Kowloon Walled City Studio Report, Part II (Final)

by Scott Evans
Ian wrote Part I right after Friday, our setup day. I’m writing this a month or two later, but I’ll pick up where he left off.

Besides Ian’s rig relentlessly shitting the bed during setup, our tracking weekend went pretty smoothly. Since I engineer and play in the band at the same time (not recommended), I set up a laptop in the live room so I could control Pro Tools remotely. THE FUTURE.

We spent Saturday and Sunday doing basics — drums, bass, and guitars. We do keeper takes for everyone at once, so during basics, we’re actually recording the majority of the record. Tracking goes like this:
1. Tune up. Play the song once or twice.
2. Go into the control room and listen.
3. Pick one of those takes or go back to step 1.

And that’s what we did. We had 10 songs to track in 2 days; that’s not bad.

Here are some pictures I took.

Jeff’s drums. This Sonor Force 3000 is pretty much the only drum kit Jeff has ever owned. He saved his pennies to buy it 20 years ago and he’s played it ever since. Fuck yeah. He knows this kit very well, and it always sounds great — it doesn’t matter what mics you point at it. Which didn’t stop me from pointing 50 mics at it. Not pictured: Blumlein pair in front of the kit; room mics off in the corners.

My guitar rig. It’s a little different than the last few times we recorded, but no matter what I play, I pretty much sound the same (i.e. like a gorilla trying to figure out which end of the guitar to hold).

Jeff listening to a take. That’s the side of his face that wasn’t all fucked up.

[Laughs] Bergantino bass cab. Actually it sounded great. And it worked, unlike the two Ampeg cabs sitting in the hallway. Do you play bass? This cab is for sale and was used on a recording that literally tens of people will hear.

Ian reading about baseball on a phone while watching baseball on an iPad. While we’re making a record.

On Sunday evening, after two long days, we had good takes of every song.

Striking the drums is always one of those “take a deep breath” things. After you pull 15 mics off the kit and tear it down, there’s no going back unless you want to start the whole record again. We struck the drums.

Jon and I spent Monday doing guitar overdubs. I set up two amps in the big room — one for loud stuff, with a bunch of gnarly pedals, and one for quiet stuff. Here’s the session’s toughest photo.

We played the loud parts in the live room, because standing in front of a 100w amp is the best and why would you sit in the control room instead? For quiet parts, we played in the control room. Here’s Jon laying down some glassy cleans.

We weren’t replacing the guitars we tracked during basics, but Jon has a handful of “solos,” and we added some other little bits here and there. We never get carried away with this stuff, but the occasional little detail makes a difference.

At the end of guitar day, we packed up and loaded out. All that remained was vocals. So the next morning, I set off… on two weeks of dead silence.

Ian mentioned my ongoing throat problems. After months of doctor appointments, lifestyle changes, and exercises, and general life-affecting discomfort, my throat was still fucked up. My last-ditch attempt to heal up was a course of prednazone plus two weeks of 100% vocal rest.

Here’s me, ordering tacos. I misspelled horchata.

Not speaking at all is weird as hell. Try it sometime. I saw Gaza play at Thee Parkside, and wanted to say hi after the show, but I couldn’t talk. I wrote a note to order Indian food, and the guys at the restaurant didn’t say a word to me. Instead, they gestured as though I couldn’t hear either. I was biking on Valencia Street and a guy in front of me crashed his bike, and I was like “What do I do? I can’t ask if he’s okay!” At the Tigon record release show, I saw tons of friends and “spoke” with them by typing on my phone and holding it up.

Mostly I holed up at home and watched Classic Albums episodes. Elton John wrote songs like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in 30 minutes, over breakfast, and recorded them with his band the same afternoon. What a bunch of hacks we all are.

After two weird weeks, I returned to the ENT to get scoped again, and see if I had healed up.

That’s my throat-gina. As all the otolaryngologists out there are saying to themselves right now, it didn’t heal. (note the white triangular thing on the upper left.) Fuck it, I decided, and a day or two later I started tracking vocals.

To give my throat a fighting chance, I planned to track one song per sitting. That meant a lot of recording sessions, so I loaded a stripped-down mobile rig into TTJ, our classy practice space. TTJ is not exactly an ideal recording environment, but the price is right. (If I record your band, we don’t have to do vocals there.)

I recorded through a Shure SM7B into an API 3124+ mic pre. The SM7 is probably my all-time favorite mic. It’s great for vocals (ask Tom Araya or Michael Jackson) and it sounds good on just about anything else. I like it on kick drum, guitar, bass, you name it. Plus you can find them used all day for under $300. The API mic pre is pretty fancy, but I’m not sure that matters when Riffosaur is jamming at rock band volume in the room next door.

Vocal tracking is usually the hardest, most intimate part of making a record. You need to be comfortable. You can’t be self-conscious about yelling your little heart out over and over again. Here are some things that might affect your Zen state:
1. Dudes standing in the hallway right outside your door, talking and smoking for 3 hours
2. 120 dB stoner rock band next door
3. Psychotic girlfriend (of a dude who I think lives in his practice room) crying in the hall and shrieking batshit profanities like Diamanda Galas being dragged off by Satan
4. Dead, creepy silence in the whole building

I encountered all four. Here’s #3:

Like I said, it’s not an ideal recording environment.

While I was doing my favorite song on this record, some not-young dudes fired up across the hall at about 12:30am (it was Wednesday), and began butchering classic rock songs. Some of the most intense vocals I’ve ever done, and if you solo up my track, you’ll hear a group of stoned old men shitting all over “Radar Love” in the background. Perfect.

Anyway, my throat felt surprisingly good. I think it actually started healing up(!) over the month or so that I did vocals. Inexplicable.

Once vocals were done, I mixed everything at my home studio. At this point I’d heard rough mixes for long enough that I had pretty much mixed the record in my head, so I just had to execute. Mixing took a few nights. For whatever reason, our band is always pretty easy to mix.

And that’s how a baby gets made. Holy crap this was long.

I love talking about recording (yeah, no shit). Feel free to ask questions or ridicule my mic placements in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter.

** Kowloon Walled City’s new as-yet-untitled full-length is out soon on Brutal Panda Records. They don’t have a pre-order up yet, but you can shop and get other rad noise on wax for reasonable prices. Click HERE. Or go spend your $5 on some nasty Kombucha Wonder Drink.