Interview: Winter Gloves

Looks like Canada is at it again. Those crazy, "eh"-saying folks from the north have produced yet another sweet-sounding band: Winter Gloves.

Winter Gloves has been generating quite the buzz since the release of the band''s 2008 EP Let Me Drive—essentially a set of demo tracks created by lead singer/songwriter/Wurlitzer master Charles F in his Montreal apartment. Bands such as Tokyo Police Club and You Say Party! We Say Die! started calling and asking Charles F and company (Pat Sayers on drums, Vincent Chalifour on synths and Jean-Michel Pigeon on guitar/glockenspiel) to join them on tour (which the band did, to great success). Winter Gloves has kept this buzz going and recently dropped its first full-length, About a Girl (Paper Bag, 2009)—a pretty, melodic, indie-electro-rock effort meant to be put on repeat.

Charles F recently sat down with Remix to discuss the technical side of About a Girl.

How long did it take you to record About a Girl?
That was kinda weird because we recorded the basic tracks in one week—except for the vocals—at Halla Music studio in Toronto. This project has been mine for a while, and then we jumped in the studio with a producer. When we mixed the record, we realized it was too compressed and aggressive. The basic tracks sounded too rock ''n'' roll. We recorded back some of the keyboards to try to destroy the sound and make it more friendly. Then we did another week of recording stuff and destroying stuff.

I write a lot of songs [on the side] for advertising, and I''m tired of the compressed sound. Everyone wants the sound to be superloud, but it''s very tiring for your ears. I wanted to write songs that people want to listen to over and over again—something a little bit more low profile. The work we did at the mixing stage was to make the songs pretty for your ears. When I did the Let Me Drive EP, I did it in my apartment. I did it with a program, drum and bass. In the studio, I didn''t want it to sound too big.

How do you record vocals?
Jon Drew [producer] and I were in another small studio [Central Audio in Toronto], and it was basically one room. I was alone with him. We just started trying stuff and we''d talk about it afterward. Usually you can see through a window to look at the engineer. But I was downstairs recording, and I was facing nothing. We actually did the vocals in two days. Doing it in the small window of time was exciting. I kind of like the idea of releasing an album every year because then your album is what you are in that year. It''s almost less pressure. You have to go into the studio open-minded.

What are your favorite mics? Preamps?
Mic-wise, we recorded the whole thing with the Shure SM9, which is a little more hi-fi. The Shure SM57 is more mid, which is good for guitars. My voice is pretty mid; there aren''t a lot of highs and lows.

I like Vintech audio preamps. They''re very simple, good for basses and my [Roland] Juno-106. It gives a little kick, and it''s really warm. I also like API preamps and converters. But I try not to have favorites. If you have too many tricks, you''re gonna sound the same all the time. It''s good not to go with your standard recipes all the time.

How did you come up with the song “Party People”? Did you come up with the melody or the beat first?
For “Party People” and “Piano 4 Hands,” I was playing around with the guitar and came up with the melodies. It was more of a natural way to me. The chorus for “Party People” actually came from a previous band of mine. That band said the chorus sounded too disco. So I thought I''d keep it for myself, and I used it with winter gloves.

For “Let Me Drive” and “Factories,” I came up with those ideas on the drums first. It was me just playing around in my studio. Then I tried to write melodies with the organs.

What are your favorite pieces of gear?
Probably my Juno-106—it''s an old keyboard from Roland. You can do everything with that. Also my Casio SK-1, which is a cheap keyboard from the ''80s. There are a lot of good drum and organ sounds on it. I started out as a jazz drummer, but I''m not as excited with a drum set. Keyboards are sort of virgin to me—you can do whatever you want with them.

What DAW do you use?
I do some stuff in [Apple] Logic for the writing, but we''re mixing with [Digidesign] Pro Tools. I like all the MIDI stuff in Logic, and it''s pretty easy to use. When you wanna try loops, just drag them from the Media Bin, and everything is already synced. Just take the sound and you have what you need. You can also do the same thing with a beat of your own. In Logic, if you want the bpm at 100, and the SK-1 is at 123, all you have to do is stretch it to find the right bpm time. Then throw it in your Media Bin, and you can use it any session. That''s what I like to do with logic. I''m not a big software lover, but Vincent is really good with mic placement, software and computers. I''m more about the vintage gear and amps.

Do you do your own mixing?
For this album, Vincent and I did the mixing. But our second album will be different—maybe we''ll hire someone to do it. Really often what we do is too much. Now, the way the music business is, you record fast and take a lot of time mixing it. What I like to do is to take my time to find the right sounds, even just spending time finding the right mic and the right room. When you first have a great sound, the mixing is fun. You''ll just play around with buttons and knobs for a while.

But this album was a little difficult. It was an “emergency” mixing situation. We had to change stuff because we realized we recorded stuff that sounded too aggressive, so we had to fix it in the mix. When the snare has too much attack, you can try to distort it, but sometimes you lose the attack. When your drummer is playing too hard because he''s excited, sometimes you have to rerecord that with just drums, no cymbals. Cymbals sound to harsh in the mic, but you can wash off all the dirtiness of the drum set. For example, in “Let Me Drive,” the hi-hat was going so crazy, so we stopped using the overhead mics. I wanted a quieter sound. I don''t like those crisp highs. For this album, we used more of the room sound so it comes out more natural. EQing is the best natural way to make a good sound. It''s not about using plug-ins—you should take your time to EQ the sound.

Speaking of plug-ins, do you use them?
I usually use them only for demos. I don''t use them for proper recording. We use distortion and a lot of delay. If you just drive it a little bit, and you have your amp pretty loud, it distorts the sound itself. The organ on “Let Me Drive” is the [Korg] MicroKorg. When we recorded the album, we tried a lot of organs. They sounded great, but when we listened to it back, we wanted something different. We tried “Let Me Drive” with huge organs at first, but then we put back the cheap organ sounds, and it sounded great. Just changing sounds makes a huge difference. When you write a song using just guitar and vocals, and when you want to produce it later, it can''t be everything. When you''re writing, you''ve got to think about it—does it need that sound? There doesn''t have to be a big production.

Most of the bands I know use only a few key sounds. You can recognize the sound of those artists—it becomes like a signature.

Apple Mac G5
Apple Logic 8
Apple MacBook Pro
MCI JH600 console
Calrec console (British, 1978)
Digidesign Pro Tools|HD, Pro Tools 7
Apogee Rosetta special edition converters
API 2500 compressor
Studer A820 master tape recorder
Genelec 1032A monitors
Mackie HR 624 monitors
Meyer HD-1 monitors
Old Neve preamp
Universal Audio preamp
Vintech preamp
Avalon preamp
AKG C 414 B-ULS, D 12 mics
Shure SM57, SM9 mics
Moog Micromoog
Korg MicroKorg
Rhodes Mark III
Old Fender Telecaster as guitar through a Fender Bassman
Some delay pedals
Old Camco drumkit from the ''60s mixed with a Premier from the ''80s
Apogee Ensemble soundcard
Manley Variable MU EQ