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June 07, 2019Recording and mixing Le Butcherettes Live at Clouds Hill

It‘s been a while….

Last time I recorded with Teri Gender Bender was six years ago. When Omar Rodríguez-López asked me if I would be up for producing their new band Bosnian Rainbows, it did not take me long to agree. I heard them rehears in our studio 2 for their upcoming tour as Omar Rodríguez-López but somehow the band evolved into something that was more than just a solo project. Something that needed an own name. Part of that was Teri‘s unbelievable vocal and stage performance. It was unique. So when Teri said yes to a „… live at Clouds Hill“ session I was obviously stoked. Even though Le Butcherettes are not signed to our Clouds Hill label I thought it would be great for everyone involved to release a live studio record. Great for their record label RISE RECORDS because Clouds Hill might be able to give the band an extra push in Europe, great for the band because they can sell some exclusive vinyl on their upcoming concerts and last but not least: great for all of us because making a live record is FUN. Or … it’s supposed to be. But more about that a little later … 

Teri checked with their management and they rescheduled the band’s flights that were already booked for their European run of shows so that the band could arrive at Clouds Hill almost a week before their first show in Copenhagen. That would give them time to settle in our artist apartment, rehearse and then be fresh and prepared for the upcoming recording. Talking about preparation… Sometime before the Le Butcherettes live at Clouds Hill session end of March 2019 I had another live recording scheduled with a different band. I was also looking forward to that recording but after Muxi (Clouds Hill Engineer Sebastian Muxfeldt) set up the mics for that session and I started doing my thing in the control room I wasn’t happy with the sound. It sounded lame. Somehow limp and not like I knew the band from their records which I loved. I was playing around with EQ and compression in our API room. Added reverb and parallel compression to stabilise the sound but nothing worked. I began doubting my skills. Then I headed over to the live room and asked the drummer to play. There it was! The drum set sounded like a cardboard box. Phew! It wasn’t me.

As this article is not about a messed up live recording – more the opposite – I will keep this digression short: I had to call our drum tech and even he needed a couple of hours to get the sound straight. Soundcheck all together took 8.5 hours. After that, the band had not much more than 30 minutes until showtime. I felt sorry for them as much as I was annoyed by the situation. And – yes – the recording did not go well. 

Not this time

Still remembering this situation, I called our drum tech Tim Schierenbeck as a preventive measure. „Tim, can you come? I wonna be prepared this time!“ Unfortunately he had to play for a live TV show in Berlin that night. (You can check him out in a German Late Night show called „Late Night Berlin“ where he plays -guess what- the drums.) So, I was on my own. A day before the session I came to Clouds Hill with my family. We brought some cake and sat down with the band. I met Riko and Marfred before but I had never met Alejandra, except for one handshake in an anonymous backstage area when they played with At the Drive In and Death From Above at Sporthalle Hamburg. I thought it would be nice to get to know each other a bit better before the recording. After the cake I asked Alejandra, the drummer, which drums she chose for the recording and asked her to play for minute, in the live room where we were about to record. Remembering the previous session, I wanted to be prepared… She chose our 70s Ludwig Rockers Maple Set that was once played by Carmine Appice. (Check out „Drummer Man“ by Nancy Sinatra. That’s him!) combined with our Ludwig Suprapohnic snare. All shells with coated heads and three Istanbul Cymbals and my favorite Paiste Giant Beat 14“ HiHat. She started to play and I was immediately overwhelmed. Her style combined with those drums was just the perfect match. It was warm, punchy and thick. She had perfectly tuned them to match her way of playing. It was pure joy. From that, until the end of the session I did not touch the drums even once! I sent Muxi a list of mics I wanted to use; like always in those live sessions, super basic but with a drum sound like this and a drummer like her I could even use ribbon and omnidirectional mics, provoke some spill and really use it to take the drum sound to the next level. Or at least record it as good as it already sounded in the room which is sometimes hard enough to accomplish. For the Bass drum I chose an Electro Voice RE20. I hadn’t used that mic in a while and to be honest, I just wanted to be reminded of how it sounded. Additional to the RE20 which I put inside the hole of the front head to get the sound of the beater, I let Muxi place an AGK c12VR to the side of the Bass drum. I very rarely use that microphone. For vocals or overheads, I prefer the vintage AKG c12 due to its smoother and more balanced sound. If you put up two vintage AKG c12s above a drum set, you get THE cymbal sound you never knew how to get. At least that’s how I felt when I used them as overheads for the first time. But for this Bass drum I was curious on how the c12VR would sound like. I was looking for a thick, vintage but fresh sound. We used 2 Josephson e22 on the Snare. The only thing that those mics cannot do to drums is make them sound -what people these days call- vintage (less top end). For me this microphone is the perfect fusion of a classic punchy and uncomplicated dynamic drum mic (like a shure sm57 or an Audix i-5) and a condenser. As I was confident that Alejandra knew how to perform on her drums, I chose Neumann U87s for the Toms. Those can be complicated sometimes, especially when the drummer doesn’t know how to play the shells and cymbals well balanced. Then the spill of the -too loudly played- cymbals can be a pain in the ass and you will have to start gating the Toms and during that point at the latest you wish you had just chosen Sennheiser 421s. Anyway: Neumann U87s have a great attack, body and resolution. But you need a drummer that can handle them! I used an omnidirectional Grundig GDSM200 and put it between Bass drum, Snare and Low Tom to compress it afterwards. For overheads, Muxi and I put up two Coles 4038 and, additional to those, two Sozuy 013FET condenser mics and aligned their capsules with the position of the ribbons. You all know Coles. I thought their warm and lush sound would suit Alejandra’s drum sound perfectly, but I didn’t want to lose the transients and the crispness of the cymbals and the special attack of the shells. That’s why I chose to add the Soyuz. Let me say just a few words about Soyuz Microphones: David Arthur Brown, one of the owners of Soyuz, contacted me some years ago to showcase the first mic they built. The SU-017. A tube mic. I don’t want to advertise them too much, but ALL of their mics are absolutely fantastic. They are literally the only new microphones I ever bought in my life because they sound amazing. Period. Sorry that I talked so much about the drums but when recording a record like this – especially live to tape – the drums have to be on spot because they are the core of the entire recording. Teri played a keyboard and a guitar through one of our Selmer Amps. To be precise the 1964 Selmer Thunderbird Twin 30. She performed on a Casio keyboard that was built for kids. That’s why the keys light up red when you touch them! Her guitar was a Telecaster. As both instruments were plugged into the same amp, I chose a Sennheiser 421 and a RCA bk5. Both mics are well tempered when it comes to unexpected sounds. The RCA tends to tame unpleasant, harsh sounds and the 421 lets them cut through. Marfred‘s bass setup was a classic one. His Fender Precision was plugged into one of our Ampeg SVTs. But his pedals made the difference. I didn’t dig into his pedal board that much, neither did I with Riko‘s board but his bass sound really made a huge difference in the room. It had a great and impressive low end without burying the drums. I don’t know how he did that, but it was undoubtedly impressive. Riko played guitar and an Electron Analog Keys keyboard through one of his brother‘s amps that he left at Clouds Hill some years ago. A modern Orange combo amp which I rarely use but it was nice to see that he somehow naturally chose Omar’s amp. I miced his amp with a vintage Neumann U67 for the crispness and a vintage Sennheiser U609 for the solid body. On the Ampeg I used a Radial DI and a vintage AKG D20. For the room I used a Neumann USM69. 

The control room

In the control room I preamped everything through our API 3232 and summed it to 8 tracks for our modified Studer A820 2“ 8 Track 

Drums to 1/2 Bass to 3 Teri‘s amp to 4 Riko‘s amp to 5 Vocals to 6 Room to 7/8 

The 8 stems came back on the last 8 channels of the API. The master bus went into our Vacuvox U23M compressor limiter and then to 1“ tape. Telefunken M15a + additional Aria Discrete Class A electronics by Dave Hill. On the drums I only used a very subtle compression, more a saturation with the Vertigo Compressor with the ratio set to „soft“. The attack was dialled in to some mid setting and the release to fastest. No compression on bass drum or snare or toms because I wanted to keep as much transients as possible. Then I inserted a Valley People 440 into the channel of the omnidirectional Grundig and compressed the hell out of it, Low Cut, High Cut, carefully adding it to the 1/2 drums stem. Bass drum got a little 60Hz and 3K boost with a Pultec EQH-2. Guitar got some more presence around 5K with the second Pultec EQH-2. Teri sang into her own custom made Telefunken M80 which I EQd a little bit (just with a low cut and adding some 4K and 10K) and then ran the signal through a LA-2A and a Lang PEQ-1 boosting her midrange around 240Hz, cutting at 100Hz and boosting 10K again because a bit of the previous boost I did with the API EQ had been eaten up by the LA-2A. For the bass I used the second LA-2A but only very subtly as Marfred‘s performance was already very solid. I tried my good old EMT 240 gold foil reverb for Teri’s vocals with a little pre-delay from the Eventide Harmonizer but it did not sound too good in this case. The reverb was too slow and mighty for her raging performance. I hadn’t used the Ensoniq DP4 for a while, but I switched it on and chose a preset I called “Drum Verb” a while ago. That was the perfect match for the drums AND for the vocals. Lucky me. Just because I love how the EMT 240 makes this unique golden reverberation tail I chose an even longer pre-delay and added a tiny bit of the gold foil to Teri‘s vocals just to make them shine a bit more.  Rico‘s sounds went almost unprocessed (with just a little EQ) straight to tape. He also got a bit of the EMT 240 panned to the other side. His dry signal panned right, the reverb left. I didn’t hit the tape as loud as I sometimes do when I want to make an aggressive sounding record. Again: I wanted to keep all the transients of Alejandra’s performance. (You should check out „Wargirl live at Clouds Hill“ – that record was so loud we even skipped mastering because I clipped the stems and the mix. But in that case, it worked!) All those signals then went into the Vacuvox U23M, a unique and very cool limiter/compressor that my friend Berry builds. Ratio 3:1, release 0,2sec, attack app 20ms. The entire soundcheck took us 45 minutes! The rest was literally just their performance. I didn’t touch any fader or knob during their performance. Le Butcherettes are an incredible live band. You should definitely check them out. You can get the „Le Butcherettes live at Clouds Hill“ vinyl on their upcoming concerts or purchase it  here as well as a digital single we released via Clouds Hill. There is also a video version of that song.

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