next day to have Andy VanDette perform the mastering duties. Recording, mixing and mastering in the span of 3 days was a thrill of a lifetime. Definitely unforgettable.
Back to your first album — did you do the promotion yourselves or did you have help?
PR is a tough game. We hired the best publicist available for the budget we had at the time, and she turned out to do an amazing job. I’d recommend this approach to anyone. The press contacts that I have made over the years are great, but we’d have never come close to the same reach without some professional 3rd party help. The expense paid for itself and then some, to say the least. Of course, there’s never a guarantee of success when a publicist is brought in, so we were lucky that we had great songs that were recorded mixed and of course mastered to a level of world-class sound. All of this can be daunting to a band doing this for the first time, but if you dig really hard then affordable solutions are always waiting. My mantra for finding the right people to work with was this: irrespective of budget, start at the top and work your way down until you find someone that fits your budget. That way you’l get the best people to work with possible without selling yourself short. You’ll always be surprised by the amazing people that will come to your aid if you have the balls to ask.
Have all of the Converse tunes been released now?
So far, we’ve released two out of the three songs we recorded at Rubber Tracks as digital singles (on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc). We released “Pearson” in January and “Hannah” in March. The third single is called “No Surprise” and we’re going to put it out sometime soon. We have very cool ideas for the third release, which will most likely include a physical manifestation but the plans are still under wraps. I definitely know that when the time comes, you guys will be the first to know.
Excellent! Well, my final question is about the future of First You Get the Sugar. What are your plans?
The part of this job that I love the most is that in the spaces between our deliberate plans, amazing surprises pop up. All along with this band, I’ve found that if we keep pushing forward with baby steps, we keep growing. Especially looking back on the last year, we have made amazing strides, so many great things have happened that I could have never predicted. It’s really exciting to think about the year ahead and all that it might bring with it.
Tell me about your upcoming gigs.
We’re playing this Friday, June 15 at the NXNE festival in Toronto. Our set is at 8pm as part of the Converse City Carnage Showcase series at The Wrongbar. It’s going to be an insane night, we’re sharing the bill with Uncle Bad Touch, DZ Deathrays, the Death Set and Bass Drum Of Death.
In the Fall, we’ll be back in Toronto for Indie Week, and we are really hoping to be a part of CMJ in New York this fall too. Somewhere along the way this year, it would also be great to get back into a studio and record all the new material we’ve been working on.
Visit First You Get the Sugar online: http://www.firstyougetthesugar.com/
First You Get the Sugar on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FirstYouGetTheSugar