Pleasant Stitch's music defies precise categorization. Touching on ambient, darkwave pop, and gothic trip-hop styles, it is influenced by the Cocteau Twins, Love and Rockets, Kraftwerk, and Art of Noise, among others. Pleasant Stitch is Bob DeMaa, Carty Fox, Sarah Jane Hill, and Will Pierce. Their self-titled debut album is an ethereal work laden with synths, piano, textured guitars, and driving electronic percussion, topped with Hill's expressive vocals.
The band recorded Pleasant Stitch in three studios during a two-year period. “I could never imagine paying somebody to record my stuff for me because no one's going to care about it as much as I do,” says DeMaa, “so I bought a Pro Tools rig and went to a tech school.”
Recording sessions began in a St. Paul house shared by DeMaa, Fox, and Pierce. “It was a duplex, and Carty lived next door,” says Pierce. “Bob was in the basement, and I was upstairs.” DeMaa set up his Pro Tools III system on a Power Mac 7600/120 MHz in the basement, along with a Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) MIDI Time Piece AV; API, A.R.T., and Mackie microphone preamps; and an Audio-Technica AT4050 condenser mic for the vocals. The house was strewn with synthesizers. “The equipment list is extensive because we buy and sell gear — often,” says DeMaa, noting that the group also used several software synths and sample CDs.
Band members experimented with tracks individually and exchanged MIDI and audio files separately. Fox and Pierce each had a Mac running Steinberg's Cubase VST. They subsequently replaced Cubase with Emagic's Logic Audio at DeMaa's behest. “I like to mix in Pro Tools, but I prefer Logic for writing,” DeMaa says. The entire project moved to a house in Minneapolis when Fox got married.
One characteristic of the album is its creatively mutated string patches. For example, on the track “Beggar,” Fox rearranged the original string and piano parts “in almost a 12-tone, progressive manner over 10 minutes. It also has odd samples halfway through it. I think I grabbed those arbitrarily and then hacked them and whacked them in [BIAS's] Peak, which is one of my favorite things to do. I did that to [Hill's] vocals on ‘Dandelion Heart.’”
Hill's singing set the stage for “Beggar” and other tracks. On “Beggar,” Fox says, “her vocals were so gorgeous that we just took all the music out and restarted from scratch, mainly around the vocals.”
DeMaa works full-time as an engineer at a Minneapolis commercial studio, Asche and Spencer, which served as the band's third studio. “I modeled all the Pro Tools/24 studios here after my own,” DeMaa says of Asche and Spencer. “For the final stages of the record, I basically had four exact duplicates of my own studio, and we were all able to work on things at the same time, in different rooms. We finished up the mixing and mastering in here.”
“We started a habit that we've continued to this day,” Fox says, “which is we each work at home on separate PowerBook systems. We swap files. We have a common FTP spot on the Internet where we keep the main sessions, and we download them, work on them, and reupload them.”
“At the end of the record, we figured out how to work,” says Hill. “Sometimes with the first album, it seemed like we were all swimming in different oceans, trying to find each other.”