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: Where did you record?
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!