Masterdisk Presents is a blog series spotlighting some of the incredible artists we work with. Note: Since the release of Meeting My Ghost, the Electric Teeth have become known as Ghost Leg.
I cued up the Meeting My Ghost EP for the first time, at home on a gray Sunday afternoon in late November. It is the most recent release from the Nashville-based band The Electric Teeth/Ghost Leg, a 5-selection record mastered by Drew Cappotto at Masterdisk. I had listened to the band’s previous release, a 10-track album, and maybe that’s why I found the new EP so surprising.
The leaps a band takes from one release to the next speaks volumes about the musicians’ visions, ambitions, and interpersonal development. Too often we see bands releasing monumental debuts, with disappointing follow-ups – the Sophomore Slumps, as they’re known. But on the lucky occasion that we find a group or artist that releases consecutively developmental recordings, that consistently pushes their own creative boundaries, we pay attention. We offer our support by going to their shows and buying their records, and we become invested in the music because we have experienced the musicians’ growth along with them. Like cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, we can’t stop reading – we need to know what happens next.
The Meeting My Ghost EP has a dark and spacey vibe, perfect for a mellow weekend or morning subway ride. Think of Portishead meets Placebo… in a dimly lit dive bar with Joy Division on the stereo. But, despite the group’s identifiable sound, this band cannot really be reduced to easy comparisons, for a simple reason – they are continually developing. It’s easy to hear, when comparing the first LP against this new EP, but even more apparent when speaking with the band’s song-writing duo, Nathan Goodwin and Taylor Lowrance, who have an eye on the future and further experimentation with their sound. Taylor tells us, “Being from Nashville, there aren’t a lot of bands around here that sound like us, and we want to keep it that way… We aren’t interested in being cool, we’re doing exactly what we want.”
So as the first track started, and I settled into my chair, I couldn’t help but feel some excitement. From the top, this EP is nothing like the Electric Teeth’s first album. Sure, you can hear the band’s roots in the winding guitar countermelodies and Taylor’s mournful, gravelly voice, but there’s a sense of depth to Meeting My Ghost that was missing before. A feeling that the band has grown up a bit, figured out who they are, what they want to create, and how to achieve it. You can hear the guys working together, understanding each others’ styles and roles, and building a sound. Twenty-two minutes flies when you let yourself get lost in a record, and this record is easy to get lost in. I opened my eyes, as the last note faded into its own reverb, all I wanted was more. I need to know what happens next!
Thankfully, it seems the wait won’t be long. Taylor and Nathan are hard at work, finishing the writing for a full-length release under their new moniker, Ghost Leg. Taylor tells us, “For this LP, we’re focusing on keeping the songs tight and flowing, with a strong sense of atmosphere.” I suppose I will have to be patient to find out how the story unfolds, but if you haven’t heard Meeting My Ghost yet, you don’t need to wait for anything. The EP is currently streaming at electricteethmusic.bandcamp.com.
Masterdisk Presents is a blog series spotlighting some of the incredible artists we work with. Each episode will be a behind-the-scenes look at all the different aspects of music making in the new “Indie” music industry, focusing on the technical, creative and business decisions of the artists. We’re thrilled to celebrate these artists and we hope that you will find the insights into their motivations and methods interesting and useful.
Kim and Scott Collins — The Smoking Flowers — are a Nashville husband-and-wife duo that play a style of music they describe as Southern Gothic Folk. Their influences range from Neil Young to Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles to Gillian Welch — so a Smoking Flowers tune may bring you some rock and roll, or a gentle country waltz, and many things in between. One thing’s for sure – the Smoking Flowers bring you a classic sound (in more ways than one), and they bring it with passion.
Their upcoming album, 2 Guns, was mastered by Andy Wilson at Masterdisk. Andy was particularly impressed with this album — from the songs, to the recording technique, which Andy said “is something you don’t see often nowadays.” It was recorded all-analog in Nashville, live, with minimal miking techniques. For a mastering engineer, this can present some unique challenges. Andy said, “There’s definitely going to be some room noise and some bleed; it’s organic, and it sounds like a real band. More artists are recording this way again, live and together — the way it used to be done. I didn’t want to do much limiting and compressing — I wanted to make sure to maintain the dynamics.”
The bottom line is that it sounds great. Hear for yourself…
I asked Scott and Kim a few questions about the new album.
Masterdisk: Hi Scott and Kim; thanks for answering some questions for us. 2 Guns is a beautiful sounding record. Who were the engineers and how did you choose them?
S&K: We worked with two separate engineers on the 2 Guns album. The primary engineer was Adam Landry. He engineered five of the eight songs (“White Flags,” “The Wrong Kind of Man,” “Pistol Whip,” “El Matador,” and “Heart Darker”). We met Adam several years ago by sharing the bill on some shows with his band The Sways. Later he started his own private studio in Sylvan Park. We just really adored his true commitment to analog, nothing hitting anything digital until the mastering phase. And most importantly we loved the very unique sounds, especially with vocals and drums, that he was getting. Really dark but extremely present and round. Adam had produced a couple records with Scott’s brother (Middle Brother‘s Middle Brother and Pete Molinari‘s Train Bound for Glory) that we really liked sonically. We just really thought the soundscape was a perfect fit for this new Smoking Flowers record.
Chad Brown, who is ironically very good friends with Adam, was our other engineer. He recorded three songs (“Golden State,” “Devil in Drag,” and “Twilight”). We first met Chad many years ago when he engineered and mixed a Kim’s Fable record with Kim. He subsequently did a Pale Blue Dot record, and also was the engineer for The Smoking Flowers debut album Sweet as Port. Chad has been a natural choice for us on many occasions throughout our careers. He totally understands what we do inside and out, aesthetically and technically. It’s nice, and very special, to get to a point in a working relationship with someone where you sometimes can communicate without even having to say a word. That’s Chad at this point.
M: I understand you recorded this record with minimal miking — pretty unconventional these days. Tell me about what brought you to the decision to record that way.
S&K: Well, sometimes it’s just the nature of choosing to record to tape (which we have done for most of our career). At Playground Sound, we were tracking on an 8 track machine with 1″ tape. So right away you are limited from the normal somewhat gluttonous options that you have in many modern recording scenarios. We were certainly aware of this going in, and actually embrace these limitations because in our opinion they enhance your production decisions. It makes you commit to what is truly important. If that means multiple people playing or singing multiple things around one mic, then that’s what you do. You also have a cutoff point, or ceiling, so to speak, which is always helpful. You are prohibited from overkill. You’d be amazed the drum sounds that are possible with just 3 or 4 mics. And the beauty of the drums being picked up in the vocal mics because of tracking everything live in a small room with minimal isolation… with just the right amount of tape delay. At The Toy Box we were on a 16 track machine with 2″ tape, so we had a little more headroom, but a very similar fidelity. We wanted this album to sound very classic, hard to pinpoint in era or genre. We feel this recording approach helped to achieve that.
M: How did the recording sessions go?
S&K: Pretty much everything you hear is what went down live. Things like piano and tambourine were, out of necessity due to space limitations, the only real significant overdubs. We love and are very committed to tracking our 2 part vocals together at the same time. We believe in really singing, you know, together, and giving a true performance. We rarely play a song more than 2 or 3 times in the studio once we know the arrangement. Most of the keepers on this album were first or second takes. On one song (“The Wrong Kind of Man”), the keeper was the first time we’d ever even attempted playing it with our band. Some of the others we’d been playing out live for a while already. We love the art of allowing each take to truly be its own separate performance, completely different from one another, with some takes having different strengths than others, and then recognizing the one that has what we like to call “the spook”… which is tough to describe but it’s that special intangible recipe of feeling, moment, execution, and urgency.
M: Are the songs all new?
S&K: Yes, in a sense that they are all less than a year or two old and have never been released. Some were brand spanking new, written just days before being recorded. Others we had been playing out live for a while.
M: Do you do everything yourself? i.e. label, PR, bookings, etc.
S&K: Up until very recently, yes. Total classic DIY, occasionally working with some freelance booking agents. We are, however, about to begin working with the indie label Broadstroke here in the U.S. and possibly with their sister label Wichita in Europe. This new album 2 Guns will be the first release with their support. You can never totally abandon the DIY ethic in this day and age, though, so we will still be very involved in every aspect of our career.
M: What’s the record’s release date, and how do you plan to promote it?
S&K: Still ironing out the details, but likely a late summer / early fall release for the entire album. We are, however, releasing two singles from the album digitally (on iTunes, etc.) ahead of time that will be out and available to hear/purchase by the time this article is printed. So please check them out ! 🙂 As we mentioned, it’s a very grassroots world when it comes to promotion for uncompromising indie artists, so we want to thank Masterdisk for taking an interest in our new album 2 Guns and for featuring us. It was a pleasure to work in a place with such rich history, and to work with a standout engineer in Andy Wilson who really understood and maximized the nuances this album.
M: Thank you, Scott and Kim – the pleasure was all ours.
I was also happy to be able to speak briefly to engineer Adam Landry about analog recording. Here’s what he had to say:
Adam: I have an Otari MTR-90 with 8 track 1″ heads. This is my primary medium, although I have a ProTools system that I use sparingly on certain projects. The Smoking Flowers project was tape only then we mixed it down to a digital 2 track mix. I love tape for all of a thousand reasons. Primarily the sound is far more authentic in every way, and creatively, tape forces decisions in the moment. Editing or “fixing” later is a horrible side effect of the digital age and whether you are pop or avant garde indie noise music, we are all susceptible to those pitfalls. That’s why I prefer to avoid them entirely. The true vision of the artist and composer come through when you record exactly what is happening. Then at the end of the day, it just sounds better too!
Masterdisk Presents is a new blog series spotlighting some of the incredible artists we work with. Each episode will be a behind-the-scenes look at all the different aspects of music making in the new “Indie” music industry, focusing on the technical, creative and business decisions of the artists. We’re thrilled to celebrate these artists and we hope that you will find the insights into their motivations and methods interesting and useful.
This Masterdisk Presents post features New York-by-way-of-Philly band ZELAZOWA, whose new album Love is Lunacy was recently mastered by Matt Agoglia.
As Matt put it, “Love is Lunacy is a strong record, with great songs and performances — and it was recorded and mixed really well too. The kicker is how they have woven some of their musical influences through the record while keeping the sound fresh and exciting. It’s a record that you can listen to and discover a new layer with each spin.”
I spoke with ZELAZOWA’s lead singer and guitarist Bryan Weber, as well as recording and mix engineer Steve LaFashia, via email.
BRYAN WEBER – ZELAZOWA LEAD SINGER AND GUITARIST
Masterdisk: Hi Bryan. Give me a little background on the band.
Bryan: ZELAZOWA came together as a band around 2000. The four of us basically grew up together in the suburbs of Philadelphia and were always playing music together in some capacity. Kyle (the lead guitarist) is my younger brother, Terry (the drummer) is one of my oldest friends, and Ian (the bass player) is actually Terry’s cousin who I met years ago. It wasn’t until we officially created ZELAZOWA though and struck out on the road that things really started rolling (in my personal opinion). Since 2006 we’ve pretty much been touring all over the U.S. and Europe, releasing our own records, and having a ton of fun along the way. We even made it into this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for our song “You Say Love”, which is pretty cool. [“Say You Love” was chosen as the official song for the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue online video teaser. You can view it here. -JB] Continue reading “Masterdisk Presents: ZELAZOWA”→
At Masterdisk we don’t just master releases by bands from big labels, though that is an important part of our business. As the years have gone by, we’ve seen our independent clientele grow steadily to the point where independent artists are now a majority of our business. The music industry, despite all the doom-and-gloom, is a really interesting place to be right now.
We’ve had this idea kicking around for a while: why not write about some of the independent bands that come through our studios? We hear a lot of great music on a daily basis: quirky, intense, beautiful, heavy, slick, rough, you name it — it comes through here. So we’re going to try out our idea by highlighting a recent project that came to us via our Indie program. It’s the Russian neo-progressive rock group Quorum, and their album Klubkin’s Voyage, mastered by Graham Goldman.
Graham is one of our younger, up-and-coming engineers. He’s recently worked on a number of sucessful albums for the Relapse label, by bands like Tombs, Rabbits, Broughton’s Rules, and Kill the Client. When Graham isn’t busy (which is becoming more rare) he occasionally takes on a client that comes through our Indie program. That’s how this particular gig happened: Quorum contacted us through the Indie website, and requested a free mastering sample. Graham had some time in his schedule and took the assignment.
We thought the Quorum project would be interesting to talk about because of its unusual qualities. First, the band wanted their album to have a lot of dynamic range — they didn’t care whether it was loud or not. Second, the album is essentially one long piece, which was later broken up into individual tracks. Third, it’s a concept album — essentially one long story — which, in true prog fashion, makes use of recurring themes and other classically-derived techniques. And lastly, the band’s from Russia, and we don’t have a ton of Russian clients (we’d like to have more!) — it’s interesting for us to hear what bands are doing there.
I interviewed both Graham and Quorum member Dmitry Shtatnov for this article. First up, Graham Goldman.
Masterdisk: Do you listen to much progressive rock yourself?
Graham: I listen to all kinds of stuff, so this project wasn’t really that far-out for me.
Graham: I did do a sample for them. But they sounded like they were pretty sure they were gonna come here before I did it even. We didn’t end up using the sample on the album though. I did a different version of it for the record.
Masterdisk: Why didn’t you use the sample?
Graham: Well usually when we do the samples, you’re really trying to catch their ear and give them what they want — we know from experience that most bands want it kinda loud and maybe more heavy-handed than I would end up doing on the rest of the project. A lot more heavy-handed actually.
Masterdisk: But they liked it.
Graham: They thought it was good — they liked the general sound of it.
Masterdisk: You’ve mentioned that the band wanted the record to be very dynamic.
Graham: The main challenge with the record was to keep it listenable — where you’re not having to adjust the volume all the time, but it still has a huge dynamic range. They weren’t concerned with how loud it was compared to other records.
Graham: Yes. That’s really unusual. I find that most of the time, even when people say they don’t want a loud record, they do. You know, you send them a record that’s not loud, and they want it louder. You’ve got to figure out what kind of music it is, be a little bit of a psychic as to what kind of volume they’re going to want. You can usually tell from the way the mixes sound.
Masterdisk: So how did you pull off the balance?
Graham: I didn’t do a whole lot of compression. There’s some mild compression on there but basically it was just a matter of trying to control the loud parts a little bit and also adding some make-up gain to bring up some of the softer parts a little bit. But it was a delicate balancing act to not crush the loud parts at all and not make the soft ones too soft.
Masterdisk: Did it take a long time to do?
Graham: Yeah, I spent some time on it. He [Dmitry] had already sequenced it himself at home, so I had him send me an mp3 showing me exactly what he wanted [in terms of transitions]. I got kinda stoked once I started working on it — and really wanted to make it perfect for them. In the end they didn’t have any revisions at all — just a couple little things. The only thing we messed around with was moving some of the crossfades.
Masterdisk: As a mastering engineer, having this kind of detail come from a client is a plus?
Graham: If an artist has a very specific set of goals they’re trying to accomplish, then it’s really helpful for them to spell it out in as much detail as possible.
Masterdisk: How did you decide to use Masterdisk for your mastering?
Dmitry: When it came time for mastering, our mix engineer contacted his friend at a local studio who referred us to Masterdisk. I decided that it was the right place when I saw Genesis and Rush albums in the discography.
Masterdisk: What features were important to you in the mastering?
Dmitry: Our goal was to make sure we preserved the dynamics. Many modern albums including our personal favorites make their sound closer and closer to white noise because of the “loudness war.” It’s hard to listen more than an hour of highly compressed rock or metal. Actually I think it may even cause headaches or toothaches. Our album contains a continuous story and we wanted to make sure it would be comfortable to listen to from the beginning to very end. Of course, all other industry standards like field widening, normalization and spectrum equalization is implicit.
Masterdisk: Could you name albums that served as models for the sound of your record?
Dmitry: In the very beginning of the mix process we were influenced by some classic records of middle/late 70’s: Trick of the Tail, maybe some ideas from ELP, Zeppelin and Rush, but the final mix moved away from that.
Masterdisk: What are your plans for the album now that the mastering is complete?
Dmitry: We plan to release it as a CD but also plan to offer downloads. After the first two weeks of release even the least famous albums appear on torrent trackers. After that your tracks appear as paid (what a paradox!) ringtones or pseudo-legal mp3s automatically by some php-scripts. Our real goal in making a CD is to make material evidence of our existence and give some collectors something new to put on their shelves.
Masterdisk: What are your plans and goals for Quorum?
Dmitry: We plan to record some old songs, most of which will be in two languages, then make a non-conceptual but more sophisticated and dark album, and then try to write an opera or other large form. We already have detailed plans for all of this — seriously!