While four of the guys are bass players, it’s not all bass all the time. Two of them switch between synth duty and doing bit parts on bass. However, on “How Do I Maintain Pt. II,” it’s all bass players on deck: Nik Kozub, Lyle Bell, Will Zimmerman, and Jason Troock.
With so many sounds competing for the same frequency space, it’s amazing the low end doesn’t sound like sludge. Fortunately, producer/multiinstrumentalist Kozub makes it work with Digidesign’s 7-band EQ and Bomb Factory’s Pultec.
For “How Do I Maintain,” Kozub asked Bell to lay down a direct Michael Jackson–esque line, followed by overdriven, complementary bass parts from himself and Zimmerman.
“I would high-pass filter those so that you’re mostly just hearing the harmonics of the distortion on the basses, while Lyle’s bass is maintaining the low-end groove,” Kozub says. “Then, Jason is just accenting on low notes, and that was low-pass filtered with no upper harmonics at all, so it gets a little bit more punch.”
In Kozub’s Pro Tools 8 studios (one with a Digi 003 and one with a Digi 002), synths are wall-to-wall, and cables run everywhere like an endless pile of spaghetti. Two Minimoog Voyagers, several Rolands (HS-60, SH-1, SH-3, and SH-101), an Oberheim Matrix 1000, a Korg MS10, a Doepfer A-100 Analog Modular System, a Future Retro Revolution, and a Sequential Circuits Pro-One are all ready to go anytime.
Kozub digs deep to tweak synth parameters. “It’s the really fun part of the job,” he says. “If we want a synth bass line to be an electro thing with a big sawtooth wave, we’ll start with that. Then, it might make sense to add a lead that is more percussive with a triangle waveform and a bit of a ping on the beginning. With all the different synths we have, a lot of the sound has to do with what kind of filters we want, and how steep we want the slope to be on the filters. So if we want something that sounds really acid-y, for example, we’ll go for a three-pole filter to try and get the sound of the old Roland TB-303.”
The guys don’t use a single software synth, but they mix in the box. Kozub tracks everything with compression—sometimes through outboard stuff such as his Empirical Labs Distressor or reissue Universal Audio 1176s—but he uses plug-in comps for sidechain effects and bus compression on the master. For the pulsing, synthducking sound in “Remind Me in Dark Times,” the Digidesign Smack! compressor is applied to the synth pad and triggered by the bass drum.
Meanwhile, combining delays with panning is a favorite pastime for Kozub, who often relies on the MXR Carbon Copy, DeltaLab Effectron, Roland Space Echo, and Massey TD5 plug-in.
“One of my favorite tricks is to take a mono bass-synth part and run it into a stereo delay,” he says. “I’ll have one side completely dry, and the other side completely wet with a really short delay—like 20 milliseconds—and no repeats, and then I’ll compress the snot out of that. This produces a huge, weird stereo image of a mono synth that slams it to either side of your mix to suddenly feel louder, but without actually eating up any headroom.”
With two drummers (Clint Frazier and Gravy) and drum samples going simultaneously, Kozub constructs grooves that cater to both rock clubs and the dancefloor.
“We are aware of what is needed for DJs to play our music in clubs,” he says, “and it’s important that the beat doesn’t disappear—even if the live drums drop out for a second. At that point, the groove should go down to a sampled drum that’s still banging on the club system. But the live drums create a lot of the dynamics that I don’t think we’d get from just using sampled drums.”
It’s a true wonder that a band from one of the coldest major cities in Canada can sound so upbeat (although their lyrics—sung through a Roland SVC-350 vocoder and by guest singer San Serac and rapper Cadence Weapon—are more downtrodden), but there’s an upside to the long, cold winters in Edmonton.
“It’s winter from the end of August to the beginning of May,” Kozub says. “And, during the winter months, you pretty much have to spend the whole time indoors, and we spend that time making music. It’s easier to resign yourself to spending 12 hours in the studio when you wouldn’t really want to go outside anyway.”