Of making a live record at Clouds Hill Studio.
What does it take to make a great record? Being a huge fan of Matt Wignall‘s productions (especially the ones he did for Cold War Kids and WARGIRL) it was very exciting for me to engineer, record and produce Clouds Hill‘s release
The general idea behind the “… live at Clouds Hill” series is that the performance, recording and mixing is being done at the same time so everyone – including the engineer – has to perform. No fix it in the mix, no editing, no autotune.
I knew that the band sounded great and that it would be hard to compete with the magic of the studio record they did with Matt, who is also member of the band, in a studio in Costa Rica. So I decided to strip the setup down to the basics and only use components with a very specific and unique sound. I wanted to make a timeless, analog sounding live record with a unique vibe.
Jeff, the drummer, used a vintage Slingerland Radio King drum set. As overheads I used two Coles 4038, Sennheiser 421 on drums, Neumann UM57 on Bassdrum, Josephson and SM57 on Snare. I also added an omnidirectional Grundig mic between Snare and Bassdrum. Again: Super basic.
Tamara Raye, the bass player, used a vintage Gibson EB0 plugged into a silver face Fender Bassman and a small custom-made 12″ electro voice speaker. I used DI and an AKG D12 to capture the sound. Matt played his Telecaster through a small Selmer combo amp with a 10″ speaker miced with a Sennheiser MD409. Enya Preston played her keys through a vintage Fender Super amp. I put a Neumann U67 in front of it because I was using no DI for the keys but still wanted to capture all the beautiful highs of her sound. Erick Diego Nieto, the percussionist, was using his own Congas, Bongos and cowbell. For percussion overheads I set up a Neumann USM 69. That mic has a great focus and didn’t produce too much spill coming from the drum kit which was set up right next to the percussion … it remained critical though … I had to make that spill part of the sound. The Conga got an extra close mic. The Cowbell was on every other mic anyway Samantha Parks sang through a SM58 but she used a lot of pedals, mostly adding distortion and delay when needed. On the studio side: I was tracking in Clouds Hill Studio B with a vintage API 3232 straight into a modified Studer A820 2″ 8-track (yes – 2 inch/8 track!) and then mixed it to a 1″ 2-track Telefunken M15 with class-A electronic by Dave Hill. Studio 2 at Clouds Hill Studio sounds very warm and thick, especially with people in there. We had around 50 guests for the session that gave the room some extra deadness.
To wring out some room sound out of the rather dead room and add it to the drums, I was using a Valley People 440 comp/limiter for the omnidirectional Grundig mic and some slight compression on the Overheads coming from a Vertigo VSC-2 Compressor with “soft” ratio which rather adds saturation than compression. Some API highs at approximately 10K and some 100 Hz lows were also added. The Overheads made 80% of the drum sound. A Pultec PEQ-1 and a Teletronix La-2a were used on Bassdrum. For snare it was an Urei La-3. No compression on the Toms. Bassdrum and Snare went on channel 1/2 of the Studer, the rest to 3/4.
For bass I used a Teletronix La-2a and a Pultec PEQ-1, which went straight to tape on channel 5. DI and Mic were summed together before they hit the comp/EQ.
The guitar got no extra compression, just a bit of equalizing with the API and some EMT 250 Goldfoil Reverb. -> Tape Channel 6. The keys that only went through the amp, got no compression, just a little API EQ and some EMT 140 Plate reverb with added predelay, which was panned to the other side of the stereo picture to make it sound bigger… During the session I totally fell in love with Enya‘s keyboard playing – That‘s why it is so super loud on the record I didn‘t use any compression for Samatha‘s vocals as they already sounded great. Just a little low-cut and EQ and a bit of EMT 250 Goldfoil reverb. After soundcheck the band started to play.
It was magic the second they started their performance. I had to get it right!
During the concert I was moving some faders but not adjusting any compression or EQ. Everything was just right. The levels on tape got super hot as the band played louder than during soundcheck (classic!) but it sounded awesome! I gave Tamara‘s bass a little push, Enya‘s keys as well … The 1″ tape got hotter and hotter but as I was listening to the repro head of the 1″ tape I was able to judge the sound perfectly.
It was all great and magic fun! So what does it take to make a great record? Not much. Just a band with great songs, a magic performance and an engineer/producer with a working pair of ears. They all have to love the music they do. That might be the most important.
When the show was done I gave the stereo tape to mastering. The mastering engineer Flo Siller of Soundgarden Tonstudio GmbH (Soundgarden Mastering) listened to it and told me that there is not much he can do. It’s all way way too loud! haha…
The tape was clipping massively. But I loved it. We decided to keep it as it was. Florian did some tiny moves (mostly a slight overall subtraction of the bass to be able to make the record louder) but basically the Vinyl you can listen to today is what we heard in the control room coming from that squashed 1″ stereo tape. God – it was sooo red.
After the show the band entered the control room and we all listened back surrounded by some guests. It was very cute how excited the band was about their performance and the overall sound. I think that was the moment when they all realized that they have something very special. You can see it in the pictures how happy we all were. I am still in love with the sound of the record. Of all recordings I did it became one of my favourites.