Click HERE to listen to Pendulum's "Propane Nightmares (Van She Remix)." The original version of the single is available on the album In Silico out now on Atlantic.
Rob Swire is sitting on a hotel rooftop with all of Los Angeles at his broken foot. The understated, almost meditative technical mastermind behind Australian group Pendulum has a quiet confidence that America has been waiting for.
Perry ap Gwynedd (far-left), Verse, Gareth McGrillen, Rob Swire, Paul "El Hornet" Harding and Kodish
Photo: Courtesy Magnum PR
Swire, with cohorts Gareth McGrillen, Perry ap Gwynedd, Ben Verse, Kodish and Paul “Elhornet” Harding, originally garnered attention in the drum 'n' bass community with their debut full-length, Hold Your Colour (Breakbeat Kaos, 2005), which used the genre more as a template than a formula. Hold Your Colour helped pull drum 'n' bass' spinning wheels out of its mud rut. Swire, however, could not be less concerned about continuing that quest.
Pendulum's second album, In Silico (Ear Storm/Atlantic, 2008), has little in common with its predecessor. Dense, industrial and precise, the intention is to retain the uncompromising aspect of drum 'n' bass while making a heavy rock record. To this end and to avoid getting caught up in concerns of quality, Swire mocks up demos using Commodore 64 and Nintendo emulators, and low-end synthesizer sounds. Then, taking their live musicians — who are also part of the Pendulum performance experience — to various studios, the band records acoustic drums, guitars, bass and vocals.
“We set up drums outside of the drum kit and put mics on them to record the resonance,” Swire recounts, referencing Led Zeppelin more than a few times. “We built a mountain out of snare drums and put a mic in the middle. We had the mic to record the drums around [Kodish, the drummer's] neck, or we chucked the mic behind him. The less mics we used in the mix, the more it sounded like that old drum sound we were trying to get.”
For every track, the band recorded the kick, snare, cymbals and toms separately at different volumes. From that, they created sample packs to load in Native Instruments Kontakt. They then laid out the sounds on a keyboard sampler, so if something didn't sound right, Swire would play the part himself and then switch back to the sampled drums, as heard on “Different.” Once they had the drum sounds assembled, they'd dissect them, rearrange like breakbeats and combine them with the hits Swire created using an Alesis Andromeda synth or HR-16 drum machine.
Mixing goes down in groups — one for each type of drum sound — with the normal and sampled drums coming in together. That way, they have the heaviness of the sampled drums and the largeness of the acoustic drums, which is best heard on “Showdown.”
That type of recording is also applied to the guitars, where a separate microphone records just the sound of the pick. Using a Shure SM57 on phase amplifiers, the guitars go through Avalon VT-737sp or API 3124 preamps. And the guys use Beat Detective in Pro Tools to break everything into separate hits so changes can be made, with the ability to go back to the way the instrument was originally played.
For vocals, Swire uses a Brauner VMA mic and the API 3124, starting with a clean sound and ending up dirty. “The cool thing is it's got two capsules,” he says. “One sounds like a warm, vintage Neumann U 47; the other sounds like the original traditional, accurate, ultraclear Brauner VM1. The top end is amazing. It affects vocal performances because you can hear everything you're doing and you're working to that.”
Balancing technology with live, Pendulum treats In Silico as a drum 'n' bass record. Comparing their material to heavier sounds, such as Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song,” if they feel what they are doing has no value, they go back to find out what is wrong. To make this work, Pendulum concentrates on the mix, relying on Tube-Tech CM 1A and SMC 2B compressors, two Empirical Labs Distressors and Roll Music Super Stereo compressor, plus a great deal of freeware from db audioware and Sinus. Being Steinberg Nuendo-based, they also depend heavily on plug-ins from Sony/Sonnox Oxford and Waves — particularly the Waves C1 Comp-SC compressor with sidechain compression.
“Because our sound has always been so focused on tight and heavy, the concern we had was making things more live might lose an element of that,” Swire says. “We wanted the sound to be raw, but we didn't want the playing to sound sloppy. If you're going to be making this sort of music, you have to combine the writing and technical. No one is as interested in getting the sound in your head as you are. As long as you're willing to sit there and get it, it's going to be okay.”