I MIKED THE UNSANE

There are two things I know.Every mic is a part of our sonic vocabulary. Every mic “describes an event” differently. With that in mind, and a fairly “eloquent” selection of mics, I set out to make a record that really let a band with an aggressive sound be described by a recording that engaged, annoyed, attacked, and affected the listener. The band was UNSANE, known for a sort of very aggressive, heavy, sonic assault. This is not heavy metal. This is an attack. But how the hell to get that attack, that gesture, all the way through to the end listener?
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There are two things I know.Every mic is a part of our sonic vocabulary. Every mic “describes an event” differently. With that in mind, and a fairly “eloquent” selection of mics, I set out to make a record that really let a band with an aggressive sound be described by a recording that engaged, annoyed, attacked, and affected the listener. The band was UNSANE, known for a sort of very aggressive, heavy, sonic assault. This is not heavy metal. This is an attack. But how the hell to get that attack, that gesture, all the way through to the end listener?

HERE COME THE DRUMS

Well we started in an obvious place: the drums. Vinnie hits the damn drums like they owe him money, and so I wanted a setup that let that really come across, focus, real impact and the aggression of the room, versus the old “I wanna sound like Bonham” crap that winds up translating as BLINK 182 with a little more room mic in the final mix.

With this in mind, I tried all kinds of stuff, based on my “usual” rock setup.

I had a Sennheiser E602 in the kick, about two inches away from the beater. That gave me the thwack I wanted without having to EQ. I put a Neumann FET 47 in front of the kick, for the boom. Snare was top miked only, with with a Revox 3500, in the same way you see in pictures of every frikkin’ session ever. The Revox is like a Beyer 201 with a little more top. Nice. Responds to compression well. Rack and floor toms had one Oktava MC012 each, in cardioid. I love those things for toms. I have tried everything, and I came back to these cheap condensers for the awesome balance of thwack and boom. So much tone, NO EQ again on any of these, to tape. Actually there was no EQ at all on this record, on the way in, or during mix. None. Zero. Zip.

Overheads were Earthworks TC30s. Omnis as OH. Like hovering above the kit. Open, fast, brutally honest. I had a center ambient mic in the room (mid size, terra cotta tile floor, wood walls). I used a C12 VR custom I have, into a tube pre, into a Neve 33609 limiter for some explosive ambient sounds, but still focused. The C12 VR I have has a good overall balance in front of the kit. Like the source, only better. . . . I also wanted a really distant room mic as well, still mono.

I tried a few different mics that I would normally choose, and settled on a Neumann CMV563 with a M7 capsule, through a custom Ampex 601 tube pre I have, into an AM864/U “federal” compressor. Slow, floppy time constants, but fast enough release to give me more explosions, and complement the quick release of the Neve 33609 so my releases average out and there is no “pumping” regardless of the tempo of the song. The CMV was like the old guy in the corner, really enjoying the whole experience at the show. Not accurate, not really “the truth” but giving a flattering account of the attack in progress kind of like how FOX news would describe Iraq. . . .

I also had yet another mono room mic, kind of a “wild card” mic that I will throw in the mix on almost every session I do, that gives me an overall character of that particular session, and really gives the drums a sonic fingerprint specific to that session or album. Think “When the Levee Breaks.” We could all name it from the first kick hit because it really has a sonic footprint that is instantly recognizable. On this record, that “wild card” was a Lomo 19A19, behind the upright piano, through an 1176 with all four buttons engaged. Fun craziness that wasn’t always appropriate, but was always fun. The Lomo is like a dark, smoky, (distorted in this case) storyteller that makes even mundane acts seem a little more sinister, like Tom Waits describing a trip to the grocery store.

What we heard when we got all of these mics really screaming was the sound of war. Vinnie really was making the air work in that room, and with all those mics around, I was sure I was getting what I needed to really make this exciting. In circumstances like this, I felt like I was putting up as many cameras as possible, because the schoolbus is only going to jump the canyon ONCE, you know? And we can always look, listen, and decide later whether it’s going to be riding the room mic heavy for the slow one or tight and punchy for the screamers.

BASS FISHING

The bass in Unsane, a three piece, is really an intrinsic, unique part of the band’s overall sound. Capturing the sound of an SVT about to explode is no simple task. This bass makes a lot of racket outside of traditional “bass” sounds. To grab this, to really describe this unsettling event Dave Curran calls “bass” for UNSANE, we wound up with the following setup.

We put the SVT in its own room, with a DI (Avalon U5) and four mics. I needed something with fangs first, and something that would handle 10 billion dB, so we grabbed a 57. Yes, a Shure 57. Put that on the top right speaker of the poor SVT cabinet. I listened to the phase relationship to the DI . . . awesome. FANGS. The 57 was eating the grille and you could hear it was in an unpleasant place . . . Perfect. I also really wanted some balls for this sound. We put an RE20, eating the grille down by the floor on another speaker: low end, and some top sizzle. Cool fit with the 57 and the post-pedal DI. Assume there was some dicking around with phase for all of these choices. I also wanted something NOT as focused as these close mics, so we put a Neumann FET47 about four feet back from the center of the 8x10" cabinet. Awesome. Totally snarling lashes of really heavy barbed wire coming at your face: the intended gesture was coming through the monitors.

GUITERROR

Guitar was much simpler: A twin, a Fender twin, ALL THE WAY UP. Couple that with Chris Spencer’s Telecaster, and you have a punishing sound. We also had a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier for the more driven part of the sound through an old baske-weave Marshall 4x12 cab. A 57 and an Echolette 409 on two different speakers for the Triple Rectifier, and a 57 on the twin. Simple, effective, abrasive, but “professionally abrasive.”

ULTRAVOX

Vocals are shared by Dave and Chris, and for Chris, (after Frank Black finally left the studio, as he was doing the Pixies reunion thingy at Hammerstein here in NYC and stopped by to hang out) we simply plugged in a 57, held in hand. Chris wound up on the floor on his side, wailing away. All 10 songs in an afternoon. Amazing. For Dave I wanted a little more tubed-out drive, so I hauled out an RFT 7151 bottle, and let it get killed by the onslaught. Fully grabbed the intent of both people, and sat well in the rest of the mayhem.

AND SO…

All of these mics were chosen because they describe the original event in the way we wanted. We control the media. We choose the way we are presented to the world in the studio, and these microphones “described” the event so well that we wound up with NO EQ anywhere on the record. Choose microphones, and any piece of gear for that matter, with the intent of flattering the original intent of the artist, and you will wind up with something that really sounds like the artist . . . only better . . .