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Mice Parade

June 1, 2007
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“It was on loan from a local engineer friend of mine named Alan Douches,” says Pierce. “What I didn’t know when he gave it to me was that it was very broken, and getting a broken dinosaur up to speed isn’t just a matter of one thing here or there.”

Unfortunately Pierce was unable to get the behemoth tape machine repaired in time for the recording of this album, so he did something he’d never done before: tracked into a computer.

To appreciate the gravity of this transition, you have to understand Pierce’s previous methodology. Mice Parade albums revolve around a mix of exotic instrumentation, non-Western scales, and odd time signatures. A drummer by trade and a former student of ethnomusicology, Pierce injects a dynamic energy into his songs that is both loose and calculated. To retain an organic feel, Pierce would record most of his parts in one take. Songs were born through a series of mixing board mutes and spontaneous effects.

“I had a half-inch, 16-track Fostex, but three of the tracks were broken,” says Pierce of his previous machine. “I would fill up nine or ten tracks, maybe bounce the drums down to two, and keep bouncing down to stereo channels until I filled up the machine. If I felt I needed a few more channels, I would dump the 13 tracks onto ADAT.”

Furthermore, extreme pitch-shifting and melody layering — a favorite tactic of Pierce’s — was next to impossible to do without tape. On “Swing” and “Circle None,” two tracks on the new record that feature multiple guitars, everything had to be done live by hand. “That’s a clear example of a technology that the computer can’t handle in any way,” admits Pierce. “It was the worst part of recording this album.”

To help with the record, he enlisted the help of Peter Katis (Interpol, Spoon) on the mix, and Jeremy Backofen as engineer. Regardless of the tracking inconvenience, hallmarks of the Mice Parade sound are still intact: airy keyboard passages, furiously strummed guitars, and fuzzed out drums. The relocation was particularly advantageous for the recording of the latter. On “Tales Of Las Negras,” a swinging, Bonham-esque groove provides the backbone, kicking off the track with nothing more than a distant room mic before folding in the rest of the kit.

“I used an Electro-Voice RE-20 for the kick drum and floor tom, a Røde NT1-A for the snare, Shure SM57s for toms, Neumann KM 85s for overheads, and Audio-Technica 4033s along with some old broken toy mics for the room,” explains Pierce. “I take the ‘toy’ mics and usually distort them, then add them into the mix.”

Pierce’s guitar tone is achieved with the help of two primary weapons: a handmade Spanish guitar from Ruben Flores and a classic Fender Jaguar. Inspired by flamenco rhythms, Pierce puts the nylon front and center in the mix, using a Teletronix LA-2A to boost the sound without making it too harsh. For Pierce, a little bit of distortion goes a long way. Tracks like “Sneaky Red” and “Snow” get their edge by running through multiple channels of extreme compression and EQ; pedals and effects processors need not apply. Along with a pair of Alesis 3630 compressors, Pierce uses the ever-popular Urei 1176 to add a bit of sparkle and edge, as well as a pair of Avalon VT-737SPs which, as Pierce tells, are used for the mix EQ.

To cap off the signal path, everything passes into a new Soundcraft Ghost 24-channel board, while the monitoring is done though a combination of old Tannoys and a pair of Yamaha NS10s — a step up in terms of sound quality and clarity from Mice Parade’s fifth album, Obrigado Saudade, which was mixed on a Mackie 24-8 without the help of the Avalon pres (or any mix compression or EQ for that matter).

Once again Pierce steps into his role as the primary singer for Mice Parade, but a duet with Múm vocalist Kristin Valtysdottir on “Double Dolphins On The Nickel” is a vocal highlight. Pierce says, laughingly: “She needs extreme and heavy compression because she makes no attempt to give you an even level or consistently face the microphone.”

As with previous Valtysdottir collaborations, this session wasn’t without its idiosyncrasies. “It was nighttime in the fall,” remembers Pierce, “and the crickets were so loud outside that she decided to open up the door, pull the mic as far as the cable would reach, and let ’em sing.”

It was hardly the optimal way to track in a vocal, but Pierce exemplifies anything but a traditional production style. Says Pierce of the process: “It’s about not caring enough to redo things 20 times along the way.”

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