Now that my little field trip to the stage is behind me, Hell’s Own Drag’s next project is pretty well ready to go save for one track Doug is still adding vocals to, I’ve begun to work on new music. There were some revelations that were partially happy accidents and partial learning/studying recording techniques on my own part that had significant impacts on the last Jefferson Dust album that are informing my mixing approach to Hell’s Own Drag and will definitely inform things moving forward. A few thoughts (In no particular order)
One ‘Verb to rule them all- When I first started and was acquiring all kinds of plugins and effects I was all “OH HELL YEAH! ALL THE REVERBS!!” ….I’m almost opposite now– where I’m trying to see how little i can get away with treating. On the last Jefferson Dust, the upcoming Hell’s Own Drag and everything I’ve been working on since, I use a master reverb channel and send everything in varying degrees to it. I tune the nature of that verb to taste for the vibe of the track (Derision Cult gets long and dark things where more intimate sounds will get a shorter one– using Space Designer or Audio Damage’s Adverb for the most part on everything). So instead of a verb for guitar, one for drums, one for whatever else, it all gets sent to one. Only exceptions are snares for Derision Cult where it gets a plate. Sometimes I’ll throw it on a vocal too if the intention is to make it an obvious effect. But this change has caused the tracks all to hang together better and sound more consistent.
No Limiter- This is probably a rookie mistake I’ve been dragging around for years, but I liked to slap a limiter on the 2 bus and run things super hot. More to make my pants flap than anything. I happened upon reasons not to do that while mastering the last Jefferson Dust. First, and most obvious- it wasn’t accurately portraying how the tracks work together. Second- it was egregiously under-representing the low mids which ends up sounding boomy and overpowering in the final mix. I go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum now. I use a Pultec style EQ to carve out and dial back low mids (we’ll see 150-350hz) on the master. This has had a HUGE impact on how well the mix translates to things like ear buds. Nowadays, I mix to a master track sitting between -3db and -6db. I use Landr (I know- sue me) to test mixes to see how they translate to mastering. The net result is that tracks aren’t as hot as they may have been, but they’re sure as fuck clearer and tighter and I’ll happily make that trade.
Guitars going way down in the mix- As a guitar player this was probably the hardest lesson to learn but especially with the last Jefferson Dust (and that doesn’t really have big distorted guitars anywhere)- I finally connected the dots between cymbals and the fizzy 3k-ish sounds guitars create–and the impact these two fighting for space have on the overall mix. Basically what I realized is if guitars are too loud in the mix, the drums sound too small. So I backed WAY off the guitar bus and low and behold the guitars still sounded big but suddenly the cymbals had space and the snare/kicks came through much better. I tuned some of the ways I EQ said guitar bus and it got even clearer. I took this approach to the Hell’s Own Drag stuff and am really happy with the result. It actually makes the guitars sound bigger because the transients sit behind the cymbals so you only really hear the body of the sound. I’ve got a couple Derision Cult tracks where I’ve been doing this and it they are easily the heaviest sounding guitars I’ve personally ever done.
I’ve got the code cracked for the next Sys Machine and Derision Cult projects and have a handful of tracks/ideas started for each. On the latter, the main difference between what I’m doing now and the basis of No Esteemed Deeds is that the drum source for this one will be live kit samples again (I built the drum sounds from bare metal with a drum synth– Audio Damage’s Tattoo to be specific). My intention was to do something that was deliberately more robotic sounding. I think it pretty much worked– even though I cheated and mixed in live snare samples here and there. Using the reverb approach above along with the guitar/drum relationship I’m VERY happy with how it’s coming along so far. This will be a monster sounding album if all hangs together the way it is so far. Also- I’m basing everything off the guitar riff again. On No Esteemed Deeds, I made a concerted effort to write with a bass which I think succeeded in giving the tracks a different flavor, but well…been there done that now.
Sys Machine is taking on life with an idea I had awhile ago but hadn’t really been ready to pull the trigger. Essentially I’m making a concept album in the sense the tracks will flow between each other. As a result, I’m writing them in order they’ll appear on the track listing. Some will have vocals some will be instrumental. All production approaches above are holding true. Soundwise- my goal was to land it somewhere between Dither and Imminent Domains. In two days, I built the basic tracks for the first three songs. It’s a pretty fun exercise because I’m moving tempos around too…so things like delays/reverbs and such have to react. Originally I intended to do all this one one giant session and build the whole album linearly but it’s a lot easier to work with tempos and stuff if they’re broken out. This will definitely be darker than Imminent Domains I can feel that already. No ideas about lyrical themes or anything yet. I’m sure the music will sort of tell me what it wants to talk about– such is the way of these things. But as is right and proper with concept albums– I’m going to do it right and make this thing LONG. Shooting for 15-20 tracks all in (including 1-2 minute musical interludes). Reference points are David Bowie’s 1.Outside, Die Warzau’s Engine, Sister Machine Gun’s Revolution and of course…things like Pink Floyd’s Wall, Abby Road etc. I’m figuring this will take awhile so I’d be hard pressed to say I’ll get it done this year. But once I laid tracks down it started moving pretty quickly. I don’t know if other people are like this but that’s generally how it’s been for me– I can conceptualize what I want something to be and fret about it and be all “oh fuck that’ll take forever where to begin!” but once I get something started– like a riff or whatever that I’m jazzed about then everything else just flows. It’s probably why I end up putting out so much stuff.
So as I mentioned early on– we’re VERY close to Hell’s Own Drag’s next one (tentatively titled “The Devil’s Thrills”). I also have some Microwaved tracks to jam out which, now that I’ve got my Sys Machine rig back up (which is sonically as close to Microwaved as anything I do), I’ll probably do those in the next week or two. I have some concrete ideas for the next Delta Shines but haven’t actually started anything yet. I’ve been listening a lot to the Black Angels and I hang out at a club in NYC called Otto’s Shrunken Head which has gotten me hip to psychobilly….I’d love to put all that in Delta Shines next one. The first one- Have Gun Will Travel was cool and I’m really happy with how it came out, but it is kind of all over the place stylistically…especially with the electronic elements. This time it’d be cool to hone in on a vibe and just hammer it through the whole thing.