Rocktropolis - July 1998
The new Rasputina album, How We Quit the Forest (Columbia), marks the unlikely but fruitful combination of the idiosyncratic cello trio with producer Chris Vrenna, whose credits - Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, the Jesus Lizard - are known more for their aggressive sound than their acoustic string textures. Musician profiled their collaboration in its July '98 issue. Here, as a Website Exclusive, we offer transcripts of our interviews with the key participants on these sessions: Vrenna, Rasputina's leader Melora Creager, and engineer Critter.
How did you and Chris Vrenna get together for this project?He heard from a couple of different people that we were looking for a drummer and a producer. He heard from different sources that it was destiny.
Had you met him before?No, I hadn't met him at all.
But you'd heard his work.Yeah.
What did he bring to this project that stands it out from your previous work?He's pretty opposite from me in a lot of ways in terms of what influences him. He's a lot more of a television/pop culture guy than I am. Those opposites are good. But he had the same objectives as I did, in how the thing should turn out as a whole. He plays electronic drums like an instrument. I find it very human: He's got the pedals lined up on a table, and he hits 'em with his hands.
How did you and he establish an understanding about how to work together?He went through my demos of all the songs. It was obvious to everybody what was a hard song and what wasn't. Something like "Mayfly,"which is a song where we're doing pizzicato all the way through and he has a lot of electronic stuff going on, that was totally him.
What do you mean by "totally him"?That's something I wouldn't have thought of. It's in 7/8, and he liked the challenge of making a dance song in 7. He kept a bass drum pulse going through it, which could pretty much run through any time signature.
Had he had any experience recording string instruments?Not that I know of, but I think that's a good quality, to come into it without preconceived ideas. A lot of people would treat the strings very preciously, and it's better just to not do that.
What are your demos like? Do you just do sequences, or do you overdub your own cello part?They're pretty layered. There's a lot of cello and singing. This time around I did a lot of loops myself, and Chris worked with those loops to clean 'em up and use 'em as a starting point. I was working on minidisc four-track, which is a funny little format. Because of the editing capabilities, I came up with a lot of loops. I've been told it's very painstaking and ridiculous, but it's the only way I've ever known. It takes parts off the CD, then you can reproduce them and cut 'em up.
What recorder was it?It's a TASCAM. I think it's a format that's not going to take off, so it 's hard to play 'em in front of other people.
How does the new album stand out from its predecessor?Well, we'd really developed our own style from doing so much touring last year, having to get over with new audiences night after night, month after month. We ended up playing harder and harder, and it felt like a style that's unique to us, so we've got a lot of that on the record.
You began playing harder to project into bigger rooms?Yeah, but it's more of a bowing thing, physically playing hard. There are certain kinds of rhythm patterns that people like to hear, so I was trying to deal with that.
In your arrangements and compositions?Yeah.
So there were, say, more eighth-note pulses in your new stuff?Um, it was mainly things that are more simple, clear, and effective. I have a history of muddy rhythm [laughs].
Are you comfortable writing three parts within a single range? Are you getting interested in adding something higher or lower than what the cello gives you?Higher's not too bad. We actually got into playing higher than usual to get a little of that in there. It's harder to get a bass sound. We ended up using bass pedals while we were touring. It takes a lot of effort to get that in there, and you really miss it when it's not.
Were the pedals triggering bowed bass samples?It just added an octave down from what we were doing. It's a Boss Octave pedal, but it only goes down.
Rose K. is a beautiful track. Lyrically, it's very evocative, but in terms of the cello parts you wrote a high line after the bridge that had almost an oboe-like timbre. As you write these higher parts, are you trying to evoke the feeling of other instruments, such as oboe or violin?No, but I'm not always thinking "cello, cello, cello. " It's just sound to me. But because it is cello, we always have to talk about the fact that it is cello, like, "I can't believe it's not a guitar!" But we've always played cellos, and it just doesn't come up in our minds unless we're talking to somebody else.
Were you playing sampled cellos anywhere, like on those power chunk sounds on "Leechwife"?No, that's what we developed by playing live. It's very real, how it's recorded. We just sat down and played it. There are no cello samples on this record.
Where samples were evident, were they yours or Chris'?It's song to song. The ones I did loops on had vastly different sources. We tried a lot of stuff of mine from old movies.
Did you use wah-wah on the cellos in "The Olde Headboard"?Yeah, that's plucking with distortion and wah-wah.
No problem pulling all that off onstage?No. It just takes a lot of practice.
Although you are playing hard on a lot of this record, there's also plenty of softer, more traditional cello sounds, like at the end of "Things I'm Gonna Do." As you developed more aggressive chops, did you lose any element of the more nuanced approach?It's more about broadening what we do. That's what I wanted to do with this record. The harder things are harder, and the softer things are softer.
The last track, "Watch TV,"was the only one with a piano on it.I play the piano, and I wrote that song on the piano. With the loops I put in, it sounded to me like a bar band from outer space or something - Elton John in another dimension.
What type of piano was it?It was the studio grand, a Yamaha.
Where did the crowd noises come from?It's a combination of cheers and boos, and the naysayers don't come in until the end.
Right before the end of the song, you have a line - "It makes me better" - that accompanies these real high notes or noises. What was the source of that sound?There's so much stuff going on in there. The piano is distorted. There's a frequency sound, like tuning in a ham radio.
Where do you get the ideas for finding the right samples in these kinds of songs?It's straight from the demo, just recreating that.
So the sounds accompanying the music on your demos are as integral as the music itself.Yeah. The loops I did are like another part. They're just as important. That's a lot of what I liked about Chris - the way he dealt with samples and electronic drums as an instrument.
Does that happy chord at the end signify the lyrical message that watching TV finally makes everything okay?What's weird is, since we're playing cellos, we're not playing a lot of chords. Each person takes one part of the chord. We never really know what these chords are. It could have gone any which way, but that's what was right.
But you wrote the parts out?Yeah, but I tend to procrastinate and not deal with endings. We also end most things because we're always thinking about live playing. We could fade out, but...
How did you mic the cellos?It was fairly simple. From the first couple of days we got a system down. I'm always really paranoid that the sound's not gonna be big enough, but I think Critter accomplished that. At one point we were playing all together in a huge cement garage, with cars parked in there. He had mics in the back of pickup trucks and all over.
Which track is that?The Diamond Song. That's some of our finest playing. And I think Herb Girls of Birkenau.
The percussive hits between the beats on Dwarf Star were quite unusual. How did that rhythmic scheme come about?"Dwarf Star" was done on four-track, and I loved that version. I had a drum machine off a keyboard on it. Chris took the basic pattern and did it on nicer equipment, then added stuff around it.
Which keyboard do you use on your demos?A very old Casio.
Why did you decide to emphasize the rhythm between the beats?It seemed to me that the rhythms that people respond to are almost barbaric in their simplicity. Less is more, and without very much you can make these patterns propulsive. I was also trying to do that lyrically, so the words got a rhythm going, and the drum rhythm was what it needed.
There's one cover song on the new album, "You Don't Own Me." Why that one?It seems that I choose sort of cloying girl songs for my covers, because maybe those are the kind of things I don't write myself, although I don't mind saying them.
The chords that you wrote on the chorus for that song were minor, although they're major on the original record.Yeah, because those really typical Fifties progressions are just so inspirational. There's so much stuff you can do all around it. A lot of David Bowie stuff that I like is just those "Heart and Soul" chords going underneath.
And at the end you have this interesting, quizzical chord.Well, the last word is "please." It's demanding that you "treat me this way," and then the last word is "please." So it seemed right to go back to a mousey little major chord.
There isn't a lot of dissonance in your arrangements.We're big into fifths because of how the cello is set up. For me to play and sing at the same time, there are certain things I can do, and it ends up to be fifths because that's like having your hand straight across, rather than do elaborate patterns while I'm singing.
You've never had trouble playing and singing in countermelodies?No. Generally I'll do a bass-type part, just so I can maintain the core thing going through the chords.
Since you're doing the lead vocals, the other members of the band might be doing more intricate parts than you.Yeah.
Are you trashing a lot of bows at gigs?We need frequent rehairs.
How did you and Rasputina get in touch?We had some mutual friends. I was familiar with their first record, and I knew they had toured with Marilyn Manson. They had done a remix with Marilyn Manson and were possibly thinking of doing some programming stuff on their new record. I can't remember who got us together, but he hooked me up, we started talking, and one thing led to another. It was real spontaneous.
Did you hear things in their first album that suggested an approach to your sessions with them?Oh, sure. That first record was very unique-sounding. I liked the drum sound. It was really cool to have these nicely-recorded strings and these open-sounding drums. They were really trashy, real Steve Albini. Then when Melora sent me the demos for the new stuff, certain songs triggered certain ideas. Melora had never worked with computers, and she started collecting little snippets of sound with a little four-track TASCAM minidisc, then record a little piece. There's a copy/paste function on it, so she'd copy/paste after itself over and over again. That's how she'd make a loop. She had actually started hearing things like that as well.
What's the name of that TASCAM unit?It's actually a pretty big size, the color of a DA-88, that weird creamy or silvery off-white. It's fairly large physically.
Do you do your work mainly in Pro Tools?Yeah, and Studio Vision.
Had you recorded live strings before?Never. When we decided to do it, we shared ideas back and forth, and talked about concepts for the different songs. My first major challenge was to choose the right engineer. There was gonna be a lot of wacky noises and a lot of programming elements. One of the things Rasputina has always done, which I thought was so cool, was the fact that they played through amps when they performed live. All their cellos have pickups, and they have various different types of stomp boxes and combo amps. One of the girls has a Fender Twin, for example. So I knew there was going to be some heavy stuff, and on some of the demos, like "Leechwife," they went completely overboard with distortions and stuff. We had crazy, weird programming and distortion-yet balanced against that is trying to go for beautiful, lush-sounding strings. So I was afraid that if I got someone who was more of a rock/alternative type of engineer, they wouldn't be able to tackle the string thing well. And if got someone who was more of an acoustic engineer who was really good at doing that type of recording, they wouldn't understand why I'd want to put the cello through an Ampeg. That was the first issue I had to deal with.
What led you to choose Critter as your engineer?He was in town, and I'd worked with him before. It was kind of like the whole team just fell into place. I thought, "Let's go with it." I talked to Critter about it. He had been working with a guy in Chicago who was doing a lot of acoustic instrument miking - various things from horns and strings and whatever. I knew Critter's history with Ministry, and I thought, "Let's try it."It turned out great; he did a fantastic job. The studio where we did all the tracking had a variety of rooms. It's primarily a vintage studio with a vintage Neve console and all vintage mics.
Was that Grandmaster?Yeah.
Melora said you recorded some things in a garage there.Yeah. They have a super-dry Seventies wood room. Then they have a really nice live-sounding concrete room. And behind that there's a huge warehouse, with a soundstage at one end and a P.A. But it's all patched into the control room. You could put five hundred kids in there and do a rock club show. We actually did track a couple of the songs out in that garage, with real open-sounding mics.
Did you and Critter talk about what kinds of miking and mics to use on the cellos?Yeah. It also boils down to what we had to work with at the time. We did a thing where we listened to a bunch of different stuff. Obviously we went with what sounded best to us at the time.
Did a lot of their songs feel like they would lend themselves to live drums?On a lot of them, yes. Melora and I did all the pre-production at my house, where I have a small studio. We did all the programming for all the songs there. We'd do rough cellos and rough vocals, just me and her; she'd just throw down the parts real quick, nothing fantastic, through the Mackie board, to get arrangements and tempos. We did change some of the tempos around. Then we'd do the programming. There were certain songs that we knew would definitely have a live feel, and certain ones that wouldn't. I'd scratch in drum samples, just so we could get the rhythm to work with the programming. The very last thing we did was to go back and scrap all the samples. I knew what the parts would be, because we'd already written them. This was simply a matter of muting the sample tracks and performing it for real.
What were some examples of where you changed tempos from the ones on the demos?"Trenchmouth" was substantially slowed down. They always practice with a metronome, good classical musicians that they are. All the demos were played to metronome; a lot of times you can hear a little tick, tick, tick in the background. But some were just played, and we had to fit with what's right. When Melora would just cut and paste to build her own loops for a song, there's really no tempo reference. She'd just play with that until she found something that felt right. When we'd go back to the source and make all the samples for real, sometimes we'd alter those tempos slightly. Once we got tempos established and played the demos, she'd put up all three girls' parts in sheet music and play it into the computer for scratch in just one take. Once we'd get to that point, that's where we'd spend the day going, "This is your best part. This is your chorus. We really need to put this over here again. This is your best hook, and it would be really cool if we could chop the middle eight out, bring in the hook at the end, and make an outtro." With everything in Studio Vision, it was easy. She'd go, "That's a neat idea, but if we cut that in half, what about adding the two-bar thing here?" "Well, let's hear it!" We'd chop in two bars and hear it all, to the point that it flows really well. We could play with arrangements all afternoon.
That must have been a revelation for them, since they were used to working from sheet music and redoing parts.It was. The same thing for vocals. I tracked all the vocals in Pro Tools. The great thing about that is that Melora's recording experience is like, she was always really kind of afraid. And I'm like, "It's Pro Tools! Sing! I've got tons of hard drive space." She would just sing the song several times until she got tired or we thought we had everything we needed. I'd send her away to go watch TV or read a book for an hour, and I'd comp all the vocals. Then we'd play 'em in context. It'd be like, "I didn't like the delivery of that one line in the third verse." "Okay, let's go listen to the six tracks you did, and we'll pick a different one." That was a really good recording experience for her, because every single thing she sang, she knew it was there on the disk. At the mix we would do vocal roughs so she could live with them for a week or two. There were a couple of times where she'd say, "You know, I know why we chose that first verse, but I'm not that into it anymore." We'd go back and see if we had a different one as we were mixing. We'd put 'em up, rethink a few things and recomp a section. We always print everything to tape when we have final comps; we're always mixing on tape. But even at the last second she had the security of knowing that if she wanted to change one word, we could do it and find another one she felt better with.
On some songs you've got a solid live groove, while on other songs you'rejust drop-ping percussive parts here and there, though each song might be equally rhythmic. "Mayfly," for example, builds a lot of momentum for two verses as you do occasional hits before the bass drum pulse comes in.That whole song was so weird. The minute I heard this song I thought, "This sounds like a club dance track." I knew it was in 7 and the turnarounds were in 6, but the idea was to build this electronic dance feeling on top of the whole thing. That turned out so well, because you can hear it in a dance club somewhere, even though the whole thing is in 7, but it feels so natural. I had to explain to Melora, "This is what I'm hearing." She looked at me like I was crazy, so I said, "Just give me an hour. I'll show you what I'm thinking."
So there was no rhythm track on her demo?None at all. On the demos I got from her, there were about four songs that had something going. She had a little drum machine beat to keep time or something like that. The rest of all the demos was just cello and vocal.
What were you using for some of those trashy crashes in the first verse of "Mayfly"?It's all vintage drum machine samples that are effected by distortions or run through ped-als. I did two or three or four drum machine beats going through different types of pedals or effects processors.
It's a very evocative sound.I snipped out the little pieces I wanted and made that into a beat.
As you begin tailoring a sample for a particular song, do you have a clear idea of where you're going or is it more exploratory?It tends to be exploratory or experimental. I'll think I hear something or I have a concept, then I go through seven thousand sample banks and try different ideas. You'll hit that one magic sound or magic loop or whatever, and then you go, "Whoa, that's cool!" That tends to spark everything else that gets layered on top of it. But the first thing tends to come from a lot of experimentation. With our stuff, there was a lot of it. We knew "Leechwife," because that one was done through the pedals, and she wanted to make that super over-the-top, like tongue-in-cheek metal. So there were certain songs where we knew what we wanted to accomplish, and it was just a matter of executing it. Other ones, like "Signs of the Zodiac" and "Mayfly," were more experimental as we went.
The dance feel that you discerned in "Mayfly" probably came from the staccato stuff they executed on cello, which suggested sequences.Exactly. They sounded to me like cerebral arpeggiators in the background, but they were cellos.
What's the key to getting a metal sound on your kit?Samples. That's what everybody does.
How do you trigger them?I use [Roland] V-Drums. The Alesis DM5 is my favorite interface of all time: It's fast, it's accurate, and it's got an easy-to-program screen. My sampler is an E64 and an E4.
How did you approach the more delicate tracks, such as "Rose K"?There were certain things off the first record that were simply cello, and even though she was going in a different direction with this record, I definitely wanted to make sure we didn't stray one hundred percent. There were a few songs that were so beautiful; we tightened up those arrangements a little bit, but we wanted to leave them really pure.
Then you've got something like "Diamond Mind," which is kind of a combination of the two.Exactly. The first time she played that for me, it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard. We all know those commercials, and we all think they're silly: The men are all being told, "You've got to spend X amount a month if you expect your wife to not leave you." It's a funny commentary on that whole thing.
What role did you play in rearranging "You Don't Own Me"?That was one of our troubled children [laughs]. That one came in just as vocal and cello. I wanted to try one approach, because there were certain things she was doing as she was changing key. I tried certain things, and then we let it sit for a little bit. We came back to it, and we both said, "It feels wrong. We went down the wrong path." We scrapped it. That one actually went through two or three different ideas before we ended up with the drum stuff that we did. While we were mixing, she did this other bass line, this real low plucked bass. It was actually her playing up an octave, and then we pitched it down an octave to put it in the right key and give it the right sonic quality. We had to fool that bass line into being a bass line.
Did you have to play with the timing at all?A little bit, because by dropping it that much, it made everything sound a little late. That was one thing about the cellos: The problem is that the cello was designed to fill a specific frequency range in a string ensemble, that low-mid frequency above the bass and below the viola and the violin. We were trying to do multiple passes of all the parts with a trio of cellists. It was one of the major challenges, especially with Critter, to make sure that all the different parts read. We had that fear of it being a muddy mix in that range, so we really worked to give each part its own quality.
Did you actually take different approaches to recording each of the three instruments?In every track, there was one part that we considered the bass. Through different EQ, mic pre, or mic, a combination of close-mic and room, we tried to get each of them to have its own unique texture. And when we did the amping, we'd start with the bass and get a slammin' sound that works with the drum programming we already had going. We tried to think of it in terms of a rock band, with the rhythm section EQed right, and then you work in therhythm guitars and the leads, and each would have its own space. We used a ton of different amps and direct with pedals and other guitar pre.
How did you decide which amps would best serve which effect?It was really experimental. We borrowed every amp I could get my hands on. Songs like "Signs of the Zodiac" are really clean. We had a lot of old amps: We had little Ampeg combos. My favorite amp ended up being this tiny thing called a Melody that I borrowed from a producer friend of mine. It had this great tremelo, this little junky amp from the Fifties. I hate to use the word "warm," but it had such a great, old quality.
Was it a tube amp?Yeah, I guess it was. We borrowed some Marshalls. Our one modern marvel was the DigiTech Johnson Millennium, one of those modeling amps. That thingwas absolutely a brilliant piece of gear. This thing was so real: You could put up a preset that had spring in it, pound the cabinet, and it would set the spring off. God, it was so real!
Did you record the cellos direct at all, not through the amps?Everything that sounds acoustic was done that way. The only times that we ran them through amps were when there was obvious distortion. There's some heavy distortion on "Girls from Birkenau."The acoustic strings were the ones we tracked out in the main warehouse-except for "Signs of the Zodiac," which is very clean-sounding, although those were all amp sounds. We had an old Vox and some other combo-sounding amps.
Has working with acoustic string instruments affected the way you'll work on upcoming electonic sections?Absolutely. The one thing for me was the way I'd always worked with Nine Inch Nails and other programming projects was, everything was written to the computer. For Rasputina, the fact that they were a trio, a few of the songs were actually tracked with the three of them playing together at the same time-which was great, except when two girls went "God, that performance was killer!" and the third girl went, "I screwed up." Then the three of them would have to play it again until they all got a take they all could live with, because there's no way you to punch in one person's part. So very few cellos were manipulated or chopped. Some of the distortions were, but anything that was clean and acoustic-sounding, or like "Zodiac" with clean amps, I always wanted to just get a performance, because for them the cello is a very dynamic instrument. It's not as simple as, "Here's the one-bar riff in E. We'll loop that." For them, I wanted to keep it as much performance top to bottom as possible, so I tried to not get into the computer unless I absolutely had to, or for those very specific jobs, like tracking the vocals to the computer so I could track twenty takes and not worry about eating uptape, then comp and print later-for very specific tasks like that and for the programming. I tried to get into that mindset that performance is good. That's becoming lost today. Everybody knows that the technology is there and how much you can do with it. Now a vocalist doesn't want to sing a song six or seven times. They'll sing it once and go, "Can't you just run it through a tuner? I was off a little bit. I'm gonna go to dinner." Or, "I know I totally blew the last verse, but can't you take the second verse and fly it into third? Just chop it in?" Nobody wants to perform their song, but I wanted to keep this as live as possible, because that's what they are.
Did you sample their cellos at all?Actually, no. We never had time. We did that record so fast. We had two weeks to pre-pro in my house; it was basically a song a day. At the end of the evening the night before, we would decide the song for the next day. We're both early risers, like working at ten every morning, and at ten we'd go, "Okay, here we go."And we'd work until we dropped. At the end of the day, when we dropped, we'd leave whatever we had done and decide on the song for the next day. I had four weeks to track and three weeks to mix, working six-day weeks, twelve-hour days. That was actually really great, because there wasn't a lot of time to second-guess a lot of stuff. A lot of it was just what we did when we did it. The cool thing is, listening back on it after it's been mastered and sequenced, I don't go, "God, I wish we had more time, because I would have done that song differently." No, I would have done them all exactly the way I hear them now.
The last track, "Watch TV," features a drum part that switches patterns to double-time, and also has sections where you drop out. What led you to decide on where you put patterns or didn't play at all?That was one of those numbers where Melora would grab little snippets and build beds for. All those things were in close proximity to where she build those snippet beds. She loves half-time stuff, and she hates cymbals. She'd always tell me, "There's too much of that bashy cymbal." I'm like, "The hi-hat?" And she hates guitars. So grabbing little snippets of her pieces and loops from random sources, we tried to emulate that. We went with her lead on that particular track. That song is really warped, completely sad and depressing and funny and weird, all at the same time.
The hi-hat part in "Dwarf Star" hit between the quarter-note beats. Was that your idea?That's supposed to be a crazy little number. On the original demo it had a tiny drum machine beat in the background. When she tracked it, she had the metronome running the background. So I programmed up the drum machine she had going, put it into the computer real fast and emulated it with similar cheesy drum machine sounds, for the rough passes to get the tempo and arrangement. Then we started messing around with it. The song starts on this upbeat, and all the cellos are on upbeats. The whole thing feels backwards, depending on how you count the song when it starts. I'm a big fan of songs that throw you off a little bit, like where you think the downbeat is really the upbeat until the vocal comes in. That was one of our fun days of random experimentation. That song is pitch-transposed too. Originally she had slowed it with this pitch-wheel that's on the TASCAM, tracking the whole thing with it all the way down. We couldn't do that in the computer, because it doesn't really tape-speed stuff. When we figured out it was about a whole step up, we had to figure how much to slow down the 24-track, so everything was printed really slow, and the whole thing was sped up.
Had you had much experience miking live strings?Actually, I have. When I was in college I used to go around and tape recitals, so I got some school-of-hard-knocks there. In a rock context I worked with a couple different cello projects. Most of the music I do is that varied, but throwing a cello into the mix isn't all that unusual.
Were you familiar with Rasputina's music when you got involved with this project?Not at the time. Someone sent me a tape. I knew Chris from long ago.
As you listen to demos or previous albums, are you already thinking about microphones, placement, and so on?The way it was delivered, Chris did a bunch of demos at home. That was nice, because I had kind of a concept of how the tonality would end up. From there I could figure out exactly how I wanted to mic things.
On hard-core tracks like "Leechwife," what was the challenge in selecting and placing mics?A lot of that stuff came from using a direct and plugging it into the amp. It's amazing how guitar-like a cello actually sounds going through an amp. It even has advantages in that it can sustain for quite a while. Most of the sound on stuff like that is a function of dialing up an amp sound and letting them play off of that. We had a collection of shitty little amps that were pulled from everywhere.
So for distorted sounds you miked the cellos going into amps, and then you'd mic the amps as well.For the most part, yeah. It went down one of three ways: Either we had a direct cello signal that we could distort through pedals, and then an amp sound, and then there was room ambience that was also direct.
On something like "Rose K," you have a pretty traditional chamber sound. What mics did you choose for that, and where did you put them?On a couple of them that were more like orchestra things, we had three remotes. I probably set up 414s for the overheads as a room mic. There was a bunch of different rooms at the studio, so we could get different ambiences, depending on the context. Then I had a collection of old tube mics; I primarily used a Neumann 57, an 87, and a 47. We also had an RCA Something 77, one of those classic ribbon mics with that weird diamond shape. We used that on a lot of stuff also.
Was there any miking for Chris' drum samples?For the most part it was coming out of his Emulator or E64. He had done a bunch of tracks where he ran stuff through pedals and recorded them as audio passes.
What was the general approach to blending and/or separating each cello part?Part of it was the fact that there were three cellos. On the first album she played a lot of the parts herself, using the same cello, so timbres were very similar. On this one, because they had three instruments with different tonalities, there was an emphasis on trying to match mics. The RCA, which has a warm ribbon sound, was usually used on bass.
"Watch TV"was the only track with a piano. How did you mic that one?That was an interesting one. We had set up with the concept of a distorted piano, but it didn't seem to fit with the cellos in that space of the song. We ended up miking the piano clean, with two 414s in stereo over the hammers. I'm fond of distorting the SSL channels as a distortion source, because you can use the EQ instead of fine-tuning stuff. So we had that running in the background, which gave it a similar raw feel. At one point you had a cross-fade into a completely distorted piano. It still gave the distorted feel with sort of a depth to it, but it had the clean to cut through and blend with the cellos. The challenge on most of this record was trying to match the cellos with the electronics without sounding awkward.
A lot of that had to do with sound, but it also had to do with playing. Chris did a good job of enhancing the string parts without getting in the way.Yeah, he has a great sense of arrangement.
What worked best for vocal mics?I think we used the 47 for most of it. A Telefunken 251 was excellent too, but it was mostly either a 47 or a 414 where noise was concerned; the 47 had a bit of a noise issue with it. It was basically run through an LA2A into Pro Tools.
There were no other instruments on the album?"No guitars were used in the making of this record" [laughs]. A lot of this was an attempt to be experimental and see what came up. A lot of the sample sources from Melora reflect her unique taste. It was interesting to see how Chris fit them into the cello parts. We kept trying to come up with ways of miking a cello, whether throwing mics on the floor or putting them in some weird corner. There was a garage attached to the back, and at one point I had a couple of mics in the bed of a pickup.