By Jude Miqueli
I just wrapped up a recording session at Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice studio in Seattle, WA (recent clients include Death Cab for Cutie, S, Minus the Bear, The Thermals, and Your Heart Breaks). In the late 80’s the studio was called Reciprocal Recording and it specialized in grunge music: Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Babes in Toyland all recorded there. In 1988, Nirvana tracked their first demo session at Reciprocal and then re-entered the studio a few months later to record Bleach. Wow! When we were there we could feel the energy of faded torn denim. We looked up to the timeworn rafters and welcomed the dirt.
The folks I’m working with on this project are Cat Biell, Carrie Biell and Darcey Zoller. Cat Biell led an indie electronic band called Lucy Bland from 2005-2010 in Seattle. Darcy is the cello player I play with in Tenderfoot. Carrie Biell has two solo albums: Autumn On You & When Your Feet Hit the Stars. This recording we’re doing now is a based on Cat’s “desert dreams… songs inspired by vast landscapes, the invisible forces in the universe that affect us all and how we relate to each other” — and I’m just lucky enough to be along for the ride. We are working with Aaron Schroeder of Pierced Ears, formerly BLDGS Mobile Recording. He’s responsible for some of that lo-fi dreamy punk and garage rock goodness in Seattle bands like Childbirth, Killer Ghost, Wishbeard, Stickers, Wimps, Posse, and more!
On day one I laid down the drum tracks on four songs: “Slow Down”, “Anchored Fool”, “Hunt and Gather”, and “Full Moon Heart”. The drum set I used was a Craviotto Custom: 13” / 16” / 22”, along with various Ludwig snares:
Next, I mixed and matched an assortment of cymbals from their selection. 2000s Istanbul Agop 22” ride:
Next were the Paiste Giant Beat cymbals:
Paiste Giant Beat Hi-Hats:
I used this Paiste Dark Energy Ride when I wanted more of a thin wash that was never ending:
The mics on my kit were two Coles 4038s ribbon mics. These are the old BBC radio mics they used in the Peel Sessions. There was also a 1954 Telefunken 251 overhead mic. Aaron chose to use the Glyn Johns method for recording the drums (rumored to have been accidently discovered by Glyn Johns, the engineer for Led Zeppelin). The internet says it adds depth and a stereo image to the drums in the overall mix by panning the kick and snare mics to the center, the overhead above the snare halfway to the right, and the overhead by the floor tom to the hard left. I’m thinking it became popular because you don’t need 8-12 mics. You can get a decent sound with 4 in this specific placement. Especially if they are good mics.
On day 2 we did some fun overdub stuff with drums. This one song called “Slow Down” has lyrics that say, “We are working so hard just to slow it down”. It is a pretty droney and chilled out vibe. I play mostly toms and then a little ride and snare on the chorus. I play 8th-notes on the ride on the chorus. On this day I added quarter-note ride taps with the Paiste Giant Beat throughout the whole song.
We also added a second layer of toms on the entire song of “Hunt and Gather”. This song has repetitive rolling thunder on the toms throughout. Adding a second layer of those over myself felt powerful and primal. I was torn between playing the same thing and adding variant patterns. I didn’t want to be too obnoxious and showy so I went with doing the same thing but at the end I added a couple different rhythms because I kept hearing them.
I also added another take of snare hits on “Hunt and Gather”. Aaron is going to crank the reverb on that second snare for this song.
Lastly, on “Anchored Fool” I did a snare swirl with a metal fan brush throughout the whole song. It felt like I was making a witches brew. I just kept making large circles with this wire brush. After that I did a second layer of malleted toms. The song is very slow and I just did one hit on a floor tom for the entire song. It felt very meditative and grounding. At one point I had a vision of being in the woods and just hitting the dirt with my mallet. I want to do that now.
One last bit of gear knowledge I acquired from these sessions: hearing exactly what you want to hear when you want to hear it, is the best. I had the opportunity to use this personal mixer (below) and it changed everything about my recording experience. You can select if you want bass, guitar, or vocals, and change the levels for each. Then after you do all that, you can bump the master up and tweak the bass and treble of the entire mix. When you can hear what you want, you play at your best. It also helps to make the most of your recording session. Every song is different and you need different things. Rather than spending time communicating to the producer what you need, you can just give it to yourself and play!
That wrapped up the drum tracks for me on this first weekend of recording. I’m looking forward to the next sessions! I’ll keep you posted on what drum gear and techniques I experiment with as we go. We plan to release this album late Spring of 2017 on iTunes, Spotify, and Vinyl. Here’s a taste of what’s coming:
Jude Miqueli, formerly the drummer for Wishbeard from Seattle, now plays for Tenderfoot, also from Seattle.