studio diary - 1

10 Dec 2005 13:46 by Doug

I never get enough of reading other bands’ studio logs, so here’s ours.

We spent last Saturday at Chris Cugini’s Appleman Studio in Stoneham.

The bulk of my recording experience has been in home-based studios, with mixed results. I was initially a little skeptical about tracking at Appleman. But Appleman is much closer to a professional small project studio than most home studios, and solidly better in most respects than one of the project studios I’ve recorded in. If you found this entry by searching for opinions on working at Appleman, I say “go for it.” No question.

Chris has solid, if limited, gear — he has nice mics and a handful of great pre amps, but he doesn’t have the selection (or price tag) you’d expect in a full-time professional studio. There are some cool toys — the Roland Space Echo is a favorite of mine — but not a ton of exotic or vintage gear. But Chris knows his equipment well, which is more important than just dropping cash on snazzy boxes. At some big studios you can spend a ton of money, draw a junior engineer, and get a crappy recording. Appleman Studio provided value-for-money easily equal to anywhere I’ve worked.

Besides Chris Cugini’s ears, Appleman’s other edge is a very professional layout for a home studio. There are two rooms suitable for tracking loud instruments, the ground floor living room (where we did our drums) and a deadened rehearsal space in the basement. The rehearsal room can double as one of two isolation spaces for amps. Best of all, there’s an honest-to-goodness control room upstairs with real acoustic treatment. And Chris has a laid-back, congenial style — it was an extremely comfortable environment.

David and the room mics

Guitarist/vocalist Dave and I got there about noon. Our drummer David and drum tech Andy Plaisted had just swapped in a kick drum Andy had brought, and they were tuning up the toms. A couple hours later we had a pretty massive drum sound going. When I play larger clubs it’s sometimes weird to be in the front of the house during drum check — the house sound guys use their favorite EQ and compression presets, and it often sounds like I’m listening to some other band’s drummer. Chris and Andy’s approach was much more like my experiences with Tony Eichler at Phase — they paid close attention to mic placement, and that was their primary tool for shaping the sound. It still sounded like David, but with some Paul Bunyan mixed in — a little larger than life.

Dave was having some problems with his Carvin — time for new tubes, it sounds like — so he plugged into one of Chris’s Laneys. His Gretsch is still in the shop, so he used his Jaguar for most of the session. John played his Les Paul through his Toad. Chris gently suggested that I might prefer the ‘62 P-bass he “happened to have lying around” to my Bradley. Would I! It had a kinda botched paint job and backwards tuners, but it felt and sounded great. I did my basics through a Bass Pod. I used the Brit Class A setting and mucked around with it a bit till it was as smooth and dark as I like.

David and I ran out to Mother’s Pizza for subs and damned good onion rings while Chris and the guitar players got their sounds together. When we got back, headphone mixes came together with surprising ease — David got his own mix so he could have a domineering click, and Dave and John allowed enough click into our shared mix to keep me happy. I think it helped that we’ve all recorded together before, but it also sure helps that neither Dave nor John are “I need more of me” guys.

We started out with basics for “Two to Tangle,” and got through 7 tunes (one more than our target — a personal first). We did Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “I Don’t Want Her No More,” “Baby Got a Place to Go”, “It’ll be the Last Time” and “See You Soon.” We finished up with “Michelle with Two ‘L’s.” We clicked everything but “See You” and the second half of “Last Time” — we dropped the click out in the bridge and flew blind from there out. We used the second or third take on most tunes. The session had a great vibe, we all seemed relaxed and comfortable.

Dave and John listening to a take

I thought the Pod sounded pretty good on “See You” and was worried that I’d have trouble dubbing the part both without a click and without being able to see David play. The song has tight hits on the quarters with scary stretches of space in between, so it’s unforgiving of the tiniest timing mistakes. We punched in a few sloppy phrases and a couple muffed notes while the Pod was still set up. By then we were all kinda hungry again, so Chris set up me to play in the upstairs control room through the SVT in the basement while the guitarists went out to bring us back some raw fishes. We got lucky: the long cable runs to the basement and back didn’t introduce much noise. By the time we had it together the sushi run had returned and David and John took off shortly thereafter. Dave (my transpo) hung out in the control room.

The three of us agreed that “Rock” needed a dirty, nasty tone. We tracked a clean DI signal and the SVT through Chris’s Rat. I wasn’t completely happy with the first take, but Dave and Chris were, so we let it stand. (Plus I’m always a bit smug when I can get any complete take, let alone a first take.) I made up for it though by struggling with “Tangle,” which we tracked (I think) really fr’n fast. We set it aside after getting a take with maybe more steady bars than unsteady bars (but maybe not). Chris wanted to see if we could get one more, so I laid down a part for “Michelle.” To my chagrin I found I was playing a G# in the tail that noway nohow should have been in that tune. (I have a similar issue with wanting to sharp C’s in “Baby” — it’s not like I don’t know better.) ‘Round about 11:30, I put down one that Chris said was “snotty.” I think we realized we were getting too tired to tell if that was a good thing or not, so we called it a night.

The are more photos from the session on my flickr site.

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