In the Studio: Sonya Kitchell

The making of Sonya Kitchell's album 'We Come Apart'
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Artist/composer Sonya Kitchell laid the groundwork for her lovely album We Come Apart in the quiet environs of a friend’s barn in western Massachusetts. There, she created spare guitar-and-voice or piano-and-voice arrangements that would later be fleshed out with drums or horns, or very little else, as the song seemed to need.

The songs themselves had appeared over the five years since her previous album, Convict of Conviction. “These songs were pretty much written when I went to record them, and most of them had been demoed out at least once,” Kitchell says. “I had plenty of time to write a lot of songs; it was more about deciding which ones would make the cut.”

Kitchell’s tracking setup in the barn. Kitchell installed herself in the barn with her laptop and the Neumann TLM49 microphone that she has used for her own voice since the microphone was given to her when she was just 18. She also had the use of some borrowed Manley preamps and an Apogee Duet interface, and her friend and multi-instrumentalist collaborator Shahzad Ismaily brought along a Brauner microphone that was employed to record every instrument in the barn. Kitchell recorded and produced herself, with Ismaily’s input and co-production of two tracks.

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“Shazhad came up and said, ‘Why don’t we use Reaper [as a recording platform]?’” Kitchell says. “It’s an open-source recording program that is updated constantly; it’s built by programmers and engineers. Nobody else uses it, and any engineer friend who saw I was using Reaper would start laughing. I had previously used Logic and I do like Logic more, but Reaper did the job and it’s free.”

The tone of Kitchell’s clear, sweet voice and the spare instrumentation that she captured in the barn—including Ismaily’s contributions; cellos by Isabel Castellvi and Ismaily’s partner, Gyda Valtysdottir; and Findlay Brown on acoustic guitar—was enhanced by the natural, untreated acoustics of the barn studio.

her Neumann TLM49 vocal mic. “I loved the sound of the barn as it existed,” Kitchell says. “It was rather warm and woody, and there was certainly lots of natural reverb in the room. I made my first two albums in nice, big studios, and I thought that was the only way you could make a ‘professional’ album, but this blew the top off of that concept for me. I saw you could really make it however you want.”

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Kitchell’s tracks were embellished further in several other studios. “We added tambourine, or more guitar, or drums,” Kitchell says. “My friend Skye Steel did some of the string arrangements; I sent him [reference] tracks, and he recorded strings himself in his apartment.

“The Dap-Kings played some horns in Bryce Goggin’s studio, which is called Trout,” she continues. “Bryce also recorded one track, and he helped me mix the album.”

“I printed all mixes to my quarter-inch Ampex AG440b at 15 ips,” Goggin says. The tape was RMG900. There was very little summing that took place in the box during the mixing process,” he continues. “I have a Neve 8028 [console] in my studio, which is where most of the mixing takes place.

“Sonya’s vocal would typically run through a channel on the desk with a 1064. I would use either one of my 2254e’s or an API 525 as the main compressor. If additional equalization was needed, I generally would insert one of my Melcore GME20s. I would use a super primetime to provide some interaural time cues, and either my EMT 140 or my heavily modified Echoplate III for reverb. A lot of the distortion I would add came from my Federal AM447, which is quite creamy.”

“Bryce was a total integral part of the record,” Kitchell says. “The sounds came from different places, but at the end, we re-amped a lot of guitars, we ran everything through his tape machine, and he tied it all together.”