The debut album from Best Behavior, Good Luck Bad Karma, is frontman Alex Gruenberg’s breakup record: Gruenberg found himself in a creative frame of mind after suffering a romantic split and parting from his previous band. Next thing he knew, out poured new songs, starting with guitar-and-vocal demos, recorded to his iPhone.
“From there, I’ll go into Logic,” Gruenberg says. “I had preconceived what everything would sound like. I had a moment where I was listening to Ty Segall’s song ‘Girlfriend,’ and thought, I need to get back into writing garage rock.”
Good Luck Bad Karma has a fabulous reverb-drenched ’60s punk feel, thanks to the techniques that were used when Gruenberg recorded the songs, one instrument at a time, in John Meredith’s Mollusk Studios (Queens, N.Y.).
“Alex asked if he could work here, and we tracked a whole song that day, start to finish,” Meredith says.
After that first day, they worked at nailing down the rich, reverberant sounds of the album. “Usually I record live bands in my studio, and we go quickly,” Meredith says. “But Alex was doing most of the parts himself, so it took longer to do everything.” And Meredith means everything—he handled the project from tracking through mixing and mastering.
Meredith’s Pro Tools-based studio is situated in the basement of his home. He describes his 20x14-foot main tracking room as “just big enough” for live band recording. But recording piecemeal with Gruenberg, he had space to infuse the tracks with a roomy sound.
“My vocal chain was usually an ADK 51 tube condenser through an API pre and a Fatso compressor and then run the input via Burl B2 Bomber converters to give it more character.
“We worked on guitar sounds quite a bit,” Meredith continues. “His [Fender Deluxe Reverb] amp sounds terrific, which helps. A [Shure] 57 is always sort of a go-to mic; I also used a Royer 122 in the back, and a Beyer M201 right next to the 57, with both pointed directly at the edge of the speaker, directly in phase. I love the 57 with the 201, because 201 adds a lot of body. They just seem to play well together. Sometimes I’ll add a little of the Beyer and sometimes a lot. So, I’d have four tracks for every guitar pass, because I’d have a room mic, too.”
Meredith ran guitar mics through API 3124 mic pre’s, and through the Burl. “After that,” he says, “it’s plug-ins, plug-ins, plug-ins.” Meredith says he employs Universal Audio’s UAD Ampex 102 on almost everything. He also favors Waves’ SSL and API emulations, as well as the stock EQs in his Pro Tools rig.
As for drums, “Other than some crash cymbal overdubs that I played, they’re all fake,” Meredith says. “Alex had a Roland SBX drum pad. He played fake drums to the song, and then I would spend a couple of days editing and making the dynamics sound like a real drummer, and then we re-amped some of the tracks thru a P.A. or bass amp, but mostly that was all MIDI in the box.”
However, there’s lots of real, miked, and re-amped tambourine on the album. “Tambourine is a big part of the sound,” Meredith says. “The cymbal crashes are sort of subliminal, but they make a huge difference.”
Vocal and guitar sounds were re-amped to add layers of reverb and distortion. “My Danelectro and ’65 Fender Deluxe Reverb were the cornerstone of the sound,” Gruenberg says. “I wanted vocals and guitars to be reamped to get that washed-out reverb.”
“Any time you have multiple mics or sources, you always have issues with phase,” Meredith adds. In addition to the ADK vocal mic, I had a 57 running through his Fender amp, and we had a room mic on the amp, too. On a couple songs Alex sang through the 57, and he got terrific vocal takes, but then we had to do a lot of work to make it sound pro, and then re-amp his vocals and get everything in phase. We struggled a little with that—he usually wanted more reverb and more grit, and I would say, ‘Yeah, but we need clarity.’ I think we ended up at a really good middle ground.”
It was actually after completing the album that Gruenberg formed the band Best Behavior with bassist Alex Heigl, drummer Chris Jimenez, and guitarist Jon Mann. Now, Gruenberg has a group that can bring to life the sounds he envisioned on his own. “The best way to really get music out there is to tour,” Gruenberg says. “People want to watch you sweat and bleed all over the stage.”