By Mike McGinnis
Harsh riffs make for harsh vibes in the studio. Embrace the angst and capture it on 2″ tape. That’s the plan.
It’s been around two and a half years since Fight Amp recorded an album. Halfway through the writing of 2012’s Birth Control, we made another drummer switch and immediately hit the road with Weedeater. When Birth Control was released, we did a last minute tour to support, a couple full North American package tours, and put writing new material on the back-burner until we went through an album cycle and broke in our still-very-new drummer at the time, Dan Smith. Needless to say we were burned out on writing, as Birth Control featured another mid-writing-process member change, just as every one of our previous records had.
Well, after nearly two years of touring and developing chemistry, Dan and both long-time members Jon DeHart (bass/vocals) and myself (Mike McGinnis, guitar/vocals) were feeling ready to showcase what Fight Amputation had become. 2011—2013 featured roughly 70-100 shows a year for us and after hitting Europe with Black Tusk in late 2013, we decided to pump the brakes. It was time to start honing the new material that we had been dabbling with prior to that tour.
From the inception of the ideas for these songs to the recording itself, this is the first time since the beginning of Fight Amp that we’ve had the same lineup from start to finish featured on a record. We found a sweet spot and chemistry in the writing process and feel like we’ve identified a sound that is Fight Amp.
After a few demo sessions and tons of time in our practice space, the time to cut the record at Gradwell House Studios finally descended upon us. We’ve been recording with engineer Steve Poponi for years, and it’s been a killer experience for Fight Amp. Steve has grown with us, and knows what we want without us having to go through the initial trial and error. He also isn’t afraid to be critical with us, often saying “what the fuck was that” when we decide to throw in that “let’s get weird” curveball. We also have the luxury of living about 20 minutes from the studio, so sleeping in our own beds and making our own hours certainly doesn’t hurt the process. The advantage of staggering sessions to clear our ears and minds is enormous.
Our goal in the studio is to encapsulate our best live version of a song. We don’t like to use a lot of studio magic (big surprise for a three piece heavy noise rock band) and our number one priority is capturing energy from a great live take. That being said, we spent the first night just getting sounds so we can focus on the energy and performance while tracking.
Drums first. We always end up referencing In Utero in this process, but this time we’re looking for a slightly more on-top drum sound similar to our 2008 LP Hungry For Nothing. Early Melvins maybe? Gradwell, especially when tracking to 2″ tape, can capture one of my favorite studio drum sounds on the east coast. When you put a hard-hitting drummer with a tight pocket behind a great sounding kit in their room, it’s going to sound huge. We went through some examples and mic arrangements, ran some tracks through the tape machine, and landed somewhere we were all really stoked on. Huge and on top. Side note; we landed on the smallest size drums we’ve ever used in the studio.
More sounds, bass next. Jon’s rig for this session: Fender Jazz Bass > Boss DS-1 (yep) > GK800RB > Kustom 3×15 / Fender Bassman 50 > Ampeg SVT 4×10. Always two bass tracks on our records. This is a similar rig to what we used on Birth Control, besides the Ampeg 4×10. We went with all 15″s last time. We floated some ideas, made some comparisons, and found another sound we were stoked on. Always too early to tell, but this might be my favorite bass tone we’ve found yet.
Guitar sounds last. I always do four total guitar tracks, two during live tracking and two during second guitar tracking. For this session: Gibson SG > RAT > MXR Micro Amp > Peavey Classic 100 > Marshall 4×12 / Acoustic Model 450 > Ampeg 2×15. I always like to mix at least one solid state amp into my setup. Need a little attack to counter that tube and tape warmth. This is my show rig these days, and I’m loving it both live and mic’d up.
Fast forward to Day 2. We got the sounds we like and finally started tracking. But of course after the hours and hours of tone adjustments, we weren’t hitting the songs the way we’d like. Beer, weed, coffee, pizza…. Still a lackluster performance. Pocket issues, tempo problems. We like to keep the click track far away from these songs to allow for natural fluctuations and a live feel, so it can be a challenge landing on a tempo we’re all happy with. We called it early to save some frustration, came back the next day, and there it was; 8 songs tracked on day 3. Killed it.
We wrapped up the weeks sessions with a fourth day of tweaking some small parts, a few punch ins and edits, and some light mixing. Lo and behold, we landed on 8 tracks we’re really fucking stoked on. Fast and slow, down-tuned and up-tuned, bummed-out-harsh-sludgy-noise-rock-hardcore-punk. At our best, with a three piece power trio lineup that has been together for an extended period of time.
Now a layover and sitting on my hands for a couple weeks while we work on vocals and I wait to track second guitars…. Stay tuned.
** Fight Amp’s new album is out Spring 2015 on Brutal Panda Records. Keep your limbs peeled for pre-orders and other cool announcements.