“Until that moment when we all feel the magic, it’s a constant pursuit to push the song as far as possible,” says Dallas-based producer/engineer/musician Beau Bedford. He recorded the punk- and new wave-influenced roots album Don’t Talk About It (Bloodshot Records) by Australian-born artist Ruby Boots, and his relentless pursuit of studio “magic” has born fruit. Check out the video for the opening track from this project, “It’s So Cruel.”
“When I’m working with any artist, a huge part is preparing for the studio,” Bedford says. “I went out to Nashville where she lives, and all we did was just woodshed on songs. We tried to put together what we thought would be not only a well-rounded record, but also something that had a real direction, purpose, and meaning.
“Bex [Chilcott, Ruby Boots’ given name] is one of the baddest women I know, and a really good human being. It was so cool to see her songwriting flourish and develop great heat and great direction. By the time we got to the studio, we had a solid idea of our arrangements. The band’s really quick, so all they had to do was hear the arrangement one time and we’re off to the races.”
Bedford is co-owner of Modern Electric Sound Recorders, a four-year-old setup built into a 40-year-old studio. “I have a partner named Jeffrey Saenz, and he found the space,” Bedford says. “It’s one of the oldest recording houses in Dallas. It was built in 1967. Soon as you walk in, it just oozes vibe.”
Also bringing the good vibes was Bedford’s band, The Texas Gentlemen: an in-demand session group that has been referred to as Dallas’ answer to Wrecking Crew. Multi-instrumentalist Bedford plays organ as well as some guitar, piano and percussion on Ruby Boots’ album, alongside guitarists Nik Lee and Ryan Ake, bassist Chase McGillis, keyboardist Daniel Creamer and drummer McKenzie Smith.
“We had gone through Nashville and did a show in a bar, on our way out to the Newport Folk Festival where we were going to play behind Kris Kristofferson. Bex came out and sang on ‘Me and Bobby McGee.’ Of course the two vibes were nothing alike, but it helped us get into the song before we played with Kris and led to us making an album together.
“When we’re making records at my studio, we always try to get a live setup,” Bedford continues. “We’re always getting basic tracks—a live rhythm section—and we’re always putting ourselves in a position to keep a vocal take in case we get something special.
“On Bex’s record, we typically had drums, guitar and bass out in the live room and Bex in the control room with me on headphones while I’m listening to the mix through the speakers. We overdubbed most of Bex’s vocals, but there are always moments when we keep the original live take.”
Guitar amps were placed in the main tracking room with the players—a pair of Fender Tweed Deluxes—as well as various larger models that Bedford switched out to serve the song.
“We’ve got two iso cabs that we will put different speakers in, and we’ll mix or choose from all of those, depending on the track,” Bedford says. “I use this ribbon mic called a Stager SR-2N. It’s amazing with fat low end. It really tamps down the highs but in a really transient way. If you want it, you can boost the treble, but the way it treats the highs is so appealing. On ‘It’s So Cruel,’ we took really harsh guitar tones—fuzz, overdriven—and on the stuff that we got from those mics, the top end was handled so well.”
Lead vocals, also terrifically distorted on the opening track, were captured via a variety of mics to allow for a choice of vocal sounds: another SR-2N, a Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD409, “always searching for the right mic pairing to go with whatever tone we’re seeking out in the moment.,” Bedford says. “While I was engineering, I would play guitar as well. I had a Fender Strat that I would plug straight into my console and then run the line into a [Thermionic Culture] Culture Vulture—a harmonic distortion piece of rack gear.
“That first song is a great example of some things we did on this record. We ended up working on that song a bunch and came up with that intro, the chromatic chords walking up and down. That was very T. Rex-y—a super Marc Bolan thing to do.
“We talked about how the album should have some edge like that. One thing I hate is getting an artist stuck into a defined role. ‘Ruby Boots: You’re a country artist. You better sound like this because that’s what your last stuff sounded like.’ I love an artist finding their voice and on this record, I think Bex made huge leaps in finding her real voice and finding a palette that makes her feel really comfortable going out and taking it to the streets.”