Recording Diary: Joan of Arse – Distant Hearts, A Little Closer by The Chocolate.
Originally published on the Things You're Missing website
Recording Diary: Joan of Arse – 'Distant Hearts, A Little Closer' by The Chocolate
First time in a proper studio, 4 days to record and mix an LP, time is costing us roughly £100 an hour and the engineer is Steve Albini. Nothing like being intimidated, is there? First off, anyone can book Electrical Audio (Albini's studio in Chicago) with or without Albini. Just a phone call and a 450 euro plane ticket away. It costs roughly $600 per day plus $250 for Albini, plus tapes, accommodation and anything else that crops up. The studios, in a converted warehouse, are lovely. Studio A has two marvellous live rooms and an automated analogue desk. Studio B has a live room with a 30 foot ceiling and a dead room with carpeted walls. It's also cheaper, so we recorded there and mixed in Studio A. There are 2 grand pianos, loads of great guitars, amps, drums and other instruments. The temptation was to shovel loads of extras on, but considering how short we were for time, that couldn't happen. Quite how Steve Fanagan got his LP recorded and mixed there in 2 days beggars belief. 4 days wasn't nearly enough for us, but we managed to claw an LP out of it, keeping poor ol' Albini working til 6am twice.
So the drums were set up in the Live Room with its polished floors and high ceiling making the little 60s Ludwig kit sound enormous. Each drum was miked individually, sometimes on both surfaces. There was a big overhead above the ride cymbal, nothing on hi-hats and 2 rejigged wartime mics that looked like small bombs were used as ambient mics roughly 2 yards away on the floor. When we were mixing the songs the ambients were brought down for quiet parts, then as the song grew louder, they were brought in and immediately gave the drums the big naturally reverbed sound that Albini is known for. Bass and guitars were recorded in the Dead Room behind glass doors. It took us a day and a half to get decent basic tracks for 12 songs to 2" tape. Albini was already saying we should cut it down to 7 or 8 songs but we were too stupid to heed him as yet. The next day and a half was spent overdubbing vocals, guitars, grand piano, wurlitzer keyboard, saw, violin and Gumbo's scream. Each day we worked (if you can call it that) from 12/1pm until at least 3am and we still needed a few extra hours on our day off to get it finished.
With one day left, we had 12 unmixed songs; a total of 80 minutes of music. We had only intended making a 45 minute LP but had neglected to time our songs. There wasn't a hope of us getting it all done since we were out of time and money, so finally we had to decide what to finish. Albini said we weren't leaving without an album and he put in a 17 hour day to make sure of it. So, by 6.30am, 7 songs had been mixed, clocking in at exactly 45 minutes. They were put in sequence later that morning just before we caught our train to the airport. Six hours after having finished with us, Albini was busy in studio with an 8 piece ska band who intended to record a 14 track LP in two days. Some people have all the luck.
What we learned: Work out exactly what you have to do and plan for it. While we were mixing someone came in. "Tim Kinsella has booked 7 days to record an LP." "How much music?" "10 songs, 35 minutes." And there we were with rolls of expensive unmixable tape.
Albini is a wizard with positioning mics, chopping tape, getting the feel for a song, mixing and sarcasm. His Irish accent is not so good. It's unlikely we'll break even on the LP, but the experience was a good one.