Three Days Grace (left to right)—Brad Walsh, Adam Gontier, Neil Sanderson, and Barry Stock
Cutting Loose, Reining It In
THREE DAYS Grace punctuated 2009 with the release of their third full-length, Life Starts Now. A determination to rise despite the ragged edges permeates the album from the title on, and the band’s newfound commitment to take what you’ve got, make the best of it, and deliver proved an integral element in recording sessions.
“I think a lot of producers and bands [right now] have made the mistake of thinking heaviness is defined by layer upon layer … but we’re huge fans of classic rock records where it was all about the musicianship between a few guys who understood you could be minimalistic but sound huge,” says Neil Sanderson, drummer/keyboardist for the Canadian band, who split their home base between Toronto and Vancouver, where Life Starts Now was recorded.
Congregating in Warehouse Studios with producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Papa Roach, Daughtry, Art of Dying), Sanderson, vocalist/guitarist Adam Gontier, bassist Brad Walst, and guitarist Barry Stock set out to take advantage of the studio’s big, natural-sounding tracking rooms and room-miking to eschew shiny processing for an openness. The band, who has been together since high school, found themselves in a position that allowed them to deliver a boomy, harmony-laden sound incorporating new inspirations like electric piano, all the while tastefully informed by feeding off the energy of touring’s expanses. It’s the sound of a band cutting loose, but tempered by the knowledge of when to pull back.
“You see all these ‘metal’ drummers, and they’re just sloshing the shit out of their hi-hats. But I find over-the-top cymbals shrink the sound, so I tend to play with my hi-hats closed up, even in spots where it’s the natural tendency in rock to open it up and slosh through a part,” says Sanderson as an example. “I tend to close it up a little bit, even live, and it just cleans it up and makes it more concise, because it’s important to take into account a frequency that can compete against vocal and guitar. It’s important to be mindful of when to frame certain instruments, doing what it takes to make them pop.”
Of course, there are considerations even to these considerations. Sanderson emphasizes that Three Days Grace has always been a band who is not about overdoing it, but he’s also not against experimenting with overdriving Logic’s ES2 synthesizer or demoing breakbeats through drum modeling to potentially open some future sonic possibilities. Ultimately, however, the band aims to never be about hiding behind bells and whistles, and to never be too timid to be “guys who are a little rough around the edges, rockin’ out and releasing the emotion to make crowds go crazy!”