Obi Best Pro/File: Studio Escapades

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Obi Best
Photo: Courtesy Alice Lin

When she's not moonlighting as a singer with the retro-pop outfit The Bird and the Bee, singer/songwriter and keyboardist Alex Lilly crafts fanciful pop under the moniker Obi Best. On her debut release, Capades (Social Science Recordings, 2008), Lilly conjures up musical bonbons that are as quirky and whimsical as they are clever and provoking.

Many of Capades' offerings — including “Swedish Boy,” “Who Loves You Now” and “Origami” — employ various combinations of live piano, analog synth, programmed beats, sequenced MIDI parts and live drums. The creations were sparked from spontaneous experimentation, or were the result of intentional sonic and gear mash-ups. “It was a fun challenge to legitimize the tackiness of [Propellerhead] Reason sounds with womping Moog sounds and celestial Oberheim pads,” Lilly muses. “I paid many visits to bandmate Bram Inscore's home, where we'd experiment with this awesome gear. Great sounds, though we had to keep tuning the OB-8! You can also find some interesting sounds on the more reliable Nord Lead. Guitarist Oscar Schedin found the perfect whiney [lead] sound for ‘Swedish Boy’ using one of those [see Web Clip 1].”

The recording/overdubbing process took place for the most part at the home studios of friends or at her own setup, shared with then-boyfriend Schedin. That studio comprised an older Apple Mac PowerBook laptop (loaded with Digidesign Pro Tools LE and Reason), with a RØDE NTK mic and Universal Audio preamp. “We experimented a lot with mics and mic placement, and when we weren't sure how to get the best sound, we went to the books to find out how.”

One of the more unusual “recording” scenarios involved a voice-recording “plush” and a happy accident. “Although there was no sampling on this album, I did record the intro for ‘Origami’ on a Hello Kitty stuffed animal [see Web Clip 2]. It actually played back a half-step higher, so it was like Hello Kitty sampled my song and remixed it!”

And then there was the saw. “‘Within These Forest Walls’ needed that wistful, Spaghetti Western vibe, so I searched online for a saw player and found the lovely and talented Irina Bjorkland. I took my laptop, preamp and mic to her home to record her playing. I had never seen someone play the saw before; it's an unusual sight. She wore a very tall high-heeled shoe on one foot to give herself leverage. It sounded as interesting as it looked. We set up a mic about five feet behind her in her small kitchen so as to not pick up the ‘attack’ of the bow on the saw — or the hum of the fridge.”

Lilly used a few different mixers for the project, including Bryan Cook, Pete Min, Kevin Harp and Nate Wood. “Like most songwriters and bands, I'd do a little premixing before I'd hand it off. The mixing process is such a time-consuming balancing act; there are so many aesthetics that you want met and sometimes they can be a little contrary. Some section will sound warm and full but there may be a lack of clarity. We'd tweak this or tweak that until it sounded right. Style is such an important factor, too. Bryan took some chances with a few of these songs. On ‘Origami,’ he sent my voice through an effect that imitated a keyboard or vocoder sound. I knew I wanted something more robotic and that really made the song.”

Home base: Los Angeles

Go-to software: Propellerhead Reason

Vintage synth: Oberheim OB-8