In the Studio: Two Gallants

Recording 'We Are Undone' With Karl Derfler

THE DUO Two Gallants rocked the birds from the trees, recording their latest album We Are Undone in Panoramic House—a remote residential studio on a hillside overlooking Stinson Beach, Calif.

“It was an amazingly organic, nontraditional environment for recording, which I think added to the whole excitement,” says drummer Tyson Vogel.

“Having to go back into your life every night can have a detrimental effect on your ability to stay focused on the music,” observes singer/guitarist Adam Stephens. “Having it just be the three of us the entire time was an important thing for us to be able to focus.”

The third “Gallant” was veteran engineer Karl Derfler, whose credits span nearly four decades, and artists from Tom Waits to No Doubt to Smash Mouth.

“That studio is in an old house that a professor built all by hand with all reclaimed materials,” Derfler explains. “There are 40-foot-long 12x12 beams that he must have pulled out of some marine yard. The floors are all two-by-fours flipped on their sides. There’s some strange construction going on that creates a really ambient sound.”

Panoramic includes a tracking room, an echo chamber where the original owner had put in a bomb shelter, and the control room, containing three console choices: a 32-channel API 1608 that Derfler mainly used for monitoring, a Neve 5465 16-channel sidecar, and a vintage RCA broadcast console. Derfler captured the recordings to a JH16 analog tape machine, “And it all also goes thru Pro Tools at 96k,” he explains. “I record into the tape recorder and directly out of the tape recorder into Pro Tools. It all ends up in Pro Tools, but I use the tape recorder as my front end.”

Instrumentation on the Gallants’ tracks may be spare, with just two musicians playing mostly live in the studio, but each song is orchestrated to be as big or as delicate as it needs to be. Stephens, whose main instrument is a Gretsch Tennessee Rose, brought four amps to the studio.

“I have an Ampeg SVT Classic, but I mostly played through a Fender Bassman into my 4x12 Sunn cabinet,” Stephens says. “I also used a Fender amp and a Silvertone amp that they had up there.”

“On guitars, we had a selection of Royer 121s, Sony C37a’s, and I own a bunch of old ’60s Shure SM56s. Each amp would be double-miked with a condenser or dynamic, and a ribbon mic, and there were almost always two amps going at once,” Derfler says.

Vogel often switched out pieces of his kit, and Derfler matched them with a wide variety of miking schemes and placement to fit the track and the configuration of drums.

“And having spent enough time with Mr. Waits,” he continues, “I’m also used to: How can we make it not sound like drums, but still be a drum part.”

“On the song ‘Heart Breakdown,’ we had been stop and go in the studio for hours, but suddenly I started hearing these sounds in my head. I went in the kitchen and started grabbing all these pots and pans and built a little drum set out of a radiator and one pot and a bowl and an empty water bottle,” Vogel recalls. “The radiator went where the snare was, and everything came into form. There are only two of us, so most of the time we show up with a very planned-out approach, but that song was a really fun and enlivening reminder for us that being in the studio can be revealing.”