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Bobby Birdman Pro/File: Winging It

January 1, 2010
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Bobby Birdman

Bobby Birdman

Home base: Los Angeles

Sequencer of choice: Ableton Live 6

Outboard effects processor: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi

Website: bobbybirdman.com

Bobby Birdman's electronic-folk is a strange anomaly — a mixture of daft lyrical wordplay, fantastic and original loops, and a firmly held garage-band aesthetic. The brainchild of L.A.-based musician Rob Kieswetter, the band is mostly a solo act with occasional drums by Jona Bechtolt (Yacht) and various guest backing vocals. Kieswetter recorded most of New Moods (Fryk Beat Records, 2009), his third full-length album, in his home studio. He took his Apple MacBook Pro with him to some other studios during the process and experimented with recording additional tracks.

“I have always just tinkered around with whatever is laying around in a studio,” says Kieswetter, who ended up doing some tracks at Dub Narcotic Studios in Olympia, Wash., where a few of the Matador Records bands have recorded. That studio has such a wealth of classic analog equipment and instruments that Kieswetter, a self-taught musician, would just grab and record parts on top of the basic tracks in his MacBook.

For the most part, this eclectic sound — one part Lil Wayne and one part John Cage — comes from his “anything goes” attitude; he'll often combine several styles in a musical blender to see what comes out. On the song “Dust Design,” there's a fuzz-bass (see Web Clip 1) that could fit well on a song by 50 Cent. Other tracks mimic the bizarro-beats of bands such as Little Dragon or even Sunn 0))) (minus the goth). Kieswetter says he also tried his hand at the screwed and chopped (also called “slowed and throwed”) technique common in rap, where a song is slowed down and chopped up.

Interestingly, he used an M-Audio MobilePre USB audio interface for most of the recording — a far cry from some of the higher-end units out there, but functional and small enough for bedroom recording. Kieswetter says he does not use any external compressors and tends to use low-end gear such as an MXL 990 condenser microphone, a crusty Fender Telecaster, a no-name three-quarter-size nylon string guitar he bought at thrift shop and a Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi fuzz box, which he patches into Ableton Live.

“I have used a lot of organic instruments, anything I can get my hands on, but also a lot of stuff built into Ableton Live,” Kieswetter says. “I've always been into building loops. I used to make them with reel-to-reels to put together little accompaniments. Live is set up to make the workflow easy so you can build and build and build. Sometimes I have a song mapped out, but other times I have a recorded sound that I build up. It's like building up a mountain with these grains of sonic sand.”

For Kieswetter, this process of combining sounds — such as the clapping drums on “Victory At Sea,” (see Web Clip 2) or the unpredictable rap-by-way-of-Frank Sinatra on “Bloody Mess” — is what makes a loop interesting.

“When something is too clean, it just sounds like a loop — a dead ringer,” he says. “They are so clean and so clearly done by some guy in a studio trying to make a loop. With a good loop, the source material would not be immediately identifiable. I use a lot of hand percussion, organic and analog instruments, then chop them up and manipulate them digitally.”

He says he'd like to do a traditional pop recording someday, mostly because he tries to get a clean, straight sound and record music that is listenable and not too complex. Can his blender-of-sounds approach work for a more straightforward pop record? No one really knows — except maybe Kieswetter.

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