In the Studio: Waxahatchee With Kyle Gilbride

Recording 'Ivy Tripp'
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Recording 'Ivy Tripp'

Ivy Tripp, the third album recorded by artist/songwriter Katie Crutchfield’s project Waxahatchee is inventive, homemade, dynamic. The album rocks hard at times, but there’s air to the songs as well—enough room for atmospheric synth and guitar sounds to swell or go quiet.

Crutchfield writes on her own—using her phone and Garageband to capture ideas—but develops arrangements with the help of her longtime collaborator Keith Spencer. “I bring a skeletal version of the song to Keith and we’ll flesh ideas out and put drums to things,” Crutchfield says. “Then in the recording process, we build everything up.”

Crutchfield and Spencer played just about all the instruments on Ivy Tripp, starting with Spencer cutting all of the drums in a middle school gym near the musicians’ and Gilbride’s homes in Philadelphia, Pa.

“I have a mobile-recording setup: a UA Apollo 16 interface, Mac mini, Pro Tools, a few racks of preamps, and my mics,” Gilbride says. “We set up in the gymnasium to get a big drum sound; there’s no reverb on the drums at all.”

Gilbride put up a Sennheiser D112 outside the kick drum and an Audio-Technica Pro 37 inside. On snare, he placed a Beyer M201 on top and a Shure 57 with the transformer removed on the bottom. “With the transformer ripped out, it’s a little fatter sounding,” he says. “It’s a Tape Op mod that gives it a little more low end. We also used my normal overheads, which are a pair of AKG 451s. I wanted to be able to drop the room mics and have a normal drum sound that’s not so bombastic.”

Waxahatchee had use of the gym for just a few days, so they quickly laid down drums for all the songs, and then moved Gilbride’s rig to Crutchfield’s home, where they proceeded to work through the songs one at a time.

“We’d start a new song and then stick with it till it was finished,” Crutchfield says. “We’d leave everything set up, and since we were playing all the instruments, it was never like anyone wanted to get their part over with and leave. We were all just kind of around, which I like— you can really focus if you just open up one song at a time. It’s also the way I like to do vocals, because it means I space it out; doing vocals all at once is just exhausting.”

Gilbride took keyboards (Moog Sub Phatty, Rhodes, Yamaha digital piano) direct, but he miked up bass guitar with a AT 4033 and an Electro-Voice RE20. “We had a few separate rooms where we could isolate guitar and bass amps,” Gilbride says. “That was great because I could sit back and listen over the monitors. On guitars, we usually used a [Cascade] Fat Head ribbon and the Audio-Technica Pro 37.”

On Crutchfield’s vocals, which were captured to a Shure SM7 mic through a Focusrite mic preamp, Gilbride took advantage of the house’s natural reverb, or lack thereof, as the case may be.

“Some songs, we recorded in my garage, which is detached from the house,” she says. “The walls were paper-thin, so you could hear cars driving by and you could hear rain happening, but that room was really live. Other times, we would go into my basement, which is finished, and warmer-sounding.”

Varying room sounds also gave Gilbride more tools to work with in instrument tracks. “The song ‘La Loose’ has a Casio drum beat underneath it, but it sounded stale at first,” he explains. “So, we ran that through a bass amp and played it out in the garage. That room tone gave us the opportunity to physically manipulate some sounds rather than try to fix it later. That’s something I try to do more and more.”

But some of the sonic manipulation on Ivy Tripp definitely came from Gilbride’s equipment. “I made one of those Hairball Audio 1176 kits,” he says. “That was a big revelation for me. It sounds fantastic, and that would find its way onto the vocal quite often. Also I used a lot of the UAD Pultec plug-in. It does that age-old boost-and-attenuate trick on kick drums and bass guitars. I never knew how to make the low end sound as controlled and as forward at the same time before I was able to use that.”