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In the Studio: Sarah Jaffe with McKenzie Smith

July 24, 2014

Above: Sarah Jaffe with McKenzie Smith

SINGER/COMPOSER SARAH JAFFE’S ALBUM DON’T DISCONNECT (KIRTLAND) has the sounds of synths and acoustic instruments that were manipulated to seem synthesized. Drummer/producer McKenzie Smith worked with Jaffe in his Redwood Studio (Denton, Texas; redwooddenton. com), which he owns with bandmate Joey McClellan.

Jaffe’s new songs started with sketches that she’d bring into Smith’s studio to flesh out, with engineer Jordan Martin capturing the action to Pro Tools. “She had cool ideas, but they were 45-second bits,” Smith says. “I would get a rhythmic idea and a groove, maybe get the bass drum sound I wanted first; some of that sounds like an electronic kick drum, but it’s actually a small marching bass drum that I have. I would beef it up and sometimes make it sound electronic in the mix. It has the human element and the processed, digital element.”

Then, Smith and keyboardist Evan Jacobs would layer in keys and synths. “Sarah and I would try out simple lines and lay down synth ideas, and then for more complex stuff, we had Evan,” Smith says. “One sound people will recognize is a [Roland] Juno 60 I have that’s temperamental. If you get a cool sound going, you better hurry and record it before you lose it!”

Nord and Prophet keyboards were also used. A Moog Little Phatty supplied the bass lines on all but three tracks.

Smith’s studio is in a 1,200-square-foot out building on the same property as his late-’60s home. There’s a small guest apartment, tracking room, iso booth, and a control room, where Jaffe ended up recording a lot of her vocals.

“The studio vibe was extremely relaxed,” Smith says. “She’d be doing a ‘scratch vocal,’ sitting on the couch in the control room. We had an SM7 up at all times, and she’d say, ‘Let me lay down this thing real fast.’ But, listening back later, she would say, ‘Could we just keep that vocal take? I really like it.’

“Sarah is an extremely consistent singer, though. She’s great all the time. So if we went back to redo anything, it was to get better control over the sound, never because of her performance.”

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