Producer/engineer Matt Wallace has known the members of Hoobastank since they signed their first record deal with Island in 2001. The band went with another producer for their eponymous first album, but they all remained friends. Then several albums later, Wallace had coffee with guitarist Dan Estrin.
“We had some conversations about music, and we played him some new music,” Estrin says. “We started showing up at his studio—and then we just committed. We didn’t want to talk to any other producers. It was great to have someone onboard as the team captain who has a positive outlook,” says Estrin.
The new material that the bandmembers had been working on in the privacy of their home studios may surprise some of the band’s fans, as keyboards and programming take a much more prominent role. Estrin acknowledges that this time he did much more writing within Logic, as opposed to on guitar, than in the past, as did bass player Jesse Charland and drummer Chris Hesse.
“We were all working individually and funneling demos to Matt,” Estrin says. “I was using tons of sounds in Logic and playing with them as I go.”
“I was working in a separate room on a simple Mac and small 2-channel interface and a 2-octave controller keyboard,” says bass player Jesse Charland. “It was really just an experimental lob-it-all-at-the-wall kind of thing. Each song had probably 10 to 20 sounds or parts that I thought were interesting. Poor Matt had lots to distill.
“I was using Reaktor for sequence and weird noise stuff, Battery, some Kontakt drum things, a ton of Trilian for sub-bass and pads; and then dumping plug-ins to taste. Whatever sounded good at the time. I think, from me, everything leaned toward dirty low-end electronics, pad-type fillers, a lot of drum programming, guitars and bass.”
When it came time to turn those demos into finished tracks, Wallace and the band began a process of replacing any necessary parts one by one and muting them in the demo recordings.
“The demos were really good roadmaps,” Wallace says. “It’s a unique record for these guys, so the challenge as a producer was to find the common ground between what the world knows as Hoobastank—the type of guitar sounds and weight and momentum their songs have had in the past—and the guys’ current perspective on music and what inspires them today.”
In the title track for the album, “Push Pull,” listeners can hear the interplay between Estrin’s guitar work and those softsynths.
Estrin also found it challenging to find that common ground. “On previous albums, I knew exactly what I wanted to do as a guitar player. The pickups were almost pre-produced. I would know: I want to use a Fender Stratocaster on this next pickup on this verse of this particular song. But on this record, even though I wrote half of the music, I was unsure. I would sit at home with the music and jam on top of it by myself, and I’d create several options for parts that I’d present to the band and say, ‘Which one do you guys think is the most appropriate for this song?’ ‘Which do you like better?’”
The guitar parts were first to be cut and replaced in the demos, so they became an important point of departure for the rest of the recording process. Wallace and Estrin give us an inside look at guitar tracking in Wallace’s facility, Studio Deluxe.
“Dan is a really unique guitar player,” Wallace says. “He’s got a sound that’s really rocking, punchy, and muscular, but also he creates a sonic landscape; he has a cinematic, panoramic approach to guitar. He uses pedals that give this wide, glossy sheen and a rhythmic quality as well.”
“For the majority of the spacey, reverby sounds, I used my TC Electronic Flashback,” Estrin explains. “There’s also a sound on this record that’s like chopped up tremolo that’s not in time—I came across that on my Line 6 MM4. That pedal also has a flanger, chorus, tremolo, and a slicer sound that I used quite a bit with delays and for little background effects—stuff that doesn’t sound like a guitar.”
Wallace captured these sounds to Pro Tools using a blend of amps and mics from his own arsenal. “There were always two different amplifiers,” says Wallace. “We did a lot with a vintage Supro tube amp from the ’50s as well as my Fender Champ and Fender Princeton—all smaller amps.
“If we wanted something heavier, we would record Dan through a Marshall half-stack, but the main thing was, I’m not a fan of stereo that sounds the same on the left as on the right, and because Dan plays with a unique approach, we would always use slightly different amplifiers left and right. Generally, on one side we’d have the Fender Princeton, which is a little on the cleaner side so you can hear the articulation, and on the other side we’d have either the Supro or the Fender Champ, which doesn’t have the original speaker but has really amazing-sounding distortion that comes with it. This way we’d always have interplay between left and right: clarity and articulation on one side, and the other side more edge or fur, a more saturated sound. It’s important to have different levels of high end and distortion between the hard-panned guitar parts because that informs where there is ‘sonic room’ to add an overdub at a later time.”
Wallace captured the pair of amps using a Shure SM57 or Sennheiser 421 placed near the edge of each speaker, and possibly a Royer 121 or Coles 4038. “It varies, Wallace says, “but generally we’d use dynamic mics that could take the sound pressure and we could move them around to get proximity effect. I’d also put a condenser in the room if I wanted to blend in more of the stereo and panorama of the guitar amps.”
Also in the guitar-recording chain were, by turns, Wallace’s Neve 1073, Quad-8 C333 Chandler LDT-1 and Aurora GTQ2 mic preamps. “I also used this Chandler Germanium mic pre,” Wallace says. “It’s really interesting because it’s got a pre-gain and a post-gain [setting], and it allows you to do additive distortion to a track. I used that quite a bit whenever we used the Marshall amplifiers or with the Fender Champ, because I could get more distortion. Any time we felt like, ‘That sound is really close to what we’re looking for, but can we take it a little bit further?’ I would go to the Chandler to goose things up a bit.”
Wallace says that as other musicians’ parts got added to the tracks, and he began to present rough mixes to the band, they’d often vacillate between wanting more keys or more guitars up front.
“It was a challenging album to try to think of how best to apply myself on guitar in a different style of music,” Estrin says. “So it was great to have Matt there, because he’s just the best cheerleader and therapist!”