Gold/Maggi, Pierce, and E.J.
Philadelphia-based singers, songwriters, and multi-instrumentalists Maggi, Pierce, and E.J. have cultivated a deceptively simple sound. Their quirky music is rooted in folk but cleverly incorporates rock, jazz, country, and more. Gold (EMP Records, 2004) is the band's fifth album and their first completely self-recorded effort. It well presents the band's intricate vocal harmonies and a smorgasbord of musical instruments.
For Gold, the band endeavored to capture acoustic guitar, bass, and drums, as well as a variety of instruments, including sax, oboe, trumpet, harmonica, violin, cello, accordion, tuba, harmonium, tabla, turntables, and found objects. “We wanted a guest instrument on each song, but we didn't want to repeat the instrument,” Pierce explains.
Pierce studied recording tutorials but found success in trusting his instincts. “I rely on my ears, starting with raw sound and then seeing what's needed,” he says. The band tracked Gold in their house in rural Pennsylvania. “If we record at night you can hear the crickets [in the resulting track],” Pierce says.
“A friend of ours, Lane Massey, brought over a 12-channel Soundcraft 200 Delta [mixing] board, his old RCA ribbon mics, some tube mics, [Shure] SM57s and SM58s, and AKGs,” Pierce says. “I learned a lot of miking techniques from him. For example, we stuck an SM57 under the bridge of an upright bass, facing its neck, and got the most amazing sound.
“The drum set was in the middle of the living room,” Pierce says. He close-miked the drums and used a pair of Marshall MXL 2001 condenser mics as overheads. “I'd compress the kick or the snare with a dbx 166A [stereo compressor], and I sent [the bass guitar] through our Joemeek VC1 solid-state preamp,” Pierce says. The bass amp faced away from the drums. Pierce placed his guitar amp in a bathtub. “I miked it from five feet away,” he says. Their dining room served as a control room. “I sent a huge snake into the living room,” Pierce says. “I was in the dining room with headphones, and I couldn't see Maggi or E.J.”
Maggi, Pierce, and E.J. recorded all but two songs to half-inch tape using their Tascam TSR-8 8-track reel-to-reel tape deck. “With eight tracks, you're forced to create a spacious sound where you can hear everything going on,” Pierce says. “I'd throw [extra tracks] onto a Sony CDR-W33 CD burner. We would send eight tracks into Pro Tools [for mixing] and fly in the extra CD tracks, hoping that they would line up.”
They experimented with recording setups and sounds to lend character to each song. “We put the drums in the laundry room, which is all cement, for a natural reverb,” Pierce says. “We set up a CAD e200 in the cellar facing up the steps into the laundry room as a distance mic, and had an Optimus PZM hanging in the laundry room. We have an old baby grand piano that has a honky-tonk sound, so it was perfect for ‘Memphis.’ The piano is out of tune, so I had to pitch the 8-track machine to get it in tune with the piano, as close as I could. I also tried to create a plate reverb with the piano.”
While visiting New York City, Pierce used a handheld tape recorder to record a street performer playing sax and edited the results into “Coffee Song” in Pro Tools during the mixing stage. “It's cool to have a kooky sounding album with all these different shades and colors,” he says.