In the Studio: Brooke Waggoner's Sweven

The making of Brooke Waggoner's album Sweven
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This lush, atmospheric release from artist/composer Brooke Waggoner, Sweven, began as an instrumental album, recorded in 2014. “I did two of the songs in Nashville with [engineer] Kyle Richter two years before I started making this record,” she explains. “Then I recorded piano and Rhodes in a small studio in New Orleans, where I’m from originally. I have a good friend who has a studio with a really nice Kawai upright; since I grew up learning on a Kawai, I thought that would be a nice place to get the feeling of being at home. Then I just sat on those tracks for a while.”

Brad Odun tracked drums in Logan Matheny’s Big Light studio. It was later that year, when Waggoner was on tour in China, that she was struck with some lyric ideas that felt right for the songs. “The minute I got home, I started working away, plugging lyrics into the instrumental tracks,” she says. “I put those instrumentals on a loop for days and immersed myself in them, trying to figure out: I’ve got the foundation of an album, but it’s not in a grid; how can I put lyrics in that make sense as part of a song? It was a different way to write.”

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Writing and recording are pretty fluid for Waggoner, who often works in her own studio, Turquoise Noise, in Nashville. She captures tracks to Pro Tools via her “one nice mic,” a Neumann TLM105. All of Sweven’s vocals and added keyboard textures on Sweven were recorded there.

“A lot of the organ bits and textures are from a Casio Privia or my Yamaha Motif, and then I have a mini Roland and lots of other little sound machines,” Waggoner says. “My husband’s a drummer, so we also have endless percussion in there, and we could play around with those textures, as well.”

Other parts of Sweven were captured in various owner-operated studios that Waggoner has used and liked. Bobby Shin recorded orchestral strings in Miami; Logan Matheny tracked drums and bass in Nashville; and Waggoner’s brother Phillip recorded guitars in his Houston studio. When all of the tracks were realized, Waggoner met with engineer Eddie Spear, who mixed the album at Nashville’s 16 Ton, which has since closed.

Mix engineer Eddie Spear, and friend “Brooke has concise arrangements and a great ear for production,” Spear says. “We talked about leaning into a modern aesthetic, but still having it sound like it could be from the ’70s.”

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Spear mixed all-analog on a Neotek Elan console. “We used a lot of vintage outboard gear, real tape echo and tape machines,” says Spear, who served as top engineer Vance Powell’s assistant for four years. “The majority of Brooke’s vocal sound includes the Cooper Time Cube, which we love on John Lennon’s records. We also used an Ampex ATR 102 halfinch machine for slap echo, as well as a ’50s green Echoplex. Those things sounded incredible.”

Piano sounds were also embellished to effect a better room sound: “The stereo image of the piano was absolutely perfect,” Spear says. “The sounds came from eight microphones [overheads , close mics, room mics]. I bussed all of those together and compressed as one. I also used a Universal Audio Pultec EQP1A plug-in and the UA Fairchild 670 plug-in, and added some tape delay underneath.”

Spear used parallel compression on many of the parts to create glue between tracks that had been recorded in so many different spaces. He also purposefully used the same reverbs on all of the tracks. “I had an AKG BX20 and then also a [MicMix] Master Room 305: two beautiful spring reverbs,” says Spear. “Those helped get all of the instruments to sound like they were in the same room together.”