Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Suppurating The Studio III: This time - it's personal.

Greetings from the Grand Canyon State!  We are currently sequestered in our luxurious digs (okay, where we're staying still involves a fold-out couch, but it's much better than the Super 8 we stayed at recording All Guts...) at the Extended Stay America in Phoenix. It's officially the end of day seven of tracking our new album and things have been going swimmingly.

We arrived in Phoenix late Monday October 2nd, loaded in our gear and crashed out at Motel 6 for the evening. Tuesday we began in earnest, dialing in rhythm guitar tones. Since (in contrast to our situation when we recorded the last album) we actually own a decent amount of guitar gear this time around, I was stoked to actually use our road gear in the studio. It's nice to know that what's being recorded is a representation of the actual tone we have onstage. Ryan Butler, who is once more our intrepid and tireless engineer at Arcane Digital Recording, has a stockpile of killer amps that we employed last time alongside Wes' JCM 800 but this time, we built the tone around my 6505+, bolstered by my Maxon overdrive pedal, the same setup I use live. We also were working wth Bud's Bogner Uberschall, but ultimately ended up using Ryan's which was a little older model with newer tubes (Butler's Ubershcall helped us get the high / mid definition on All Guts as well). We ended up reversing the conventional wisdom about both amps' tones, using the 6505+ and my modified Marshall cabinet (the mod was detailed on this very blog last year) for the darker guitar tone, and the Ubershcall and a Mesa Boogie cabinet for the brighter tone. So far it's already sounding crushing. Ever since Anatomy Is Destiny, we've used four rhythm guitar tracks on all our albums. This time around, I ended up coming up with all the riffs and basic song structures (due to the departure of Wes Caley) so it fell to me to track all the rhythms on the album. 

Mike enjoying the sub-infernal temperatures of the Phoenix evening as Rob and I hack our way through the tracks.
Rhythm guitar and drums are by far the most time-consuming elements of our albums to record, because they are pretty much always going, all the time, throughout every song. We have always been a very riff-oriented band, so without good-sounding and well-tracked rhythm guitars, there isn't much else for our records to stand on. Needless to say, when I sat down to start tracking, the pressure was on. This time was definitely more difficult than my rhythm parts for All Guts... Not only did everything fall to me, but our very limited rehearsal time meant that I just hadn't had the opportunity to play these songs very often, let alone write / arrange / memorize harmonies and such. I finally wrapped everything up early Sunday afternoon - quadruple tracking every song - an intro, an outro, and thirteen new songs in just over five days. My brain was seriously fried trying to keep track of all the new riffs, the new harmonies and various bits from all the different tunes. There were parts that got changed / written / re-written on the spot in the studio. There was stuff I had totally planned out that "theoretically" made sense but didn't work at all when applied and then had to be re-tooled on the spot, which is really cool and fun, but also a bit nerveracking. Luckily, we're all very laid-back and are so used to working with each other at this point that the inevitable speed bumps in the road of progress are always ironed out quickly. In the end, I'm really stoked with how it's sounding. But it felt like a LOT of work. With brief respites for food and helping Ryan turn all of our song titles into gay jokes (it's actually a lot easier than you'd think), I was probably playing guitar about eight hours a day. I got my first ever hand cramp in my left hand, which is just now subsiding as I'm tracking leads.
Now that I'm done tracking rhythm guitars, I can get down to what's really important. Reading Butler's comics. 
The live room at Arcane. From L to R: Ryan's amp arsenal, our lead setup (EVH for my leads, Uberschall for Bud's), our live cabinets, my pedal board case, effects pedal boxes, and guitar cases. 
I've been convalescing the last couple of days, thumbing through Butler's extensive comic collection, getting some rest and working here and there to get Rob up to speed on any bass parts he might have any confusion on. Since we wrote the intro and one song in the studio in Corona, CA while tracking drums, as well as two songs in the jam room during our marathon ten-day rehearsal period before recording, this material is really new to all of us. The cool thing about the newness of everything is that the takes we're doing are really fresh and invigorated. They have a spontaneous, open vibe to them, which is really exciting to me. I have always loved to work off-the-cuff and just allow cool shit to happen in the studio. For the first time, we have enough time to record and enough material to allow us to do that to a greater extent than ever before. All the shows we've played together have made us a very tight unit and we all trust each other to come up with awesome shit on the fly and be on the same page and it's working out great. 

The big board sees all. The big board knows all. When everything is crossed out, we have finally won our freedom from the big board.
Our guitarist Bud, was the epitome of grace under pressure and spontaneous genius when he came in to track leads Monday. Having just heard the songs for the first time on tour, and then only as midi versions (as I wrote the songs, I'd tab them out in Guitar Pro 6 just so I wouldn't forget the riffs, I then exported them as midi files to show the other guys. Yes, they sound hilarious, and no, I will not post them). He came in and nailed many of his solos on the first take. Bud is sort of like the ringer on the softball team for us. From arranging Bach pieces for guitar, to chicken-picking and pedal steel guitar with his other gig with the Charlotte, NC-based Wiggle Wagons, Bud is an unsung guitar hero. Personally, I'm hoping this record will change that.  Bud quickly melted our faces with his fretboard gymnastics, which made me a little intimidated to get started on my solos (in between Rob's bass tracking). But, any trepidation I may be experienced was overshadowed by a healthy margin by how excited I am about this record.
Bud ripping corpses on new track "Sickened" - his first take.

Day seven saw Rob continue to punish his tremor bass and yours truly lay down some leads of my own. Before Rob started playing in Exhumed, he was playing guitar in Gravehill (if you haven't checked out the record that he and I recorded with the band, When All Roads Lead To Hell, you probably should - it's patch-jacket friendly old school black-thrashing Death Metal) and since picking up the bass, he's really started to become an actual bass player, which has been cool to watch develop. He started playing with his fingers, and has been actually following kick drum patterns and playing cool root progressions, not just mirroring riffs and shit. You know, bass player stuff. It's going to add an element to the band and this record that has been previously absent. At any rate, we got a bunch more shit done today (as evidenced by more X's on the big board) and we will continue to plow ahead - vocals will start tomorrow. 

I'll keep you updated on our progress as tracking continues. I'm hoping we'll have all the solos and most of the vocals finished before we hop on a plane this Saturday afternoon to head to Japan for three days supporting our buddies in Cannibal Corpse (who have been kind enough to let us ride on their coattails yet again). I'm sure there will be loads of retardation and accompanying photo documentation to fill you all in about when we get back. Until next time, keep on rotting in the free world, dudes and dudettes. 

Harvey and the lads

Monday, October 1, 2012

Suppurating The Studio Part II: Decrepit Boogaloo

As the week starts rolling, I'm stoked to report that our resident skin-beater, the affable Mike Hamilton has finished all the drum tracks for the next Exhumed record. Mike did a hellva job tackling loads of blast beats, d-beats, thrash beats, punishing double bass, and all with a smile. 
Mike getting set up on day one.
This was the first time an Exhumed album has been made recording to a click track - which is really standard procedure for most bands - metal or otherwise. The beauty of the click is that it not only keeps us a bit more on time (as much charm as records like "In The Sign Of Evil" and "Reek Of Putrefaction" have, we never wanted to re-create that level of musical ineptitude - even when we were doing it!), but it allows the drummer to punch in much more easily. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of "punching in" during a recording, it's the ability to begin recording in the middle of a take - continuing to play with a partially satisfactory recorded performance and simply tacking on an additional sections as you go. Punching in has been the norm for guitars even back when we used to record at a 16-track studio with a 2" tape machine back in the early '90s, but it was more difficult for drums (on our budgets at least) - and if you don't have the click guiding your tempos, it can be a nightmare trying to get a song to remain even close to consistent speed-wise. 

Rob hard at work in the studio.
The biggest advantage of all of this for this album is... due to our minimal rehearsal time (two weeks to learn ten songs) we were writing all the clever bits as we were recording. Mike was filling in the skeleton of the drum parts on the fly - constantly coming up with new and different ideas for fills, accents, and beat changes as we went. That added a different level of creativity that can be mentally exhausting in the studio. The studio situation can be stressful even for the most prepared musician (time / budget constraints, recording nerves, equipment problems, weird headphone mixes, hearing your parts being put under a microscope etc. are all very common factors that can stress out just about anyone trying to give their best performance). Add that to the physically demanding level of drumming that playing this type of music entails, and you can see that Mike had a herculean task in front of him. He really rose to the occasion, beating the crap out of his kit, channeling his inner Dave Lombardo for awesome drum fills, and taking the drum parts way further than what I had imagined. The thing that's so appealing about working this way to me is that you are really getting a representation of that particular moment - something new and fresh plucked out of thin air and committed to tape (okay, hard drive) while it's new and fresh to the person playing it. which is just a cool, honest thing to represent as far as I'm concerned. 

We were knocking out two to three full songs a day, plus we tracked an intro that we put together in the studio, an outro I had been toying with, and we came up with a quick grind tune (about :50 total length) on the spot that got recorded as well. We'll see what ends up making the cut for the actual record, but it was great to have the time to develop a killer vibe in the studio that allows for that kind of spontaneous shit to happen. 
It just wouldn't be the internet without more pictures of cats. This one was guarding our guitar cabinets.
It was also killer to break up the process with a Friday night birthday party for Rob and Mike at Rob's house with all the Gravehill folks, several dozen beers, some Gentleman Jack and killer bbq. Saturday night was great as well, as  Mike and I celebrated the completion of drum tracking (that day we tracked the final album song, wrote and tracked the intro, wrote and tracked the aforementioned grind number, and got the outro done as well- fucking productive!) by attending Leon del Muerte's birthday party across town in LA for loads more beer and bbq with our friends from Murder Construct, Nausea, Dreaming Dead, DIS, Eat The Living, Panties, and tons of other folks. It's kind of nuts, Rob, Mike and I all have birthdays within three weeks of each other (not to mention Exhumed alumnus Leon's in Rocktober and Ross' in September - but please DO NOT bring up astrology around me - blech!!). So we have lots of excuses to get wasted this time of year. 

Sunday was spent being hung over while our ace engineer, John Haddad (who in a somewhat ironic turn of events is about to start recording the drums for the new Intronaut record next week) was going through and editing all the drum tracks - double checking our work, cleaning up little weird studio stuff, and making sure all our i's were dotted and t's were crossed before we take the whole thing across the state line into Arizona tomorrow to start tracking all the other elements of the album. To give you an idea how excited I am about this, every day this week, I have been waking up from dreaming about guitar solos, riffs, and all things recording. I'm up at eight in the morning all excited and then sit and think about riffs for a half hour before I can fall back asleep until eleven or noon and we get started. It's like I'm seven years old on Christmas morning or something, haha! Although no one has brought me a Millennium Falcon yet (hint, hint!). We're grabbing a trailer tomorrow morning to take all our gear eastward and start looking for a suitably ruling guitar tone.  I'll keep you all posted!

Harvey and the boyzzzz....