Plants and Animals, from left: Matthew Woodley, Warren Spicer and Nicolas Basque
Photo: Caroline Desilets
For Plants and Animals—an eclectic indie band from Montreal that fits somewhere between Monsters of Folk and Sufjan Stevens—recording their new release, La La Land (Secret City Records, 2010), meant ditching some studio experimentation, rediscovering what worked well on the road, and laying it all to tape. The trio comprises Warren Spicer (lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist), Matthew “the Woodman” Woodley (drums), and Nicolas Basque (guitar and keyboards). “This band has grown a lot since our previous record,” Spicer says. “That [album] was more [about] three guys making songs in the studio, where this [one] was closer to capturing our inner soul.
“Part of this [project] was just rediscovering how fun it is to play loud electric guitars. In the process, we became more of a meat-and-potatoes rock band, and it worked. We set up [in the studio] very similar to how we play live, with some of the same amps, and squeezed into a room to get closer to a live sound. The goal was to make sure things were alive, and not that perfect and controlled.” Spicer also wanted to focus on the quality of the band''s sound and get the most natural tones possible.
Plants and Animals originally recorded La La Land in La Frette Studios, which is essentially an old castle converted into a studio outside of Paris. Spicer says the resulting tracks were not quite what they wanted. “Hard to say exactly what happened, but we came home and realized we needed to remix [the tracks],” Spicer says. “They were bloated and tubby. I stripped down a lot of the arrangements, removed overdubs, and concentrated more on the band.”
The band recorded and mixed in their home studio in Montreal, The Treatment Room, to achieve more of a full-band sound. They used an old MCI JH-24 24-track tape machine (splicing tape by hand with razors), an MCI JH-600 console, an old Neve BCM-10 10-channel mixer, and Chandler Limited TG2 channel strips. Microphones included Royer Labs R-121 ribbon mics for electric guitars, a Sony C-37A tube mic for vocals, and a Coles 4038 ribbon mic for drums. The result is a warm, retro sound that emphasizes the band''s musicianship.
The song “Undone Melody” (see Web Clip 1) begins with a warm bass tone and an acoustic guitar. Eventually, the bass and drums congeal and Spicer''s droning electric guitar reaches a crescendo with a swirling solo. Toward the end of the track, the band offers a chaotic audio expulsion reminiscent of Modest Mouse. “Kon Tiki” (see Web Clip 2) is completely electronically generated—a mix of vintage delays and tape sibilance. It focuses on a softly strummed electric that sits in the background throughout the song. To achieve a warm tone, the band used guitar effects pedals: an MXR chorus, a Mu-Tron Phasor, and an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man delay. Spicer used an old Echoplex tape delay to generate an occasional “slippery tape sound.”
The band used Propellerhead Reason to add loops to recorded tracks and to accessorize its songs. Using Reason, they added a Clavinet sound to the song “Tom Cruz,” a Mellotron flute on “Swinging Bells,” and an organ-synth midway through “The Mama Papa.” The song “Fake It” has a heavy-sounding Reason synth patch, and in “Future From the ''80s,” the band combined a horn loop with real horns.
Does Spicer think the band duplicated its road sound correctly on tape? He''s coy about that. “It wasn''t a failure,” he says. La La Land has a classic rock edge—the music breathes from the inside out, capturing the souls of the artists.
Home base: Montreal
Sequencer of choice:Propellerhead Reason
Go-to recorder:MCI JH-24 24-track tape machine