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Mixed Bag : Annie On Working With A Handful Of Producers For Diverse Sounds

January 1, 2010
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0.000AnnieWhether it’s the pre-choruses’ saccharine harmonies or the robotic march of the percussion line, there’s something about Annie’s tongue-in-cheek track, “I Don’t Like Your Band,” that’s reminiscent of Animotion’s dance rock masterpiece, “Obsession.” In fact, much of Annie’s second full-length album, Don’t Stop [Totally/Smalltown Supersound] cuts a wide swath through the sundry styles of ’80s-era pop music. But unlike many modern-day electro artists who rely on referential synth patches and drum patterns to achieve their throwback sound, Norwegian songstress Annie achieves her authentic flavor the old-fashioned way—with melody.

“I sing the melody in my living room; then I program the beats using either using a Yamaha Tenori-on, my Roland TR-808, or whatever suits the song,” says Annie from her home in Berlin. “Then I look for the perfect bass line. When I’ve got the bass line and drums that I’m happy with, I sit down and think about the lyrics, which can sometimes take five days or four minutes. When I’m satisfied with the words, I record the vocals properly, then record a synth line using a MiniKorg 700s.”

Annie’s home studio is not much more than a living room corner packed in with the aforementioned gear, plus a Korg Kaoss Pad, Kaossilator, and MacBook running Ableton Live and Apple Garageband. That basic setup gives her quick and easy access to all the parts she needs to put together a rough demo, but as longtime friend and producer Richard X points out, Annie’s demos are close to what the final recordings end up sounding like.

“The writing and the concept go hand in hand with how the demo sounds and what ideas that sparks off,” says Richard, who worked on “Songs Remind Me Of You,” the album’s first single. Xenomania’s Brian Higgins, Timo Kaukolampi, and Paul Epworth (The Rapture, Friendly Fires) also produced tracks for Don’t Stop, and each set of songs lends a specific feel to the overall body of work. Epworth, who remixed Annie’s “Heartbeat” in 2004, produced the bubbling “Don’t Stop,” “I Don’t Like Your Band,” and “Hey Annie,” which kicks off the album with pounding, collegiate marching-band style drums that Epworth tracked himself.

“It really opened up a new door, and it filled in some pieces that were missing,” says Annie of working with Epworth, who most recently produced Florence and the Machine’s Lungs. “It was very tribal. Not necessarily cluboriented, but just a lot of percussion.”

Kaukolampi, who produced much of Annie’s debut, Anniemal, was responsible for more esoteric tracks like the hazy, string-infused “Marie Cherie.” The bass line was created with a Roland Paraphonic-505, while the beats were made with a broken-down Roland TR- 808 with heavy analog delay from a Yamaha E1010. Although the 808 doesn’t function properly—after Kaukolampi tried to solder together some broken components in the unit’s mixer, the machine started emitting extra noise and distortion—the distinctly lo-fi sound complements the strings on “Marie Cherie.”

“My great mentor Yngve ‘Silverfox’ Sætre did the first violin and all the orchestral parts in Pro Tools with Soft SampleCell,” Kaukolampi says. “Then he recorded real strings on top with lots of delay feedback, plus these eerie Theremin vocals from Hannah Robinson.”

For Annie’s vocals, Kaukolampi and Sætre used a ’60s-era, East German Neumann Gefell UM 57 mic, UA 1176LN compressor, UA LA-610 channel strip, and an early ’70s Audiotronics 501 “Son of 36 Grand” mixing board.

The high band in the EQ of the console helped maintain the air and the sassiness of her tone while keeping it from sounding thin. “The top end of that one is extremely sweet and airy,” Sætre says. “Turn it to two o’clock and any vocal or snare drum sounds like a warm pacific breeze.” Mixing engineer Matt Gray would also roll off around 200 and 500Hz and then boost at 8kHz on Annie’s voice.

“I also love slapback delay on Annie’s vocals,” Kaukolampi says. “An Altai Analog Delay effects unit and a Binson Echorec were used for slapback. Longer delays were done with an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. For reverb, I used an old EMT 140 plate, then some slight modulation from a Yamaha SPX90.”

With the help of engineer Pete Hofmann, Richard X approached his session using a Neumann U 87 through a Tube-Tech MEC 1A with light compression. To help smooth out Annie’s vocals on “Songs Remind Me Of You,” three lead tracks were used, along with a few interweaving vocal parts and echoes that added lushness to the chorus.

“The MEC 1A has a very gentle overall compression, and then we’d use a Waves or Pro Tools compressor in the same track,” Richard says. “Processingwise, there’s also AMS RMX-16 reverb and AMS DMX chorusing on the vocals, alongside the more plug-in-based HD processing on the Pro Tools|HD rig.”

Although Annie created demos for most of the songs on Don’t Stop, she leans on the help of a producer to, as she says, “fill out the pieces.”

“There’s a certain amount of trust with Annie, as we’ve worked together a few times over the years,” Richard says. “We’re on the same wavelength in the studio, and she trusts we’ll be able to make something she likes.”

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