Southern California band Anything Box takes its cues primarily from British influences. Since 1986, Anything Box has investigated alternative pop, new wave, and electronic music — deftly blending the aesthetics of the Kinks, Pink Floyd, New Order, and Kraftwerk. They also revere the recording techniques of George Martin and the Beatles circa 1965 through '67. The resulting sound, Anything Box says, is elektrodelic.
Each member of the quartet — Claude S, Gary S, Paul Rijnders, and Dave South — contributes guitar, bass, and synth parts that they later sample, loop, and mangle beyond recognition. Anything Box's densely layered tracks feature clean sounds wedded to raw, distorted textures and sampled beats. “We're heavily into the electronic thing,” declares Claude S, who is also the band's lead vocalist.
The Universe Is Expanding is Anything Box's ninth album. “After making nine records, you get the idea of how to do them,” Claude S says. “The first three albums were recorded in major studios. When I got some publishing money, we decided to build a studio” in his garage in Fullerton, California. “We built a vocal booth and treated the walls.” Rijnders often works in his own studio, laying down guitar parts and remixing tracks in his apartment.
The Universe Is Expanding was tracked on a Pentium III/600 MHz PC running Cakewalk Pro Audio 9, Propellerhead ReCycle, and Native Instruments Reaktor. The computer handled vocal tracks, while other audio tracks went through a Tascam M3500 24×8 analog console onto an ADAT. The band sequenced audio tracks on an Akai MPC3000 synced to the computer through MIDI Time Clock. Eventually, they recorded all audio tracks into Pro Audio 9. Drum parts were constructed on the MPC3000 from vinyl samples. “I've collected more than 6,000 kits,” says Claude S. “We'll say, ‘Let's mix a bit of Ringo with Keith Moon and Nirvana.’” Many drum-machine sounds originate with Gary S, who has a talent for vocal beat boxing. “We just flange him out or put him through some weird effects stuff.”
Anything Box's collection of instruments includes “hundred-dollar guitars that you can get anywhere,” Claude S says, as well as an Ensoniq ESQ-1 and a Roland JV-1080. A Korg T3 synth provides guitar and fuzz bass parts. “We completely distort its output,” he says. Conversely, they will process guitar sounds until they resemble synths. “Raw samples are the most fun. We've used a lot of synths, but you get bored with that. We're into buying real instruments now.
“We've worked with producers and learned a lot from them,” says Claude S. “We did our second album with Gareth Jones, who produced Depeche Mode.” For example, Jones encouraged them to record complete performances. “Either we do it right or we screw up, erase it, and do it again.” The band is averse to punching in vocals. “[Jones] said, ‘Just sing the song and don't worry about mistakes. Then listen to the track, take the best of the best, and assemble it.’ Sometimes we'll [accumulate] up to 15 or 16 tracks.”
Claude S believes in singing to finished mixes for maximum performance. “We're all about manipulating samples, but we like to get songs mixed as quickly as possible; if you spend too much time on it, the original rawness will be gone. The English school of thought is when you're done tracking, the mix is sitting where you want it.”