erik kase romero

producer | engineer | multi-instrumentalist | arranger

Dollys Production Series - 1 - Mush

Overview

"Mush" is the sixth and final track on the EP.  When we set out to record it, Jeff had a fairly defined vision of how he wanted the guitars to sound and we all agreed that we wanted to weave a lot of vintage/throwback vibe into the textures of the song.  It's somewhat unique from the other songs in having a very traditional and straightforward chord structure.  In my opinion one of the defining elements in this song is the treatment of the drums and what it allows the rest of the arrangement to do.  Having the drums in mono and taking up very little space let the wide guitars and thick vocal arrangements have tons of room to breathe.  As with all of the songs many of the instruments were tracked in different studios/spaces and was mixed at Lakehouse on the infamous Neve 8024 through tons of outboard gear.

-stream the track to listen along HERE

Production

Drums

 The first thing we tracked for Mush was the drums at the former Lakehouse studios in Interlaken NJ. Natalie played to a pre-recorded scratch vocal and guitar (every song on this EP, with the exception of "Swim", had a preproduction demo that we worked off of).  I am usually not a fan of tracking drums without the rest of the band playing as well, but because we were on such a tight budget we tried to have as much "pre-pro'd" as possible. We tracked a bunch of drums that day, and by the time it came to record Mush I dropped a fairly outlandish idea on the rest of the band: I wanted to not only track the drums in mono with only two mics, but I wanted to split the overhead signal live into a Princeton Reverb with the Reverb at 10 for ambience.  Of course, being a weird and unusual idea Jeff was totally on board.  I feel that the clangy spring reverb and midrange distortion really brought the drums exactly where I wanted and of course being mono, they stay narrow in the mix which leaves a lot of space for the ensuing spacey guitar/vocal onslaught! I have to add that when recording drums so minimally, what is played is quite literally what you get.  What I'm getting at is that you can't really "fix" or hide any mistakes.  Although I really didn't do very much corrective editing to any of the drums on this record, I feel that Natalie's musicianship really shines through on this song because of how exposed it is.

 (All audio clips are the raw tracks without any signal processing or 'mixing')

Drum Tracking: 
1964 Ludwig 4 piece, 60's Supraphonic COB snare, Mixed Vintage Zildjian Cymbals
-Kick: R 121 > 1073 > La2a
-Overhead: ELAM > 1073 > TG1
-Amp: (Multed Overhead Signal) > Blackface Princeton Reverb > 421 > Altec 438a 

Drum Mixing: 
-The whole drum bus was sent through a 1084 console module and a Rev C 1176


 Bass

In a very atypical fashion the bass for Mush was late in the process.   We had a scratch bass that Jeff played but I recut it later on  after all of the keyboards and some guitars were finished.  After trying several basses I decided on my 80's Japanese P Bass, mostly because it had flatwounds on and we all thought that the thumpy/plucky vibe was definitely the way to go for this song.  I had the signal split 3 ways: a DI (which we ended up not using), a prototype B15 clone that a friend of ours built, and a Fender Twin with a fairly extreme reverb and tremolo setting.  The tremolo and reverb on bass was 100% Jeff's idea which at first I was not at all in favor of, but now I admit have grown incredibly fond of and I have used this trick on several recordings I have done since.  When mixing I used it more heavily in the exposed parts but dialed it back for the dense sections to maintain a consistent and defined low end. Of course and as always,  compression was applied relentlessly at all stages of production. 


Bass Tracking: 
'87 Fender Precision Bass MIJ
-DI: Grace m501 (NOT USED)
-Amp1: Prototype B15 fliptop clone > AK47 > Lindell 6x > Lindell 7x
-Amp2: 72 Fender Twin Reverb > ML52 > Lindell 6x > Lindell 7x

Bass Mixing: 
-Both bass tracks were summed and mixed in mono through a 1073 console module and a Rev G 1176


Jeff Guitars 

In the session Jeff has 3 guitar busses: the main rhythm track which goes pretty much throughout the song, a high voiced double in the intro, and the lead over the solo section.  As I explained before, a huge factor in how this track sounds is how little space the drums take up.  I made this choice in some part because I knew that Jeff envisioned big and spacious guitars as a defining element of the production.  With this in mind we used a fairly elaborate amp/pedal setup try and capture a lush, wide sound for Jeff's rhythm guitars.  Jeff played his Strat which went straight into his pedalboard (with the Timmy overdrive, El Cap Delay, and Timeline Delay on).  We took the right output of the El Cap (pre Timeline) and went straight into Jeff's Twin Reverb for our dry(er) signal.  Then the left output of the Timeline was routed to Mike's pedalboard (on which we used different combinations of Malekko Vibrato and Small Stone), through to his Tweed Deluxe.  The right output was routed through a Big Muff and a Whetstone into Natalies 70' Bassman head and custom 1x15 cab.  After some very careful tweaking of delay times and modulation I feel like we arrived at a very clear yet panoramic result.  One particular point of interest is that a very crucial step was methodically moving the mics on each amp around until we found a phase relationship that really complimented the way I had the tracks panned (because of how delicate the panning was, I pretty much committed to the stereo placements when we tracked and never really messed with them throughout the rest of the process).  While we maintained the same basic idea throughout all the parts, we changed some of the settings for key sections in the arrangement, most notably in the intro where Jeff used a Bit-Crushed slow 1/4 note delay on the timeline.  Also, just like in pretty much every song on this record, at the end we sent the El Capistan into self oscillation (a technique we lovingly dubbed the 'El Cap Freakout').

We wanted the guitar solo to be more in the world of the drums: small, mono, and tape-y.  So we used some subtle pitch vibrato, wonky tape delay, and midrange-heavy overdrive.  We also just ran it all through Jeff's new Mojo Vibe (mostly cause he just got it and we were all stoked on how it sounded). The overall result to me came out like a strange/broken sounding Leslie

Jeff Rhythm Tracking: 
Fender USA Standard Stratocaster
-Chain 1: Timmy > El Capistan > Twin Reverb > Dragonfly > Lindell 6x > Lindell 7x
-Chain 2: " > " > Timeline > Malekko Vibrato > Small Stone > Tweed Deluxe > 421 > Lindell 6x
Chain 3: " > " > " > Big Muff > Whetstone > Bassman > AK47 > Grace m501

Jeff Solo Tracking:  
-Strat > Timmy > The Goose > Vibrato > El Cap > Mojo Vibe > Twin Reverb > ML52 >Lindell 6x > Lindell 7x

Jeff Guitar Mixing: 
Each bus had some digital processing, mostly just high pass filtering and mild EQing (as always, chopping out that 500hz... I hate 500hz). All the rhythm guitars were sent through 2 1073 modules and a Vintech 609CA.  And the lead guitar was sent through its own 1073 module with a different EQ setting and sent lightly to my Spring FX bus feeding Lakehouse's AKG BX-5 Stereo Spring Reverb.


Mike Guitars 

 On Mush, Mike played 2 guitar tracks: an electric rhythm that goes throughout most of the song, and a sparkly overdub on an acoustic tuned to nashville tuning.  Aside from  his outro parts, in this song Mike plays the fairly straightforward content that really holds the arrangement together.  He played his Tele through the Malekko Vibrato (part of what I consider Mike's sonic "signature" on this record) and a quick slap delay into his Tweed Deluxe.  One particularly cool part is when he octave doubles the bass line in the solo section.  It creates such a great thickening in the rhythm section and opens up a ton of space for the solo and the comp-y Wurli part that enters there.  My absolute favorite piece of ear candy in the whole song is Mike's guitar parts on the last few bars of the song.  At this point the bass and Jeff's guitar are reinforcing the swinging/chugging 1/4 note pattern of the song while Natalie is quoting her tom triplet (1/8 note trips) motif from the previous songs, being reinforced by the matching Wurlitzer filigree.  All the while the female background vocals are building up dense layered harmonies on the beat.  Then, for the last four bars Mike plays this syncopated straight 1/16 note figure on electric and doubles it on an airy sounding acoustic guitar that I mic'd from a distance.  It creates this swirling polyrhythm that really brings the album to a climactic close.  It took a few takes to get it to sit perfectly, but I felt that the result is a really special sonic texture that I am super proud of.

Mike Electric Guitar Tracking
 American Deluxe Telecaster > Malekko Vibrato > Bearfoot Minivibe (in outro) > Boss DD-6 > Fender Blues Deluxe > Dragonfly > Lindell 6x

Mike Acoustic Guitar Tracking 
Sigma DR-28 in Nashville Tuning > 2 Dragonflies in a spaced pair > 2 Lindell 6x > 2 Lindell 7x

 Mike Guitar Mixing
Mike's guitars had the same treatment and bussing as Jeff's.  Some acoustic was also sent to the Spring FX send.

 Instrumental Overdubs: Keyboards, Vibraphone, Tambourine, Stereoized Guitar

The song opens with 4 massive whole note chords.  In the mix a lot of the character of these comes from a dry Rhodes, a dry Wurli, and a bit-crushed 1/4 delay Rhodes padding on the downbeat of each measure.  The bit-crushed delay Rhodes was a big part of Jeff's vision for this intro and he played all three when we did keyboard overdubs.  

I played the other Wurli parts that enter in the solo and stay through till the end.  I particularly like the way that the twinkly hemiola-triplets came out in the last 4 bars, specifically the way that they interact with Mike's nashville acoustic. 

The Vibes were one of the last overdubs recorded in this song.  They blended really well with the chimey guitars and keyboards.  One very peculiar sound we fell upon was I tried to sort of 'musically' slow down and speed up the motor that drives the tremolo fan during the beginning of the outro. 

The Tambourine was the the VERY last overdub.  We actually tracked in the middle of mixing the song at Lakehouse.  Jeff and I both felt that the back half of the song needed the rhythmic push.

It took a while to figure out a guitar sound that suited the transition into the big 9 part harmony section.  We wanted it to get weird.  So we took 2 twin reverbs and ran out of the Timeline's stereo outs.  The only difference is I put a Clarinot delay in line right before the 2nd amp and used a 100% wet single 50ms(ish) delay using the Haas effect to make the guitars sound unrealistically wide.  Jeff played the part once with only Mojo Vibe on, and then doubled it with generous El Cap.

Keyboard Tracking 
Dry Rhodes: Rhodes 73 Mk1 > Countrymen DI > Lindell 6x
Dry Wurli: Wurlitzer 200A > El Cap> Countrymen DI > Lindell 6x
Bit Crushed Rhodes: Rhodes 73 > BugCrusher > El Cap > Countrymen DI > Lindell 6x

Vibraphone Tracking
Musser M44 > Spaced Pair Dragonflies > 2 Lindell 6x

Tambourine Tracking 
Vintage Grover Tambo > ELAM 251 > 1084 > TG1

 Overdub Mixing

All keyboards and vibraphones were sent to a stereo set of 1073's through an SSL bus compressor.  The Tambourine was sent to the drum bus and also bussed considerably to the Spring FX send.


Vocals 

 In my opinion this is really the one spot on the record where Jeff sings a proper lead vocal.  No doubling, no frills, just a bit of tape slap.  I'm really proud of the performance he gave on this song and I think that having such an honest sounding vocal on top of such a quirky production and at the end of  such an elaborate 6 song journey is really charming.  We recorded it in my large carpeted basement with my AK47 and some vibey lighting.  I really pushed Jeff, who already pushes himself mind you, into going through a lot of takes seeking a genuine performance.  The final product is the culmination of about 28 full takes if you add up the punches.

The background vocals on this song were very special as well.  Other than Jeff's lead, all of the harmonies and BVs are female voices. Aside from Natalie's voice, we were fortunate to have had the help of the very talented Tara and Christi Hart who each sang and doubled a unique harmony in the big section.  I think the textures came out really lush and blended well.  For the outro "na na na na" part we had the girls stand around the AK47 in omni and sing the part in different octaves and starting on different parts of the measure.  The result was antiphonal and the child-like melody makes the part feel very jarringly innocent.  At least to me.  I don't know.  I obviously get really into this stuff...  Thanks for bearing with me.

Lead Vocal Tracking: 

Jeff > AK47 > Lindell 6x > Lindell 7x

Background Vocal Tracking 
Girls > AK47 > Lindell 6x

Lead Vocal Mixing: 
Jeff's lead vocal through the Kramer MPX plugin for some warmth and a pre-everything tape slap.  I like to do that sometimes so that the compressors the vocal hits on the console glue in the delay and make it a part of the vocal sound.  Then it went out to the console through a 1073 which fed a Retro STA-Level.  The vocal was sent to the Spring FX send. 

Background Vocal Mixing: 
I put an instance of the La2a plugin on each of the 8 harmony tracks.  Then I bussed them to a group in ProTools and used the Puig Fairchild 670 plugin on the bus to blend and squeeze the whole harmony section.  After that both the harmonies and outro group vocals fed their own dedicated sets of 1073s on the console.  They were both sent in different amounts to the Spring FX send and my Plate FX send (Using a Lexicon PCM96 on the 'dark plate' setting).

Dollys Production Series - Intro

This Saturday, November 9, my band Dollys will be releasing our first EP.  We worked really hard on it and the recording itself is the result of a very atypical and cosmopolitan production process that my bandmates and I explored from fall of 2013 through this past summer.   We recorded the tracks in over 7 different locations and used the variety of spaces and resources to try to create interesting sounds.  I thought this could be an opportunity to start a series in this blog where I can get super nerdy and take an in depth look into the production of each song on the record.

Dollys will be releasing the EP for 5$ on our Bandcamp this weekend however each week for the next 6 weeks we will release 1 additional new song for free streaming.  My blog entries will coincide each sunday with each new release.

This sunday I will have my first entry in the series for "Mush," the sixth track on the EP.  

Stay tuned!

First post...

So my name is Erik and this is now my blog.  Great.  

I hope to use this as a way to share my thoughts about and experiences with recording/playing/writing/performing music, building things, obsessing over gear and probably international soccer every once and a while.

I am a big believer that creativity (or growth of any kind for that matter) really cannot happen in a vacuum.  With this blog my main hope is really going to be that through sharing I can hopefully start some discussions and provoke thought on a few things that I find interesting and devote my time to.