In The Studio – Vol 2 with Day 4
Last month SFL Music Magazine revealed how along with Power Station Recording Studios, a local unsigned band is experiencing the opportunity to record their music as if they were a signed and funded label artist. They completed Phase I and are now in the process of actually recording their music professionally in a most productive manner.
PHASE II – FORMULATE
Stepping into the first day of recording for the final product the energy was massive and uplifting. The band, Lead Vocalist Heather Curi, Guitarist Adam Armaganian, Bassist Harley Mitchell and Drummer Justin Marsch are eager and ready for the foundation to be laid. That is, the drums and then bass. As we sat in the lobby area of Power Station Recording Studios the drums rang out from the recording room next door. Drum Tech/Drummer Armando Arce was finalizing the tuning for Day 4’s song “Save Me.”
SFL Music: What have you noticed that is different recording in Power Station Studios than previous experiences?
Marsch: “This is all over top of the line professional. I’m sitting on the couch while my drums are being tuned up, levels are checked. It’s like I’ve got people catering to me. I’m not used to it. Playing out live you know I’ve got to lug my own stuff, break it all down, pack the car up. I don’t have a roadie or a drum tech ever so I’m not used to it. It’s really kind of cool.” He chuckled. “I like it a lot!”
SFL Music: Is there anything you changed for the recording today?
Marsch: I’ve got a couple of things in my head that I want to try to work out. Normally, for the sake of convenience I’ve been playing on a lot smaller set. A Lot less symbols because it’s too much to bring out. Then practicing, rehearsal, you’re on a time limit. So I’ve been cheating if you will, using half the amount of symbols, half the amount of drums. There are things that I want to do that I haven’t been able to try yet really that I want to try to incorporate today, which I hope doesn’t take too long or take away from a lot because I’ve had it in my head, but I haven’t really worked on it. Things you hear that you want to do, but I’m not going to bring out an 8 piece drum set and ten symbols every show, but I want to get the recording right.” Helping him with his kit of course is Arce whom he praised, “Armando is an excellent drummer, great ear too. Tuned the drums phenomenal. They sound great!”
Power Station, co-owner (with Tony Bongioni) and Producer Rob Roy added, ”Armando is one of our regular session drummers, amazing drummer, freakin’ little rock star. He plays on all kinds of sessions for us. One of the things I noticed about Armando is he’s very particular about drum tuning. Armando is one of the few drummers that I’ve encountered that really understands tuning drums is more than just an application, but there’s an art to it. So that’s fundamentally why I chose him for this project because there’s a specific direction that I wanted to achieve with the drum recording here. What we’re trying to do because it’s a rock project there’s a bit of aspects of metal and some other things, we wanted something tight, punchy and fat. That’s what we’re really going for. We did a little bit different miking technique today to cater specifically for the sound of the band, so that’s why I brought Armando in so the drum tuning accentuated what we’re trying to get out of the microphones.”
This is where engineer Brennen Fulton came in. “At this point I am just making sure everything is set up and ready to go as far as all the microphones and all the cable are run. Everything is ready for the band to play.”
As for the rest of the technical equipment being used Roy explained,” Well, the console is fully analogue, but we basically hybrid analogue and digital. We are recording to pro tools with some of the highest quality digital converters out there and then we’re interfacing with analogue gear. We have some Neve 1084 modules that were of the vintage console, we’ve got Motown EQ’s, Pultec from 1951 as well as Millennia Mic Pres, a very modern piece of gear, LA 2’s, 1176 compressors. So we interface all of this and we have basically a little bit of everything at any given point and time. That’s one of the experiences we’re showing here today that most bands don’t have a chance to record with this type of sought out gear. The other is that drums are such a big fundamental foundation to a recording. Additionally, we are known for our drum sound, so we are very particular about what we do.”
These particulars became crystal clear as they prepared for the band to record with Marsch and Mitchell in the recording studio facing Armaganian and Curi in the sound board room to play along with their rhythm section. Just prior to Mitchell entering the studio she seemed relaxed yet eager to play.
SFL Music: So how do you feel about recording at Power Station today? Have you changed anything?
Mitchell: “From the first time I started playing shows to now, I’ve been pretty simple with my gear. Just recently, I started using a bass effects pedal to really EQ my sound. So, now that we are at Power Station and having the opportunity to professionally record and have our songs produced, I feel excited that I can work on my “sound” as a bassist. Before I was just going right to my amp. It didn’t really matter. Now, we’re recording, it’s serious, everything matters.”
Roy: “Who said anything about being serious?”
Mitchell: Well, you know what I mean. Everything matters, you know what you lay down.”
Paul Kronk rolled his chair towards Armaganian who was sitting in a chair next to the soundboard warming up his guitar. He looked at the guitarist shoes and sarcastically asked ”who the hell wears Birkenstocks to play metal?” Everyone laughed. This group certainly showed the comradery they had working together.
Mitchell: “We had this conversation the other night!”
Armaganian: “Because when I shred it gets so fuckin’ hot I need to cool down. That’s why I war Birkenstocks to play metal.”
SFL Music: So the motto for today is?
Mitchell: “We are Day 4 ready to crush skulls…in Birkenstocks!” Everyone laughs. “Our Genre is comfort metal.”
At this point she exited the soundboard room and entered the recording studio with Marsch who was already drumming. The Metronome started to click and the band began to play “Save Me.” Roy conducted, emphasizing the down beats for the rhythm section to follow. As soon as it ended Roy instructed, “Alright, lets take it from the top. I’ll flap my wings again. Just keep eye on me and I’ll keep you in the down beats.” They played “Save Me” again and when the song ended….
Roy: “That felt pretty good.”
Kronk: “that bridge section”
Roy: Yeah you’re going to have to be my ears because I’m listening to that click.”
Kronk: “Lets take if from the break. Hold it forever. For-e-verrr,” he instructed Mitchell.
She plays and hold her last note. Then Kronk asked,” How did that feel for you? It felt a lot better for me.” Mitchell replied, “Yes, it felt a lot better.” Then the song was played back to check a couple of parts.
The next week,
SFL Music: How did you feel about the recording when you finished the last take?
Mitchell: “After I finished the last take, I kind of felt sad at first.” She laughed. Although this is only the beginning and I will still have an input on my bass tone and the rest of the instruments, my parts were done. It feels good knowing that when this is all done, I’ll be able to, not only hear my bass, but our songs at a professional level.
SFL Music: How did this recording experience compare to your previous ones?
Mitchell: “I’ve never recorded anywhere as professional as Power Station. The most recent recordings I’ve done were at home on GarageBand to lay down ideas I have and at Adam’s house. (He has a simple setup as well for demos). Other than that, I can’t compare, but I feel very lucky to be where we are.”
SFL Music: What did you like about how the engineers and producer worked with you on this recording?
Mitchell: “Production. When you let professional ears hear your songs, such as the engineers and Rob at Power Station, they know what to listen for with arrangement, bass tone, guitar tone, drum sounds, and even how to play certain sections in the songs. For example, maybe instead of palm muting the guitar or bass, they would suggest open chords. That makes a huge difference in the sound of your song.”
SFL Music: What would you want to tell SFL Music Magazine readers about Power Station?
Mitchell: “I'd like them to know that Rob and the engineers at Power Station are just good people. That's difficult to find in the music business, and as a local band, it's hard to find trustworthy people. Rob was very upfront about his studio and work, as were we when Heather and I originally called Power Station to tell them what we were looking to do. (Record our songs and have them produced). We knew what to expect coming into this and so did they. Aside from being easy to work with, they really know what they are doing. So far, the arrangements Rob has made on our songs has made a huge difference. We were also blown away at how Power Station got a great drum sound. With my bass, I use a Fender Rumble 350 Combo Amp and to me it's nothing special. Everyone has their dream rig, but Power Station ended up having me use my amp to record and I think that's pretty cool. Rob let us dial in our tone so he can get a feel of what we like too. Lastly, and I feel this is the most important, Power Station understands rock music. I can confidently say Heather and I have toured a good amount of studios around here, but we were never satisfied in what we heard. Sure, there are engineers who know how to record and producers who can produce, and I'm sure they can do a great job, but if they don't understand modern rock music, it's just not going to work. Our goal is to be on the radio. We want to keep the integrity of who and what we are, and although we are new and finding our sound, we are still a rock band with distorted guitars, a mean bass, loud drums, and a vocalist with an amazing range, and I'm confident that Power Station can help us find our place in the modern rock world without over-producing us. That being said, this experience has been a long time coming for us a band. We feel so lucky and grateful to work with Power Station and we look forward to continuing working with them through this project and in the future.”
Two weeks later catching up with Guitarist Adam Armaganian
SFL Music: How is your recording going?
Armaganian: “It’s going better than I thought. It’s going the way that when you first get into the business and you imagine what the producer would do to help you in the studio and he’s doing what you’d envision happening as a kid not what is the real world in most studios where you go in, they record you, they go ok good enough and they move on and you’re happy if they even bother to spend an extra 5 minutes mixing or doing stuff. The opinions that they give you at Power Station are very genuine opinions from real people in the industry and people who understand the genre that you’re trying to play.
I got through probably 60-70 percent of my stuff,” Armaganian explained of his Saturday session recording of his rhythm parts that were done in layering fashion. “Every time you hear a piece of music especially rock music, the guitar player usually has to layer rhythm tracks sometimes up to four or five layers deep for every section and you’re adding embellishments and stuff and that’s what takes a while. So realistically when you hear a song you’re really hearing sometime 6 tracks deep per section if not more just to get the thickness right, but that also means you have to spend time making sure you nail the part perfectively so it doesn’t sound like 5 or 6 takes, it sounds like one thick guitar.”
SFL Music: Sounds like a lot of work.
Armaganian: “yeah it is, but If you don’t love doing that than there’s no point in doing it.”
SFL Music: So how long did you end up recording on Saturday?
Armaganian: “I recorded for probably 11 hours and I literally stopped because I started stuttering I was so tired. But I plowed through a lot of it than that way next Saturday I am only filling in a couple of little parts here and there and really concentrating on leads and the types of parts that require a guitar player to really focus on their instrument. With rhythms your function is more making sure you lock in with the rest of the band. Playing lead is almost like a lead singer going in with their melodies and laying it down and making sure it really fits so it’s a different type of thought process.”
SFL Music: So it sounds like this experience is exceeding your expectations?
Armaganian: “Oh yes! So much so that I can text the engineers thoughts and ideas to even help me with practicing to go into the studio to prepare the notes, and they are good about telling me what I should worry about or be more concerned with on sections. They’re very responsive by texting which is amazing, no one does that. Trust me!”(he laughed) “So basically you get real answers and it enables you to be a lot more confident when you actually go in to record your parts so that you know you’re playing the right thing and they’re giving you really good feedback while you’re in there as well and once you leave.”
SFL Music: How did the riff for “Save Me” come about?
Armaganian: “The three songs that were doing especially the one (Save Me) were a written combination between the bass player and singer, Heather and Harley. So you’re given a song that was written on bass so you end up with a song that doesn’t have a lot harmonically built on top of that. So my job is kind of like they design the structure, I build the building on top. I’m the one that says.’ ok this is how these rhythms should sound did you want the band to be X. One of the conversations we’ll have is hey, what bands or what influences did you have when you were writing this song so that way I can bring my guitar parts to fit what you had in mind as artists That’s my job as a guitar player to come in and essentially make my parts make sense toward their vision. At the same time since I’m a member of the band I also will express my own voice on the instrument as well with my own style. It’s kind of a function of what fits the song best without losing sight of my style which tends to be kind of more aggressive, metal, or even progressive style at times.”
SFL Music: How would you describe your guitar playing? You mentioned something about ‘tapping’ in the studio.
Armaganian: “When it comes to techniques my view of guitar playing has always been like a box of Legos. My goal has always been to have for lack of a better term, a really big Lego set so that way whenever a situation comes up I can pull whatever Lego I want out. Tapping is something I worked on for years however its just one Lego, or one piece. I’ll also use picking fingers. I’m really into a lot of pick style players that I could name all day. I have listened to hundreds and hundreds of guitar players,” he added. “and I still do. I am constantly online or going to music stores to find every new neat exciting guitar player and see what they are up to. I realize a lot of players are developing a certain skill set. I sit at home and I practice because that’s what a musician does, that’s what a musician should do. So that way another kid in the neighborhood doesn’t have a cooler Lego box than me.” (he laughed).
“Rob actually was more receptive than I expected a producer to be whose trying to produce modern rock, “He elaborated, “which to me means that he is much more on top of the game because modern rock right now isn’t very big. There’s no band that is leading the chart.” In respect to his guitar playing he continued, ”I may go, wow that sounds cool, but it may sound a lot cooler if I did this. Rob may say, hey why don’t you try that because he’s actually good at that, he was a player himself. I actually respect his opinion which is a big deal, huge. Normally I don’t respect the guitar players who are trying to produce me. You know what I mean, with Rob I do.”
SFL Music: Is that just because he earned your respect or the way he plays?
Armaganian: “Knowledge, because I know that he has spent time known as a good guitar player and spent time touring and he’s spent time in the studio which means that he understands how to record. He’s dealt with a variety of different types of bands and musicians and he’s gone up onstage and done it himself for a while. Which means that I understand that he’s had to go up there and nail some of this stuff, so he realizes what is actually difficult and what ‘s not. That’s very important. If I had an idea that may just require me noodling on it a couple more minutes until I get more accurate he at least has the understanding of what I am trying to achieve. I’ve had producers in the past where they’ll just let me record and then they’ll delete it later rather than say hey, this is not tight or something. I’ve had weird situations in the past with producers but Rob has the understanding which makes it actually makes me feel comfortable playing there.”(Power Station)
As for Roy’s take on production, “part of being a good producer is bringing not just a good vibe to the room, but bringing the right people to the room. The right engineers, production, staff, creating an environment that’s conducive to what you are trying to do. As I like to say, ‘capturing lightening in a bottle’.”
SFL Music: What was unique about working with Adam?
Roy: “The one thing with Adam is he has a good understanding of how production works not only as a guitar player recording on previous projects, but also as an engineer. He has engineered and recorded things. (Day 4 demos). “It’s one thing to write a part and play it live it’s another perspective to break that down in terms of recreating in a recording. Having that understanding made it easy to communicate what we wanted to do for this particular production. ”
Kronk: “Adam is a great player so that made it really enjoyable as well. The better the player is allows you to be a little more nit picky with the parts, really be a perfectionist.” He revealed that Armaganian is a perfectionist with his guitar tones. “There are so many possibilities with tones. So many possibilities with harmonies, counter melodies, and counter rhythms. It’s really an endless exploration with guitars. You almost have to be careful that you don’t end up with 60 tracks of guitars.”
Then came the top layer to this pyramid of the musical tower. The long awaited vocals. Prior to going into the studio she met with Roy to go over her lyrics. He had a plan. “I always have this kind of loose process that I use,” he explained. “I try to understand what inspired the song. I take little gibberish notes and then look back at the lyrics and how the words convey what was in her head. Then I’ll use other things like go to the library and get random books.” He picked up a stack of 9 books and sat down, opened one and read part of a paragraph. ‘Understand where dead is buried.’ “That’s an interesting line. How do you turn it into a lyric? It’s a way to create thoughts and get out of your typical thought process. So we did some things like that and tried to make sure the song lyrics created a story that was indicative to what she was originally inspired by. “Save Me” we felt had a definite message and how would we paint that picture visually when someone’s listening to it. We re-arranged some of the verses and created kind of a storyboard. We make sure the whole idea of the song tells a story. Say we’re talking about a certain line in a song,” he elaborated on another technique he uses to teach songwriters to develop their skills. “I’ll take a couple of words out and put them in google, hit images and see what comes up for those lyrics. Anytime you can create an image from words, that lyric becomes much more powerful.”
Meeting with Heather Curi on her third day of recording vocals at Power Station…
SFL Music: How did the lyrics come about? Were they inspired by something that happened in your life?
Curi: “Not necessarily. I don’t like to go too far into detail with any of my song lyrics because I feel it can be interpreted any way. That’s the whole idea, you know what I mean? I know what it means to me, but I want to be able to write lyrics that will identify to anybody listening to them. I don’t like to sway anyone’s mind on what it might mean or what it should or shouldn’t mean.”
SFL Music: What inspired the song Save Me?
Curi: “I had been having some issues sleeping for a while because I had a really busy show schedule. I have three projects and so I was doing shows like 4 or 5 times a week and would start at 8 or 9 o’clock and then they’d go until midnight, 1,2,3 am. I had a horrible sleep pattern for a long time, probably for a few months. So. one night, it was actually my 4th gig in a row, no significance to that (band name), it was a Saturday night about 3:30 in the morning and I was playing around on my bass guitar and that’s when I had come up with the initial riff, the pre-chorus, the ooh Save Me” (she sang)” The full chorus and the little nuances in the chorus and the rest of the versus, mostly the chorus were like a week later. Same situation, it was really late at night, couldn’t sleep. Then I just kind of pieced the two parts together and that’s what made the song actually. But I wrote both parts on the bass guitar because I am a horrible guitar player. Bass guitar is just a lot easier for me to get my ideas out and I started playing on bass when I was younger so I was a little more familiar with it.”
SFL Music: Is that the only instrument you played when you were younger?
Curi:” I played bass, I played acoustic guitar, electric guitar all for fun, self-taught I basically learned from tablature and by ear.” (Along with her singing of course).
SFL Muisic: How is this recording going, is it everything you expected?
Curi: “Yeah, you know to be honest it’s a much lengthier process than I experienced in the past because of the level of production that we’re getting from this. It’s a lot more extensive than I anticipated. I knew they were going to be really serious about it, but I underestimated how much everyone was going to put into it as far as time. Rob and I spent, I can’t even think about how much time we’ve spent just on preproduction, just him and I by ourselves, hanging out jamming on lyrics to come up with some different ideas for not just for “Save Me” but the other two songs as well. So it’s just been a lot more than I anticipated in a good way. I’m stoked about it because I know it’s gonna be great. In the past we’d go in and we’d record three songs in three hours and we’re be done This is day 3 now and he said probably another day or two on top of that possibly for this one song, so I know there going to really ham on it.”
SFL Music: What was it like singing into Power Station’s Neumann U67 microphone used by Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross and Madonna? Was it inspirational? It would have scared me!
Curi: “At first it did. I was like oh my gosh I’m so clumsy I don’t want to break it! It was really cool. I kind of just looked at it for a minute, but before I got to sing on it they were excited to share with me what kind of microphone it was. This one has its own unit of power and it’s a wired mike, normally you don’t have a unit like that for a microphone. He (Rob) was like, ‘that microphone, just so you know is worth more than my car. That means it’s probably worth more than my car too.” She laughed. I heard them talking about another microphone they were going to have me use like a back-up, but that this microphone would really work with my tones, so that was awesome.”
SFL Music: How do you like the studio set up? Is it comfortable? Rob said that they wanted an open set up because of how powerful your voice is.
Curi: “Yeah that’s another thing actually, I don’t think I’ve ever recorded like this in an open room setting. Every other time we’ve recorded for our demos or what not it’s usually been in a vocal booth. Generally I would prefer a vocal booth, but I feel like for this song because there’s so many dynamics I’m singing super high, I’m singing super low, I’m screaming. I kind of need my space to move around and not feel so Closter phobic.”
SFL Music: How would you say this changed you as a musician or singer? What do you feel you‘re coming away from this experience with?
Curi: “I definitely would say that I’ve learned a lot of techniques to put into songwriting and lyrics, again trying to go more toward something that can be universally understood so that anybody listening to it can take it however it might apply to their life. Because I think that’s important for any song.” She added, “this is definitely the best experience I’ve had recording. Once we’ve gotten to know everybody here, we literally have this comfort level with each other. It’s like I’m singing with my family around.”
SFL Music: Is there a message that you would advise other singers?
Curi: “I’m super creative and free flowing. I don’t really follow any rules when it comes how I write music or what I’m trying to say or what not trying to say. I think that’s important staying true to yourself and writing what you really feel even if you think it might not work, go for it anyway. In my case, that’s why I’ve always wanted to be in a band setting. I’ve always loved being creative with other musicians like we can always bounce ideas back and forth with each other. I never had any interest in being a pop artist or anything like that. I’ve always worked with multiple musicians. It’s fun for me. It’s like play time. Adult play time with instruments.”
At this point it was time to play, so we (Harley Mitchell who had joined us included) headed into Power Station’s sound booth to hear some new lyrics technical additions to “Save Me.” The engineers played the song.
Roy to Curi: “on the Save Me here I want you to whisper Save Me.”
Curi: “Just the ‘Save Me’ part?
Roy: “just the Save Me.”
Mitchell: “That’s my favorite part, the chorus” Then she heard the Morse Code and Sirens sound effects for the first time and really smiled.
Mitchell: “Oh I love that, that siren. Oh it’s so cool.”
Roy explained: “I had her (Curi) change the ooh to oh. There’s the Morse code. We will be working on the other parts of the song next week. You hear it starting to come together now more like a real record label sounding production.”
SFL Music: So how did the Morse Code come about for this song?
Engineer Nik Dee explained: “It was a little bit of a joint effort. Lucas Morelli one of our interns, had this sound it was kind of like that boop boop boop type of sound. We were thinking, ah that’s kind of like Morse codish. So then of course once we thought Morse code with the whole title of the song ‘Save Me’ it just made so much sense to figure out what morse code was and kind of loop it so that it fit the tempo of the song. That way its kind of a rhythm happening within the song that you can put some words to, something super subtle so it doesn’t stick out.”
SFL Music: Is that something you would do normally or was it inspired by the song?
Dee: “Yeah, just by the song. I kind of have to base what production I am doing off what the song is telling me. Some ideas obviously are influenced from other songs. Sometimes that’s how that happens. I feel if you go about it that way you kind of have to cater what you’re doing to the song and what its asking for. You can’t be like, oh I heard it in this song so lets just put that in there and hope it works. You may have to move some things around to really get it to work for the song.”
Roy: “Production in general is like that really. There’s only twelve notes in this modern music here, at least on this continent. Never the less, a lot of it is, you hear ideas from other songs and you take the concept and twist it around into what you are working on in this song.”
Dee: “I like to look at it as adding ornaments to a Christmas tree, in spaces where there are gaps to really fill out that Christmas tree even more.”
Roy explained of his idea behind the electronics and programming, “I didn’t want to bring in the typical hip hop loops and stuff that a lot of people typically go to, because they’re Day 4) a little bit dark sounding. I wanted a little bit of an industrial feel too. That’s where you hear some of those eerie kind of weird things going on.”
Dee: “Like a transformer type of sound.”
Roy: yeah So one of the things I wanted to do was kind of of incorporate dub step and some trance and some things like that into this as well just because I thought it would blend with the style better.”
Dee: “Dub steps a lot of those wah wah wah type of sounds, or screech type of sounds They are meant to really draw your attention. Very rhythmic based.”
SFL Music: What was unique for you working with Heather and Day 4 in general?
Dee: I haven’t worked with this style of music in a long time so it was really cool to work with and kind of incorporate what Rob was talking about with the more electronic Dub Steppie, trance type of style into a genre like this.”
Curi entered the recording studio to start taping her harmonies. Roy had her singing to warm up her voice as he and Mitchell worked out the harmonies on his acoustic guitar. She sang along to an open track provided by Kronk, then in her style, she sang in a low to high melodic sample only stopping to sip her tea.
Roy: “We’ll make a sample out of all the weird sounds that heather can make.”
Dee: “I like this, I like where this is going”
Curi: “There is one thing that I remember listening to the ‘I’ll keep spinning round and round’ thing the last one after chorus, Kronk, “Yeah” Curi,” I didn’t do the high part.” she sang ‘I’ll keep spinning round and round’ . Kronk played back the part.
Kronk: “Do you want to start there?”
Curi: “Sure.” He plays back the part and as it ended…
Kronk: “that sounded really good. I think we got it. Then we’ve got to do doubles and triples on it. “He plays it back then says” lets do a double on it.” He plays back the chorus and she sings.
Here is where Roy showed Mitchell how he wanted her to strum the bass, fast strum on down beat, then pull up. He also wanted her to finger strum some parts to record instead of just using a pick. She broke into a huge smile and said, “I’m not done? Good.”
Observing this positive work flow of production at this understandably well-respected Power Station studio brought to mind Kronks take on this recording experience with Day 4. “Everybody gets along so well. There hasn’t been any head-butting or real tension in the room.’ He continued, “the best sessions are always when everybody in the session is pushing forward.” Then painting a picture to summarize, “I always say a studio is somewhere between a nuclear submarine and a tattoo parlor. This really high-tech facility with expensive equipment and serious work happening, yet at the same time people are goofing around and what gets said between these four walls tends to stay there.”
Day 4’s Power Station recording however, will not simply stay in the studio after the final productions is completed. On the contrary it is well anticipated. SFL Music readers keep your eyes and ears open.