Some artists have lofty goals. And some, like NYC dance punk duo Heartsrevolution, want to change the world. “I want to make something new,” says singer/rebel Leyla “Lo” Safari. “I want a revolution.”
Inside Gigantic Studios, where Lo and her musical other half, Ben Pollack, have been working on their debut full-length, Ride or Die, with producer Chris Zane, there is an air of anything being possible.
“Imagine back in the era of American Bandstand, when kids were listening to rock-and-roll for the first time and figuring out how to dance and express themselves, it’s that kind of dance music,” says Lo of the Ride or Die sound. “A hip-hop inspired rock-androll dance record . . . if Ad Rock and Kathleen Hanna finally made their love child, it would be born of Ride or Die essence.”
The album began in typical Heartsrevolution fashion— Ben producing the beats and synth-based dance music in Ableton Live, and recording Lo’s riot-grrl-style vocals and other out-of-the-box sounds via a cheap audio interface. Then they hit the studio with Zane.
“Our demos are like pencil drawings,” says Ben, “and I wanted a producer to take these pencil drawings and render them in 3D.”
Of late, Zane has worked with a number of electro- and synth-based artists including Passion Pit and The Hundred In The Hands, and he’s rooted in post-punk and indie-rock, as demonstrated on records with Les Savy Fav, The Walkmen, and Tokyo Police Club. Sonically, Hearts Revolution lives where those worlds collide, applying the DIY punk aesthetic and ethos to dance music, and dipping it in florescent pink.
“So much of the presentation of this music is the sonic character,” says Zane. “It’s all built-in.” That is: “everything in the red in Ableton. A compressor on the master fader—everything just clamped down, super compressed.”
The challenge for Zane was to keep this sonic character that’s inherent to the songwriting, but elevate the sonic quality with better equipment. They replaced soft synths with analog synths, recorded guitars, supplemented drum parts with samples from Zane’s library, and recorded live crashes.
Lo’s vocals were largely re-recorded in the studio, though a few tracks that she recorded in the bathtub via the stock iPhone hands-free mic made the cut. In the studio, the vocal chain was consistently “an AKG C12 destroyed through a preamp destroyed through an 1176 destroyed through a Distressor.”
Mixing Ride or Die, Zane applied some unorthodox techniques to approximate that “clamped down” Hearts Revolution sound. “I’m compressing the hell out of the stereo bus with the Alesis 3630 that Daft Punk is famous for using. That 3630 is doing at a minimum of 6dB of gain reduction on the whole mix.”
“I always do a lot of layered compression and usually get some very drastic sounds, but with this record, everything is pushed way too far and then brought back over the edge a tiny bit,” Zane describes. “It’s the loudest record I’ve ever mixed. We’re printing back into Pro Tools at like –1. Crazy loud. But that’s just what we’re going for.”