Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Swelbows Recording Sessions!


Recently, I was asked by Moscow Skate-Thrash legends Swelbows (you know, like Swollen Elbows that you get when yr thrashin' and you eat shit elbow style) to help them record. They told me that they "just had no idea what they were doing." Usually I think of this as a great advantage, especially in the technical arts, because it forces you to be creative, but I am also of the belief that sometimes you just have to let someone who knows what they're doing help you out. So I agreed--out of my own humble narcissism--to record them. My only requirement was that they had to shred fucked up hard-thrash sick style...and they delivered (on day two, but who's counting).

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the dumb-ass process, we'll first introduce this sick ass bands members:

First, we have Ben on Bass Guitar. I chose Ben first because he seems to be the tallest and the band's glue factor. Not that they don't get along, but Ben retains a constant positive attitude that is essential to any successful rock band. (And interestingly enough, I didn't get a very clear picture of him, but I think this is how he'll want to be remembered...)

Next we have Same. Sam is also the glue of the band. He is proficient at guitar, shows up on time, and seems to make things happen. Sam is a man of action.

After Sam in the chronology of this post, but before him in birth, and younger at heart, we the drummer Riley. Riley is the band's thrash robot. He can perform any action with a cool precision that makes you think he's not doing much, but then you hear his chops and you are surprised by the variety of in his beat lexicon. He also plays a sick 18" Paiste crash cymbal like me but cooler, his explicitly reads "RUDE" on it. Riley also does not like to get up early in the morning, but then again I am only able to make this observation based on the sheer fact that there must exist people who get up late in order for the identity of the "early riser" to even exist at all. The 2 identities are locked in a dialectical relationship, but I don't feel like aufhebungin' right now so yr gettin' some lazy Hegel. Riley's chill:

And last, but easily the hardest mother of em all, we have my fellow band mate Crue. Crue is the glue to this band, as is everyone else. But Crue is unique in his love of punk and his generally solid demeanor. Crue is always ready to get shit done and he doesn't bitch unless it gets shit done. I like Crue. Here he is shreddin' or whatever's cool:

Also present was the infamous DJ formerly known as Dreadlock Holmes but now Zoig (aka Mo). Mo was the wildcard, not in the band, but totally necessary. Mo is always necessary. You can't have acid house or dubstep without Mo.

(Don't let his innocent look deceive you, Mo fucks shit up on the turn tables!)


The recording process was, like every epic quest, rather arduous. We recorded at Moscow's famous punk house, called The Bayou House. The Bayou House is a pretty mysterious place. It's in between two businesses and next to some RV storage by a quasi-Swampy area (technically a wetland flood plane) hence the name "Bayou" (maybe).

This house had one outlet in the entire place that was grounded. We didn't think grounding would present a problem, but it turns out stable power is necessary to run a stable recording system. So the first day of recording, we had repeated issues with drop-outs and strange computer problems I've never experienced before, like the computer told me that one of my RAID hard drives kept "timing out." Maybe it was being bad, so the main hard drive punished it. Giving physical phenomena funny little stories is what scientists do. So technically I'm a computer scientist. So you should take my professional opinion seriously.

Anyway, to more properly situate the series of events. I'll keep my self-interested digressions to a minimum from here on out.

The first day Crue and I packed up all my shit and hauled it over to the Bayou. No pictures, it was totally boring.

Day two of recording and on to our theoretical methodology. The dudes told me that they "just wanted it to sound good." I interpreted this as follows: we decided to go with a "live" setup, i.e. the whole band plays together while I capture the magic. We, like always, used my Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 firewire audio interface. It can record 8 tracks at once, and we used a resolution of 48 khz. To spice things up a little though, we used DJ Not My iPod Future's sick ass tape recorder his living father gave him:

This thing is weird and cool. It has a condenser mic built in, which is perfect for room sound, and that's exactly what decided to use this thing for--room sound. We (I) wanted a room mic to capture the unity of the whole band at once, but I was out of inputs on my interface. I've also wanted to try mixing tape and digital for awhile, so what better excuse? Except, I decided we should use a better mic than the onboard condenser, so we set up my Audio-Technica AT4050 condenser at about head height and ran it into the tape machine's "line-in." Here's a pic of the mic on its stand:

You can see I tried to set it up in a spot that was a fair distance from everybody so as to capture the "simple oneness of the fourfold" to quote Heidegger. Speaking of Heidegger, that's him on the desktop of my work station (I suppose I wear my influences on my desktop):

That's where I sat getting very cold while maintaining technical order.


As for the gear, we used a bunch of shit. For guitars, I brought DJ Not My iPod Future's Peavey half stacks, my Mesa-Boogie cab, and some Sunn amps (specifically, FeMel Dolphin's silver-face Sunn Concert Lead, which has a broken reverb and distorion circuit so we just used it for power, and we used my "new" Sunn Coliseum Lead amp for bass guitar). Pics:

^For Crue we used Sam's Line 6 Spider amp into the Sunn Concert Lead then into DJ Not My iPod Future's Butcher Cab. Elaborate but necessary. And Crue shreds on some sick Dean flying V.

Bass is pretty straight forward when you have sick gear. The Sunn's settings were 5's across the board and into the Mesa. New strings on Ben's Ibanez Gio bass made all the difference.

Here is Sam's set up. His amp is some wicked Crate 30W 12" tube pre combo. Unfortunately, it didn't have a speaker out, so we couldn't hook up DJ Not My iPod Future's cab, but we left it there cuz it lifted the amp up making it easier for everyone and the room mic to here. Sam's guitar on the other hand is a real fucking gem, IBANEZ ICEMAN (RIP Pig Champion):


As for mics and their placement. On Sam's rig we did an SM57 straight up. No frills.

For Crue, we tried to give his odd rig its own character and so we used the weird EV RE50B broadcasting mic, which has about the same frequency range as a 57, but with a shock absorber. I saw President of the United States of America Barack Obama talk into one of these once, they must be good:

And on Ben's (my) bass rig we used an Audix D6 with a special edition aluminum casing:

As for the drums: Riley has some nice Tobacco burst Pearl kit:

Pretty sick kit really.

For the toms we used some really nice Audix ADX-90 condenser tom mics that I borrowed from my FeMel Partner, Cliff Plimpeton's brother Dylan. We also borrowed the aluminum D6 from him. Thanks Dylan!

Here is generally how we tried to place them--wide so we could get as much ambient sound from each cymbal as possible. The idea is that these will double as tom close mics and the cymbals mics. Funny thing though, every time you hit the drum they kind of revert to their natural position over the drum...whatever.

As for the kick, we used another D6 on the reso head, so its not pictured, but I think you can see it in Riley's pic above. Riley has no port hole on his reso head, so the D6 is like a 1/2" from the head. Riley's iron cobra double pedal is sick too.

On the snare we used my Shure Beta 87a. It's a handheld condenser and so it works really well on snare. I pad it up and use my suspension mount just in case it gets smacked.


So, here are some final pics and thoughts:

Here's a good pic of Ben just phattin' out that tone...

A quasi group shot to give you a sense of the space.

And Bass Kitty, which Ben insists is the secret to his tone.

Okay, so recording these guys was wild. The first time we tried recording, the computer fucked everything up. The second time went as smooth as could be hoped though. Everyone showed up and no song took more than 3 tries. They did a really good job.

Also, as a teaser, here is a rough edit of their track "Skate and Destroy". You can really get a sense of their style here, no frills. Except the triggered kick, but these guys wanted it to sound good, so I went with what was easy. And below that is a video glimpse into the studio atmosphere!


1 comment:

  1. Far out!