From their gritty psychedelia/classicrock incarnation to their more recent forays into an acoustic-laced, alterna- Americana sound, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has always been the kind of band that intuitively goes for a sound but refuses to get fussy about it. For their new, self-produced album, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (on their own Abstract Dragon label), BRMC rehearsed and recorded at Basement Studio in Philadelphia.
BRMC—(left to right:)—Peter Hayes, Robert Levon, and Leah Shapiro.
“At Basement,” guitarist/singer Peter Hayes says, “it comes down to the ability for all of us to live and eat together under the same roof, and you have the ability to walk downstairs and rehearse any time you want to.”
The band—also featuring bassist/guitarist/singer Robert Levon Been and Raveonettes drummer Leah Shapiro—wrote and rehearsed 20 tracks at Basement. After recording drum and bass tracks in four days in Los Angeles, they returned to Philly to add guitars and vocals.
The sound they sought came about in the band’s favored blend of analog and digital technologies. While the studio’s Mackie board was used as a central meeting point throughout the production process, BRMC recorded to tape, dumped tracks to Pro Tools for editing and mixing, and then went back to tape.
For tracking, the band relied primarily on its own TASCAM MS-16 1- inch machine, often using it as a tonedamaging box. “I like the way it distorts when you overdrive the channels, and I have it clipping in the red the whole time,” Hayes says. “When you really work with it, it gets a real crunchy sound. Every once in a while I get lucky and get this kind of Beatles thing going on.”
For bands seeking that gritty ring of real-rock authenticity, it’s become common practice to capture the bigbooming sound of the room. Not so for BRMC. “It’s almost all direct-inject into the board,” Hayes says. “For getting a nice close-miked sound, I’ve got a Coles 4038 pancake ribbon mic that works real well on the drums and guitar. But for the most part, it’s always been kind of a challenge. It’s easy to get ambient room sounds from miking the guitar, but it’s a lot easier to skip all the wires and just run straight into the board because [otherwise] you find yourself EQ-ing the mic and tweaking knobs, dealing with the room, and dealing with the amp and microphone.”
But what’s ultimately important are the results he gets, right? “I’m still debating that!” He says with a laugh. “You know, I like more depth, and so you kind of fake that by putting on five or six guitars to hopefully give it that feel of more depth than a room would have.”
To create that sense of depth, Hayes employs a small but trusty array of digital plug-ins for compression, EQ, reverb/delay, and other enhancements. He likes Digidesign’s various multi-tap delays and reverbs, including the D-Verb, favoring their ease of use for a quick slapback sound or whatever sounds good at the time. He also uses the Fairchild compressor/limiter plug-ins and Waves E-series EQ.
For vocal microphones, the band relies on an old standard, the Shure SM57, along with this little thing that looks like a peppershaker that Hayes got in a pawnshop, the Marshall MXL 603 condenser microphone.
“The vocals in our band are not secondary,” Hayes says, “but we’re not a band that puts them way up front. I like the way the Shure and MXL 603 compress on their own when you yell into ’em—they really hold their ground.”
Meanwhile, the versatility of Hayes’ Gibson ES-335 guitar has never let him down. “It’s all 335, and for me it’s a feel thing,” he says. “The majority of our songs start out on acoustic guitar, then move over to the 335; it’s always felt more meaty to me—you feel like you have a real guitar in your hands. And with all the different tunings that I use, it makes it a lot easier because it holds the tunings very accurately and precisely.”
In the studio and onstage, Hayes’ 335 undergoes extensive warping through a small selection of stompboxes, including Seymour Duncan distortion/ overdrive pedals. “I like using the Duncans a lot; I use them on the bass as well and run that straight into the board, though it sounds great through an amp, too. I also use [Alesis] QuadraVerb for reverb stuff that involves these howling kinda sounds— it’s like a freight train!”