With the discovery of Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York, Black, along with band mates Sam Cohen and Jesse Gallagher, found their guiding light.
“It’s this beautiful old mansion that was built back in the early 1800s,” explains Black. “Every room is filled with different organs, autoharps, mellotrons, drums, and guitars. For our style of music—which jumps around so frequently—the environment was perfect. We just walked in, and we couldn’t help but start making some unique-sounding music.”
As the prolific multi-instrumentalists settled into their new surroundings for two different three-week sessions, they also invited a multitude of friends to play strings, brass, and percussion, recording everything to analog without any preconceived notions about what they were going to do, or how the finished album would sound.
“We had a couple of ideas going into the studio, but a lot of the pieces evolved whenever something came to mind,” says Black. “We just kept building things up until we got to the point where we found ourselves deconstructing everything. Eventually, we got what we got.”
Drums were tracked with Shure SM57s on the top and bottom snare heads and the toms, an AKG D12 on the kick, a lone Nady RSM-1 ribbon as an overhead mic, and a Lomo 19A9 was positioned on top of a staircase to capture the reflections of the studio’s expansive live room. The bass guitars were recorded using a combination of a direct box through an Ampex tube preamp, and an Electro- Voice RE20 placed up close on the speaker cabinet. Capturing the electric- guitar tones required a trinity of mics routed through a Purple Audio MC77: a Nady RSM-1 positioned a couple of inches from the neck to grab the sound of the strings, a Shure SM57 placed directly on the amp’s speaker cone, and a Beyerdynamic M88 set down about six inches from the back of the cab to cover some of the low frequencies.
When it came time for vocals, the band liked the “up close and personal” approach. Lead vocals were tracked with the Lomo, and Cohen and Gallagher sang harmonies simultaneously into a Royer R-121 ribbon.
“We’d often record the background vocals four to six times—each time moving to different positions away from the mic to capture various senses of space,” says Black. “We ended up with a huge layer of vocals, and we intensified the effect by panning each track differently in the mix.”
A sense of whimsey directed the tracking of “Brotherhood of Death,” where the rhythm tracks were soloed, played through the monitors, and then recorded again through a portable cassette deck with a built-in mic. The cassette tracks were slowed down a bit (using the unit’s limited vari-speed control), and the result was deemed cool enough to port over to Pro Tools. Some strings and a baritone sax part that were already recorded on the “clean” digital tracks had to be slowed down to match the “dirty” cassette-recorded drums and bass, and then the vocals were tracked.
“It’s definitely not a full-spectrum sounding tune,” admits Black. “But the dirty, yet crisp mishmash of lo-fi and hi-fi really makes the song jump out at you.”
After their stint at Old Soul was complete, each band member took a copy of the tracks to their respective home studios to review and enhance. Black added even more percussion at his Coyote Hearing studios in Oakland, California, and these, along with the Cohen and Gallagher additions, were auditioned at Headgear Recording in Brooklyn, where the musicians compared notes and started creating the final mix.
“We spent a lot of time on this album, because we work very democratically to make sure everyone is happy, as well as to make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” says Black. “All the details can really be a pain in the ass, but I think we ended up with a stellar album.”