Drum Heads: Tracking Destroyer’s Groove Lunacy

Vancouver-based singer/songwriter Daniel Bejar is a member of two indie-rock supergroups—The New Pornographers and Swan Lake—as well as the newly formed duo, Hello, Blue Roses. But Bejar’s most personal musical pursuit is the band he fronts himself, Destroyer. Since forming Destroyer in 1995, Bejar has released eight albums with a somewhat rotating cast of characters, although the production team has remained John Collins and David Carswell—also known as JC/DC.
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Wanting a raw live sound for the latest Destroyer album, Trouble In Dreams, Bejar went to JC/DC Studios in Vancouver, and tracked basics in just two days, with Fisher Rose on drums. At times raucous and unpredictable, Fisher’s drumming suits the whimsy of Destroyer tunes, keeping time on the one hand, but also breaking out in fits of manic drum rolls and cymbal excess on the other. Here, Carswell and Collins detail some of the techniques they used to capture Fisher’s rhythmic madness.

How was Trouble In Dreams recorded?
Carswell: This was a jamming situation, so we set everyone up in the main recording room with all the amps baffled off in a separate room. It wasn’t a long, luxurious session of getting sounds. I started recording, and I hoped for the best.

The drums, bass, and some guitar were sent through Wardbeck preamplifiers to a TASCAM MS-16, one-inch analog 16-track recorder.

What kind of drum kit was Fisher Rose playing?
It’s a 1970s Camco—a John Bonham-sized kit with a 28" kick drum, a 22" floor tom, and a deep Slingerland snare drum.

How did you mic it?
We have custom mics made by Dave Thomas from Advanced Audio—Apex models retrofitted with Peluso CEK 89 capsules—and we used them as overheads. Then, there was an AKG D112 on the kick, an AKG D12E on the floor tom, a Shure SM7 on the rack tom, and SM57s on the snare top and bottom. The 28" bass drum was a bit of an issue. We put an AKG D112 just inside the hole in the front head, and that mic always sounded good, but trying to get a good room sound for the kick was problematic. It just seemed to go from a ping-pong sound to a basketball sound to a belly flop. Our approach was to ignore the room sound for a couple of weeks, and then deem it “cool” when we started to mix.

There’s a lot of cymbal action on this record. How did you deal with such a heavy hand on the cymbals?
Usually, I would use the overheads to get the cymbals, and then set up room mics to capture the entire kit. In Fisher’s case, however, I kept moving the overheads above and behind him to get them away from the cymbals as much as possible. I wasn’t able to use much in the way of room mics unless he was just riding the toms.

What effect did signal processing have on the drum sound?
A lot of the drum sound came from the onboard compressors in our Wardbeck console. While we were mixing, we were ramming the snot out of the drums. We also used this Furman compressor that distorts very well, and we tracked the snare through an Empirical Labs Distressor, and sometimes ran the room mics into an Empirical Labs Fatso Jr.

What effects are going on in “My Favorite Year”?
This is my favorite drum sound on the record. Dave took just one room mic, jammed it through the Fatso Jr., and then sent it through his Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress flanger.

Were any other notable techniques used?
: We did a distorted snare submix, which helped us out in the mix, because Fisher would wail on those cymbals, and sometimes, we’d have to gate the hell out of the snare drum to make it sound good. The snare submix added some needed splat in those instances, and we just kept running the signal through the Wardbeck’s compressor until there were some chuckles in the room.

What was the mixing process like?
The idea was to go wild in the recording, get and then sort of weed through it all during the mix. We had done close miking and we had set up room mics so we’d have loads of different sounds to use. We mixed using MOTU Digital Performer and a TASCAM DM-24 digital mixer, with the Wardbeck brought in for submixes.

Carswell: We spent a lot of time mixing, and then we took a break, thinking we would come back and remix some stuff. But we ended up not really touching anything. This was the first time that has ever happened. We just agreed it was done.