PRO/FILE: Golden State of Mind

San Francisco Bay Area group PC Munoz and the Amen Corner offer a scintillating mix of R&B, funk, hip-hop, rock, and gospel. The Amen Corner consists
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California/PC Munoz and the Amen Corner

San Francisco Bay Area group PC Munoz and the Amen Corner offer a scintillating mix of R&B, funk, hip-hop, rock, and gospel. The Amen Corner consists of Paul Ruxton (keyboards), Stephen Smith (bass), Marc Weibel (guitar), and Danny Zingarelli (percussion and vocals). The group's third release, California (Beevine Records, 2004), presents an eclectic mix of instruments and musical styles. It features musical guests such as Jackson Browne, who recorded vocals for the title track in his studio, and former Prince and the Revolution keyboardist Dr. Fink.

“The record uses vintage sounds while also hinting at a futuristic sound,” says Munoz, the group's leader. For California, Munoz recorded cajon, Chinese, and udu drums alongside drum machines. Ruxton played a range of electric pianos and synths, such as a 1970s model Wurlitzer EP200a and a Korg Karma. Munoz deftly orchestrates disparate sounds into a cohesive whole. “The more simply you execute a song, the better,” he says. “I go to the heart of a song and determine how it can best be presented.

“Some of the album reflects my love of the Minneapolis sound,” Munoz says. “We did preproduction at Dr. Fink's studio [in Minnesota] using Mark of the Unicorn [hardware] and Digital Performer.” Munoz laid down rhythm tracks by accessing Dr. Fink's samples of vintage drum machines such as the LinnDrum LM-1, Oberheim DMX, Roland TR-808, and a 1959 Wurlitzer Sideman. “We also recorded the kalimba part for ‘Small Map’ and Dr. Fink recorded his solos for ‘Deathbed.’” The resulting sessions were then transferred into Pro Tools.

Munoz and his group recorded most tracks to Pro Tools in coproducer Peter Krawiec's studio space in an Oakland, California, warehouse. “We recorded bass, guitar, keyboards, drum set, percussion, and vocal tracks there,” Munoz says, “but [the warehouse] was filled with loud bands. We would have to halt sessions. We had to go elsewhere to record the Hammond B3 and the string quartet.” Krawiec, Munoz, and the group lugged a Mac G4, Pro Tools HD rig, microphones, out-board gear, and instruments to other studios as needed.

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“We worked that way until we moved into a new warehouse [space] in San Francisco,” Munoz says. “The building used to belong to a sculptor, so Peter converted an old spray booth into an isolation booth, ran cables across an old metalworking shop floor, and set up a control room in the bedroom of the former owner. We built baffles to help with soundproofing. We were able to redo some [tracks] there. We also mixed there.”

The vocal tracks on California particularly stand out among the menageries of instruments. “I like clarity,” says Munoz. “Peter gets good sounds before we start tracking. I often track vocals over the drum and bass tracks, just to keep the feel of poetry and hip-hop. In some cases, I track vocals before the drums are on. On ‘Portrait,’ I did the vocal over the harpsichord part. Then Dave Worm came in and added his incredible mouth drums. We do a lot of overdubbing, often because I hear subtle things that would enhance a song,” Munoz says. “I like to give the musicians a chance to respond.

“In the past, I rarely wanted effects on my voice,” Munoz says. “I felt that they weren't right for spoken word. When [mix engineer] Chris Brooke started messing around with reverb and effects on my voice, I was like, ‘Hmm,’ but I stayed open. I believe in staying open-minded throughout the whole process of making an album. You never know when the next great serendipitous thing will happen.”

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