In the Studio: Chris Grainger with Future Unlimited

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Future Unlimited Engineer/producer/studio owner Chris Grainger describes one of the bands he’s working with, Future Unlimited, as sounding like “Depeche Mode in Nashville,” where he and the band are based. Grainger has worked with rock luminaries like Switchfoot and Wilco, but lately devotes considerable time to developing and recording newer artists in his studio, Undertow.

“The process with Future Unlimited is very collaborative,” Grainger says. “They do a bit of programming and synthesis in their home studios, then sing scratch vocal takes to get melodic ideas down. From there we discuss what songs we all are feeling the strongest about.”

Those early ideas usually begin in Ableton Live or Garageband; then keyboardist/programmer Sam D’Ameilo bounces guide tracks into Pro Tools to create a guide for the recording sessions.

“We rebuild the basic arrangement, and we track drums and bass live together,” Grainger explains. “After that, it’s guitars, maybe layers of synths which Sam will work on at his studio, then vocals with Dave Miller as the tracks are close to being complete. The synths are multilayered and come from a variety of regular synths, soft synths, and virtual instruments. They spend a lot of time combing through patches and tweaking to get custom settings that mimic the sounds they are after.”

“In the small room [at Undertow], we use the Korg Polysix for nearly everything, from pads to leads to bass to arpeggiated bass to faking a guitar,” says D’Ameilo. “We can’t get our hands on a real [Yamaha] CS-80, so we use a soft-synth VST for that; the leads and pads on it are incredible. For arpeggiated sequences, [we ’ll be] sitting with the Minimoog D for days.”

Miller’s vocals are recorded through a Peluso 251 mic, via a Vintech V73i pre, Empirical Labs Distressor, and a UA 1176. “After that, there’s copious amounts of reverb and delay being used on the back end,” Grainger says. “I tend to lean toward the UAD Lexicon 224 reverb and Sound Toys Echoboy to achieve the lush ’80s vocal sound they’re after.”