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Sonic Options: Yeasayer Edits and Processes Sounds Into Oblivion for Odd Blood - EMusician

Sonic Options: Yeasayer Edits and Processes Sounds Into Oblivion for Odd Blood

After a season spent playing songs from their woozy, soaring debut, All Hours Cymbal, at outdoor festivals, Brooklyn’s Yeasayer wanted to record a sophomore album that was bold enough for the big stage. Odd Blood [Secretly Canadian], the result of a stretched-out yet deliberate recording process, reflects the band’s constant tinkering and drive to one-up their electric debut.
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 Yeasayer (left to right)—Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton, and Anand Wilder.

 After a season spent playing songs from their woozy, soaring debut, All Hours Cymbal, at outdoor festivals, Brooklyn’s Yeasayer wanted to record a sophomore album that was bold enough for the big stage. Odd Blood [Secretly Canadian], the result of a stretched-out yet deliberate recording process, reflects the band’s constant tinkering and drive to one-up their electric debut.

“There was so much creativity in creating new sounds,” engineer Britt Myers says. “I’ve done sound design and a lot of music mixing and engineering, and this was really the first record that combined both of those backgrounds.”

Vocalist/guitarist Anand Wilder, vocalist/keyboardist Chris Keating, and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton began with a set of initial demos, some recorded as early as 2007. They reworked them in a rented house in Woodstock, New York, owned by drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel) before re-recording and mixing with Myers at Great City Productions in Manhattan. Marotta’s relatively remote home studio was fully wired and boasted a cache of gear, including Taos drums and vintage synths, such as the Prophet-5 and Prophet-VS, which augmented the Clavia Nord Lead, Nord Wave, and Roland XV-5050 used on the album.

But Yeasayer hunkered down with Pro Tools and a Digi 002, painstakingly laying down and tweaking one track at a time. Notes blur, melt, and reform, partially due to the band’s habit of recording to Ableton Live, then adding glide between notes.

“Rome,” with its jaunty mix of spastic keyboards, is an example of the studio mangling that was involved. The native piano riff was chopped up, the attack removed, and then sent through filters before being played on another keyboard altogether by Wilder, who also sped it up. On “Ambling Alp,” a Moog MF-102 Ring Modulator and the SoundToys Crystallizer plug-in, a pitch-shifted delay, gave extra dimension to the viscous yet charging sax-propelled single. And on “Madder Red”— inspired by the soundtrack to Lost Boys and the guitar thrashing of Warren Ellis, Wilder says—a Gibson ES-335 is threaded through Frostwave’s Sonic Alienator pedal.

“Our manager was laughing at us,” Wilder says. “He said, ‘You can’t seriously consider changing this little love song.’ But we wanted to do balls-tothe- wall production. We thought of it as making a movie: Get as much footage as possible with the idea that later on you’d edit the hell out of it.”

To anchor the album’s unique sounds, Wilder says the band sought to emulate hip-hop and dancehall production, especially Timbaland tracks. “We were trying to get a lot more bass, aiming for something more clear and spare,” he says. “But then we always end up adding more and more shit.”

Low-end theory was consistent on Odd Blood, even though bass notes came from both keyboards and Tuton’s range of bass guitars, including a Fender Precision and a G&L Semi-Hollow ASAT. At Woodstock, synths were sent directly to Pro Tools, but if Tuton was playing bass, he would send it though an Ampeg B-15 flip-top, mic it, and send it though an API 560 EQ. Wilder says they removed the attack and plucking but made sure the processed sounds didn’t get too synthetic. A Peavey Kosmos brought out extra sub tones.

When Myers was mixing, he ran bass tracks through the SSL Duality 48-channel analog board and used the console’s built-in EQ. He’d then send it through a Neve 33609, a Urei 1176, and a Moog MF-101 Low Pass Filter.

“I’d also send it through the Standard Audio Level-Or for more crunch—same thing with synthetic bass, ” he says. “It has this crunchy compressor that sounds awesome. Distortion can be a mixed bag. You can lose control of your mix easily, and things can sound grainy and harsh. The Level-Or does a nice job of keeping things crunchy in a compressed way.”

Myers also amped up percussion to provide more power to the tracks, and he uses lots of parallel compression, alongside an API 2500, to provide punch and warmth to rhythm tracks. According to Wilder, the real drums on certain songs, including “Madder Red,” needed the “movement of air that the synthetic pieces were missing.”

“When you have a band working with a lot of f**ked-up, lo-fi sounds, you need to have the power a big kick or snare brings to the track,” Myers says. “If you just have the big stuff, it sounds clean and generic. Like the rest of the album, here it’s all about the right combination.”